Tags

, , , , , , , ,

Title: ‘I Don’t Want to See You Like This’
Where to find it: ‘I Don’t Want to See You Like This’ 7″ picture disc single (Atlantic, 2010), ‘The Big Roar’ (Atlantic, 2011)
Performed by: The Joy Formidable
Words by: I’m not sure – I’ll have to ask when I see them next!

The Joy Formidable are an incredibly important band to me. After suffering a crippling bout of heartbreak, I saw them play to a small crowd (at most 40 people?) at Black Cat Backstage in November 2010, and it was very strange to me how incredibly cathartic throwing yourself into hard, fast, loud rock music can be when you’re feeling the lowest of the low. We became friends when they returned to DC 4 months later for a sold out show for the main room of the Black Cat and we had a great, really candid chat backstage, and that was when I learned what nice, genuine people they are.

They’re now playing around the world and selling out huge venues, yet it doesn’t matter how big they are. I know they’ll never forget those early days when we wrote about them on TGTF, when they were virtually unknown, and all the unwavering support I’ve given them. They’ve put me on their guest list so many times, including for an industry show at SXSW in March that I was sure would be impossible to get into otherwise. I’ve watched their star steadily rise after so many years of hard work, and I couldn’t be happier for three wonderful people I am blessed to call friends.

When I started Music in Notes, I told myself I’d write about ‘The Greatest Light is the Greatest Shade’ at some point. It still stands as my favourite song of theirs and while I’m now several years out from the incident that could have ended my life and the song is so important to me, it’s still too personal to discuss. So that will have to wait for another day. Instead, I’ve chosen something else. I’ve been running a lot lately – I’ve found it helps my joint pain, as well as provide a reasonably low impact way to relieve the pent-up stress from a long day’s work – and it was on one of these recent runs that I was listening to their debut album, 2011’s ‘The Big Roar’, that ‘I Don’t Want to See You Like This’ came on and it struck me that it was the frenetic yet still similarly emotionally charged sister to ‘The Greatest Light is the Greatest Shade’.

Please also note that today, the 15th of April 2014, is the 1-year anniversary of the Boston Marathon bombing. One year ago today, while terrible things were going on in one of the few cities in the United States I hold beloved, unbeknownst to me, a new chapter of my life was about to open and change my life. But I recently had to close out that chapter, and it wasn’t easy at all: emotions were high and ties were cut. What Ritzy Bryan sings in ‘I Don’t Want to See You Like This’ is truth: change in inevitable, but the important part is seeing that more often than not, change is good, and it’s the strength you find when you finally come to the decision that is most empowering.

First, the words:

Verse 1
A bridge splits November’s sky
I’m in two halves inside
This is the past right here
I choose to leave it here

The cliffs loom to scrape you thin
The bowl churns to over spill
But I can see us here
Without this fear

Verse 2
I want to find those books
Search your face, torment us
You’re just a shower to someone dry
A shower to the wilted and the dried

‘Cause we all leave courage’s side
But I’ll always be courage’s child
The past I’ll clear
I choose to leave it here

Pre-chorus
You say have your time again
But you can’t and the warning starts now
What’s in the frame?
It makes you sad but you can’t fill the gaps

We’re four rings on a chain
So don’t make them rust
I’ll be your maps, I’ll be your eyes
I’ll give the ending a nudge

Chorus
And I don’t want to see you like this
I don’t want to see you like this
And I don’t want to see you like this
I don’t want to see you like this

Bridge
Alive now in the middle not looking from outside
Wishing that it was a screen fight
Settled with all of a hero’s flair
Put aside, find a new character

Modified chorus
I don’t want to, don’t want to
Don’t want to see you like this
And I don’t want to see you like this
I don’t want to see you like this

Reprise of verse 1
A bridge splits November’s sky
I’m in two halves inside
This is the past right here
I choose to leave it here

Now, the analysis:

What begins and ends the song is really, really important. I can’t stress this enough. Please read the lyrics again:

A bridge splits November’s sky
I’m in two halves inside
This is the past right here
I choose to leave it here

There’s a bridge splitting November’s sky (hmm, that’s interesting, isn’t it? I saw them for the first time in November 2010) but the protagonist is in two halves. Broken. In two. The two broken piece could represent a broken heart, but helpfully, it can also represent looking back at the past vs. looking forward into the future. As Ritzy stands in the past, she’s making the conscious decision to “choose to leave it here.” I can’t be sure if this is regarding two friends or two lovers, but I imagine she’s leaving behind good memories and bad she had with the other person and has to take this step in order to not only stay true to herself, but also to look out for herself as #1 and and take care of herself.

After you get past this first half of verse 1, you get to an incredibly evocative passage:

The cliffs loom to scrape you thin
The bowl churns to over spill
But I can see us here
Without this fear

The cliffs are described as foreboding, physically capable of ruin. Then comes the image of being drowned. Yet, despite all these scenes of despair, she sees the two of them stood together. “Without this fear”, because together, joining forces, they can get through anything.

I’m not sure I have the lyrics right for the next verse. However, what is clear is how, again, they’ve chosen these incredibly evocative words: “You’re just a shower to someone dry / A shower to the wilted and the dried”. I’m torn about what this means. If it’s positive, it can be read as a compliment to someone who provides encouragement. If it’s negative, it can be read entirely differently, as an insult. A rain shower is something that is ephemeral, going as quickly as it’s come, and in this verse, the shower is running over dry and wilted things, things are dead and useless.

I’m leaning towards the latter explanation, because there is no mention that “someone dry” ever came back to life. I read it as a jab at a former lover who came in as a whirlwind into her life and proved to be good in the moment, but she eventually realised that his influence was fleeting and she no longer needed him in her life. She goes on, “’cause we all leave courage’s side / but I’ll always be courage’s child”, courage is something we all want and need but we are not always by courage’s side. Hardly. Being scared and having fear, in all facets of our life, is just the way it goes. But she has the confidence to say that even if she’s not 100% courageous in everything she does and she might not feel particularly courageous in this exact moment, she will find courage again.

What I find very telling about the pre-chorus is that the female protagonist is a very strong person. No matter what feelings she has about being hurt by the other person, she isn’t attacking that person. She isn’t saying goodbye and good riddance. She’s trying to keep the relationship together: “we’re four rings on a chain / so don’t make them rust”. Maybe this song is about maintaining a platonic friendship after a romantic one? Yet there is no sense of desperation or urgency either. She’s on an even keel. She has her emotions under control. She’s even offering to assist. If this really was a romance gone sour, she has the strength to offer herself up as the guiding light in the other’s life: “I’ll be your maps, I’ll be your eyes / I’ll give the ending a nudge”. As much pain as she must have felt at one point, she’s not being vindictive. She’s being an adult. She wants a happy ending. For both of them.

The bridge seems to indicate that she’s aware of the gravity of the situation. “Alive now in the middle not looking from outside / Wishing that it was a screen fight / Settled with all of a hero’s flair”: wouldn’t it be easier if all the most horrible personal conflicts we suffered could neatly be resolved in less than 2 hours like they do in the movies? But the last line of the bridge – “Put aside, find a new character” – tells me she’s ready to move on.

You’re probably confused why I haven’t even discussed the song title yet. I think it’s actually the least important thing about the song, but it’s a testament to the Joy Formidable’s writing talent that even the title and those words have two meanings. Think about it for a moment. The most obvious explanation of the title is that of a woman looking at a friend or lover and being upset in herself that what they once had is no longer there. I think this is what most people see and what they’re probably getting upset over, because we’ve all been hurt by someone else and it hurts like hell when you encounter that person again and you feel all the emotions come bubbling to the surface again. However, squint at the words and consider them again. They just might not be words of pain. It might be a way for the protagonist to say to the other person, “you know what? I don’t like the person I was when I was with you. I need to leave you behind so I can be strong.” How amazing that ‘I Don’t Want to See You Like This’ can read to have a similar message to Keane’s ‘Can’t Stop Now’.

Lastly, the song, in its promo form from autumn 2010.

Advertisements