What did Sarah say? [DCFC]
If we’re honest with ourselves, most of us twenty-somethings would say that we were introduced to real indie music by Mr. Gibbard and his friends from Western Washington University: Death Cab for Cutie. The question is, how does one band have the ability to rip so many snotty teenagers out of their punk/emo roots? It has to be the lyrical charm and profundity that is hard to miss in almost every tune they have put out. I listened to the song Transatlanticism 48 times a day when I left the country for the first time. I also thought myself a genuis the day I first understood why a glove-box isn’t accurately named…and everybody knows it. I think that was the same day I stopped wearing chuck taylor’s.
Ben Gibbard introduced many of us, for the first time, to poetry itself because either we were too proud to truly pay any attention to the Yeats that was fed us in english class, or our English class was full of rhymy hyper-romantic shit poetry. Sadly, the only poets our generation really cares to listen to are the ones with guitars in their hands.
The band’s 6th album, Plans, when released in 2005, continued in the tradition of expert lyrical play track after track. Really, which of us hasn’t seen the red glare of the illuminated “no’s” on heaven and hell’s vacancy signs? Or grimaced thinking of a trombone bell knocking their teeth as they tried to open their mouths wide enough for a marching band to march out?
Having to choose one track to look at closer from a poetic mind, my gut reaction was the 9th track, What Sarah Said. It lends it self well to this kind of reading because it very little repetition like many songs do; it is one stream of imagery which sets it apart from our modern idea of what a song should be: Verse/Chorus/Verse/Chorus/Bridge/Chorus.
As with all songs that we look at from a poetic perspective, we are forced to take liberties with stanzas. I chose to leave the verse of this song as almost completely one stanza to reflect the driving forward motion of its theme. It portrays a certain angst and inability to think calmly within the setting of the verse. We are also left without punctuation, which in an effort to retain the original meaning of the work, I have added so that it may (subjectively) aid the flow of the reading:
(I suggest reading aloud)
And it came to me then,
That every plan, is a tiny prayer to Father Time.
As I stared at my shoes in the ICU
That reeked of piss and 409.
And I rationed my breaths, as I said to myself
That I’d already taken too much today.
As each descending peak on the LCD,
Took you a little farther away from me,
Away from me.
Amongst the vending machines and year-old magazines,
In a place where we only say goodbye,
It stung like a violent wind that our memories depend
On a faulty camera in our minds;
But I knew that you were a truth
I would rather lose than to have never lain beside at all.
And I looked around at all the eyes on the ground,
As the TV entertained itself.
‘Cause there’s no comfort in the waiting room.
Just nervous paces bracing for bad news.
Then the nurse comes around and everyone lifts their head,
But I’m thinking of what Sarah said:
That love is watching someone die.
So who’s going to watch you die?
The always forward moving voice of this poem is haunting. It uses crisp and even cheap images to display the similar feeling that one would experience in the hospital setting. These images are made cheap and inhuman by the repetitive use of acronyms and abbreviations such as 409, LCD, TV, and ICU.
All the driving leads up to the critical final line that might seem to come from left field but somehow broadens the theme of the poem to address larger themes of death and love.
As with most of Deathcab’s stuff, you could teach a class on this song, but this should get you started looking at it with a poetic eye.
Ben Gibbard has recently teamed up with Jay Farrar of Son Volt and begun a project that shows his own love for literature. The full-length album based on the novel Big Sur (1962) by Jack Kerouac will be released on October 20th and will be accompanied by a feature-length documentary.
It remains to be seen whether artists in both music and literature will support a trend towards adaptation of literature into LP form, but I think it is safe to say that the blending of literature and music is not going anywhere soon and it’s time we started exploring the relationship.