For April, our Tunesday theme takes its cues from the opening lines of T.S. Eliot’s “The Waste Land.” The songs we pick will evoke melancholy or sadness but are also tinged with hope. In life, it is good to remember that while it may be raining on your dull roots, those droplets are stirring up blooms.
I would be fine with never dying. Groundbreaking stance, right?
For me, death evokes those timed math quizzes I took in elementary school. That gut-wrenching feeling when you still had problems left to solve, but the teacher sternly barked that time is up – turn in your paper. And sometimes, it was even worse to finish ahead of the clock and stare around at your classmates wondering if you had missed something crucial. Why isn’t anyone else turning their quiz in yet? Am I the only one that gets nervous when things are going well? What does everyone know that I don’t?!
Even as a person of faith, with a pretty strong conviction about what happens for us once we die, I can’t say for sure what it will feel like or how it will look, and I think that it must be so transformative that even trying to imagine the next state of being is futile and panic-inducing. So a lot of the cheery sayings (and the not so cheery sayings) about the afterlife, some of the things religion purports – are little more than PR campaigns for death, a way for us to feel good about something that is hard to swallow. In that way, we can also use our fear of death, or at the very least our fascination with death, as a great distraction from dealing with the here and now, and dealing with each other.
And I do think death is often a waltz of dread and fascination. It may just be terrible. It may be wonderful. But not knowing anything about it for sure is the rub.
So, while I love hymns about the great by and by, few songs make me feel as peaceful about the inevitable as “Easy/Lucky/Free” by Bright Eyes. Maybe I just happen to respond well to being told repeatedly in the chorus not to weep. (In general, I respond well to directions from music.) But, in reality, I just find a great deal of comfort in Conor Oberst insisting that there is nothing so easy, lucky, or free as death. Like with any good writing (or good advertising) surrounding a concept with the right words can have a profound psychological impact. Easy? Lucky? Free? Those are all things I want. Do I want death? No. But maybe in that transformation we find out it was nothing to fear at all.
The song, which appeared on the digital-influenced album Digital Ash in a Digital Urn, mixes a faintly hopeful melody over a dull, sober, repetitive beat. Conor is joined by sweet background vocals, that on a folk Bright Eyes album may have sounded like an angel choir, but here sounds like soothing robots. Much of the imagery mirrors the digital beats.
Listening for patterns in the sound
Of an endless static sea
But once the satellite’s deceased
It blows like garbage through the streets
Of the night sky to infinity
You can close your eyes and listen to the soaring and feel yourself flatline, your battery drain, and it’s easy. It’s lucky. It’s free.
And while Conor does not paint death as a gateway to paradise in “Easy/Lucky/Free” –
I’ve got some friends I barely see
But we’re all planning to meet
We’ll lay in bags as dead as leaves
All together for eternity
The insistence “There is no one as lucky” as those bagged up together turns the image into something so much more peaceful than that image out of context. And that’s why this song seemed appropriate for this month’s theme. It intertwines the fear and the dread of running out of time with the assurance that once we get there, we’ll be just fine.