A Lyrical Breakdown of Jury Duty + Young/Lovely
These two songs were my first real foray into my (current) favorite subject matter-- the messy in-between of your early 20s. I'm not the first, nor nearly the best artist to tackle that theme, but I think it has enough room to play where everyone can put their spin on it. The songs approach the concept from slightly different angles, but are informed by a lot of the same feelings and impressionist images from my time in Boston-- apartment floor conversations, late night confessions and parked cars. I've been asked by a few people to offer deep dives into my lyrics, and I've never had the right venue til this blog came around! So, for those who asked (and those who didn't), below are some thoughts, explanations and analysis of the words in the songs, and what I try to do with them.
This song takes the form of a conversation between two people on an apartment floor, discussing their anxieties, insecurities and the things they miss. I've had many of these conversations with friends, and while I'd covered the ones in high school parking lots (see: Midnight Kids), I'd never talked about the ones in late-night college bedrooms. I've been an anxious and fairly insecure person since middle school, and my relationship to those anxieties has changed for the better, my biggest stride was when I realized so much of the social fear and isolation I felt was in my head. However, reminders never hurt.
Loaded down with compromise
And purple with potential in our breath
We're tired stories
And whispers late at night into the phone
These were the last words to be written for the entire song. The first line especially gave me trouble, until I spent a night pilfering John K Samson lyrics, and found the word "compromise" littered all over songs with similar subject matter. It seemed the right "sigh" of a word to start the song on, and so it was. Also, I enjoyed playing with the color and breathing imagery-- holding your breath out of fear, and only being able to whisper your frustrations.
With bruises on our ribs and egos
From parking fines and shoulders on the street
While I didn't own a car in Boston, I got in the habit of renting them to take occasional day trips out of state. And let me tell you, the BPD doesn't fuck around when it comes to giving parking tickets. On a serious note, I wanted to introduce how insecurity can be isolating-- perceiving every face on the sidewalk as a threat in some way. (I picture a very specific part of Boylston Street every time I sing this line.)
Like two teens trying hard to be alone
I think my early 20s is when I first began to fight my own behaviors and shake off the worldview I'd developed in high school, and it left me feeling perpetually in-between. I wanted to better myself, but I also wanted to remain comfortable where I was. Likening that emotional turmoil to two kids wrestling with wanting to be together but acknowledging they shouldn't was an image that worked for me. Plus, needed a nice rhyme for "phone."
Let's list the reasons why we're too afraid to sleep in the dark
The sound of fridges and the sting of the past tense
There was this damned fridge in my Boston apartment that offered a soothing white noise, but it would dramatically cut out and leave me with the street noise and my own thoughts. That would lead to me thinking about all the "is" that has turned into "was" in my life. Past tense sucks. (Also, another device I frequently steal from JKS-- lists!)
Show me the games you play to keep away the worst of your doubt
And I promise
I will never lie again
"I will never lie again," wasn't the first line I had in mind for the chorus, but I think it did the best job of tying the title of the song back to the subject matter. Self-judgement is one of the easiest traps and patterns to fall into, but a lot of the things we say about ourselves are untrue and hurtful. And beyond that, the hyperbole of a statement like "I will never _____ again" is impossibly hopeful, but them's the sort of things that make us feel empowered.
There is beauty in our bodies
More than fumbling locks and keys
I have a LOT of thoughts on the role of sexuality in our society, but the main point here was reaffirming there is beauty in your body beyond sexual value. That mole on your nose is beautiful and endearing, and European beauty standards really shouldn't be the baseline of what we call attractive.
Hold my hand and say it with me
I am not my insecurity
The thesis of the song in the.... second verse. Damn, no wonder I almost failed songwriting at Berklee. But I think it's important this line is paired with "Hold my hand...." Insecurity is a battle often fought alone, but having terrific allies willing to hold us up and share our fears is also so important.
There's one thing keeping your clothes on
And it's not me
All of these preceding lines came from a different iPhone note than the rest, and have a bit more smirk to them than other sections. This line in particular. However, I think it's really meant to say the only thing holding you back is yourself-- I think you're gorgeous, so if you wanna take of your clothes and make out, I'm SUPER game.
Let's break the floor beneath our beds and dig for something we lost
I don't remember what it's called but I miss it
My love of David Lynch has added just a touch of magical realism to my words, and the idea of digging for your lost confidence, just beneath your bed, was a mental image that really made me emotional at the time. My apartment had a nicely finished wood floor, and every now and then I'd think about what was underneath.
Another evening calling customer support to just talk
But I promise
This is not the end of us
These choruses seem like two people in a conversation to me. The two people holding hands rejecting their insecurities and discussing sexuality are the two people talking. One of them asking for a way to keep away their doubt, another promising that, despite the bad nights, we're not done yet.
Let's make my noisy upstair neighbors into cloud shapes
Let's see if everything is better after midnight comes
Please take us home
The two voices join here, speaking in third person for the sake of the audience singalong and their shared solutions. Those solutions aren't much more than "play pretend and wait," and at the end of the night, they still want comfort. They still want to go home, to go back to how things used to be.
Wordless, linger in the doorway
You won't regret your choices til she leaves
The tense of this statement pulls you out of the main narrative a bit, but this was inspired by a conversation I had with a friend-- how the anxiety of being with someone can cause behaviors we don't necessarily agree with, but we're not even capable of processing them until after the moment is over. I know it's happened to me.
The distant gavel
You wanna go, and yet, you still remain
The last line was originally, "The lever pulled and every judgment made," but I felt that was redundant given the gavel line and the obnoxious "THUMP THUMP THUMP" that follows it. Instead, I wanted to approach that burning shame that happens after an anxious reaction to something-- the desire to disappear. And yet, you're still there, and the consequences are all yours to deal with.
Let's list decisions that we wish we didn't have to survive
I'll show you all the wilted photos they come with
Linking back to the paste tense line along with the previous line, the two friends, now having reached the climax of their self-exploration, decide to share old shames they wish they could overcome. Yearbooks, photo albums, Facebook stalking-- it all comes out. (Also, I really stole a lot of concepts from this John K. Samson B-side. Listen to it and reveal me for the fraud that I am.)
Show me the usernames we made when we were comedy queens
And they'll make us more than what's been done to us
Most people in this generation are familiar with the "6th grade email username" phenomenon. Mostly now filled with spam, they were made when the least of our concerns was insecurity and personal expression. I personally named mine after The Dark Hills Divide books, and I was so proud of that fact. And that child-like pride in silly things can be power when faced with the adversity of adulthood.
Then that final chorus comes through, reiterating that our insecurities will not scare us anymore. We won't judge ourselves, and we won't repeat mistruths about who we are.
"No, I will never lie again."
This one is really about the choices we make, and not so much about how they define us but moreso how the consequences of those choices get bigger and bigger as you get older. The anxiety of choice-making is profound as one grows up. The title itself is a binary, offering you two options. This was also the first song I tried to put imagery from my personal childhood in, resulting in some fun dream-like phrases.
It's the Safeco screen
Shout out the answer
The ball in the hats
One, two, three
There was an in-between-inning Jumbotron display at Safeco Field that was essentially a shell game with baseballs and batting helmets. Baseball was a bit part of my childhood, but since I wasn't necessarily a fan of the sport, I would concentrate on things like this. (Here's one from the Oakland A's.) The simplicity and lack of consequence in that choice seemed like a fun and easy example to start with-- point and choose, and if you're wrong, well, just laugh it off.
Not so quick to choose
So fixed on the fine print
You balance regret
With what you'll lose
The choices are more complicated, and there's more fear involved now. I played around with a bunch of specific choices of adulthood, but I felt focusing on the emotion and anxiety provided a better starting place than trying to shove 'BUYING A CAR IS SCARY' into the second verse of this song. There's value judgements present now.
So trick or treat
Tear apart your old receipts
Sort out the letters
And we'll spell out words
Too small to see
So, to be fair, I crammed a whole lot into this verse, and while I'm proud of it, it's a bit too dense. First off, it begins with another binary choice: trick or treat. The main inspiration is a personal memory of Halloweens past: coming home with my brother, dumping out the candy and then sorting it out by type and flavor. I pictured that candy being replaced with receipts as you grow up. Instead of sorting out treats, you spend your time sorting out expenses with tiny letters. And finally, the idea of words 'too small to see' just tickled my fancy. I invite you to interpret it however you like.
I'm not laughing as loud as I used to
I don't sleep
Could you call in sick tomorrow?
Cause this joke might take all night....
We're in the present, back in that apartment from Jury Duty with our commiserate friend. The confession is that your laughter isn't genuine anymore. However, companionship on sleepless nights brings you comfort, and while the laughter isn't genuine, perhaps an elaborately detailed joke can become the focal point of time together. (Alternatively, you can regard you own life story as a joke, and recount it over the whole night as you two laugh about where you ended up.) (Shoutout to Nichole, who directly inspired the "call in sick" line by doing just that.)
Are you scared like me?
Not of the monsters at war
Or the bombs beneath beds
Things have been reversed, and things are not in the places they belong. However, those aren't the things that truly scare you. This whole verse retains the conversational format, asking questions of someone in search of empathy.
But of little lies
And a full night's sleep
Things that came easily when you were younger are revealed to be a sham. I personally don't think I've slept a fulfilling night for more than two nights in a row.
I've built a prison from read receipt times
Do you wanna see?
Raise your hand if you've got that backed up wall of un-answered texts or emails lingering. You too? Same.
I'm not laughing as loud as I used to
I can't keep calling home expecting answers
Many are familiar with the early-20s call home to parents. "How do I fix a sink?" "How do I find an apartment?" "How do I get a loan?" After a while, you start to realize there aren't answers for some questions, especially the bigger, existential ones.
Is this what I am now?
I'm stuck but don't know how
Both roads getting steeper
I'm trapped by procedure
Tell me which goodbye to write
This was a writer's room group effort. Steve, John, Kyle and myself were in the accommodations of a rural New Jersey studio, about to record a draft of this song the next day. I wanted something that roughly followed the horn line from the previous section over these chords. Going from a simple wordless melody to a group shout felt like prosody enough. (There was originally a joke about a snowplow in there, but we thought best to remove it.)
Hang my bachelor's degree from the ceiling
Buy a fat plastic bat down the street
I'm hosting a party
Let's take a few swings
See what comes out beyond candy
Treating your diploma like a piñata is probably not the most respectful thing to do, and it's certainly a statement of privilege. But I think this was a sentiment many of my classmates shared. We lost faith that a degree would actually provide any path forward. (Also, another line stolen from JKS, "Confessions of a Futon-Revolutionist.")
We we born far too late for the oceans
And the same but too soon for the stars
The age of anxiety bubbling up
Over windows with borrowed and filthy cars
More car rental references! And generally, this might be the thesis expressed in another way-- being trapped by a binary, but this time, it's not so much by choice. We have no frontier to explore but our own anxiousness. Also, I had this terrific history teacher who referred to the current moment as "the age of anxiety." Thanks, Patricia.
Our only frontier is our fleeting sense of meaning
But we've got a few hours til morning
If you want to talk it out
A continuation of the last line-- feeling like there's not much to explore, but being comfortable in the solution being a conversation with friends, and being able to admit your shortcomings to yourself and others.
Look at me
All these doors I've shut
All of my memories have red and blue wires
I'm scared to cut
Red and blue appear so much in my lyrics, I think they're a quintessential device to use for opposites. But this time, I was thinking of that action movie cliché-- "Which wire do I clip to defuse the bomb?" Another choice, another anxiety.
Laughing as loud as I used to
I feel cheap
Why's the future so misleading?
I think this one takes us back to the conversation between friends. While the directly proceeding question is just a plain admittance of fear, this one is a lament.
Think hard with me
Try to believe
We'll make our life like the movies
I think I left my faith inside the theatre
With whatever get better means
In movies, every plot thread gets tied up neatly and every choice usually works out. It's tempting to apply that rhetoric to your own life, but when you do, it doesn't fit. Not everything means something. So, faith is easy answers was left in the theatre when the credits rolled. This also takes a stab at platitudes of optimism. "Get better" can lose its meaning when repeated so many times.
Where I cried at the final scene
It was us with some scissors
And foul line seats
Making choices with nothing but sweet belief
If we can't be young and lovely
We will just be young
Finally, finally, this song needed something resembling a happy ending. And while it is contained to a reminiscence about being in a theatre and having confidence, it feels like the chorus of the song as far as summation goes. This line brings up back to the baseball game, and the cutting of wires on memories. Here, the anxiety is replaced with the confidence of youth. The binary of the song title "Young/Lovely" is a choice in of itself, and the narrators finally choose, free of any hysteria or depression. And they choose youthful pride over "lovely" adulthood.