Monday, May 21, 2007


Usually I think "Alone" is a pretty creepy song, but not today. Well, I still think it's kind of creepy, but given certain events in my personal life I empathize with the narrator more than I usually do. But maybe "narrator" is the wrong term - when your lyrics are as minimal as Low's are, you don't really have characters, or plot, or setting. But I still want to use the term narrator to set off the lyrics in Low songs from Alan and/or Mimi. Although I'm sure there are cases (maybe even most of them) where those lyrics can comfortably stand in for what they actually believe or feel, it seems kind of patronizing to assume that because their lyrics are so fragmentary, imagistic and almost always first-person they therefore can't be making the kind of imaginative leap we often credit crediting more conventional songwriters with.

The religion thing is, I think, a big part of why every Low song is often considered to be autobiographical (although I'll wait until something more directly relevant to that argument, "Weight of Water" for example, before tackling it fully), but so many of their songs written around religious or quasi-religious songs seem to subtly contradict each other. I've never tried to sit down and map out what I think the different positions are, or which one is 'theirs' (if such a position exists), and I don't think this complexity is a weakness. The overriding impression I get is that their faith is anything but a simple, reassuring thing for Alan and Mimi, it's something they grapple with.

Wait, I was going somewhere with "Alone" before I tangented off into nowhere... ah, yes. Between the above tangent and talking with some people on MSN and the like, I've actually been sitting here with "Alone" on repeat for quite some time. And something weird has happened. I mentioned above that I (used to, I guess) think it's creepy; that's mostly for the way for the majority of the song you just have Alan repeating

If I could get you alone...
If I could get you alone, I'd...
If I could get you alone
Would you take me back home?

Mimi shadows him on the "I'd" (a lovely moment) and the last line, but mostly it's just Alan and he does in fact sound more alone, more destitute, than he usually does. There's no whine in his voice, but there is a yearning; I used to take "Alone" as a kind of creepy stalker song, and I think you could still view it that way, but as I hear it over and over again my ears focus more on how lovely it all sounds, and it sounds more like he's singing to someone he already has a history with rather than a stranger or new person. Which somehow makes it much less creeper, and much sadder. and then there's the single verse:

You remind me that I'm weak
You remind me I can fly
You remind me I can't read
You remind me so I try

What the hell does that mean? This is one of those times I have to throw up my hands and admit I have no idea. I'm not Biblically literate enough to tell if there's some sort of reference there, but I find the collision of "I can fly" and "I can't read" intriguing enough without any background. If there's religious content here I have no idea what it would be.

I did, however, cave and use to dig up the old song backgrounds page, which only goes to the Low/Dirty Three EP just after Things We Lost in the Fire. The blurb for "Alone" confirms my suspicions: "fragile-boy song (see "drag"). low self esteem love song - danger!" (and maybe I'll do "Drag" tomorrow, just to continue the theme) I'm inclined at this point to read the verse as more figurative than anything, and when I think of it that way it makes perfect emotional if not literal sense to me. I always picture Alan humming this to himself at a party, not talking to the person he wants to be talking to, never quite making his way across the room to do so.

Of course, Sparhawk and Parker were married when they started Low, and they still are, so the question of whether or not "Alone" is autobiographical in either a historical or direct sense are kind of moot. But it's not exactly a dating/falling in love type song - "Will you take me back home?" evokes not a pick-up but the kind of "can we go home now, dear?" moment most of us have probably had at parties with loved ones. So I take back what I said at the beginning of this post; I've moved from thinking of "Alone" as one of Low's creepily effective stories of people with connection problems to a very domestic, almost comforting song. But not quite, because the way Alan bites off the phrase "You remind me, so I try" before going back to the sweet coo of the chorus is almost strangled in his own throat. It's one of the those sweet and sour juxtapositions that makes Low so interesting to me.

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