Ok. I know, it’s been a while since the last part. I’ve been super busy and wasn’t able to continue. let’s hope i get back on track starting now. Last post we stopped in the middle of Act II, in “The Church And The Dime”. Act II is filled with important plot events, concepts, and motifs so i decided to break it down to 2 parts. This is a long one since i’m covering the rest of Act II. don’t know yet if the other albums will be broken down the same way. First part can be found here, and the second here.
Anyway, let’s continue where we left off:
6. “The Bitter Suite I & II: meeting Ms. Leading/Through The Dime”:
probably one of my favorite suites ever. Through the unique music style, groove and amazing lyrics these songs takes us through a very important part of the story, and somewhat of a turning point for our protagonist. This song is constantly switching perspectives between different characters to tell us as much as it can. This song is a perfect example of Casey’s lyrical abilities. it’s filled with amazing and beautiful imagery and descriptions, like a poet.
The song starts with our protagonist in the city, where he encounters the mysterious and charming lady called Ms. Leading. The lyrics here do an amazing job in capturing The Boy’s wide-eyed enchantment at this woman, unlike anything he’s seen before. This is likely the first time he has known this kind of desire (admitting that she’s the first woman he’s touched that he’s felt this kind of desire for), and the feelings are undoubtedly overwhelming. She is described more as an otherworldly being than a human woman . “Her lips hid her tongue from the world”- as if he already knows there’s more to this woman than she’s letting on.
dazed by her magic, he follows her to her room, in The Dime. We learn that she works for The Pimp/Priest just like The Boy’s mother, Ms. Terri did.
“Where’s her heart, where’s her heart?
Mimicking the matriarch
He’s naive; blissfully
Ignorant and trusting but now”
In this verse we hear The Oracles appear again. They question Ms. Leading motives, while also mentioning The Mother, pointing out the similarities between the two (similarities he doesn’t know). they sigh at his ignorance and naivety that is leading him to trust Ms. Leading. i think that the sentence “Mimicking the matriarch” is also about The Boy, who like his mother puts his trust in The Dime, and makes the same mistakes of getting involved in this cruel, unjust world.
We follow them into The Dime and get the first description of the place. This is the musical style i love so much. The experimentation with the style and sound creates just the right imagery. The listener is pulled right in and is able to imagine a raw, vivid scene of what exactly this place feels. There’s also this kind of overwhelming feeling. The tempo is rising and there’s no build-up. that, along with the lyrics itself creates the feel of The Dime, and what is happening there.
“Her history is left behind
The ignorance has room to breathe
They play a part and act a scene
The prejudice and the guilty”
Switching back to the oracles, they remark upon how this “scene” let’s The Boy forget all about his ignorance and Ms. Leading to forget all about her history and profession. it’s like their lives and baggage is simply forgotten, in order for them to fill their part of the scene, and do what people are meant to do in The Dime. thus, playing a role of “The prejudice and the guilty”.
7. “The Bitter Suite III: Embrace”:
Wow. This song is one of the best written pieces I’ve ever heard/seen. This song creates a detailed image of what The Boy is going through, and how he feels. It’s filled with metaphors and Imagery. The music going along with the lyrics fits perfectly. This song also contains many themes we’ve already seen before- “breath in/breath out”, “The fire inside was all light and she bloomed”, referring of course to “the flame is gone the fire remains”. which is referencing Ms. Leading in connection to Ms. Terri”
8. “Smiling Swine”:
ahhhh. This is also a special one, music wise. I think the variety of the music on his own already makes them a prog band (to those arguing whether they’re a prog band or not). and that’s leaving out the lyrics, the orchestration and the concept. anyway, back to the story.
The Boy wakes up in the morning with his lover missing. I’m guessing he’s thinking something must be wrong (probably anyone would) so he tries to get out as fast as possible. Only to be caught by The Pimp/Priest, who was waiting for him, probably after seeing Ms. Leading. The Boy, although naive gets a sense something is wrong with the man, and is disgusted enough to call him a smiling swine. I think that the Pimp/Priest is kind of the ultimate bad guy. hearing that kind of smug way he talks, his actions and the appearance described in these albums give you the chills. he comes off as manipulative and devious. it comes off even in sentences like “he will greet them in a smile that sticks like Vaseline” (but that’s much later in the story). Anyway, when i say ultimate bad guy i mean that the listener can’t sympathize with him or feel sorry for him in any point of the story.
Manipulating The Boy through fear, he tells him that if he wants to see Ms. Leading he must pay. If he can’t pay, then perhaps there’s another way The Boy can be of service to him. He suggests that The Boy will be a personal driver and Drive Ms. Leading and other prostitutes to different costumers in The City. Of course sensing the opportunity to manipulate The Boy further, he likely proposes this as a straight-forward job without revealing the nature of what these women do exactly and what Ms. Leading is.
The Priest leaves and The Boy finally manages to get outside. He describes The Pimp/Priest as “a Machiavellian dandelion” which is exactly what i already said about the character, basically meaning “an unscrupulous, deceitful weed.” “Blissfully plucked from the bloom of another” The Boy is still high from last night, and his separation from Ms. Leading is very sudden to him, he feels he’s been plucked from her bloom.
“But all the while
She was still fresh in my mind
And though this might be premature
But ambition strikes just when the mood is right
The mood is right”
The Boy is Caught in the glow of last night. He can’t stop thinking about Ms. Leading despite basically being told she’s a prostitute. He thinks about how much he loves her, and keep recreating the events of the night before. He’s blind to all of the signs and like an addict, he wants to do anything to see her again. In his naivety, He already fell in love with her.
This song basically shows the perspective of both The Boy and Ms. Leading as they struggle with their personal situations and how to reconcile them in the context of their burgeoning relationship. The Boy makes just enough money to see Ms. Leading with his new job as a driver, but not enough to pay for a roof under his head. Meanwhile, Ms. Leading struggles with her attachment to The Boy, fearing it might hurt her income and her job.
“I have been evicted
From a soul constricted
By the flameless fire
Can we all just go cold”
at first glimpse, this part appears to be from The Boy’s perspective, since with his finantial situation it makes sense that he’s been evicted (perhaps even evicted emotionally, from his past life) but after careful reading you realize this is actually told from Ms. Leading’s perspective while still offering personal information about The Boy and things either directed towards him or that could be from him.
The third line is the giveaway that tells us this is actually told from Ms. Leading’s perspective. The “Flameless Fire” is The Boy, as we know from its references throughout the series, and Ms. Leading is lamenting the fact that she has developed feelings for him.
“If you need a little cash you sell yourself
A dollar in exchange for failing hearts
So loudly say”
this is told from Ms. Leading’s perspective, as she seem to re-affirm to herself what she has to do in order to keep living. Her job is to exploit “failing hearts” of costumers and not get attached to them in any way. This could also be told from the Boy’s perspective, feeling that he’s selling himself in the job that he took just to see Ms. Leading.
“Oh, how I surely know that frame of mind
Sleeping softly curbside
Comfortably abroad on a stolen ticket
None of this will last
All of this will pass
When bed sheets are broken glass
I know your hearts will skip a beat in empathy.”
this part really seems to be told from The Boy’s perspective, given how he’s the one that’s been evicted, and sleeping on the curbside. The ticket he used to get on a train to The City is probably stolen and right now, his bed sheets are broken glass. “None of this will last…” is his way of hoping that his current situation is not permanent. BUT, this is probably from Ms. Leading’s perspective, speaking about The boy, since there are question marks surrounding all of this (can only be seen in the official lyrics released by Casey himself from the album’s liner notes). She empathizes with The Boy, probably because she also knew what it’s like, living on the street before starting to work at The Dime. She remarks that her feelings towards him is only out of pity, and she tells herself that these feelings will past in due time.
“It’s just that easy pick yourself up and go give the world a great big smile
Hey, hey, kid, hey, kid, get a job
Hey, hey, hey, hey, hey, kid, get a job
Wash that mouth out, ditch those morals, sleep your way right to, right to the top
Hey, hey, kid, hey, kid get a job
Hey, hey, hey, hey, hey, kid, get a job”
The Boy attempts to keep his spirits up and is determined to make his situation work, Ms. Leading is doing the opposite, convincing herself to move past The Boy and keep getting ahead in life through the employment of her body and sexuality. With our two main characters seemingly moving in opposite directions, it’s pretty easy to see that this is headed straight into conflict.
10. “Blood Of The Rose”:
This song has a classical feel to it, since the different instruments in the orchestra are the main instruments accompanying the vocals. This song is about the internal struggle to justify the sacrifice he has to make for the relationship to work, all predicated on the assumption that she’s been faithful and committed to him. He can’t help but slowly come to the realization that he’s being a fooled and played by her though. Of course she’s “dancing” with others and being led astray.
“Sangre, sangre de la rosa
Sigue en paz sin el pasado
Rece, rece por su alma
Ella morirá en el bautismo del fuego.”
it roughly translates to: “Blood, blood of the rose
Continue in peace without the past
Rest, rest your soul
She will die in the baptizing of the flames”
the baptizing of the flames makes it’s return from song 1 in Act I where The Oracles say: ” “A failed life exposed the man; Who led her off into the flame; To cast her back to hell again.” in this instance, The Oracles are referring to The Priest, who exploited Ms. Terry and later had her killed. In our song The Oracles speak to The Boy, urging him to forget about Ms. Leading, The Priest and The City. Ms. Leading is destined to die (either literally or at least metaphorically) at the hands of The Priest, who baptizes by fire.
“The world burns but still we breathe
The iron chambered heart a sieve
That sifts through honest elegance
And suffers from the wrong defense”
beautiful imagery again. “The heart is compared to a sieve, or filter, here, one that has to “sift” or process pure emotion and in turn hurts its owner through heartache and pain. ”
11. “Red Hands”
One of the band’s most iconic songs. And It’s popular for a good reason. It’s catchy, it’s aggressive and soft and the lyrics are beautiful. When you first hear this album, and there are many musical moments to take it, this song is what usually sticks in you from the first listen. This song is somewhat of a turning point in the plot, where The Boy finally confronts Ms. Leading after discovering her with one of her “costumers”. “Even if you never strayed from me I’d question your fidelity” The Boy can’t trust Ms. Leading not to cheat on him. But it’s not just that, he can’t stand the thought of her treating him like any other man, and that bothers him even more than the thought of her infidelity: “Try and force to love the thought of me”. He’s made huge sacrifices for her (none of which she asked for, mind you), and for all of that she doesn’t feel nearly the same way for him that he does for her. That’s certainly a universal thing that pretty much any person who’s been in a relationship can understand.
after that, The Boy basically tells her that he hope it was worth it, having sex with other men, and that it felt good. He tells her that she shouldn’t lose sleep thinking about him for one second, and that everyone else is better than him. “Take off your sweater, your shoes, and your shirt, and get to work.” this is the most aggressive thing he’s ever told her, and probably the only sentence that you can actually feel the anger in his words since it’s basically telling her she’s a stupid whore.
I believe that lines like “Don’t know what I’d do if you lost sleep over little old me. He’s so much better. They’re all much better.” make this verse radiate optimism. there’s something about this verse in particular that makes me believe that The Boy here turns up to be a completely different man, and that he’s more optimistic about his future than angry at Ms. Leading. which is why he says he can’t even stand the thought of her thinking about the old him since his a completely different man, almost thanking her for showing her true colors and make him see his naivety.
well, in the next verse the aggression builds up even more, and it doesn’t feel optimistic at all. He’s comparing what she does to a theater and hopes that having sex with other men and ripping their hearts out makes her happy and gives her everything she wished for.
“Oh my god what have I done
Now my darling put your clothes back on
Oh my god what have I done
Now my darling put your clothes back on”
after getting out all of his anger, he’s having an emotional break down in front of her. He takes back what he said claiming that he was just hurt and wearing his heart on his sleeve with his raw emotions. We’re left with a pitiful individual who clearly wants love and is willing to cut himself with the knife of happiness to achieve it but is seeking it in all the wrong places.
12. “Where The Road Parts”:
The Boy finds himself at the lowest of lows. Wallowing in his own self-pity upon discovering that his love has belonged to a prostitute who was likely using him for her own benefit (and perhaps also realizing that his mother, Ms. Terri, was also a prostitute). He remarks at how his shoddy luck in life keeps knocking him down and how, for whatever reason, he keeps picking himself up to face more hardship. He then recalls a phone call between him and Ms. Leading, after finding her with another man and leaving The Dime (or thrown out). He asks her to meet him where the road parts, where they first met, and she replies that she’ll do whatever he asks if it pleases him: “So tongue-in-cheek with stale irony
If it pleases you, it pleases me”. he’s referring to the irony of her doing anything that will please other men which did everything but please The Boy.
The next part probably tells us the perspective from both Ms. Leading and The Boy. They talk on the phone, or when they meet where the road parts, and they’re having a moment of frank honesty with each other. She reveals to him her true nature, that even if she does have some personal feelings for him, that she will not place those in front of her desire to manipulate others for her personal gain. She says that if he were a flower in bloom that she’d pluck his petals, taking away what she can from him, which is a great callback to The Boy from “Smiling Swine” in which he was downright giddy at the thought of being plucked from Ms. Leading’s bloom.
She clarifies she’s not a helpless victim. She does this because she enjoys getting money by manipulating others and their feelings. For her it’s not about sexual satisfaction but deeper personal satisfaction (to the benefit of her “ego”). He responds that this was a part of his feelings towards her. That she’s the only one that didn’t fold or got caught by lust. That she’s in control of her life. Then he admits that his emotional breakdown in front of her was actually an attempt to manipulate her into feeling sorry for him and bend her desire to his will. “Sacrifice another life” would appear to be a callback to “The Procession” and the refrain of “One life for another,” in which Ms. Terri’s life was sacrificed so The Boy could move on with his life. In this instance The Boy seems to be suggesting that in this instance he needs to sacrifice his own love and feelings for Ms. Leading in order to let her live her own life, so she can remain “the only one who didn’t fold.”
unfortunately, these deep moments about relationship, feelings, love and hope quickly fades in the next song as The Boy fully realizes that what he wants is incompatible with Ms. Leading and believes that she has been the one manipulating him this whole time.
13. “Dear Ms. Leading”:
This is the climax of the failure of their relationship. After their deep conversation about the nature of her relationship with men and his realizations of all the things he has done, The Boy writes a series of breakup letters to her in a particularly cutting fashion. There’s not much to interpret. He’s breaking up with her after realizing who she really is. He actually wishes he were still ignorant of what she does and that he is no longer ignorant in spite of the fact that she seemingly would have been fine continuing to take his money and keep up the charade for as long as possible.
“Dear Ms. Leading,
In response to your response
I’m simply unavailable
I hope you got the message in the message that I sent
(Shame on me for falling for someone so dense)
In different times I’d might’ve fooled around for something warm
Something with security
As fleeting as the momentary rapture and the pleasure of collapsing in arms
So welcoming to others just like me”
He says in different times he might’ve stayed with Ms. Leading because she was reliable and safe. He interprets this one experience as giving him such great perspective on life and boasts about how wise and better than her she is. In reality though he still knows nothing of this life or of the harsh reality of the world.
14. “Black Sandy Beaches”:
This, much like “Red Hands” is a Dear Hunter anthem. it’s really catchy, and special. It actually takes a while to understand the meaning of the lyrics, since it’s the story being told in an unconventional way. It pulls back from the perspectives of both The Boy and Ms. Leading, and calls into question the true feelings and motivations of the characters. Here we have an unknown character, finding the letters sent between The Boy and Ms. Leading in broken bottles washed up on a beach. The character picks them up in the chronological order. From what she can see, it’s a love letter, Imagining the two of them happily in each other’s embrace, she vicariously picks out the love that perhaps for a moment was genuine between them.
As She keep reading more and more letters, she realizes that the ink is not worn out from morning dew, but from tears, not knowing if it’s his tears or hers. We suddenly realize that everything we know about the plot has been told from different perspectives and perhaps been skewed by them. We don’t really know the true nature of the events, and we’re pretty much clueless, since we’re not hearing the story from an objective point of view. Maybe The Boy, who broke up with Ms. Leading without any remorse was actually feeling a lot more pain and hesitation. Maybe Ms. Leading’s “indifference” towards these events and the way that she described her feelings to the boy weren’t as accurate. It’s likely that both of them, deep down, were more attached to each other than they realized, and like most relationships that don’t work out for one reason or another, it wasn’t all bad or good, and both parties contributed to its demise. Either way we’ll never know for sure, and there will not be any neat or tidy closure for either of them, as the individual on the beach realizes as she runs out of letters to piece their story together and asks what comes next.
I read that Casey was projecting his feelings unto the story from a break up he had. I’m guessing that’s his way of saying that we’ll never know who’s right and the only thing that life gives us are different perspectives and not the truth itself.
“Let’s just say, she, she is better
Better off somehow
Let’s just say, she, she has never been happier than she is now
We couldn’t fake it, so why even try?
Let’s just say, she is better, better off somehow
Let’s just say, she has never been happier then she is now
Let’s just say, she is better, better off somehow
Let’s just say, she has never been happier
Happier than she is now”
there are several ways to look at this. From the objective narrator’s point: since we’ll never really know what exactly happened it’s better to just say that she’s better off somehow and that everything happens for a reason. There’s no point in thinking about this “We couldn’t fake it, so why even try?”. The second interpertation is reading it from The Boy’s perspective, thinking that she’s probably better off without him and that they couldn’t fake being in love so why even try.
15. “Vital Vessels Vindicate”
After everything The Boy’s gone through, we come to a close. As The Oracles prophesied early on, The Boy is departing The City by boat. He hopes that he can get over Ms. Leading by a change of scenery, but recognizes that he can’t escape his feelings, or history and that he must deal with them. “Goodbye, my eyes shed heavy tears, One for every soul still sitting on the fence between pain and arrogance”. In his arrogance, he says that he sheds a tear and feels sorry for every soul that’s sitting on the fence between pain and arrogance, and will continue to fall prey to those like The Priest, or Ms. Leading. The Boy, much like in any Greek-style tragedy, continues to sin in his pride thinking that he now knows everything there is to know and that he cannot be fooled anymore, only to find himself in the exact same position, as if he learned nothing- in Greek Tragedy it’s called Hubris.
“Ebb to the left flow to the right
The exit’s unflawed
The boys on the train
The almighty tongue with prose spilled in vain”
“This verse in particular highlights that very point. Making a direct reference to The Oracle’s prophecy about “Big steam ships, exits illustrate the flaw,” The Boy directly contradicts that and basically says, “Yeah, I’m leaving, but I learned my lesson. There’s no flaw to my plan or intentions, and everything will be fine.” He then refers to The Oracles and comments that the time they spent warning him of his fate weren’t necessary and in vain.” (prognotes).
His greatest flaw is the inability to learn from his mistakes. To learn the right lessons from his mistakes and allowing his naive and ignorant worldview inform his future actions. His not an anti-hero or something like that. But he is a character with many flaws, with good intentions making rash and hasty decisions based on emotion than reason and logic only to making the same mistakes over and over. The assumption that the boys decisions are good just because he’s The Protagonist is false. I think this comes as a high contrast to Ms. Leading, who unlike The Boy basing her decisions on her way of life and who she is, or thinks she is, and without real emotions behind it.
The final part of the song is told from a retrospective, reminiscing the events of the past. With a reprise to The Bitter Suite part III: “We fall beneath the sea of dreams and fail to breathe until we resurface
We fall beneath the sea of dreams and fail to breathe until we awaken again” but instead of talking about love it puts more emphasis on The Boy’s dreams. Then there’s his mother’s lullaby, and The Flame and The Fire. In the final two lines of the album, The Dear Hunter claims that he is still alone in the world and that his mission to find happiness and satisfaction in life remains as unfulfilled as ever. As he departs The City, he surely imagines that things will improve from here. As we all know though, he hasn’t even come close to knowing what true misery and despair are.
well, this was a long one but I’m glad it’s behind us and we can keep going and review Act III. hopefully the next part will be posted next week, as it takes a ton of time to write. As usual, you’re welcomed to tell us what you think about the story, about this interpretation and your own.