Prairie Messenger Header

Lyrics and Life

 

By Caitlin Ward

03/02/2016

Empire
Kasabian

Too much information
Well I said you’re good for nothing
Come on to the back
I said your needles count for something
Guess I’d better sell you now
Guess I’d better be around

Singing for your questions
But you’ve stolen all of answers
Too much entertainment drove
And that’s not all the colour
Tell me that you’ve seen a ghost
I’ll tell you what to fear the most

CHORUS
Stop
I said it’s happening again
We’re all wasting away (x2)

Too much information
Well I said you’re good for nothing
Stitch your part of counterfeit
I said you are far out here
Taking at the roads
Where you’re taken for the simple codes

Swimming with the fishes
While the serpent waves his tongue
With a belly full of splinters
Now you see that I’m the one
Tell me that you’ve seen a ghost
I’ll tell you what to fear the most

CHORUS

People talk about the practical difficulties and spiritual fruits of illness, so when my mom got sick, those were things that I expected. One thing that went unmentioned, though, is the hilarity that ensued. Things that were sad, hard, frustrating or scary became funny, because, well . . . I’m not quite sure. The commonly held wisdom is that you laugh because otherwise you’ll cry: crying is too close to the heart of the matter and laughter is a way of distancing yourself from it. In the case of my family, I don’t think that’s true. We laughed as well as, not instead of. There’s no point at which we weren’t wholly aware of what was going on; it just made us feel different at different times.

It may look strange from the outside. It’s very possible that some would construe the conversations my mom and I have as insensitive. My mother has aphasia that can get quite severe when she’s tired. Her personality and intelligence are intact, and she’s fully aware of what’s going on, but she has a stroke-induced communication disorder that means she has trouble retrieving words and forming sentences. Much of the time, there is a patient exchange of words among us until she is understood. That is what’s expected, I’m sure.

At other times, though, conversations with my mother devolve into madness. At my father’s birthday dinner, for example, we had a completely inarticulate argument that ended with my sister, my mom, and me singing the Bugs Bunny overture at the top of our lungs. By the end we were laughing so hard we couldn’t breathe. My father looked on with a mix of resignation and patience, as he is wont to do.

We had got there because I mentioned the English band Kasabian. My mother swore she liked their music, and I swore she didn’t. She liked one of their music videos a lot, but had never gone out of her way to listen to the band or even let me play them in the car when I was younger.

Their music is loud, violent-sounding and rather invasive; it’s not the sort of music she’s ever liked. My sister asked if she could remember any of the songs she liked. We’re not sure if she could, because she couldn’t say the names, and an attempt to hum one of them led to the aforementioned belting of one of the Merrie Melodies themes and hysterical laughter. And thus, the conversation about Kasabian ended unresolved. We did work out that the song my mom was talking about was Empire off the band’s second album, but that was more because my sister and I remembered her liking that music video.

It’s appropriate that we were talking about Kasabian, as the band’s lyrics are far more opaque than any sentence my mom has uttered since her stroke. I’m sure they mean something, but the vast majority of the lyrics off their first three albums are close to unintelligible. They give an impression, but they’re not demonstrably about anything. In the case of a song like Empire, you get meaning from the context the band has built around it. The music video for it is a short film with surprisingly high production values, in which the band plays a disillusioned group of soldiers during the Peninsular War. After witnessing the death of a messenger boy by sniper, they walk back from the front to refuse their orders. It ends with their lead singer, Tom Meighan, saluting as he’s executed by firing squad, and a line from Horace and Wilfred Owen flashing on the screen: Dulce et Decorum Est Pro Patriae Mori. It’s a bloody, and sad, and violent sort of music video that matches the driving nature of the song and suggests it may be about . . . neo-imperialism?

Yeah, I’m still not sure. It’s all very dramatic, and in keeping with their music video for Club Foot, an equally intense song that makes about as much sense as Empire and has an equally dramatic music video, in which the band play dissidents in East Germany before the fall of the Soviet Union. And in that one, there are tanks. So that’s pretty fun.

The interesting thing about all this, though, is that in interviews, members of Kasabian swear they are hilarious. It’s not unheard-of for a band with serious music to be funny and laidback in real life, but the difference here is that Kasabian (who, for the record, named their band after the Manson family’s getaway driver) think their music is funny. Despite the intensity of their music, the seriousness of their videos, and the sincerity of many of their lyrics, they are sure that people are missing just how funny it is.

I’m not sure I can agree with the band entirely on that point, but I can see where, in places, we’ve taken the band more seriously than the band has taken itself. The video for Fire, for example, features a bank heist where the guns are guitars and the loot is sheet music. It’s funny because the band plays it straight, but I think that means it’s easy to miss, as well. It’s all in how we approach it.

In some sense, I wonder if Kasabian and my family suffer from the same misunderstanding. Because this idea of laughing through difficulty — it’s hard to articulate to people who haven’t had some sort of disaster in their lives. What I think I learned from my mom’s stroke is that the act of laughing does not mean you are not taking something seriously, or that you don’t understand. You can understand the seriousness of something perfectly well, and still think it’s funny. In some ways, I think it means you understand it better.

Ward is a Saskatoon-based freelance writer who spends her days (and most nights) working at a small Catholic college. Her less eloquent thoughts can be found at www.twitter.com/newsetofstrings