tremble clef

Friday, September 02, 2005

Death Cab For Cutie, "Brothers On A Hotel Bed" (2005)

"You may tire of me, as our December sun is setting. 'Cause I'm not who I used to be: no longer easy on the eyes. But these wrinkles masterfully disguise the youthful boy below, who turned your way and saw something he was not looking for. Both a beginning and an end. But now he lives inside someone he does not recognize when he catches his reflection on accident.

On the back of a motor bike, with your arms outstretched trying to take flight, leaving everything behind. But even at our swiftest speed we couldn't break from the concrete in the city where we still reside. And I have learned that even landlocked lovers yearn for the sea, like navy men, cause now we say goodnight from our own separate sides, like brothers on a hotel bed.

You may tire of me, as our December sun is setting. 'Cause I'm not who I used to be"

Who would have thought that Death Cab For Cutie would produce the best gay song* (*possibly) of 2005? A song that is great not just because it seems, matter-of-factly, to be about two gay men* (*possibly) -- although that fact doesn't become clear till the title line is finally sung at the end of the lyric, and even then will probably still strike some people as not really involving two gay* (*possibly) protagonists -- but because it takes on the unromantic task of detailing the "December" moment in a relationship when sexual interest has faded? A moment that turns out to be doubly sad and rueful, because of the way the lyric flashes back to a time when this waning wasn't the case, but in hindsight already on the way to being so ("even at our swiftest speed we couldn't break from the concrete"), maybe because it's in our nature and thus inevitable (since all monogamous "landlocked lovers," in an incisive metaphor, must naturally have a thirst for "the sea" and perhaps its sailors)? Death Cab For Cutie, which as an "emo" band you would think makes its name on -- and insofar as they are liked by me, may even be liked because of -- its willingness to be overwrought, but here strips away the bombast to present two simple verses (and a final refrain) that are almost haikuesque, or might be Philip Larkin stanzas?

Not many people, that's who.

Perhaps it hasn't come to pass: you only may tire of me. But somehow it seems like I shouldn't not count on it.


  • I've never been able to share your confidence that Death Cab -- or any emo band, for that matter -- is able to write a song in which the narrator isn't the singer.

    And so I keep coming to the conclusion that Ben Gibbard is suggesting that his relationship with his girlfriend is now so bad that she might as well be a man (and, to boot, a "navy man," a category with a long history of ambiguous sexuality), and that the song is therefore oh-so-slightly homophobic.

    I'd love to be wrong, though, because it's a damn pretty song.

    By Anonymous esque, at 9:39 PM  

  • But there might be another conclusion, right? Namely: if Ben can't write a song in which he isn't the narrator, then he is coming out of the closet. And damn, no one noticed.

    I did wonder if the line is simply because it would have been too tough to make the alternative "like a brother and sister on opposite sides of a nice hotel bed at the Hyatt" scan properly. But he could have sung "siblings." Also, I do think that it seems -- alert: stereoype coming up, either on my part or the songwriter's -- that a narrator who is so attentive to his fading looks is being figured as gay.

    By Blogger Brittle, at 10:11 PM  

  • Thanks for writing this, Brittle! I enjoyed this analysis of DCFC's latest effort much more than the Time Out paragraph that initially made me wonder what your take would be.

    By Anonymous Aurora Floyd, at 11:54 PM  

  • I'm not sure what the Time Out paragraph said, but the album as a whole isn't wonderful. If anything (and contrary to what has gotten the indie "DCFC-has-sold-out" detractors all flustered), the album is not pop enough, and there are no obvious big singles on it. There is, however, a track ("Someday You Will Be Loved") that will make you want to break into a verse of "House of the Rising Sun." Overall, it's not a patch on Transatlanticism.

    By Blogger Brittle, at 11:49 AM  

  • Oh, and the song is written by Chris Walla, which may explain how Ben is able to sing a song in which he isn't necessarily the narrator.

    By Blogger Brittle, at 3:14 PM  

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