Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Metaphor Analysis: "I Am Trying To Break Your Heart" by Wilco

"I Am Trying To Break Your Heart" by Wilco

An Analysis of Metaphors

Full Lyrics

            Wilco’s 2002 track, “I Am Trying to Break Your Heart” from the album “Yankee Hotel Foxtrot” is one of the band’s finest accomplishments in almost every way. Musically, its dark textures, dissonant piano, and aloof singing lend it a large portion of its tone; however, the song’s greatest strength lies in its lyrics and the metaphors Jeff Tweedy utilizes to describe the many stages of an unhealthy relationship. The song is structured in a repeated verse structure, meaning the song lacks a chorus of bridge and consists entirely of four line stanzas which follow the same musical pattern; each individual verse describes a different facet of the dying relationship Tweedy characterizes in a lyrically unique and metaphorically ripe manner.
            The song’s first verse begins with the line “I am an American aquarium drinker / I assassin down the avenue.” These first two lines describe the speaker’s side of the relationship by characterizing him as both a drunk and a dodgy boyfriend. The description of an “aquarium drinker” speaks mainly to the vast volume of alcohol the speaker consumes; while not literally an aquarium’s amount of drink, the listener can infer that the amount of alcohol consumed is copious. The speaker goes on to describe the effects the drink has on his relationship by singing that he “assassin(s) down the avenue.” This metaphor is meant to further characterize the speaker as a master of avoiding both his lover and his responsibilities in the relationship as a result of his drinking. However, the metaphorical assassin is going down an avenue or a wide-open street in a city. This insinuates that, although the speaker thinks he is being stealthy, his flaws are very apparent to anyone and everyone around him.
            The next verse begins to describe interactions between the speaker and his lover with the lines “Let’s forget about the tongue-tied lightning / Let’s undress just like cross-eyed strangers.” The metaphor of tongue-tied lightning details an inferred verbal war between the two lovers possibly triggered by the speaker’s drinking. The following line uses simile to let the listener know that ignorant sex is the solution to the fighting; essentially, the speaker is attempting to avoid battles by using sex to ignore the problems and appease his lover. This, however, is followed by a candid moment in which the speaker says “This is not a joke so please stop smiling / What was I thinking when I said it didn’t hurt?” which leads the listener to believe that the meaningless sex might be less of an argument-stopper and more of a plea for peace from the pain he feels in the relationship.
            As the song progresses, some of the metaphors become even more outlandish to parallel the increasing amount of alcohol and anger flowing through the singer’s system. Eventually, he sings “I want to hold you in the Bible-black predawn / You’re quiet a quiet domino, bury me now.” This verse is metaphorically rich as the speaker begins by describing the early, quiet hours of the morning as the “Bible-black predawn” which confers a sort of holiness to those odd hours; it is here that the speaker believes he and his lover can find solace. He then goes on to describe his lover for the first time in the song by calling her a “quiet domino.” This metaphor works particularly well because it simultaneously reflects the speaker’s outlandish behavior while perfectly encapsulating the lover’s mentality. Basically, the speaker sees the lover as someone who is breaking apart and falling at increasing speed just like a chain of dominoes. However, the kicker is that she is doing it quietly; she is torn up inside but refuses to let anyone know or attempt to help her. The drunk speaker then goes on to offer his advice by advising her to “take off [her] band-aid because [he doesn’t] believe in touchdowns” which is a nearly indecipherable metaphor reflecting the speaker’s absurdity. However, it is possible that the speaker means to imply that his lover needs to heal her wounds, and that the speaker does not believe his relationship is a competition. Still, the sheer outlandishness of the metaphor functions extremely well in detailing the rampant miscommunication that is inferably going on between the two.
            Eventually, the metaphors stop altogether as the speaker has a bizarre moment of clarity in the midst of his drunken stupor. The singer repeats the phrase “I am trying to break your heart” and then interjects “Still I’d be lying if I said it wasn’t easy” which caps off his rant in spectacular fashion. What happens here is that the speaker abandons all of his pretense and speaks to his alienated lover directly. He tells her plainly that all of his antics and drunken rage has been nothing but an attempt to break her down and tear her apart. However, this is not all. He goes on to cap it off by telling her that it has been very easy for him to do this, and he reveals his inability to love her truly and completely.
            By utilizing a large number of varied and bizarre metaphors over the course of the song, Jeff Tweedy is able to make the ultimate revelation of the speaker’s malicious intent infinitely more biting, cynical, and devastating. Essentially, the detached, aloof metaphors create a distraction which ultimately serves as a foil to the bare-bones truth the speaker spills at the song’s end. However, immediately following this revelation, the singer goes right back into his tirade of absurd metaphors with the lines “Disposable Dixie cup drinking / I assassin down the avenue” where he intentionally repeats a line from the first verse in order to display the cyclical nature of this toxic, destructive relationship. In short, metaphor is Tweedy’s bait and directness is his weapon.


Monday, September 9, 2013

A Rhetorical Lexicon (ENG 454 Assignment #1) - Jake Smith


Kairos is definted as “the opportune moment for a speech” according to BYU. This moment could be a single minute as evidenced by Marc  Antony’s soliloquy in Julius Caesar as well as a lengthier time in history as evidenced by Martin Luther King Jr.’s I Have a Dream speech. The kairos is dependent upon several different factors including time, place, and circumstance, and it is the combination of these elements a well as other smaller factors that ultimately determine the perfect moment to make a speech.
Kairos has, for centuries, always relied on certain people being in certain places, at certain times, under certain circumstances. However, this has begun to change in the 21st century with the advent of social media. The rise of Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, and a number of other popular social media websites has, in a sense, nullified the importance of time, place, and circumstance as they relate to making speeches and writing rhetorical arguments.
Through avenues like Twitter and, more obviously, Facebook, the contemporary individual is able to say whatever he or she wants whenever he or she wants. No longer is what they have to say dependent upon them being in a certain location at a certain time with a certain circumstance at the forefront of the public’s mind. Instead, any random person is able to spout off whatever argument, anecdote, or soliloquy they wish at whichever hour they deem it most appropriate.
The time matters significantly less since websites preserve any information that is put into them. Therefore, someone may not be online when a friend of theirs makes a bold statement about the state of their fledgling relationship, but they can see exactly what their friend said and see the moment they said it whenever it is convenient for that person to log on to their own account.
This also leads into the decline of the importance of place. Instead of everyone gathering in a specific location in order to hear what someone has to say about a particular topic, it is entirely possible for an individual to log on to Twitter or YouTube and catch up on all of the latest news stories and speeches in a matter of minutes from the comfort of their own home.
Additionally, circumstance has declined in importance in all except the actual rhetors themselves. No longer must a blogger worry about enough people being in a furor at once in a single location. Instead, that rhetor must simply feel passionately about a subject on his or her own and feel compelled to blog about it.

However, all of this is not to say that the decline of kairos is a negative aspect of contemporary rhetoric. Instead, it is merely to suggest that the barriers to exploring the world of rhetoric are diminishing in size and number. By allowing greater access to rhetorical tools, social media may, in fact, be creating a whole new breed of rhetoric which could determine the future of the world over the next decades.

An example of timing being irrelevant to a speech's success:


Audience has changed drastically over the centuries in dozens of different ways. For example, an audience in ancient Greece might have consisted of a couple dozen senators in a small meeting hall. However, an audience for Barack Obama’s inaugural address numbered in the thousands. Size, composition, and importance of audience have all changed over the course of the centuries, and they are now changing yet again thanks to the advent of social media.
Due mostly to the globe-spanning reach of websites like Twitter and Facebook, the sheer size of the audience of a speech now has the capability to be astronomical. In fact, it is only limited in the case of a platform such as YouTube by how many views one can get on a video. However, this could also be seen as a limiting factor since the size of audience is no longer directly controllable by the rhetor of a speech, rant, or discussion. Still, once a video goes viral and gets as many views as something like Ashton Kutcher’s Teen Choice Awards speech, it is possible for a speech to reach the eyes and ears a millions more listeners than may have originally heard it.
The composition of the audience has also changed drastically in recent years. Namely, the composition can include literally anyone on the planet. In the past, a speech would be heard only by those in the location of the speech itself or by those who had access to a transcript of the speech after it was delivered. However, as social media forums begin to rise and video virility continues to escalate, the diversity of viewing audiences continues to grow. Now, it is entirely possible for someone in Kenya to know of the same speeches and viral videos as someone in Fiji.
This, of course, also changes to role and the importance of the audience. Now, an audience is not used for immediate feedback as the speech is delivered as it would have been in ancient times. Instead, viewers utilize the comment sections of webpages to indirectly respond to whatever they are seeing or hearing. This can lead both to a surplus of positive criticism and feedback or to a thread full of flame wars and derailed conversation. Unfortunately, it is very difficult to have one without the other. Still, many audience members prefer this system thanks to the anonymity it provides. In classical times, if one wished to address concerns one had to a rhetor, that person had to do it directly to their face or via mail with their personal information stamped onto it. Now, though, anyone can type off a brief, fiery response to whatever they wish and never let the rhetor know who they are. This allows, perhaps, more honest feedback at the expense of emotional and mental well-being.
All in all, the changes in audience have not become better or worse than the old system. Instead, it merely represents a shift in the social consciousness of the world towards a more inclusive and anonymous system of communication.

An example of an ever-expanding viral and global audience: