Tuesday, December 11, 2012

"It's Not a Matter of Time; It's Just a Matter of Timing."

Music is something that most people agree is an important part of their lives. At its best, a song can completely change the way in which you view the world, and at its worst it’s background noise to make silent situations more bearable. But no matter what sort of impact the music makes on you, there seems to be a habit currently in fashion that we don’t really listen to the music we hear. For years, you may listen to a song and love it, only to find out later that it’s about something completely different than you had originally thought (or, at least, if you listen to music like my mom that’s what happens). So why exactly are the lyrics so important? Some people don’t think they are, but in a really good song, the lyrics can be a maze of hidden truths and opinions, liable to alter not only your view of the world, but the way in which you act within the world as well.

“Timelines” off of Motion City Soundtrack’s fifth studio album Go is in some ways in line with the style of music that the Minneapolis-based band has become known for in the past. The song covers singer Justin Pierre’s past struggles with social phobias and drug abuse, and is written in their familiar style of fast-paced lyrics and pop-punk melodies. But there are also many things about this song that are dramatically different from what the band has released in the past. This song is much more honest than what Pierre has previously attempted, and this, by his own admission, was something he struggled with deeply. What he did come up with in the end though is what could very easily be one of their best pieces released thus far.

The song is slung through with hypophora and rhetorical questions, weaving the story of singer Pierre’s experiences in life between the questions “Was it a matter of time?” and “Do you ever wonder how you got to here?” The first question is answered throughout implicitly, and then is addressed directly in the second chorus when he states, “Someone said, / ‘It's not a matter of time, it's just a matter of timing.’” This play on words is something seen quite commonly in Motion City Soundtrack songs. The change from time as the basic idea to the gerund form is a small change as far as a difference of letters goes, but it is a very significant change in the meanings of the two phrases. The first is pessimistic and lacks any sign of hope; it implies that only bad things could be in store for the future. The second phrase, however, holds only hope for the future. Saying something is a matter of timing is to imply conscious action by the speaker. While the first phrase seems to be referring back to the poor decisions of the speaker’s life (drug use), the second phrase suggests that things can be done right (that life can improve) if the speaker only chooses his actions carefully.

The second question of the song, “Do you ever wonder how you got to here?” is posed in the song as a rhetorical question. It is repeated several times throughout the second half of the song, but the question is never directly answered. Instead, it’s left open-ended as something for the listeners to ponder. The idea is also added to throughout the song as Pierre plays with ideas of time and cognition. In the two verses directly following the first usage of this question, all of the lines seem to play with the idea that the line suggests:

“Branded, marked, and paper thin,
This angry saint went marching in
To war with scores of ninety proof;
Found nothing but the ugly truth.
The decade of wastage an instant,
And that’s where I wanted to be.

Woke up feeling 35
Though grateful that I’m still alive.
Another chance at normalcy --
To chase the dream but now it seems
That days run away like wild horses over the hills.”

The first of these verses describes the beginning of the downward spiral. The line, “Branded, marked and paper thin,” is an example of scesis onomaton. What it’s really describing is the state of being that the speaker was in at the time, having already struggled with drugs and social disorders. He was branded and marked by what he’d gone through in the past, and he had little protection against emotional harm -- paper thin. He then describes his struggle with alcohol abuse as a war against ninety proof (synecdoche), coming back to the idea of time passing with, “The decade of wastage an instant.”

There is also a very important allusion in this song to an older song by the same band, released on their third studio album in 2007. The song “Last Night” off of that album was written while Pierre was still very much-so struggling with his drug and alcohol problems, and contained a pseudo-prayer expressing the hopelessness that he was feeling at the time.

“My body aches, it heaves, it shakes
All somersaults through so-called art
And I still don't know exactly who I am
I never will, amen.”

Here Pierre doesn’t leave any room for things changing with time. He seems only to believe that he is destined to fail, and that he could never discover those things which he so desperately wishes to know. In “Timelines” however, he addresses those lines with a changed perspective, stating:

“Take it in and hold on while you can;
All the destruction will one day end,
And you'll finally know exactly who you are.
It's just a matter of timing.”

It seems that opinions between 2007 and now have changed dramatically for Justin Pierre. With improved health -- both physically and mentally -- has come a new perspective on his life, and although he’s still conscious of the mistakes he’s made in his life (taking the whole first half of the song to describe them), his words show a definite knowledge that things are improving and will continue to do so. The whole tone of this song is different than what has been seen in the past. This album, instead of being a roller coaster of ups and down -- failures and successes -- seems always to be heading upward. It takes the darkness of past experience, and layers it with hope for the future.
For a band that attracts listeners who’ve gone through the same or similar situations, this is a change that will make definite impressions on its listeners. Motion City Soundtrack is a pop-punk styled band that attracts the usual listeners mostly in their teens and twenties, but they’ve also tapped into different groups as well. It’s not uncommon to see older people (people with established careers and families) that fall in love with this band. Because the lyrics are honest, they attract a wide range of listeners; the band is able to relate to a large range of listeners, because people relate to honesty. And so, while they are still signed to a major record label that ensures their music gets a wide release and wide advertising, there hasn’t been a change in that core honesty in their lyrics between being the unsigned indie band from the Twin Cities at their start, and now, the world touring band with roots in the Midwest.

-Lauren Ihrke

1 comment:

  1. Dude, this is a great analysis. It is nice to hear that other people recognise JP as a lyrical genius and a modern day poet who is honest to the bone, and braver than most of us as he is willing to expose himself as a self aware dandelion