Two Reasons ‘Big Thief’ Makes You Cry

Big Thief has made more than a few of us shed a tear. The musical world has agreed that these indie rock sweethearts are something special, but what is it about Big Thief that makes us cry? Two things.  

   1. Honesty is the priority

“I’m committed to an honest expression, not necessarily a performance”

Big Thief frontwoman Adrianne Lenker explains that a pursuit of honesty guides her creativity in an interview with NPR. Being a rock star is the hallmark of bravado and glamour, but Lenker plays to a different tune. She seeks to tell us her truth, and her art takes on a special quality.

But praising a singer’s honesty is a murky topic. How is something like that conveyed? At first I’d thought of Lenker’s quiet, crooning voice, which sounds like she’s sharing a secret. But a whispering voice can still tell a lie, or say nothing at all, à la ‘whisperpop’. The magic with Adrianne Lenker is that her voice invites us to listen closely, and then she sings something like the track Masterpiece.

Lenker’s lyrics are what drives her music home. The words balance tight and loose descriptions. We are grounded in one line and allowed to wander in another. Consider Masterpiece’s lyrics;

Laying there on the hospital bed

Your eyes were narrow, blue, and red

You took a draw of breath and said to me

You saw the masterpiece, she looks a lot like me”

A scene of someone dear in a hospital bed precedes the song’s refrain, ‘You saw the masterpiece’. The phrase describes at once God, the afterlife, our loved ones, and death itself. We are invited into a memory which reflects our own most painful experiences, and then we’re hit with a metaphor that carries the entire emotional package. Even the colors convey both love and death. ‘Blue and red’ are normally our violets and roses of love, but here they’re the strained eyes of a dying person. That’s where I cry.

    2. Real life is art

Metaphor by itself is cheap, a great song can’t stop there. How does a song reach straight to your core and grab you? Big Thief’s answer is that Lenker has taken a good look at you, or at least she would if she saw you.

“The deepest influences I’ve had have just been people in my life […] I’ve always been an observer.”

billboard.com

Adrianne Lenker’s “mind puts frames on everything.” She sees art in the way red bricks intersperse with white ones on a wall, how light hits a tree, or in an overheard conversation between an older woman and a young boy. This way of living reveals an empathy for the world and its people.

Different artist’s songs can reach widely but not very deep, like a large puddle. But when Big Thief talks about something like loss, the universality of the subject is matched by the song’s razor sharp lyricism. What we hear are the musings of an artist who has really considered what it means to feel these feelings.

Big Thief’s metaphors are not only thoughtful, they’re fresh. In the track Real Love, love isn’t a falling or a fever as we’ve heard in a million other songs. Instead, Lenker sings that Real love makes your lungs black, real love is a heart attack’. The song is as chilling as it is tender.


Here I’ve considered Big Thief’s words after they’ve stabbed me in the heart, but the important thing to take away is that these songs are out there. Go listen to them! But before that, comment below your own favorite lyric. What about it touches you?

Advertisements

Fahrenheit 451 Points at Me on Church Av

IMG_2370

As Brooklyn began to think about candy and costumes, I explored a different kind of spooky. On a blustery Wednesday, I finished the dystopian Fahrenheit 451 in the Lark Cafe on Church Avenue. Ray Bradbury’s classic shows an alternate United States where firemen burn books, intellectualism is illegal, and the population is constantly distracted. Although I missed Fahrenheit 451 for Banned Books Week in September, the book remains relevant.

While I walked down Westminster Road and the novel’s themes ran through my head, I thought about how the protagonist, Montag, could live anywhere in the US. Specific cities like Chicago and Seattle are mentioned, but Montag’s own city is unknown. Like so many of us, he lives in a suburban house and commutes by train to his job, which in his case is as one of the book burning firemen. Fahrenheit 451 points at the reader and asks, ‘Could Montag live in your neighborhood? Are books being burned there?’

Walking still, I passed by a tiny free library (pictured above) suggesting, ‘Take a book, leave a book.’ Its liberal giving of books seemed to reject the possibility of a book burning on Westminster Road. But I don’t think the question is so simply answered in a community or in myself. In the novel, readers and intellectuals are weeded out pervasively and sent into hiding. Strikingly, it is the general population that decides to remove intellectualism from society. In a powerful monologue spoken to Montag, the Fire Chief Beatty explains how things came to be how they are.

Beatty describes media reaching more and more people with television and photography in the 20th century. Things began to need to be snappier and simpler, classics being shortened to just a few sentences. Eventually, the only printed materials were comic books and sex magazines. In this eerily familiar world of instant gratification, Beatty talks about how the bright and questioning students in schools were the ones bullied most. ‘Intellectualism’ became a swear word because of the independent development of their culture.

I think about how national conversations in my own world are reduced to name calling or finger pointing and I can see how questioning citizens could be labeled as enemies to the public. A critical change in culture noted by multiple characters in Fahrenheit 451 is the removal of time and space to think. Currently, we still have porches and cafes like the one I read this book, places dedicated to sitting and thinking. And although it would place you on a government blacklist in Montag’s world, I and others can still enjoy a nice thoughtful walk.