Thursday, April 1, 2010

Daily Dose 4/1/10 - "I Will Follow You Into the Dark" Death Cab for Cutie

Welcome to the somewhat lame-ishly titled "See the Music" blog - devoted to something that will probably become a lost art at some point: the music video. For the first entry in what I hope will be a daily series of bringing some of the best and most interesting music videos out there to your attention, I present the video for "I Will Follow You Into the Dark" by Death Cab for Cutie.

There's a lot to like here. First off, the song is one of those rare singles that bridges the gap between popularity and artistry, being both a truly beautiful song, and one of the most popular off of the band's 2005 release, Plans. Ben Gibbard, the Death Cab frontman, has a pretty unique voice even amongst the shoegazer/mumblecore set, and the minimalist production on this ballad really allows his sound to shine.

Conceptually, I think the video is fantastic. A man (in this case, Gibbard), lives his life within a single room; sleeping, eating, and strumming his guitar. A mysterious knothole in his floor becomes larger and larger every day, until finally Gibbard falls into the hole and leaves. At which point, a new day dawns, and both the hole and Gibbard are gone without a trace.

The song is a pretty explicit reflection on love and death, which should probably be apparent immediately from the title. And while it's filled with the wandering and often esoteric lyrics that have always been a hallmark for Gibbard & Co, the overall message is clear: even in death, love can be a companion.

"If Heaven and Hell decide
That they both are satisfied
Illuminate the 'Nos' on their vacancy signs
If there's no one beside you
When your soul embarks
Then I will follow you into the dark"

I do want to touch on a very interesting and effective technical decision made in the video to alter the quality of sound when the camera goes "inside" the hole and looks up at Gibbard's character and the room. I can't think of any videos that change the sound of the song they're interpreting as much as this one does, and it's a nice touch that brings the viewer even deeper into the "otherness" of the dark.

What's intriguing to me about the way the video (directed by highly sought-after music video creator Monkmus, by the way) interprets the lyrics is that it chooses to focus on the idea of death as transition, or opportunity, or even freedom. While definitely alive and functional, Gibbard's character is seemingly trapped in the room he occupies. There is no door pictured, and the view out of the window by the table seems to imply that the room is located several stories above the ground, making that an infeasible point of egress.

As the growing hole enters his consciousness, the man shows distinctly negative emotions towards it. Initially, fear, as the spider coming out of the initial knothole startles him. Then annoyance as he catches his foot in the slightly larger hole while getting out of bed. This evolves into suspicion as the hole becomes too big to ignore and he is forced to edge carefully around it to travel from the table to the bed. Finally, it becomes fear again, but on a much more dramatic scale as he rolls out of bed one morning and into the hole. He saves himself from falling completely by catching the edge of the hole...but lacks the strength to pull himself up. Finally, still afraid but resigned to his fate, he lets go and falls into the darkness - only to discover that the hole is not as deep as it appeared, and in fact opens up into a passage under the floorboards, leading out of the room. Of course, we can't see where this new passage leads, but now, less afraid, the man walks into the dark.

It's a tremendous metaphor for human mortality that, when combined with Gibbard's lyrics, forms a lasting and powerful piece of art. We're all afraid, or at the very least uncertain, about what lies beyond this life. But whatever it is, our transition towards it is both daily and inexorable. Whether it should be fearsome or not, however, is something we can control ourselves.


  1. Great blog, great writing! Thoughtful interpretation of this song. Love the term "shoegazer/mumblecore."

    This song is a heartbreaker; it was on the wedding CD of two people I love very much, one who lives with more than one crappy chronic disease.

    Ultimately, I think this is a young person's song. Because death is no freedom; at least not for those left behind.

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  3. Deleted the first attempt and am reposting this comment to be a bit clearer: A quick response/epilogue for those perhaps not thoroughly familiar with the band... Gibbard's earlier lyrics are famous for uniformly being a bit morbid and depressing. In 2008 Gibbard met and began dating actress and sometime-musician Zooey Deschanel. They married in September of 2009, and while Death Cab has yet to release a full album composed during or after the relationship, there seemed to be a slightly more positive view of life on a couple of the tracks on the last EP that was released.