Entry 150, August 24th, 2011, 4:48am (GMT +2)
Today I want to take a look at the lyrics of one of my favorite songs. This is “Two Headed Boy, pt.2,” from Jeff Mangum's indie music masterpiece “In the Aeroplane Over the Sea.” It's a storytelling album with three different threads being followed at the same time. The first story is of Jeff and his relationship with an emotionally damaged woman. The second is the story of his best friend's brother, who committed suicide shortly before the album was recorded. The third is the story of Anne Frank during the holocaust.
Happy stuff, I know. But it is a beautiful album that means a lot to me, and despite what you might think from the subject matter it's actually a celebration of love. The three stories get more and more mixed up as things go until you're not sure who is who and it all blends together somehow. That's why I want to take apart the last song a little bit – Jeff switches between speaking voices so quickly that the imagery can become really confusing. Hopefully I can clear a few things up, or at least stimulate a bit of
conversation as to why I'm wrong!
Listen to it here on youtube:
Coming out of an instrumental dance (rock bagpipe solo!), there are thirty seconds of singing saws (yes, seriously) before we get into the song that's going to take us out of the album. Here's the beginning of the lyric:
“Daddy please hear this song that I sing/
In your heart there's a spark that just screams/
For a lover to bring a child to your chest/
That could lay as you sleep and love all you have left/
Like your boy used to be, long ago/
Wrapped in sheets warm and wet”
Here Jeff is singing as his friend to his father about their loss, his brother who has just killed himself. He keeps this character next stanza, but changes who he's addressing.
“Blister please with those wings in your spine/
Love to be with a brother of mine/
How he'd love to find, your tongue in his teeth/
In a struggle to find, secret songs that you keep/
Wrapped in boxes so tight, sounding only at night as you sleep”
Now he's speaking as Jeff's friend to Anne Frank, asking her to comfort his dead brother. The wings in her spine have been a common motif all the way through the album, and that's how you know he's talking to Anne. Even though the time frames don't match Anne and his brother have fallen in love. Is their relationship also Jeff's? Probably.
“And in my dreams you're alive and you're crying/
As your mouth moves in mine, soft and sweet/
Rings of flowers 'round your eyes and I love you/
For the rest of your life, when you're ready”
Rings of flowers is another clue that Jeff is still speaking to Anne. However, now he's switched to his friend's brother's voice, as he's speaking directly as Anne's lover, not a third party. Why does he say “for the rest of YOUR life” instead of “MY life?” Maybe because he's dead already? I'm not totally sure. In the parallel story way of looking at it, this is Jeff speaking directly to his love.
“Brother see we are one and the same/
And you left with your head filled with flames/
And you watched as your brains fell out through your teeth/
Push the pieces in place, make your smile sweet to see/
Don't you take this away, I'm still wanting my face on your cheek”
Jeff is speaking as his friend again, this time directly to his brother. This is the stanza that always gets to me . . . the confusion and heartbreak of a brother separated from his counterpart forever. Jeff likes the word “teeth,” it showed up two stanzas ago.
“And when we break, we'll all wait for our miracle/
God is a place where some holy spectacle lies/
When we break, we'll all wait for our miracle/
God is a place you will wait for the rest of your life”
Jeff is back in narrator voice again, for the first time this song but not for the first time in the album. If there's a theme tying everything together, it is the transience of love, and that's what he's saying here.
“Two headed boy, she is all you could need/
She will feed you tomatoes and radio wire/
And retire to sheets safe and clean/
But don't hate her when she gets up to leave.”
I see this as Jeff putting the album to bed. Love is impermanent, he says, but don't hate it for that. Love anyway, even if it will all end someday.
Leave some comments! Let me know if you agree/disagree!