Belle and Sebastian: The State I’m In

 

B and S

 

The opening track on Belle and Sebastian’s  debut album Tigermilk is “The State I’m In” and this vignette hosts some memorable characters. I first really listened to it on Karon Beach in Thailand, and often played it walking around Singapore beneath her towering skyscape. The jangling, Byrds-like guitar adds to its sunny glow.

The initial verse contains remarkable personal and family detail, and insight into our narrator’s psychological condition. “The State I’m In” utilises language in clever and complex ways to create vivid characters. The first line’s hyperbole offers humorous, arresting insight into our narrator.

I was surprised, I was happy for a day in 1975

I was puzzled by a dream, stayed with me all day in 1995

These simple, matter-of-fact, year-specific declarations engage the audience by provoking many questions, and the revelations continue through the following verse

I got married in a rush to save a kid from being deported

Now she’s in love

With this we learn that he’s compassionate, and even self-sacrificial, but then wonder who the girl’s now in love with: is it our narrator, or another? He then recounts another relationship in which he has been vulnerable: that with the priest whom takes his admissions, breaks confidentiality and the Seal of the Confessional, and turns these into art

He took all of my sins and he wrote a pocket novel called

“The State I Am In”

By the finish of the opening stanza’s confessional intimacy we’ve learnt of the family’s dynamics, challenges and history courtesy

He stood up with a sailor friend

Made it known upon my sister’s wedding day

We then hear the final affront where his highest authority hesitates before belatedly accepting our narrator; no wonder he’s in a despondent state

So I gave myself to God

There was a pregnant pause before he said ok

His self-loathing finds pathetic and final expression in the song’s last verse

            Now I’m feeling dangerous, riding on city buses for a hobby is sad

The language used in the lyrics is deceptively simplistic, but depicts vivid characters.

With this complex domestic context established our protagonist, or possibly antagonist, reveals in a striking act that shocks

I was so touched, I was moved to kick the crutches

From my crippled friend

Is this truth, or is it a comedic device; a strange metaphor? Certainly its oxymoronic nature invites deeper thought. Should we be horrified, amused, or both? Subsequently the narrator confesses this act of violence, and events take another unexpected turn with the priest acting immorally.

We find dark humour in the idea that a religious figure would steal a story and publicise it in a novel. Little wonder that our main character is disturbed! With this development the song title is invested with wicked irony that generates sympathy.

This powerful vignette catalogues key moments in the narrator’s life as he seeks purpose and meaning. The final image offers a positive picture of one, troubled as he is, wanting to do earthly good. There’s poignant use of circularity with the repetition of previous detail

Lead me to a living end

I promised that I’d entertain my crippled friend

My crippled friend

Expertly using first person perspective, the lyricist provides understated descriptions to provoke us, and our reactions encompass the witty, the sad, and the frightening. Belle and Sebastian have created some vivid characters, and this song invites deep contemplation.

 

karon

Advertisements

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s