Monday, September 17, 2007

The Unmagnificent Lives of Adults

I've been listening to a lot of The National's new album, "Boxer," and I'm becoming a huge fan of Matt Berninger's lyrics. In the song "Mistaken for Strangers," he has three perfect lines that just blow me away:

Oh you wouldn't want an angel watching over you
Surprise surprise they wouldn't wanna watch

Another uninnocent, elegant fall into the unmagnificent lives of adults

For me, those three lines make a meal out of a million "little girl lost in a city" songs. In fact, they pop the bubble of a bunch of other song cliches, including, among others, the vampiric hipster girl steals your soul cliche and the good girl meets bad people narrative, the latter often finding its way into otherwise good songs, like The Hold Steady's "Crucifixion Cruise."

What I love especially about the "Another uninnocent.." line is that it points out how boring self-destruction and bad behavior actually is. The man or woman the song is about is far from a doe-eyed innocent (the elegance of their fall reveals they've fallen before) and where they're falling is right smack dab into the banal dance of drugs, sex, and indecision. No matter how much pop culture tries to pretend the lifestyles of attractive people in their twenties and thirties are some larger metaphor for the whole of society, hauling out sad abstractions like "We've all had these kind of relationships" and passing off "lifestyle" columns that seem tailored to fictional "hip, young singles" as somehow relevant, the truth is that adult life is unmagnificent. That doesn't mean it's bad or not worth living, just that it's not the romance it's sold as.

The "angel" line is just as funny and true. I can just imagine the character, half faux-ashamed, half bragging, saying "I wouldn't want an angel watching me--he he he..." The line makes me think of an alternate "Wings of Desire" in which angels have to follow around skinny boring hipsters (or frat boys or sorority girls, same lifestyle just with better music) as they hop from party to party, scene to scene, bed to bed, pretending their life is more exciting than it really is. Poor angels...