Saturday, March 07, 2009

An in depth look into Bright Eyes' "I'm Wide Awake, It's Morning" - Part 2

A few more themes and motifs in Bright Eyes' I'm Wide Awake, It's Morning (part 1 is here):
City - The album was at least partly conceived while Oberst was living in NYC during a rather tumultuous time in his life. The city with its high rises, sidewalks and neon signs, to name a few items (including the subway and the village in "Train under water") is very present in the album. This is done not just as a backdrop to the theme of loneliness, but almost to an accompanying presence in itself.

Loneliness - An almost existential anxiety is pervading large parts of the album, dealing with death and being alone, living with yourself. The final line in the first song sums the starting point: "I found out I am really no one". I'm not sure this point changes much throughout the album, but more sides of it are explored.

Drugs and Alcohol - Help deal with the constant sense of loneliness and the pains of being alive. Treated with ambiguity ("We might die from medication, but we sure killed all the pain").

Telephone and Camera - The telephone is an important means for communication that should be utilized more ("to talk to strangers"). The camera is a symbol for truth and memories ("Polaroids").

Moon - provides a sense of calmness, fantasy and false clarity (especially in comparison with the harsh reality of morning).

War - A strong sentiment against war (presumably the war in Iraq and Afghanistan, though there are plenty of metaphorical wars I can think about as well) in several songs. The main message is "If you love something, give it away" or "If we walk away, they'll walk away", but by the end there's almost a pragmatic (and very cynical) stance saying "It's best to join the side that's gonna win". This surrender, also articulated by "I'll fight like hell to hide that I've given up", seems a bit surprising for Oberst. By the closing lines Conor looks as though he's accepting the fact that he cannot change things, but he still keeps his own voice (and conscience: "Well I could have been a famous singer, If I had some one else's voice, But failure always sounded better; Let's fuck it up boys, make some noise!").

The last stanza of the last song is both a conclusion to the album and at the same time an open ending. With "The sun came up with no conclusions, Flowers sleepin' in their beds; The city cemetary's hummin', I'm wide awake, it's morning!" uttered in energetic despair, Conor, now in possession of his yellow bird, leaps to grasp at life, with all its memories, pains and loneliness; but there is bitterness to it, even then. And the four lines that may best sum up a great portion of the album are these: "And I'm not sure what the trouble was that started all of this, The reasons all have run away, but the feeling never did; It's not something I would recommend, but it's one way to live, 'Cause what is simple in the moonlight by the morning never is". So in essence, this is also about getting to the morning and living it.

What remains of the optimist in me says that it's better to choose life, morning-ugly clarity and all. The pessimist within agrees as well.

Is there a message for us to find in the album or are we just guessing within our own thoughts and feelings? Either way, thank you Conor for this beautiful mystery.

Conor Oberst, Jim James and M. Ward - Train Under Water (Live) {MP3} (from An Evening with Conor Oberst, Jim James and M. Ward - February 20, 2004)
Conor Oberst, Jim James and M. Ward - One Foot in Front of the Other (Live) {MP3} (from An Evening with Conor Oberst, Jim James and M. Ward - February 20, 2004)
Get I'm Wide Awake, It's Morning on Amazon or iTunes.

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