Thursday, October 22, 2009

An Analysis Of Against Me! Lyrics With Respect To Their "Selling Out"

Let me preface this by saying I'm not really sure where I'm going to go with this. I have no real clear goal here. I've just been listening to a lot of Against Me! and want to rant about my thoughts on them. This won't be about whether or not Against Me! sold out, or what selling out really means. I may do a post later about that. "Selling out" here though represents the clear change in their music between The Disco Before the Breakdown, and Against Me! as the Eternal Cowboy. This will simply be about what the lyrics of The Disco Before the Breakdown say about this "selling out".

I've been listening to a lot of Against Me! lately, more than usual. I looked up the lyrics to all the songs and actually read them for the first time ever. They are quite interesting. I was most surprised by the 3 song EP The Disco Before the Breakdown. I've listened to this EP countless times, and despite the somewhat understandable lyrics never really payed much attention to them. If you haven't heard the EP then you don't know me and thus aren't reading this. If you've never really read the lyrics read them now.

Before we dive into what The Disco Before the Breakdown has to say about Against Me!'s change in direction we must first go over what their ideals were to begin with. I'll try to keep this brief.

Against Me! self identified as "anarchists". I'll be putting any references to "anarchy" in quotes because it was anarchy in name only. Anarchy is actually pretty simple. It is the absence of government, or in other words total freedom. However, people rarely use it in this way. To many it has come to be a synonym for chaos. To others it has, oddly enough, come to mean an idealized lifestyle in which everyone cooperates. I find it particularly odd that "anarchy" has come to be associated with communism, when the two are polar opposites. Communism is a very strong government which controls everything, and a lack of businesses. Anarchy is the lack of government, which would inevitably lead to very strong businesses.

"Anarchists" seem to be under the impression that if we got rid of governments and businesses that people would just live together in little communities and work together for a common good. There are numerous problems with this, not the least of which is simply human nature. Also the concept of small communities is unlikely, at least not while there are 6 billion people to go around.

Don't get me wrong, it is certainly possible for a small group of people to live together in a tight knit community and produce everything they need internally. However, expecting that it would work on a large scale for an indefinite amount of time is just foolish.

A fact that "anarchists" always seem to overlook is that you can live like that now, concurrently with government and corporations. Get a group of like minded people together, sell all your possessions, pool your money, buy some acres of cheap land, and produce all you need there. The fact that this lifestyle is available now to all yet is lived by almost no one, including those who advocate it, is indicative that people may actually enjoy having things. Not everyone likes to live the same life that you do. You can think those people are fools and ignorant, or you can just accept that different things make different people happy.

Now back to the lyrics of The Disco Before the Breakdown.

The lyrics of the title track is rather unrelated here (it's pretty much about a gay couple). However, the title itself is important. It is the only really upbeat song on the 3 song EP, making it the disco, before the breakdown. Likewise the EP as a whole is the disco, before the breakdown of the current era. Also I can't help but think the word disco is a metaphor for something deeper, due to its previous use in the opening line of Impact, "I'm the disco fucker of the new generation".

The next song is Tonight We're Going to Give it 35%. At first glance this song is just about being tired of touring, and not giving your all at every performance. But upon further inspection a deeper meaning reveals itself.
We drank bottled water together and talked business
I think I played the right moves
You were lookin' over my shoulder
As I went through the motions of another night
And it was alright
'Cause I thought I knew who everybody was just by lookin' at them
Right off the bat he starts with an interesting reference to bottle water. Interesting because of this line from the song Burn. "There are already businessmen who'll market bottled water, and purified aerosol solution, guess who's their target". Bottled water is a symbol for all that he viewed as wrong with the world, but now here he is drinking it, while discussing a business deal. The 'business' being discussed is a record deal, and the 'you' addressed is an executive. The right moves meaning the he hopes he signed a record deal without selling out. The executive is now there behind the scenes, but it's alright in his mind because he thinks he's judged him right. Knowing who everyone is just by looking at them could also be a reference to grouping people as "consumers or revolutionaries" in the past.
My heart is anywhere but here
And how tired I was from the past couple of weeks
From the past couple of years
Well, it hit me all at once
On a balcony overlooking nothing
With snow falling all around
This section is about the moment he decided there was going to be a change.
Well I, I called just to say "Goodnight"
And you hadn't done anything wrong
And know, really, really, it's me not you
I can't believe how naive I was to think things could ever be so simple
I don't think the 'you' here is an actual person. The 'you' is the ideals he used to live by, that he called "anarchism". He has decided to move away from them, but isn't faulting them as wrong. Rather it's him that is at fault for giving up the ideals.
And can you live with what you know about yourself
When you're all alone, behind closed doors?
The things we never said, but we always knew were right there
It's got me on my knees in a bathroom
Praying to a God that I don't even believe in
"Well, dear Jesus, are you listening?
If this is the one chance that really matters
Well, don't let me fuck this up"
If you'd told me about all this when I was fifteen
I never would have believed it
Thinking if he's making the right choice. The last two lines are about how he wouldn't accept this choice he's making when he was younger. Unrelated to the lyrics this is the best part of this EP.

The last song is Beginning in an Ending.
Every day has a beginning and ending
Just like every life has a start and finish
July is gone like the gasoline it took to make the circle again.
Florida to Florida by the way of America.
This song is about summing up the ending of an era. Here he is saying everything must come to an end. The circle is tours, starting and ending in Florida, where they're from.
Cocaine and soda, playing Tetris in our underwear
We take turns reading letters, I read the haiku
and you move your nails across my legs.
Not quite sure what this means, but I think it's just a reference to good times he's had in the past.
In your arms, I don't know who I am, taking all I know about nihilism
and trying to build it into a life.
With your thought in mind, I walk the streets down to the shore and I sink into the Pacific
This is everything up to now ending
It was nice to believe for a while
As before I think 'you' is the old ideals. I think nihilism here is what he's calling what he previously called "anarchism". He tried to build a life out of it, but is moving on. The Pacific could be an interesting reference. They are from FL so the Pacific would represent something foreign, or a change. However, I think the last two lines here say so much more than my entire post. "This is everything up to now ending. It was nice to believe for a while." I don't think you could be any more clear about the change in ideals.

These songs were recorded and released before they signed to Fat Wreck Chords. They aren't about regretting anything.  Rather they are about coming to terms with the fact that their politics weren't realistic, and now they are going to be changing. With this change of ideals comes a change in musical style starting with the next release. Thus The Disco Before the Breakdown marks the end of classic Against Me! much the same as ...And Justice For All marks the end of classic Metallica.

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