'Bright Eyes' by Conor Oberst
I know what I wrote.
I have enough thoughts about Bright Eyes swirling in my head that I could torrent a canyon with shouts and still only fill out the business end of a noise complaint. The music is just so dense and elliptical that it's hard to conceive of the proper way to even start cataloguing the layered webs of meaning stretching from verse to song to album, and harder still to do so without fully becoming a catalogue. 1
The irony is that it's Bright Eyes we're talking about, a band some people refuse to even put up with because of Conor Oberst's permanently crying voice — not to mention that every single song carries a poster card declaring which banal-to-common part of life it's their turn to whine about. It's very much the kind of music even fans would file under "Used To Listen To (Teenager)", with all the implications that follow. Who cares about how Deep And Meaningful the lyrics are? It's self-absorbed music for immature people. Case closed.
Except, not really. Yes, both the wails and the moans can be cloying as hell, and yes, the lyrics are very Deep And Meaningful, thank-you-very-much, but if that was the extent of it I wouldn't be here extolling my love for this band's music (or, more specifically: four albums and an ep sandwiched by solid mistakes); I'd be playing video games, or defending the honor of some other massively successful media entity — have I mentioned that 'Stargate' is the greatest film of all time? It's also the most accurate American military film.
No, I'm here because something about Bright Eyes stuck to me, and since 'Down In The Weeds, Where The World Once Was' quite literally threatens to be the last album, I feel like finally turning my wild shouts into a satisfying explanation for what exactly I find so special about the music. Fair warning: much like Conor Oberst's imagery, I'm gonna be all over the place.
Allow me to coin a term: "Pulling Cranly's Arm". Think of it like an annotation jacked up on steroids. Early in James Joyce's 'Ulysses', the protagonist Stephen Daedalus is confronted by his roommate Buck Mulligan over a perceived lack of trust, and gets held by the arm in the process. In a single line, Stephen compares Buck's grasp with that of someone from his past:
Cranly's arm. His arm.What could that mean? Cranly never appears in 'Ulysses', but he does in Joyce's previous book, 'A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man', where Cranly similarly grabs Stephen, exciting him. So, Stephen has a flash of memory that reminds him of happier times amid a stressful situation. Got it. Case closed.
Except, not really: The Joyce Project has four paragraphs of analysis for that line (as well as two full paragraphs quoted from 'Portrait') that draw out all sorts of details that build out the moment's meaning exponentially. The kicker? I guarantee the analysis could go on much longer.
Bright Eyes albums are full of such lines. Let's take the latest: 'Down In The Weeds, Where The World Once Was', the completely unawaited follow-up to 'The People's Key' and the ostensible reason I'm finally forcing what approximates to my full thoughts on the band into something others can read and digest. I'm here to say that I'm not actually sure why this album exists, or even if it should, yet I am now going to inflict two pulls of Cranly's arm on you to make my point:
I'm sorry for that, but it had to be done. There's only one more, and then we can be friends again.
Okay. It's done. I've made my point. Thank you for sticking with it.
1See page 12 of the appendix for examples of this footnote being used to link tracks 3 and 7 from album 4 with track 9 from album 2, track 7 from album 3 and tracks 10 through 14 on album 5 (album 1 has no links, as it exists prior to the infamous "inciting incident" from album 2). There is no appendix. ↩