Juxtaposed with what? A friendship.
Perhaps I should start with a disclaimer: this article is not an in-depth review of the album, and I am no music critic. I am, in fact, a relative beginner when it comes to music other than that produced in my country; I only got Spotify two years ago by sheer chance from a friend, and my friends were hyped up about Alt-J, which led to my continual obsession with them.
I instead want to talk about when The National’s I am Easy to Find hit me in the face last week, and how the entire album is a landscape portrait of the fledglings of my mind, the haziness of my fragile love. The interpretations could be markedly different from what the band intended, and are only proof of how fluid and ambiguous (in a good way) art can be – taking shape in anyone’s hands, strengthened by beliefs, reincarnated and cherished by someone else for how it made them feel.
P has been a friend of mine for the past two-and-a-half years, and much more than just a friend – she has been towel, bodyguard, mother, closet and key. She held my hair while I puked and introduced me to watermelons; she sends me music I briefly enjoy and cries over my poems. There is a lot of heavy love flowing in between us; we quietly rejoice in the brevity of our friendship which is constantly punctuated by poems and indie music. Tranquility and sassiness have always been the underlying currents of what we have built over these years, and there were barely any arguments all this time. (Which, in retrospect, seems like a problematic thing to say. I could say it isn’t and the relationship wasn’t toxic, but we believe what we want to believe and I don’t know what to believe in anymore.)
About a couple of weeks ago, things drastically altered; things I was kept in the dark about for months came tumbling out only on approaching a parallel subject, and I stormed off, shaking with the sense of fury and betrayal.
Singularly big conflicts in relationships tend to become the drills into the ground that bring ancient things spurting out – old wounds forgotten the day after, some careless remark, a birthday present. Out it all came, sprinkling all over; words were spoken, tears shed, tiny resentments building up a mountain. And then: silence. Awkwardness, picking up threads, trying to see if there was anything to salvage. Teetering steps, uncertain texts.
On one such tepid day, a week after all this happened and the rumblings were being silenced, I am Easy to Find found me, rather easily.
The first time I had heard of The National was from a random acquaintance who I remember for no apparent reason; we were going for some work to a far-off place, and I had asked him what he was listening to. Guilty Party, the reply came.
I gave it a listen; it didn’t catch my attention much. I tried a few times on different occasions – and I cannot pinpoint when the song finally caught hold of me, but it did. Lyrics like I just got nothing/Nothing left to say/It all, all just catches up to me were deceptively simple, and yet managed to capture the undercurrents of complexity and the richness of longing in a city – the missed calls, no mistakes, the ever-present silence, the urbane yearning. I was entranced by the brooding-white-man-esque vibes of the band, the involvement of their spouses with the project, the quiet, understated appeal of their music and image. I was, however, not prepared for their latest album to run a gentle hand over my head and whisper pain soothingly into my ears as I cried to sleep. I was not prepared for reality to smack me in the form of music.
The 64-minute-long album goes up and down, light and swingy, dark and wine-like, as does the film associated with it (Alicia Vikander, incomprehensibly talented and beautiful). In this it becomes an interesting stand-in for not just particular incidents (a breakup, missing someone, feeling lost), but life itself. The album stood as a personification of all the things I wanted to say but couldn’t, and ended up saying instead.
The title I am Easy to Find lends itself to some discussion. Are we “easy” in our grief? Does loss, while probably shutting us off from other people and the world, open us up more starkly to what is real and there? Sudden shock, conflict or bereavement throws (or walks) us away from what we had loved and thought would stay – but love leaves and so do we. It, however, opens up different spaces of our mind we would have never thought even existed – perhaps this is what makes us “easy to find” to people in similar situations when shaking with unsayable emotions. This is why we go look for other people to share with, people who have been through or are going through a similar metamorphosis: to make sense of the new openings, the unknown nerve endings.
You Had Your Soul With You is laced with a fast-paced instrumentation, and felt like words being said in a rush of emotions, emerging from an abyss from within. There are things one says only at particular moments in life – words of rare anger, of self-loathing, defeat, pain. And I just can’t find a way to forgive myself/I had only one thing left and I couldn’t see it yet. Many images flash across my mind as I think about this song – scenes in a nightclub at 3am, a friend kissing my hand, my naivete on full exhibit, me becoming an unaware contributor to the catastrophe exploding over our heads a few months later. The air of regret gives way to a pained, almost accusatory calling: You have no idea how hard I died when you left.
A more demanding, braver sentiment pervades Roman Holiday:
I’m not afraid to tell you what I want
I’m not afraid of anything, I want it all
The words spoke out to me, spoke out of me while I fought and raged against myself, made peace with her and shut her out again the next day: attempts at becoming braver, demanding her to let me into her life. To maybe go back to what we had before, or maybe even place me anywhere in her existence: Put me in your movie, pin me to your wall. The see-sawing, of letting in and shutting out; the realization that there is no known way to get through this except to get through this. The music is deeply reflective and moody, as if standing by a pool, watching things materialize with a heavy shot of pain wracking the head (probably from drinking too much).
I sat with P outside a crowded mall, watching a crass music video while she waited for me with bated breath and teeming anger. The evening sun was falling like hair over our backs, and children threw tetra packs on the ground while jumping over toy car rides. I had just returned from an afternoon out with some other girlfriends; the turmoil of my relationship with P meant that my overly-expensive lunch had turned to ash in my mouth, and dancing felt like making my way through a sticky jam of lead.
I wish I had The Pull of You playing in my head that day. It would have articulated all our pain and shown us how tiny it all seemed in comparison to what we had both painstakingly built over these years. It is, after all, a matter of considerable miracles that two highly-flawed, troubled and uncertain people would decide to come together and love each other across text messages and voice notes, across missed birthday cakes and walks through Connaught Place, across free falling into each other’s recesses and endless narcissism. It happens all across the world, each tiny miracle planted into the ground around insurance bills, families and insecurities.
Something’s leaving me behind/It’s just a feeling in my mind
There are days when it feels like even the air is leaving me behind in the pursuit of its own life. These are put to rest by P as she reads my texts patiently, telling me to shut up and stop hating myself. Her voice rings in my ears like she is talking instead of texting; everything then seems like a midnight swim in a chocolate pond.
What was is it you always said?/We’re connected by a thread
Memories bounce off the lyrics of this song (my personal favorite); stories of nerves, threads, half-hour-long phone calls from across the world and tamarind rice. Every bit of love, every fragment of our friendship feels tainted with self-loathing and seesaws; we inspire each other to get up and start loving our own selves, then one of us lapses back and pulls the other over into the self-dug abyss. There is the anger that we feel when the other speaks of themselves in a language keeling over with a toxic disregard for oneself. Self-love is a battlefield where we both try and prop each other up along life’s muddy vision. Our identities often smudge up, circle and blend with each other: sometimes I don’t think I’m really around here half the time/Sometimes I don’t think I’m really around here at all. Our absences are punctuated by guilty texts and insistent knocks.
Learning how not to die inside a little every time/I think about you and wonder if you are awake.
Quiet Light works off as a breezy piece of rock, only the lyrics are as heavy as they can get. It’s a lesson in recovering from loss while acknowledge what has left; a sort of confession one might write in a diary. You know, when people who have never crossed the threshold of your house are suddenly packing up, buying tickets and lounging around, hoping to avoid awkward goodbyes but never really being able to leave without one.
It feels strange that a rock band from halfway across the globe could see into my moody silences sitting in the sports complex or outside the cigarette store. Even more so when they mostly sing about ‘privileged’ crises: a languid marriage, suburban emptiness, the feeling of having everything and loving nothing. Their music pinpoints at specific events in life and still ends up becoming the singsong of universality. Perhaps it is of no surprise, hence, that P and I are up at it with screws and bolts, repairing and replenishing what was lost, listening to the same lyrics of the same songs at once. My feelings for our friendship could not be described any better: If we ever get far apart/I’ll still feel the pull of you.
Anjali Bhavan is an engineering undergrad. Her work has appeared/is forthcoming in Speaking Tree, Porridge Magazine, TERSE., Allegro Poetry Review and Sooth Swarm Journal among others. She currently writes according to her moods, and looks forward to oddball experiences.