Friday, March 06, 2009

An in depth look into Bright Eyes' "I'm Wide Awake, It's Morning" - Part 1

Bright Eyes' "I'm Wide Awake, It's Morning" is one of my favorite albums of all times, though I was a bit late in getting to know it. Listening to it and reading the lyrics recently have made me think there may be more to it than meets the eyes (and ears).

The album is arranged with a determined order, from an introductory song in the beginning, contrived shifts and passages leading from one song to the next (not only in melody but also in terms of connecting lyrics and themes) and finally a concluding song. In addition, there seem to be several themes laced throughout it, perhaps in slightly different meaning in each song, but they all help to bind the album together as a single work of art and provide it with added layers of meaning. Here are some of the most noteworthy of themes, all of them interacting with one another in some way:

Morning - A reference to "morning" or "dawn" appears in 8 out of 10 of the songs, and the other two share a theme that does not appear on any of the other songs (see below). The name of the album is the last line of the last song, a sort of conclusion in its own (more on that in part 2). The morning in the album usually stands for something expected, a sort of "clearing up" or disillusion, a return to the "normal" situation.

Yellow Bird - Appears in the two songs mentioned earlier (without a "morning" reference). In its first occurrence, in "We are nowhere and it's now", the song's protagonist (apparently Oberst himself) is urged: "By now you probably should have learned. Did you forget that yellow bird? But how could you forget your yellow bird?".
On the second instance, in "Poison oak" (a rather mysterious song, possibly to a very close friend), Oberst continues: "And I never thought this life was possible. You're the yellow bird that I've been waiting for". It seems the yellow bird is expected, desired and recognized when it finally appears. In both cases it could be a symbol for hope and liberation, an intrinsic positive value that can manifest in others; especially good friends for example. It is evident that the recognition of the yellow bird triggers an invigorating transformation, a realization, though not exactly happiness: "The end of paralysis, I was a statuette, Now I'm drunk as hell on a piano bench, And when I press the keys it all gets reversed, The sound of loneliness makes me happier".

End of part 1 - tomorrow the conclusion, including the rest of the themes and why this album is still a beautiful mystery to me (second part is here). Please feel free to share your insights about this album. Buy it on Amazon or iTunes.

Bright Eyes - First Day of My Life {MP3} (Live on KCRW 4.10.03)
Conor Oberst, Jim James, and M. Ward - At the Bottom of Everything (Live) {MP3} (from An Evening with Conor Oberst, Jim James and M. Ward - February 20, 2004)


terry said...

I read that the yellow bird is a reference to a time when miners sent canaries to check for danger in the tunnels. If the canary returned, the miners would know it was safe to proceed. The song is also about Conor's brother.

See this link:

Oded said...

Thanks for your comment. I know of the canary reference and I guess I should have mentioned it as well. I do not know if the reference is correct (by Conor, that is). It certainly fits with the notion of someone clearing a path for you. I, however, got a different impression, not just from the lyrics but from what I got as the overall context. I guess that's one of the great things about art, that it's open for interpretation. The "yellow bird" is also used as a symbol for liberation in other medium of arts, for example the movie titled "The Yellow Bird". Any way we can ask Conor what he meant?

Anonymous said...

i don't know how much influence the above song has on the references, but Conor is a fan of Simon Joyner. And I know this was posted awhile ago! I just came across it and thought i'd give that insight

occhi luminosi said...

The Yellow Bird reference was definitely influenced by Simon Joyner. I believe the song is about Conor's close friend or cousin who died, but not his own brother.
From what I can figure out...the yellow bird does seem to be a symbol of hope and transformation. It seems that Conor was affected by Collin's death in such a way that he learned to start embracing life in a way he had not done before. I think Poison Oak has alot to do with that. A kind of waking up even after the loss and pain.
Of course his lyrics are always open to interpretation and you should take what you want from them. My own ideas about them are always changing.