Kinda Wave Hello - By Volume

The kid that went down isn't dead; he just can't find his phone. The Hold Steady - Almost Everything

Kinda Wave Hello

Robin recalls etching song lyrics into search engines, the Dismemberment Plan, and the contentious world of Songmeanings. Author: on June 25, 2013
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I remember the first time I looked up Dismemberment Plan lyrics. In hindsight, I have no fucking idea why, other than maybe the words impressed me that much. A lyric search is more likely to be born of impulse than it is research; I find myself typing out songs again just to see what they’re like coming from me, in the same way I imagine most people fantasise about writing the song their favourite musician did. Don’t meet your heroes – be them. Typing in lyrics has nothing to do with the end-game – rest assured I don’t ever bank on ending up on RapGenius reading people dissect Ghostface. It’s just that words have ways of becoming more real when they exist in your hands, and then again when they go out of them: in search boxes I find affirmation that they look important anywhere, that they can be felt as deeply when there’s a dropdown menu of other people who’ve typed them out. Lyric websites are an odd service, maybe, and certainly an excessive one, but they’re necessary for this little game of life. If there wasn’t at least a page of dot coms, all with varying ways to make the word “lyrics” look more substantial, some with questionable fluorescent purple backgrounds (my favourite ones, at least), all dedicated to a typed-out Dismemberment Plan song, I wouldn’t know that type of feeling. I would stop typing the best words ever.

The song was “A Life of Possibilities”. I suppose that also makes it the first Dismemberment Plan song I heard. It is probably the greatest song to type out ever, which has a lot to do with the clear vision it instils. The shape of the poem is known from the way Travis Morrison sings; when I hear it, my head forms its words on paper, knowing when they demand new lines and where you might throw down speech marks. It’s so clear in one’s mind, such an uncomplicated, crystallising song, that there would be no other reason to look it up. It is envy; it is fantasy.

“A Life of Possibilities” is vehement and emotional, but it’s also emotionally narrow. Its lyrics are about, and solely about, cutting ties with the world around you, and then trying to tie them back together. Its conclusion is made almost analytically: any such attempt is flimsy, don’t cut the string in the first place. The metaphor central to the song feels so ingrained in my mind that it’s stopped being a metaphor. It’s a story about digging a hole to shut the world out, though there’s a double entendre packed in – you dig the hole so well you piss off anyone who wanted to join you. It’s a metaphor that precedes its implications; that’s just what it is to be a shitty friend, to reject anything that might pick you up.

Morrison extends the analogy to total stretching point, and probably to its death, but he keeps the scene within vision. It becomes a tale of search parties and drilling excursions, cooling clay and the eventual surface return. The song starts feeling so physical, so rocky and calloused, that you can see the scene as much as you can feel it: figures in fluorescent green jackets, tapping Morse code and scratching their heads, our protagonist-succumbing-antagonist tucked deep into the earth’s interior. Morrison creates his scene so simply, but from top to bottom: your mind does loops trying to see both at the same time, the person in the earth and the people at the top.

Probably the only reason I looked it up was because I wanted confirmation I was thinking the way Morrison was: the short, refusing bursts of description he offers to the song’s main character should, in my opinion, be given line by line. “It’s endless / It’s mapless / No compass / No North star”, he sings, like four white-flag shrugs. I’ve always felt that “A Life of Possibilities” is a totally inevitable set of circumstances, which is something Morrison has a knack for: the apocalypse just happens on “8 ½ Minutes”, so what are you going to do about it; there will be times when you’ll be sick of me, is his basic educating principle on “The Other Side”; as we learn on “The Ice of Boston”, there’s something prophetic about a shitty New Years’.

As the Dismemberment Plan’s short discography progressed, their dark humour abated and their melodrama levels rose high, but it was a contented melodrama Morrison bought into. “Ellen & Ben” is a perfect career capper in that regard; it laughs at anyone who thinks burning love wouldn’t eventually get burnt down. Of course the Plan’s final ever verse (for now, anyway) would bat all plot to the side. The shrugs Morrison gives on “A Life of Possibilities” are totally accepting of a bad decision and get to the told-you-sos later, and the song’s back-half is a lesson steeped in one’s own coinciding history.


My search for Morrison’s truths brought me to the innocuous and well-meaning – but ultimately hilarious – Songmeanings. It did its job. Glance over their page for the song, and you’ll see the lyrics have the right structure (that’s totally objective – it’s the only thing in music that is), and whoever contributed them also believes in a key philosophy of Morrison’s: every “yea” means as much as a metaphor. The way Morrison uses “yea” is kind of essential, like his own personal brand of telegram STOP. So kudos to the lyrics’ harbinger: S/he has typed “yea” out every time it’s uttered, knowing it to be crucial, and perhaps knowing that Plan fans are more inclined to a “yea” than a “yeah”.

The problems and joys of Songmeanings don’t lie there, with people typing out their favourite lyrics. That is a pure service, the only Wiki writing I will congratulate and encourage. It’s essentially what I do when I type on impulse, but as a conversation – whoever did that needed the world to read what Morrison said, to see their response, and acted as his middleman, maybe in the perfectly acceptable hopes that they would be pulled into the gravity of his brilliance. Songmeanings is problematic because of its commenters, as innocuous and well-meaning as their favourite website, but just as hilarious. This is a whole different brand of internet comment, free of arseholes complaining about year-end omissions or telling a writer why their opinion is wrong; it’s a site of people who, like me, have typed in lyrics, and, like me, have had their wishes confirmed. And so their opinions are just as broad, and just as subjective. Take, for example, the most notable and totally laboured meaning there is, as applied to any song at random: “this song is about drugs.”

Songmeanings is the dead end of music conversation on the internet. A road-sign erected on it reads “TURN AROUND! Talk to your friends. Read some crit”. And though you’d think its service would offer a spontaneous, unexpected journey, the most liberal conclusion of citizenship journalism, it mainly leads to the same initial and normalized reactions a small audience has towards a lesser known song. “A Life of Possibilities” is exempt from these evils through sheer force of will, on its attempt to extend the same lesson to everyone. It’s a simple kind of magic, such a straight-laced song, with such an objective metaphor, that it can capture the reaction of its fans alongside its maker. It is the bizarre moment where a songwriter has the same fantasies as the person at the other end; typing it into a search bar is like covering it at the world’s most private open mic. “They’re angry / they’re sorry / they worry / you don’t care”, you write, like it’s your shrug.

The Songmeanings page for “A Life of Possibilities” is a conveniently brilliant example of this osmosis at work. Two comments align and agree so strikingly it’s hard to miss them:

About a year ago, I dropped out of college due to emotional problems (and generally issues with “Where do I want to go?”) and lost most contact with my friends. I moved back in with my parents, took a job and they charged me rent.I spent a lot of nights doing a whole lot of nothing, just thinking. I didn’t bother to keep contact with anybody, I just thought, and tried to get my life in order. I guess I got a little too self-involved, because, it’s a year later, and I’m just now emerging from the ground.Today I sent out an e-mail to a bunch of my friends that I haven’t talked to in a while, asking (humbly) to attend a concert with me in the next few months. After I hit send, I had a curious and overwhelming urge to listen to this song.

Here’s what the great Travis Morrsion says about this song…
“A common trope of rock words is the celebration of the open road, of adventure, of individualism — “Freebird” — but it seems kind of rare that rock lyrics deal with the wages of adventure and individualism, especially when taken too far. That stuff has its price; everything has its price, actually, which is perhaps the single hardest lesson of growing up. I wanted to write a song about the price of running away, of changing one’s environs continually, of declining to commit — something that I see a lot in many of my peers, for whatever reason — and so, voila.”

That captures the transmission “A Life of Possibilities” makes. It offers its listener the chance to make their mistakes and then see them in someone else. “A Life of Possibilities” is like a morality play you’ve read twice, though infinitely more entertaining than, say, Faustus, because you only have one angel, Morrison, and he just says things. His only direction is in hard facts, which sound so literal until you hear them the second or third or fourth time. The judgements start to seep through, the “price” becomes signposted – eventually, you hear the slight manoeuvres, like how when he says “You don’t care” he’s narrating with full knowledge of your fall, like maybe that wasn’t the best way to feel, even if he can’t stop you on that one. You might hear it the first time and not have lived that part of your life yet, or you might listen to it a second time to remember what living it was like.

What Morrison did for our first commenter was a kind service: he wanted to capture the feeling that his fan would one day clone, to come as close to a shared, inter-subjective experience as he could. They may never meet the same territory, as our commenter notes: “What happened to me isn’t exactly the same as what Morrison is talking about (my isolation was more circumstantial than voluntary), but it’s certainly similar, and the effects are definitely the same.” But I think that’s the point: if your metaphor is good for anyone’s situation, anyone’s particular hole, then the handover just happens. Second time’s the charm; fucking up your life’s the charm.

Lyric websites haven’t taught me much, beyond that great insight into Morrison’s song-writing, which has always seemed like improvisational savvy, and now sounds meticulous, right down to those over-and-out yeas. These two comments speak volumes about why a search bar is a revolution, or why people draft out songs on their Twitter bar. You know, sober. It’s not about the endgame. I can’t count how many times my Facebook has carried restatements of overwrought Wrens songs, but no one else would know; I just like to see how they work. Do they look better lower case? When does the next stanza start? Fuck punctuation? You’re able to find a song in your head, to arrange it as your own poem, to perform your own VAPORWAVE-worthy version on a toolbar. The reason I searched “A Life of Possibilities”, and have done to an embarrassing, double-figures degree, is because it’s a handover song. It’s made, and then it’s put in the hands of someone else. There’s nothing better than rewriting a song and finding it to be the utter truth. You see it, yea, and you don’t want to change a thing.

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