Sunday, November 15, 2015

Song Interpretation: She's A Jar

A modern novel has perspective. The first person narrator doesn't necessarily represent the writer. So when Twain uses the pronoun "I" in Huckleberry Finn, he isn't presenting his tale or opinion, but Huck's. Because the narrative is in first person, he/she isn't omniscient, has perspective and is biased. This makes for a more complex reading experience. This is why I find the reading experience of a modern novel so much more enjoyable. The world you delve into is more broader and full of possibilities. What isn't Huck telling me? Is he lying? Your narrator could be deeply flawed, delusional or insane like the narrators of Poe's Tell-tale Heart, Nabokov's Lolita or A M Home's The End of Alice. This makes for a wild ride.

 Pop songs are no different. When Bruce Springsteen sings a song from the perspective of a "Highway Patrolman" or when Ice T does so from the perspective of a "Cop Killer," they are using this same literary device. The "I" is not the singer of the song but a personae that is narrating the story. A lesser known and more abstract example of this is the song "She's a Jar" by Wilco.

The band Wilco is often called Dad Rock because most of their fans are men about my age, old enough to be dads, who grew up listening to rock songs with great lyrics like Bob Dylan, Neil Young or even Bob Seger. They are a newish Chicago-based band that was formed in 1994 from the ashes of the alt-country band Uncle Tupelo. "She's a Jar" is from their third album and my personal favorite, Summersteeth. Much of the album is about how the strains of being on the road affects your marriage.
 
We have two people in this song: the male narrator and the woman who is the "she" in the title. The last line, "You know she begs me not to hit her," really threw me for a loop the first time I heard it. You don't know a lot about the man, narrator, in this song, other than he is an abuser and he is on the road a lot. We know a lot about her because the song is about her. First thing we know is that she is a jar. The image that comes to mind is that she is made of glass and containing something nourishing, but then we find out that her lid is "heavy."

Much of the rest of the song is abstract full of imagery. None of it sticks and only some of it, becomes more clear when you hear the word "hit." The lines "the bruised road," "a pretty war," "my eyes red," "my face gets sick" or "dry your eyes" all do an interpretive bend when you hit that last line.

The abstract nature of the song begs for multiple interpretations. It is his thoughts and it is obvious, it is a struggle. He is fighting against as much as rationalizing his behavior. You could also consider the "hit" in the song isn't violence at all.  For if she is indeed a jar ... when you "hit" a jar, you are drinking from it, are you not?  But then, why would she be begging him not to if that were the case?

lyrics of Wilco's She's A Jar by Jay Bennett and Jeff Tweedy

 "She's A Jar"

She's a jar
With a heavy lid
My pop quiz kid
A sleepy kisser
A pretty war
With feelings hid
She begs me not to miss her

She says forever
To light a fuse
We could use
A hand full of wheel
And a day off
And a bruised road
However you might feel
Tonight is real

When I forget how to talk, I sing
Wont you please
Bring that flash to shine
And turn my eyes red
Unless they close
When you click
And my face gets sick
Stuck
Like a question unposed

Just climb aboard
The tracks of a trains arm
In my fragile family tree
And watch me floating inches above
The people under me

Please beware the quiet front yard
I warned you
Before there were water skies
I warned you not to drive
Dry your eyes, you poor devil

Are there really ones like these?
The ones I dream
Float like leaves
And freeze to spread skeleton wings
I passed through before I knew you

I believe it's just because
Daddy's payday is not enough
Oh, I believe it's all because
Daddy's payday is not enough

Just climb aboard
The tracks of a trains arm
In my fragile family tree
And watch me floating inches above
The people under me

She's a jar
With a heavy lid
My pop quiz kid
A sleepy kisser
A pretty war
With feelings hid
You know she begs me not to hit her

1 comment:

Olga Hebert said...

I always learn something new from your blog.