I think about a world to come where the books were found by the golden ones, written in pain, written in awe by a puzzled man who questioned, "What are we here for?" All the strangers came today and it looks as though they're here to stay.

-David Bowie "Oh! You Pretty Things"

Monday, June 27, 2011

Pop Deconstruction: "Missing"

1 I step off the train
2 I'm walkin' down your street again
3 And pass your door
4 But you don't live there anymore
5 It's been years since you've been there
6 And now you've disappeared somewhere
7 Like outer space
8 You've found some better place
9 And I miss you
10 Like the deserts miss the rain
11 And I miss you
12 Like the deserts miss the rain
13 Could you be dead?
14 You always were two steps ahead
15 Of everyone
16 We'd walk behind while you would run
17 I look up at your house
18 And I can almost hear you shout down to me
19 Where I always used to be
20 And I miss you
21 Like the deserts miss the rain
22 And I miss you
23 Like the deserts miss the rain
24 Back on the train
25 I ask why did I come again
26 Can I confess?
27 I've been hangin' 'round your old address
28 And the years have proved
29 To offer nothin' since you moved
30 You're long gone
31 But I can't move on
32 And I miss you
33 Like the deserts miss the rain
34 And I miss you
35 Like the deserts miss the rain
36 I step off the train
37 I'm walkin' down your street again
38 Pass your door
39 I guess you don't live there anymore
40 It's years since you've been there
41 And now you've disappeared somewhere
42 Like outer space
43 You've found some better place
44 And I miss you
45 Like the deserts miss the rain
46 And I miss you
47 Like the deserts miss the rain
48 And I miss you
49 Like the deserts miss the rain
50 And I miss you
51 Like the deserts miss the rain
52 Deserts miss the rain
53 Like the deserts miss the rain
54 Like the deserts miss the rain

The song "Missing" by the band Everything But the Girl tells the story of a protagonist - presumably a female considering the fact that the one who sings these lyrics, Tracey Thorn, is a female, but this is not necessarily the case - who, it is not surprising to say, misses another person. One assumes, because of the history of popular culture, that this individual is a lover of the protagonist, but again, this is not necessarily the case. The fact of the matter is that the genders of the two characters of this story, the one who is missed and the one who does the missing, are uncertain, as is their relationship. One might glean a female-male relationship from the analogical desert-rain relationship and its potential sexual overtones, but this requires quite a bit of interpretation. It must be said that this could be a story about a son and his father, a woman and her female lover, or a child and her piano teacher. It does not have to be a story of a woman who misses a man that she is romantically involved with.

The verses of this song (vv. 1-8, 13-19, 24-31, 36-43) are not the object of my immediate scrutiny. Rather than telling a story of scandal like those of the Simon and Garfunkel song "Cecilia," these lyrics paint a picture of an individual who truly misses another individual. It is not a plot that we are to derive from the events of the lyrics, but a characterization. We are to feel as the protagonist of this song feels, to understand what it means to miss someone in the same way that this protagonist misses the person whose house he/she is walking past. While many would describe this superficially as a case of a stalker/stalked relationship, the lack of any specificity points to a more universal feeling. As a child I remember gazing at the houses of girls from my school as my parents drove by, wondering if I might catch a glimpse of a pretty girl, and in high school I remember driving by the houses of girls who rejected me on my way home from work if I felt sad enough. I believe that we are supposed to connect to the feeling of longing rather than linger on the potentially weird and dangerous creeper aspect.

What I want to focus on is the analogy presented by the refrain (vv. 9-12, 20-23, 32-35, 44-54): "And I miss you / Like the deserts miss the rain." I want to first consider the circular relationship of just such an analogy. The first line says clearly, "And I miss you." The listener is put in a place where their understanding of "Missing" must be clarified. How exactly does this protagonist miss the object of his/her missing? That's an easy question. "Like the deserts miss the rain." In order to understand this relationship of missing between, one assumes, two humans, we must understand how two inanimate objects miss one another. As inanimate objects, however, we must conclude that deserts and rain are incapable of higher emotions such as missing, emotions that we might deny even the most emotional of creatures, our domesticated pet dogs and cats. As such, we must personify the deserts and the rain in order to understand this feeling of "Missing." How exactly do the deserts miss the rain? The hidden premise behind this personification is that the deserts miss the rain much like a human misses another human, or, in other words, much like the protagonist of this song misses his/her object of missing. The analogy thus proves that the analogy is unnecessary. If you understand how the deserts miss the rain, then you already understand how the "I" misses the "you" prior to the use of the analogy.

There is one further problem with the analogy, "I : you :: deserts : rain." It focuses on one "season" of the relationship of the desert and the rain. We imagine first and foremost that the desert is devoid of water. In order to maintain any kind of life in such an ecosystem, some sort of water must be attained. While plants and animals adapts methods of surviving without water or of conserving water, there is still a need for more water. This is what we understand - the need for water in order to sustain the ecosystem of the desert. But this analogy must also call to mind another relationship of the desert and the rain, the "season" in which the desert experiences heavy and even torrential downpour. While it is true that the sustaining power of water enters into the desert ecosystem during these times, it is also true that a great deal of destruction comes about during such a period. In the first instance, we imagine a lover who requires the presence of another lover in order to sustain his/her existence, a kind of melodramatic statement, but one that many of us can relate to. In the second instance, however, we imagine the return of the prodigal lover and the violence that it entails. "Missing" is no longer the story of the desire to reunite two lovers. It is the tale of a deadbeat who has returned from being completely absent. This return is accompanied by domestic violence and mistreatment, and yet the protagonist welcomes such a meeting, looks past the violence and sees only the presence of the violent lover.

"Missing" is the story of a dependent lover who awaits the abusive return of an absent lover. I hope nobody ever has to miss someone else like the desert misses the rain. I hope that people always miss one another like a respectful and trustworthy individual misses another respectful and trustworthy individual. To quote The Dude, "This aggression will not stand, man."

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