In case you weren’t aware, I am a huge fan of the band Bastille. Their first album, Bad Blood, continues to be a part of my regular CD rotation in my car. (Yes, my car still uses CDs when the radio’s not on, I need to re-install my head unit.) Specifically, ‘Pompeii’, ‘Icarus’, ‘Flaws’, and ‘Things We Lost In The Fire’ are particularly emotional for me, to hear or to sing along with (Do you understand that we will never be the same again? / The future’s in our hands, and we will never be the same again.) It’s soil rich for planting our own experiences next to the thoughts and feelings conveyed in the music, and reaping the benefits of a more complete, more complex, more satisfying understanding of where we are in the world.
So let’s talk about the first single from their follow-up album, Wild World, simply entitled ‘Good Grief’. It’s an example of Dan Smith speaking as if he’s rooting around inside of my brainpan. I’m going to break it down from my perspective and try to explore why it’s hitting me so hard where I live.
- Much like their first single, ‘Pompeii’, Bastille perfectly juxtaposes an upbeat, even bouncy tune with quite serious and introspective lyrics. You can easily dance to ‘Good Grief’, but if you stop and listen to the words, you almost feel abashed for doing so. It sounds happy, but it isn’t. This is going to be a classic and exemplary song of Bastille’s.
- From the very start, and throughout, is the notion of “watching through [our] fingers”. It’s something terrifying in front of us, and we don’t want to see it, but it’s still something we have to face. We’re scared. We’re confused. We want to hide, but we can’t run. So we do what we can. We cry into our hands and we keep our face hidden, but we watch. In horror, in curiosity, in a desire to hold onto as much as we can, we watch.
- Grief is grief is grief. It’s something I’ve learned the hard way. It’s difficult to tell if the singer is going through the process of mourning the death of a loved one, or trying to survive a particularly bad break-up. Memories and feelings linger on, even if the person in question has ceased to exist (or we want them to). So things like old photographs where the person is not missing, their favorite song… they trigger those feelings and memories, and we do irrational things, like dancing at a somber funeral, or drinking until we lose control of our words.
- The way the last syllable of each repeated line in the verses feels like the singer is trying to get their thoughts and feelings out, but can’t quite see it through to the end. They lose their strength before they reach the end of the line. So much energy is being devoted to just staying alive, getting through another day, just fucking breathing, that it’s difficult to even speak completely. Sometimes you can’t even get out of bed in the morning. How can you be expected to complexly imagine your situation and find your way through it?
- “What’s going to be left of the world if you’re not in it?” This is such a powerful line. Our worlds change drastically when a loved one dies or a lover leaves us. We have to realign ourselves with our own hearts and our own goals, and we can easily lose sight of that because of the upheaval. We cope in different ways – casting our beloved as dastardly villains or shrieking monstrosities, denying anything bad actually happened, curling up in a dark corner wishing the world would go away – but in the end, we come back to questioning what is going to happen next in our world. And this is the question we need to face… even if we’re watching it through our fingers.
- Every minute we miss those no longer with us. When we stumble or make a mistake, we want that person there to either laugh with us through the foible or support us in picking ourselves back up. It underscores the loss, makes it more powerful in our minds, strains our hearts, and we miss them more.
- The burning clothes is either a reference to cremation for the dead or the catharsis of burning items connected to the lost partner. This is not always done by angry ex-lovers; sometimes, it’s part of a calming, cleansing ritual, part of an attempt to move on, at least in some measure. A Viking funeral for a love that was followed with audacity and fought for with bravery until the weight of the world crushed it. … Did I mention I’m a hopeless romantic? Which is an odd turn of phrase considering when you’re a “hopeless” romantic, you hold onto hope a lot more than some others. … Where was I?
- The female voice feels like an outside perspective. It’s interesting that Dan chose these lines from Weird Science. While it seems like it could be echoes of whomever was lost, it feels to me more like this is a current partner or friend or family member, trying to get the singer out and about, to re-embrace the life they’ve felt they’ve lost due to their grief. We all need friends like that.
- Grief isn’t just limited to us. It spirals out from the source of the loss and touches so many people. More than we might expect. Faced with the scope of the tragedy, be it an accidental one or the result of a choice, falling into the embrace of something like alcohol can be easier than dealing with all of these conflicting, devastating thoughts and emotions. We can get drunk, be foolish, lose control of our senses or our words, but in the end, we are put back in our place. And much like the interlude returns to the driving chorus, we come back to feeling that loss, seeing the ghost of the one we’ve loved, and every minute of every hour, we miss them. We miss them. We miss them more.
- The video. Oh, the video. The video is so brilliant. There are memories, dreams, and more that begin to have their narratives blending into one another, so many routes to escapism. But we keep coming back to Dan, wandering and alone, trying so hard to reconnect with whatever he’s lost in the real world. Watch the way the color palettes change. We want to be happy. We want to escape. But the real world keeps pulling us back… putting us in our place.
This is seriously one of the very best songs I’ve heard in a long time, and it’s going to be in my heart and on my mind for a long time. I’m hoping that taking this time to ruminate on it, as well as the general upswing in energy I’ve been feeling, will help me carve out more portions of the days ahead to get more writing done, be it here or in ways that push me past tomorrow.
It’s good to be back.