All My Life I Will Wait To Attain It
By Taylor K. Long
At some point in our 20s, we inevitably feel what can best be described as a burden of proof. We begin noticing milestones, the age of achievements. How Michelangelo was 29 when he finished “David.” How Franz Liszt was famous and touring Europe by the age of 30. The stream of brilliant young minds is endless; every generation will have its Mark Zuckerbergs and Beyoncés and Téa Obrehts to compare themselves to. This feeling causes us to scratch at the walls, imagined or otherwise, desperate to push things out into the world, to keep pace, to claim our stake in front of the eyes of our peers.
Robin Pecknold, primary Fleet Foxes scribe, was 22 when their self-titled debut was released, an album that has since reached Platinum-level (1,000,000+) sales in the UK and very nearly Gold (408,000+) in the US. What do you do when you’re 23 and you know your next work will be devoured by the judgmental ears of over a million people? If you’re Pecknold, you take three years and you write an album, scrap it, then write another one, moving to a remote location and losing your long-term girlfriend in the process.
So, now I am older than my mother and father
when they had their daughter
now what does that say about me
Oh, how could I dream of such a selfless and true love
could I wash my hands of
just looking out for me?
If we’re not comparing careers, the other default is to compare relationships. In addition to looking to our friends for guidance, we often look to our parents. For many of us, that means parents who were already married, if not having kids, by their 20s. In an age where marriage is happening later and later, it’s not surprising, nor (considering the divorce rate…) is it necessarily a bad thing to wait. But when the itch of wondering what our legacy will be surfaces, when we start to contemplate what we’ve achieved, a list of relationships that didn’t last just stirs our feelings of impermanence.
The guitars of “Montezuma” take small steps ascending towards the song’s question, and Pecknold’s voice, occasionally sounding as though he may push it to its breaking point, has a barely restrained urgency that rises again and again in Helplessness Blues.
If to borrow is to take and not return
I have borrowed all my lonesome life
And I can’t, no I can’t get through
The borrower’s debt is the only regret of my youth
And believe me it’s not easy when I look back
Everything I took got soon returned
And what do we have to our name by our 20s, anyway? Some clothes, some books, some albums, some movies. If we’ve saved, maybe our car. If we’ve really saved, maybe our apartment, or our house. But largely, we live lives of deluxe nomadism, switching from dorms to apartments to bigger apartments to newer apartments to bigger and newer apartments. We buy used furniture, or Ikea furniture, or used Ikea furniture: slightly frayed couches and semi-comfortable chairs and lightly dinged coffee tables that serve as placeholders for the newer, comfier, sturdier things we hope to have somewhere down the line.
“Bedouin Dress” bursts into folk-dance melodies, giving a misleadingly joyful impression – but like the hand of a clock, a rap in the background is ticking away the seconds.
In the doorway holding every letter that I wrote
in the driveway pulling away putting on your coat
in the ocean washing off my name from your throat
Even some of the most sacred, deepest parts of ourselves are disposable, in the technology age, more than ever. Through an hour or so of clicking, we can delete someone from our e-mail inbox, all of our social networking accounts and our cell phone. The physical traces we leave with others have become so few.
If we can be deleted so quickly, so easily, what are our options for longevity? How do we prove we exist?
Of all the doubts, insecurities and questions that plague Helplessness Blues, it’s Pecknold’s break-up that infiltrates every core, most especially its 8-minute-long heart, “The Shrine/An Argument.” In a slightly hushed voice, Pecknold sings of wishing upon coins in a fountain, casting his own wish, growing bolder and more confident as he muses on the “you” he hangs his wish upon – and with a boom (the splash of a coin in a fountain?) – the song is carried to a desperate lament of the thought of his lover tossing memories of him, like coins, into the ocean. It devolves into atonal brass over delicate strings; a play on the sound of seagulls at the ocean, or a representation of the sometimes chaotic, sometimes delicate tides of relationships.
I know someday the smoke will all burn off
All these voices I’ll someday have turned off
I will see you someday when I’ve woken
I’ll be so happy just to have spoken
I’ll have so much to tell you about it
In that dream I could hardly contain it
All my life I will wait to attain it
On a straight listen, it makes no sense for “Grown Ocean” to appear at the very end of Helplessness Blues. It’s undoubtedly the album’s genuinely happiest, catchiest song, and would’ve made the better first single choice over “Battery Kinzie.” But knowing the back-story, hearing the album unfold, it couldn’t have been another way.
Pecknold closes on an unabashed note of optimism. Thumping drums set a chugging pace, not unlike that of a train. And now, instead of nearly breaking, Pecknold’s voice is triumphant, shouting, shouting, shouting “I will wait to attain it!” over the pounding drums and guitars, rising voices, and fluttering flutes.
Wide-eyed leaver, always going… The easy thought is that the song ends here because, as leavers do, they go. But, feeling the song’s optimism, hearing the hope in his voice, it makes more sense for the song to end here because he’s gone after her.
Maybe he’s no longer worried about life being some sort of race, or about his impermanence. Or maybe, having crafted an album that holds his fears, it’s easier for him to see past them, to minimize them, to realize that worries, too, are fleeting and impermanent.