If someone where to have told me, a year or so ago, that someday I would sit down, put on my headphones, and become extremely affected by a Bright Eyes song, almost to the point of tears, I would more than likely have punched that person in their face. My utter, and physical, disbelief would have been drawn from the simple truth that Conor Oberst, the man behind emo-folk influenced Bright Eyes, is the single most whiny, faux-depressed drunkard I had ever heard of. Notice that I say heard of, and not heard, as, truth be told, I embodied so much hate for a man who’s music I had never heard.
I, like many others, are stricken with a Bright Eyes phobia; even a minute degree of information regarding the band is enough to harbor deep feeling of resentment and hate. Weather it’s from the intense idol worship presented to Mr. Oberst - a friend of mine paid a ridiculous sum of money to see Bright Eyes perform in Chicago, and then later performed fellatio on Conner – or the pretentious demeanor exhibited by Conor in interviews – I remember reading a Punk Planet interview on him and almost vomiting – and it isn’t very hard to find a reason not to like the guy. Add into the equation his earlier works, from Letting Off the Happiness to Fever & Mirrors, which consisted primarily of Conor playing acoustic guitar, and his wavering, God awful, ear destroying, pseudo-despair sounding voice, and I just can’t understand how anyone could be duped by such a mother fucking terrible guy.
However, all of my preconceived notions regarding Bright Eyes fell apart when I heard Let’s Not Shit Ourselves (To Love And To Be Loved). Incidentally the first time I came upon this song, or any Bright Eyes’ songs that I paid any attention to, for that matter, was during a video taped performance that expressed exactly how I felt about Bright Eyes up until that point: at the Short List of Music concert. It was here that Conor Oberst, while playing Let’s Not Shit Ourselves, had two interesting fan interactions; one man jumped on stage, got down on his knees, and began to worship Conor, "We’re not worthy-style", and another man came to him, screamed some obscenities, and then proceeded to spit in Conor’s face. Needless to say, it was quite a surreal experience, with the amazing song being play, the bewildering fan reactions, and all along Conor Oberst looking around him with eyes, saying, "What the fuck is going on?" That is when I decided I had to pick up the new Bright Eyes album.
"Here we go. Can I get a God damn timpani roll, to start this God damn song?"
Let's Not Shit Ourselves (To Love And To Be Loved) is the last of thirteen tracks on the 2002 full-length album, Lifted, or The Story is in the Soil, Keep Your Ear To The Ground, by Bright Eyes, which, as stated previously, is a moniker for Conor Oberst, a Nebraskan native who has been creating music since adolescence. All though, I have to admit, the whole album is beautiful, and shattering of any resentment I might have harbored for the band, none of the tracks stick out in my mind as much as Let’s Not Shit Ourselves.
After the above quote, which Conor speaks loudly before a timpani roll begins and ends, a lone acoustic guitar comes into the soundscape, dramatically softer than Conor’s yelling voice, and the booming timpani. I had been searching the whole album for the song I heard on the tape, and after hearing just a guitar begin to play I was disappointed, and wondered if the song had not been on the CD at all. But after an intense drum roll things kick in just how I remember them: a harrowing, yet soft organ sustains some relatively dissonant chords, while an electric guitar slides out a pretty melody, and a few snare drums rap out a almost-waltzing groove.
Essentially the whole song is the same, repeating the same line and rhythm for nearly nine minutes, only changing minutely every once in a while, but gaining steam all along. However, what makes the song unlike the rest off of Lifted, are Conner’s vocals, which somehow have managed to take on a even newer light than the previous ones, which changed somewhat for each new song. They are still raw, and wavering, like I criticized them above, but at the same time they are polished and overly true. Where I might have once doubted the sincerity they attempted to portray I am now sucked in, holding on to each surprisingly profound word that is sung.
Bouncing with the rhythm I listen as the lyrics are so descriptive, and easy to see, the whole scene dances inside my mind: with dark eyes of mysterious animals hiding in the woods, a child being sucked down to Earth from it’s gravitational pull, and a coroner kneeling to a crucifix. Each word, each line is disturbing, and heartbreaking, yet it is easy to see, and true. The voice is not caught up in an obvious flow, coming and going as it pleases, without any rhyme scheme, each word falling into place where it wants to. Even though things are moving fast, everything is comprehendible, which adds even more to the confused, flustered effect, as if the song were produced during the dark period of an eclipse.
"I do not read the reviews, no I am not singing for you." I don’t know if I believe it, but either way it’s spoken so truly that I have to. The first act is in completion, and the voice disappears, no doubt gathering itself for the second. An instrumental solo takes over, between a swinging guitar, and the same, bright/dead organ that was in the introduction. All along the rhythm swings on.
In act two the focus of the words switches from despair, and the everyday, dark workings of society, to criticizing political aspects of America. Taking blatant chops at George W. Bush, and his whole administration, Conner goes on to bash the War on Iraq in a way that has not been expressed so truly before, and probably won’t be after. "I got the blues, that’s me." I never thought it was true before, but right now I won’t doubt it. Never before have I heard a voice sing so true, to the point that it brings goose bumps to my neck, and sends a shiver through my body. If he is faking it for the money, and for the girls I would be surprised, because he is doing a damn good job of being an actor. I get the impression that he truly believes in what he’s saying.
Now another instrumental interlude comes in, building the tension and the rhythm. A horn section has joined the mix, and the dynamics are screaming through with so many instruments it’s hard to decipher which is which, all melting into the same sound and emotion. In time the vocals return, somber and calmed from the last time it was heard. After the revealing of a deeply personal epiphany, the conclusion of this opus is arriving. "Let’s just hope that is enough." Things have climbed to such a height that it is impossible to put into words the musical explosions coming from the speakers right now. Then all at once it’s over, and things dissolve to noise.
It’s unfortunate when we draw conclusions before we are completely aware; if I had known that Bright Eyes were like this I would have picked up Lifted earlier. Now it resides near the top of my CD collection, always waiting paitently for those rainy days when a drive alone is deeply in order.
LET'S NOT SHIT OURSELVES
(TO LOVE AND TO BE LOVED)
The animals laugh from the dark of the wilderness. A baby
cries hard in an apartment complex, as I pass in a car
buried under the influence. This city is driving me out of
I have seen a child is caught in the sad trap of gravity. He
falls from the lowest branch of the apple tree and lands in the grass
and weeps for his dignity. Next time, he will not aim so high. Yeah,
next time neither will I.
A mother takes loans out, sends her kids off to colleges.
Her family is reduced to names on a shopping list. Meanwhile, a
coroner kneels beneath a great, wooden crucifix. He knows that
there are worse things than being alone.
I have learned to retreat at the first sign of danger. I mean,
why wait around, if it is just to surrender? Ambition, I have
found, can lead only to failure. I do not read the reviews. No,
I am not singing for you.
I stood dropping a coin into the pit of a well. And I would
throw my whole billfold if I thought it would help. With all these
wishes I make, I should buy something real, at least a telephone call
My teachers, they built the retaining wall memory, all
those multiple choices I answered so quickly. And got my grades
back and forgot, just as easily, but at least I got an A. So I don’t
have them to blame. I should stop pointing fingers: reserve my
judgment of all those public action figure, the cowboy president.
So loud behind the bullhorn, so proud they can’t admit when they
have made a mistake.
While poison ink spews from a speechwriter’s pen, he
knows that he don’t have to say it, so it don’t bother him. ‘Honesty’
‘Accuracy’ are really just ‘Popular Opinion’. And the approval rating
is high, so someone is going to die. ABC, NBC, CBS: Bullshit. They
gives us fact or fiction? I guess an even split. And each new act of
war is tonight’s entertainment. We are still the pawns in their game.
As they take eye for an eye, until no one can see, and we must stum-
ble blindly forward, repeating history. Well, I guess that we all fit
into your slogan on that fast food marquee: Red-blooded, White
Skinned, oh, and the Blues. I got the Blues! I got the Blues! That’s
me! That’s me!
Well, I awoke in relief. My sheets and tubes were all tangled, weak
from whiskey and pills, in a Chicago hospital. My father was there,
in a chair, by the window, staring so far away. I tried talking, just
whispered, “..so sorry…so selfish…” He stopped me and said, “Child,
I love you regardless and there is nothing you could do that would ever
change this. I’m not angry. It happens. You just can’t do it again.”
So now, I try to keep up, I have been exchanging my currency. While
a million objects pass through my periphery. So now I am rubbing my
eyes because they are starting to bother me. I have been staring too long
at the screen. But where was it when I first heard that sweet sound of
humility? It came to my ears in the God damn loveliest melody. How
grateful I was then to be part of the mystery, to love and to be loved.
Let’s just hope that is enough.