Archers of Loaf: Web in Front
hanks to the internet, file-sharing and the perpetual rise of virtually all media, today we have a thousand conditioned responses for every stimulus. George W. gets re-elected and a legion of bloggers instantly inundate us with antidotes to post-November 2nd depression, informing us that Ted Leo & the Pharmacists will assuage our misery and transform it into action, or that if you listen to DFA Compilation #2 loudly enough, you’ll soon be dancing so hard you’ll forget about all those crazed evangelicals taking a pen to the constitution.
Even more than how to deal with this year’s election, though, we’ve been taught how to function in one of the most universal forms of suffering, namely heartbreak. And logically so; the tragedies of romantic love don’t take three-and-a-half year breaks like the intermittent zeal of American politics. Moreover, love translates far more readily into art than politics, for which the relative ubiquity of the subject matter is the clear proof.
When our lovers leave us, or make us doubt the full reciprocity or sincerity of their affection, we know what to do. We have our routines, dictated by our own musical discoveries and tips from friends who tell us “when X left me, I just listened to Y all day and it made me feel better”.
As PopMatters’ Elisabeth Donelly observed in her recent article “Songs for the Dumped”, “it’s very easy to trace your romantic history out in music.” And thanks to articles like hers, which highlight the authors’ favorite breakup songs or albums, it’s getting easier and easier to trace and expand that history, as we gain songs that recount every nuance of unrequited love.
Like Donelly, I can remember the songs that cast a final curtain over each of my past relationships (Radiohead’s “Exit Music” and Xiu Xiu’s “Apistat Commander” come to mind most vividly). Perhaps more pathetic, though, I know which song will come next, and that’s where this tendency to drown our sorrows in others’ art turns from poignant to fatalistic, much like that odd human tradition of requesting to be cremated and spread across one’s favorite garden years before one’s time has come.
In any case, my next breakup song will be Archers of Loaf’s “Web in Front”. This song is properly recognized as a classic indie rock anthem, and in my mind is as near to perfection as rock music gets, but there’s one line that makes “Web in Front” truly extraordinary to me: “All I ever wanted was to be your spine.”
This line, initially setting up for a trifle but delivering instead an extremely weighty claim, betrays lead singer Eric Bacchman’s previous naiveté to his unrealistic desires; he doesn’t seem to have studied the nature of heartbreak in advance like the current generation of youth. Rather, the gravity and nature of his suffering strikes him unexpectedly, and he suddenly realizes, as if mid-sentence, that he wanted much more than he ever let on, either to his lover or to himself.
This lyric is the kind of revelation that stops one short and makes all other comment irrelevant. The magnetic attraction Bacchman reveals he set up between himself and his lover is now “wasted”, and all that remains is his own mantra: “All I ever wanted, all I ever wanted, all I ever wanted was to be your spine”. Like Rushmore’s Max Fischer, who can only console himself by reminding everyone around him “I wrote a hit play!”, Bacchman has nothing left to do except make his embarrassing admission appear natural and insignificant, as if its redundancy or its triviality will render his extreme infatuation a little less obsessive.
“Web In Front”’s central phrase emerges somewhere from the unconscious process of discovery, or the first conscious moments of self-analysis. And as we all like to make our misery mythological, the next time my heart’s broken, I’m going to put myself in a similar state and pretend that I was previously unacquainted with the song.
I’ll “chance” upon “Web in Front”, fool myself into thinking that fate left the song on my computer playlist for a situation I never saw coming. Because Bacchman didn’t know the “magnet in his head” drawing him to his lover would be “extra-thick, extra-long…wasted”, and when he realizes it, the result is so much rarer than premeditated despair that it inspires an ideal state of melancholy, unspeakably beautiful in its lack of meta-thought, innocent.
By: Kareem Estefan
Published on: 2004-11-17