Sunday, June 21, 2015

The National - Terrible Love



Matt Berninger - This is called “Terrible Love.” It is a good thing. Terrible love is a positive.

Aaron Dessner - He’s trying to prove to you he’s not depressed. Terrible love is good.

Matt Berninger - It’s the only kind of love.

Well... he is not wrong. At least I am in no position to argue.

This dialogue is all met with laughter from both the crowd and the band, which lets us know that “Terrible Love” at least the concept is probably not a positive, however there is a entire field of creative art that focuses on twisting dark things into positive things, and the joyful way The National and their fans alike can jest about a song as theatrically as depressing as “Terrible Love” is in of itself an example of this. The National, including lead singer Matt Berninger, is happy to perform a song about dire bitter heartbreak, and the crowd is uplifted rather than being saddened. It is a beautiful phenomenon watching such a successful expression in action. So is “Terrible Love” a good thing? The song is absolutely, but what about the idea?

Yeah, not so much.

Matt and Aaron share the above quoted exchange at the beginning of this video that is an alternate version of “Terrible Love” in case you want to hear/see it yourself:

"Terrible Love" Live:


I have heard a very similar, or perhaps completely identical, exchange between Matt and Aaron in another live performance video where The National performed “Sorrow” another song that is completely overwhelming in how depressing it is. Also both tracks are from the 2010 album “High Violet” which is an album I keep returning too and enjoying more and more every time I listen to it.

For whatever reasons, there are probably several, I have been very addicted to the song “Terrible Love” as of late. It is not like this is a new song to me; I have heard it several times while visiting and revisiting “High Violet,” but something has clicked recently. Very much like the song “Sorrow” did a few years ago, which I totally love because it perfectly clicks with more or less my experiences with, well, sorrow, “Terrible Love” is clicking with me perhaps because I am getting burned out with all the terrible love I keep getting exposed to, and not just mine, it is exhausting watching my friends get beat up by terrible love too.

The good old Sorrow review: http://colinkellymusicinreview.blogspot.in/2012/06/game-of-thrones-season-2-episode-9.html

Perhaps my interest in “Terrible Love” has been re-peeked because I have been listening a little closer to the lyrics than ever before. Evidently I have been singing alone to “Terrible Love” for a few years now getting multiple lines wrong.

For example, what I thought the chorus was:

“It's a terrible love,
That’s walking beside me.
It's a terrible love that I'm walking with.”

But in reality it turns out to be:

“It's a terrible love,
That I'm walking with spiders.
It's a terrible love that I'm walking with.”

Spiders huh? I would not have, and did not, guess that. My version was a little more direct to the idea of spending time with someone who is representative of “terrible love” while the real version is presumably a lot more symbolic. Why spiders? I have not figured that out yet. Regardless this seems to be the line artistic people have taken to the most, as evident by the amount or artwork one can find focusing on this line.

By Sean Kelly
By Todd Slater
By Oora
Also I could have sworn that Matt was singing “shivered bones” instead of “ship of hopes” and later “ship of woes.” Now in this example of me getting the lyrics wrong, I might be the one being more symbolic, because it is not even exactly clear to me what “shivered bones” means. In my mind’s imagination it was symbolic to the idea of having a terrible chill overcome your body down to the bones. I think I made up a pretty good line. Maybe I should write my own song, no wait... I have no musical talent; you got me corned again world.

It really is the second verse that has arrested my attention as of late more than anything:

“But I won't follow you,
Into the rabbit hole.
I said I would,
But then I saw,
The ship of woes.
They didn't want me to.”

There is a clear conflict of emotion in these lines. I wanted to, but you did not want me to. I wanted to but then I saw the sadness awaiting me. The experience is being unwanted while also seeing the raw deal that is the relationship in question. The terrible love ends up being a combination of rejection as while as escape.

Correctly hearing for the first time the lines “ship of hopes” and “ship of woes” does help support the most repeated line in the song “it takes an ocean not to break.” I can now see an aquatic theme in “Terrible Love” though I am at a loss as to what that exactly means. I really like the line “it takes an ocean not to break” even though when I pause to dissect the line it never fits quite as well as I would like. It takes an ocean’s worth of strength to stay strong while keeping terrible love as company? That works, but I am not sure that is the exact intended meaning. Also none of this explains the “spiders” reference.

This is the charm of cryptic lyrics. The general message of “Terrible Love” is fairly obvious, that restrained, non-mutual, or destructive relationships are horribly painful and sad; obviously. But the symbolism lets our imagination run wild and there is a million and one possible subtle variant ways of approaching the song, I myself could not help but project my own “terrible love(s)” onto the song’s lyrics, how could I not, when I do so the song seems to perfectly describe them, and I imagine the same is true for everyone else.

Until next month, keep on rocking in the free world.

- King of Braves

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