Lord, I’m Discouraged

“Lord, I’m Discouraged,” is the 6th track from The Hold Steady‘s latest album, Stay Positive. It has quickly become my favorite song on the album, and arguably it is the saddest and most heartbreaking song in their catalog, which is saying a lot, because The Hold Steady traffics in disappointments and tragedy.

This song is unusual in that it does not feature the breakneck pace of their other songs, and nor does it feature rollicking piano riffs and anthemic guitar hooks: rather, the playing matches the tone. In other words, it is a ballad, which sounds weird coming from The Hold Steady, but this song is executed extremely well.

The lyrics are some of the best that the Craig Finn has written:

“Lord, I’m discouraged
The circles have sucked in her eyes
Lord, I’m discouraged
Her new friends have shadowed her life
Lord, I’m discouraged
She ain’t come out dancing for some time

And I’m trying to light candles
But they burn down to nothing
And she keeps coming up with
Excuses and half-truths and fortified wine
Excuses and half-truths and fortified wine

Excuses and half-truths and fortified wine
There’s a house on the south side
Where she stays in for days at a time

I know I’m no angel
I ain’t been bad that way
Can’t you hear her?
She’s that sweet missing songbird
When the choir sings on Sundays
And I’m almost busted
But I bought back the jewellery she sold

And I come to your altar
And then there’s just nothing
And she keeps insisting

The sutures and bruises are none of my business
She says that she’s sick
But she won’t get specific
The sutures and bruises are none of my business
This guy from the north side
Comes down to visits
His visits, they only take five or six minutes

Lord, I’m sorry to question your wisdom
But my faith has been wavering
Won’t you show me a sign,
And let me know that you’re listening?

Excuses and half-truths and fortified wine
Excuses and half-truths and fortified wine
Excuses and half-truths and fortified wine
I know it’s unlikely she’ll ever be mine
So I mostly just pray she don’t die.”

The couplet “Can’t you hear her/She’s that sweet missing songbird when the choir sings on Sundays” is breathtaking, as the innoncent, sweet imagery is juxtaposed with abuse and emotional suffering. And you can hear the narrator’s faith dissolving when he sings that “Lord, I’m sorry to question your wisdom.” And the the last two lines is killer: it is at once filled with both hope and despair.

The emotional impact of this song really struck me, because before I even realized it, I had a lump in my throat while listening to this song, and if they should play this song when I see them in August, I’m afraid I might just lose it in public.

All of this is a way of saying that I really, really, really like the new album.

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Reflection about My Job, Part I

Having been on this job for about five weeks now, I feel that I have had enough time to gather my thoughts and do some preliminary reflection on what it all means. And as usual, my conclusion is inconclusive.

There are certain aspects of my job which I really like, and others which I feel alienated from. First, the parts I like. As an ex-political science major, the inner workings of the political system fascinates me, and to be able to see how all the shit goes down from the front-row has been an eye-opening experience. As an avid student of politics, I feel like this job has taught me a lot, things which I could not have acquired in college.

But the part which I don’t like is also inherently part of the job which I do like: in seeing how the system functions first-hand, I’ve come to be even less hopeful about any real institutional change. Sure, it’s fascinating to watch how the various players deftly interact, manuever around, and manipulate the institution, but such a fascination is purely technical: it has the same appeal for me as watching the making of an intricate gadget. But on a normative level, I often find myself horrified at the process, and the normative is not something which I can so easily disavow. Yes, a part of me realizes that politics isn’t a gentle game, that some blood would have to be spilt, some rules bent, some morals skirted around, but the ethical philosophy student part of me is repulsed by some of the stuff I’ve seen.

Yes, the machine is intricate, its workings oblique to the public, its process a byzantine labyrinth, and watching it all goes down holds incredible interest for me. But as a career? I don’t think I can fully immerse myself in the belly of the beast.

I’d rather go back to grad school, read my papers and academic journals, teach, perhaps write a half-forgotten academic treatise on some obscure topic, and spend my life with someone I love and call it a day. But as much as I miss school right now, once I go back, I will probably miss my current life: the excitement of watching something unfold right in front of your eyes, the rumors and word on the streets, the evisceration of some hapless witness at a committee hearing.

Like Marlo said: The game is the game. Always.