The Silence

After yesterday’s “2 Minute Silence,” today, we’re visiting another type of silence.

Late in the evening on November 10, while I was writing my just-before-midnight post on Johnny Cash’s cover of “Hurt,” today’s song came up on YouTube autoplay.

Just a month ago, on October 13, I posted “The Sunshine” from Manchester Orchestra’s 2017 album, Black Mile to the Surface. “The Silence,” another song from that album, is represented in a powerful piece of storytelling in video by American director Ted Roach. That other evening after it popped up, I watched the video again and again, mesmerized by it.

The Manchester Orchestra website contains this comment by the band’s singer-songwriter/guitarist/lead-singer Andy Hall regarding today’s song: “The last track is called ‘The Silence.’ This song is one of the songs I wrote – popped out of bed at one in the morning – it felt like I kinda had to get this thing down, and really, it’s a prayer to God. It’s God talking to me, God talking to my daughter, and then ultimately at the end, the finale is me praying over my daughter.

Some reviewers have commented that Hall’s writing on the album tells of historical family dysfunction and his reconciliation of that with his new fatherhood. I don’t know if that’s correct, but songs on Black Mile to the Surface like “The Silence” and “The Alien” indeed point that way. And as part of this sorting in today’s track, he acknowledges the limits of his biological role as a father, even so early on: “… Magnified in the science / Anatomically proved that you don’t need me…”

The producers, including John Congleton, the wizard behind the development of Sharon Van Etten’s “Seventeen” (for another powerful song, please see my post on it), capture the intense drama of the story. The video then takes it up and then right over the top. It’s all brilliant songwriting, musicianship and production.

The video for “The Silence” opens with the band doing a sound-check at a music venue, maybe one of those 2,000-seat Vaudeville-era theatres based on the decor you can see in bits. Then after the instrumental intro, the synthesizer and bass solemnly carry the song over into a recording session in a building with stained glass. Hall asks, “Are we good to go?” and when the producer says yes, the keyboard player, looking young, innocent and nervous, lays his hands on his notebook with the piano chords for the song, as if he’s blessing what’s to follow. The first verse begins with the steady drumming and a short, guttural, echoing guitar riff that seems to hint at an impending showdown on the American Old West. It revisits many times as if to remind us of the tension.

Like in the dramatic lead-in, there are several effects through the video, like at 4:03 where the drum kit track is temporarily detached and muffled, seemingly a symbol of disconnection and isolation, mirroring the lyrics.

At 5:21 in the video after the second chorus, the story cuts back to the musicians playing live in the venue. Then at 5:54, the band explodes into a three-minute outro. Maybe it was my anticipation on the eve of Remembrance Day (Veterans’ Day for friends in the USA), but I found the beginning of that section evoked a gut-wrenching feeling like witnessing a bloody battle or, at least, intense familial strife. After the final crescendo, the crowd goes wild but quickly reins it in as they see the band is still deeply attending to the song’s last breaths.

I’ve probably watched this video 15 times or more in the past three days, but the final verse still gets me every time. The narrator seems to change from Hall to his father and perhaps his baby daughter (who “sings” to him in “The Sunshine” — please see my post on that one, as well). The internal and external conflict has a happy ending as he looks into his daughter’s eyes, as if she saved his life. Maybe she did.

“Why do I deserve the silence
to feel better about you?
At a loss I lost my cool
I denied that I found you

I tried to be a basket case
I did not surprise you
I’m trying to find a signal fire
Let me know when I should move

But you, amplified in the silence
Justified in the way you make me bruise
Magnified in the science
Anatomically proved that you don’t need me

Why do I desire the space?
I was mourning after you
I was lost and lost my shape
There was nothing I could do

I don’t want to waste away
It was all I gave to you
Take me back and take my place
I will rise right up for you

But you, amplified in the silence
Justified in the way you make me bruise
Magnified in the science
Anatomically proved that you don’t need me

All the while you waste away, you’re asking
“Did I really need another one to take me down?”
Everybody knows it’s something that you had to live with darling
Nobody’s gonna tear you down now
There is nothing you keep, there is only your reflection

There was nothing but quiet retractions
And families pleading, “Don’t look in that cabinet, there’s far more bad than there’s good, I don’t know how it got there”
That was something your father had burned in me
Twenty hours out of Homestake eternity
You can go anywhere but you are where you came from

Little girl you are cursed by my ancestry
There is nothing but darkness and agony
I can not only see, but you stopped me from blinking
Let me watch you as close as a memory
Let me hold you above all the misery
Let me open my eyes and be glad that I got here”

(“The Silence,” by Andy Hull)

Now you know a little about why this is my song of the day for today. Thanks for joining me here, and please enjoy.

Here’s the official music video for the song from Manchester Orchestra’s YouTube channel:  

Here’s a link to the unofficial lyrics.

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