Welcome to "Behind the Lyrics" with Elise Chandler. Each week, I find a song that I feel is understated both musically and lyrically, and I analyze it through several critical lenses.
This week, I made a real effort to look for a happier song. This is one of my all-time favorite songs -- "Jackie and Wilson" by Hozier. One of the reasons I like this song so much is the beautiful picture it composes and how that picture pushes against a lot of what our society emphasizes in a lot of pop culture. Let's look into it.
At the beginning of this song, we find the narrator "tired of trying to see behind the red in (his) eyes". He describes his location as with the "most familiar swine". His self-esteem is not high on himself. He knows he is a mess, and he longs for more, but how?
Out of nowhere, "she" appears looking like a "roman candle". He sees her and his whole world explodes with expectation. Is she the one? Can he be saved by her love? These thoughts are all it takes for him to be off in a day-dream.
"She's gonna save me call me baby run her hands through my hair She'll know me crazy, soothe me daily, but yet she wouldn't care We'll steal her Lexus, be detectives, ride round pickin' up clues We'll name our children Jackie and Wilson, 'raise em on rhythm and blues"
This chorus is an outline of their wonderful life together. She'll know his faults, and she'll still support him to be a better man. They'll get into some trouble, but always for the right reasons, and they'll have a family and name them after a common interest. I just think that is a beautiful representation of love, and he gleans this off of being around her in a crowded space.
However, after more daydreams of gardens, a stable home life, he looks up to realize she is gone, and he has missed his chance. He ends feeling a bit forlorn, but states, "I start thinking of the art for what's left of me and our little vignette, For whatever pour soul is coming next." He isn't giving up. Miss-Right is out there for him, and he'll be ready next time.
This upbeat, cute song is a fascinating study of our current culture. In the literary theory New Historicism, theorists argue that literature is a reflection of the society it was written in, and so, in order to totally understand a piece of literature, we must understand the culture it was written in. Luckily for us, "Jackie and Wilson" was written in 2014, so we can remember those times fairly well.
In 2014, relationships were becoming of a lot of interest to many scholars. Divorces were on the rise (CDC). More and more Millenials were choosing to live with a partner than rush into marriage due to many reasons, but one of the main ones was finances. Many Millenials also felt like their life wasn't together yet, and they needed more time before settling down (The New York Times). According to Forbes, there has been a 47% increase in depression in Millenials in a recent study. Are these things correlated?
One of literature's main focuses is the human condition and the necessity for humans to be around other humans to survive. I believe "Jackie and Wilson" is a great example of what many Millenials may be feeling every time their sweet grandmothers ask them when they are getting married. They feel like the red-eyed, tired, low-self-esteemed narrator in the beginning. They work their lives away and feel they have nothing to show for it. No home to go to, but the 'rentals or the accommodating one-bedroom apartment. No fancy car. And no family of their own waiting with open arms. In other words, what is their purpose?
Hozier, I believe, is painting a picture of how it feels every time there is that connection with another human. Sure, it may begin as purely physical, but once you talk to them and find similar interests (Jackie and Wilson and rhythm and blues), is it so hard to believe that many humans would long for the stability and lifetime love of someone similar to you? It even ends in a warning: Don't let that potentially special someone slip away. If you feel something, try to have a conversation. You never know, you might have found the love of your life, and music brought you here. But isn't that what great music does? Until next time.