Several months ago I went to see Two Cow Garage play. They had a local band opening for them and this local band has a bit of a following in town, has put out a record and played a few, but not many shows out of town. I had heard a song or two on the radio but never thought much about them. Needless to say, when they opened for Two Cow I was not a fan.
I don’t mean to band hate, and I hope you don’t see this as that, but their songs were about parties and if you couldn’t catch the meaning during the song the members of the band told us between songs that “this song is about…”. And they “rock-out” on stage but in such a way that they were trying to prove that their songs were rocking. That’s a terrible description but I’m sure all of you have seen what I’m talking about.
Two Cow songs are about life not about lifestyle. There might be songs about drinking too much but they’re phrased in regret instead of celebration. I only started thinking about these two bands and the juxtaposition because a few nights after the show a friend asked me what I thought of the opener. I said it wasn’t my thing and he asked why, and I had to think about it. There are consequences and desperation in Micah and Shane’s songs. There is no escaping in those songs, no casual “it’ll all work out” and no hipster indifference.
Let’s rewind a decade and look at 2004’s The Wall Against Our Back. I think Micah was about 21 when these songs were written and recorded. There is a healthy bit of teen angst within these songs but there is also plenty of foreshadowing to the subjects and worldview he would spend the next decade writing and obsessing about.
“Make It Out Alive” isn’t the most ingenious song title ever and it seems clear that the lyrics are written by a 21 year old songwriter but what is present and clear is a sense of desperation. I need desperation in music, I need to know that other people have felt it and survived. “Make It Out Alive” is a precursor for what’s to come for the band while also making a statement about what Two Cow is not. They are not a band that writes about running away from the cops or the fun of getting so fucked up you can’t really remember the night before. I don’t need those songs but I need Two Cow songs.
But the line from The Wall Against Our Back that makes me smile the most comes from “135”. I know I’m pulling one line out of a song and using it to illustrate a larger point, but just follow me a little longer. When Micah sings “never really stopped to think it all through, about the things we’ve done wrong” I can’t help but laugh a little. In the context of “135” it may be an accurate statement but what Micah was already starting to do, and what he and Shane have both done in the decade since is think it all through over and over and over again, both about the things done wrong and things not done. The way I see it, back in 2004 Two Cow Garage was defining the themes of their songwriting; desperation and regret (and I don’t feel like regret is the absolute right word here, but it’s as close as my handle of the English language allows)
I don’t know Micah or Shane so I have no desire to infer or speculate about personal issues, but I’ll speak a little about mine. Depression is a part of my life, always has been and always will be. If you’ve read things from me here or on Facebook or Twitter you’ve probably heard that before. I’m also firmly in the camp of people that prefer to acknowledge the condition instead of hiding it. There is no shame in depression and the more people that accept that fact the easier it is for people like me to cope.
I am often drawn to art that expresses emotions like sadness, frustration, desperation and loneliness. I’ve had the conversation with multiple people, not just about music but books and movies, about not finding sad art sad. I didn’t realize I was drawn to these emotions in art until I was working in a bookstore. I often made recommendations and when the customers would return I would ask if they enjoyed the books they bought based on my suggestions. More than a few times I heard they had enjoyed them but that they were terribly sad. I had to give this some thought.
There is a comfort in sad songs that provides great joy. From them you can see that you aren’t the only one who’s ever felt the way you’re feeling and even if it’s through speakers or letters on a page, you’re not alone. I don’t know if I’d call many of Two Cow’s songs sad, but in my eyes, they come from writers who understand sadness. The emotion manifests itself as desperation and regret and by the time they released Three in 2007 these themes were front and center.
*In part two I’ll talk about a couple of songs on Three as well as try to find the value and beauty in being able embrace the sadness in life.
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