August 20, 2011


Ana Marie Cox and ‘I Became a Prostitute’ (Mark Judge , 02/16/2011, Daily Caller)

Many pieces about the Twilight Sad include references to the melancholy of the band’s sound and the lyrics of singer James Graham, who has hinted that the often-oblique lyrics refer to things that he experienced growing up in Scotland. That would seem like rich soil to explore issues of human suffering and the ability to alchemize such pain into a divine art — music. Instead, critics only write about how the Twilight Sad’s songs affect their standing in the pop universe. There are lots of examples, but the best is probably this review by Jonathan Garrett, from the respected rock critic site Pitchfork, of the band’s single “I Became a Prostitute”:

Twilight Sad songs have always seemed to teeter on the brink of broader appeal — probably because a fair number of their influences, U2 and My Bloody Valentine chief among them, reside on the more melodic and, some might say, commercial end of the guitar-rock spectrum. But if they truly aim for something universal, their dissonance-ravaged guitar tones frequently object. Yet it’s precisely the conflicted nature of their songs, the tension between commercial impulse and arty recalcitrance, that provides the drama. “I Became a Prostitute”, rather than making good on its title’s threat, plays like a sly acknowledgement of the internal discord. Erupting with a massive, sky-scraping roar of feedback, the song quickly pulls back, ceding the spotlight to James Graham’s vocals. For the most part, “Prostitute” is content to vacillate back and forth between the urgent opening gambit and the more sinister verses. But it’s the closing stretch that shows the strain, with guitarist Andy MacFarlane taking the central hook and twisting it into a series of unrecognizable shapes. The song doesn’t end so much as drop off, but true to form, they never let it break.

One needn’t be a born-again Christian awaiting the rapture to feel that there is something missing here. “I Became a Prostitute” is a staggeringly powerful song, indeed a work of art. And the radiating guitars, sorrowful vocals and close, tight drums work not only as a beautiful wall of noise in and of itself, but as the aural expression of a great moral tragedy — the loss of a person’s God-given dignity to the sex trade. The tension in the song has nothing to do with the Twilight Sad’s position between hipster favorites and U2-sized superstars (what a facile and idiotic reading!). The tension, indeed the near chaos, of “I Became a Prostitute” is between what our conscience tells us is right and wrong and the horrible tragedy of what can happen to us in the real world. More, the sound may reflect the moral meltdown in singer and bandleader James Graham’s experience. He has said his songs are about stuff that happened to him growing up. It’s possible he and some buddies may have gone to a prostitute, and the experience left him feeling morally soiled. That’s not a stretch when you consider the lyrics:

We’re all fine in the back of our minds
As we can do what we like
We could be with you tonight
And if we bleed you dry
We’re taking half you time
And taking all your tide

You are the bearer of a womb without love
But oh you could have had it all
Is that what you said?
Is that what you said on a low ride?

How could anyone reduce this to a puerile debate about “commercial impulse vs. arty recalcitrance”? This is like when Egypt recently erupted in revolution, and back home all the pundits could talk about was how it would affect President Obama. It is a sentiment that is completely removed from the real drama at hand. It’s also brings to mind a line of Chesterton’s: “Do not be proud of the fact that your grandmother was shocked at something which you are accustomed to seeing or hearing without being shocked…It may be that your grandmother was an extremely lively and vital animal and that you are a paralytic.” Or a rock critic.

Posted by at August 20, 2011 7:43 AM

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