It may be the melody that hooks one’s ear into a new song, but the lyrics are what keep it in mind. We sing along to our favorite songs, words acting as the solidifier that make it one of our own. And when we know all the words, it’s a mark of personal pride and credibility among friends.
Perhaps that’s why so many songs these days on the radio, or really pop songs since there have been pop songs, all aim to make their words accessible and easy to remember. The choruses stay simple, becoming ear worms that bug us endlessly. We end up learning these words even though we never try to – and sometimes we all learn them slightly differently, when there are no CD sleeves or internet lyrics to guide us. It was years and many silly arguments down the road before my friends and I knew the true lyrics to Cher’s “Believe.”
Yet pop lyrics, however memorable or not, have stayed alarmingly vague over the years. In almost every genre but rap and hip-hop, lyrics revolve around rhyming with “you” and speaking of love, loss, and life in concentric circles of the English language. There’s a reason for this, besides allowing the listener to remember the words – it helps a large mass of them relate to what’s being said. Many an artist in interviews will refuse to reveal the real story behind a song, so that the listener can continue to interpret it however it best applies to them. But while a time-honored and common strategy, I think it’s also overdone and has become the easy way out.
In contrast, there is indie pop band Said The Whale and their new tune “Miscarriage,” off 2017’s As Long As Your Eyes Are Wide. Starting with the title, there is little mystery to this track. And it’s very much a real story.
“When you bled out blood like it was both of us and I held your beautiful body / When you put on a brave face for my family and we had Thanksgiving”
Band member Tyler Bancroft and his partner went through a miscarriage in 2015, and this song hides no truths from that experience. It’s achingly personal, so vulnerable in its message and musicality it hits straight in the heart from the first line. By telling a true story, and such a painful one, the emotional power they harness outcompetes the impact of any vague, modern pop song by miles and miles. They’ve reset the horizon line.
Because this is not the story of the pop or rock star life, of the bright lights on stage or of late nights drinking. It is not about touring on the road or the hotel rooms or the homesickness inherent to the industry. There are no drugs here, no mentions of sex or dancing at a club. This is the story of a real couple’s trial together, a band member’s grief, and how music can become part of the healing process.
“And I’m thinking how happy it seemed my mother was when she thought that I’d be a father / How we gathered our friends around and broke the news like a couple of fools”
Bancroft also elaborates on the lyrics in a statement:
“Miscarriage is a unique kind of loss in that you’re mourning what could have been. It’s a lonely kind of loss, because miscarriage is rarely discussed. And it’s a loss of control – realizing that the future may not turn out the way you had imagined it. For me this was especially disarming since I didn’t realize how much I wanted a child until I was faced with the possibility of never having one. Miscarriage strips the joy from pregnancy and turns it into a source of grief and anxiety.
“But whatever sadness and anger I was feeling was only a fraction of what my partner was experiencing. The shame associated with her body not doing what it’s “biologically designed to do,” the loss of control, and the uncertainty about reproductive health – these things are all devastating. Watching the person you love go through that is heartbreaking, and it took everything I had to comfort her along with trying to comfort myself.
“I wrote this song in the throes of our experience. It was cathartic and therapeutic, and a lot of tears were shed. I won’t say I’m glad we went through what we did, but I will say that our experience has provided me with a perspective and an empathy that I may not have otherwise had. Our experience also makes me feel like the luckiest person on earth because our story has a happy ending – our third pregnancy was carried to term and our son was born in the summer of 2016.”
Like Bancroft, a former coworker of mine also had a happy ending last year.
It seemed that all my colleagues in nonprofit were getting pregnant and having kids like a piece of cake, but it wasn’t until my coworker mentioned she was trying not to get too excited about this pregnancy did I find out just how difficult the process can be. She’d miscarried before, and had suffered a loss of not only that pregnancy, but the mentality of joy and expectation that came along with it.
It isn’t widely known, but up to 20 percent of pregnancies (or more) end in miscarriage in the U.S. That’s one in every five pregnancies, or about 750,000 to one million every year.
The Stranger has an amazing piece on all of this, including the fact that almost half of women who have had a miscarriage admit they feel they have done something wrong, expressing guilt over the event. But according to scientific data, that is rarely ever the case. Women’s bodies are not malfunctioning when a miscarriage happens, they are making an unconscious choice. The woman has done nothing wrong. But when it happens during a wanted pregnancy, the emotional fallout is nothing short of tragic.
Author Angela Garbes described pregnancy loss in her piece, “as a primordial river rushing through me; it carries forces so big, they eclipse my imagination. It runs through my femoral artery and vena cava, through my spleen, my brain, and the chambers of my heart. At first, this force is strong like rapids, flooding everything. With time it slows, but it never goes away. It rearranges my cells like stones in a riverbed. It never stops running, even after I can no longer see or feel it.”
And at the end of this section of the song, I can hear that river even crashing through me.
“Tell me how to act / All I wanna do is make it alright / I want to tell you that you’re beautiful / And everything is fine / And when the heartbeat slowed down slowly / I want to tell you that it’s natural / And everything in time / And that we’ll always be a family / No matter the design / And I’ll always save a dance for you at the end of every night”
The first time I heard this section of “Miscarriage,” I had to sit down, and I almost cried.
Said The Whale proves firsthand that pop music can be down to earth, bowl you over like a river, take you on a journey that is not your own. It can deal with the difficulties of everyday life, not just the butterflies and the break ups.
Last weekend, my best friend from college had her first child, and the joy I felt that day was really something else. I wasn’t there, but was so grateful that this new bundle made it all the way through, that she did not have to endure the agony of ending that journey early. But if she does in the future, if any woman I know does, I know now that it is important to be able to talk about it. Not to hide that it’s normal, natural, part of the circle of life.
By being so intimate on the subject themselves, Said The Whale helps us connect with them and each other on a much deeper level than most pop music would even think of attempting.
They take us with them to a place we might not know otherwise, and we emerge more empathetic, more understanding. More human.
I think that’s what stepping into the darkness is all about.
“It’s already our tomorrow / And the midnight sun it’ll drive us home And everything is beautiful”