Son of a Widow: Losing Self with mewithoutYou
(In this article I analyze the loss of self found in the mewithoutYou tune, 'Son of a Widow.' mewithoutYou has remained one of the most influential bands in my life. Their lyrics and ethos as a band is philosophically and theologically rich. I hope to philosophically and theologically analyze more music in the future, so be on the lookout.)
Their name suggests self-loss. Yet, without any distance between each letter, their name also suggests inextricable interconnectedness of one’s self to the Other.
And like their name, mewithoutYou has balanced on that wise tension throughout their career. At times they are inextricably interconnected, striking the cord of their listeners. However, at other times, their most devoted fans are left experiencing this band as wholly other–a band that is transcendent in its prose and performance. From the all-too-common experience of existential angst present in his lyrics to eating a slightly moldy sandwich he found in the dumpster, the band’s frontman, Aaron Weiss, has made a career of being extraordinarily relatable yet strange and distant.
It only makes sense then that mewithoutYou would invoke the same themes of self-loss and remaining interconnected with the Other throughout their catalog. This theme stings no more poignantly than in their song, ‘Son of a Widow,’ off of their 2004 album, Catch Us for the Foxes.
‘Son of a Widow’ takes the listener through a sorrowing mystical journey of one succumbing to his own existential finitude and the interconnected possibilities that lie in this self-realization.
The song’s music is structured in a way that salts the existential texture of the lyrics. It begins lonely with delicate pattering chords on guitar and crisp tapping on the drum set. Weiss’s voice enters the fold sounding exhausted, as if he was the subject of the lyrics after enduring the tiring and trying existential journey.
“I'll ring Your doorbell until You let me in…"
The ‘You’ in this line refers to an infinite being. The subject persistently waits to be invited into what it is to be infinite. His persistence suggests faith, an ultimate concern. His whole being yearns to be let into the infinite reality. However, the next line reveals the horror when the subject receives his wish…
“And I can no longer tell where "You" end and "I" begin.”
It becomes clear to the subject that once stepping into the home of the infinite, he no longer has the capacity to conceptualize of himself and the Other. The horror is that the subject no longer can rest in the tension of being inextricably related to yet wholly apart from the Other. His sense of self and sense of Other is lost.
The following chorus picks up the intensity slightly, yet dwindles back to the obscurity of the beginning verse.
“Grape on the vine, grape on the vine. We’ve been alone a long time. Grape on the vine, why not be crushed to make wine?”
With the subject losing his sense of self, the existential strife lingers as he questions if he fulfills a utilitarian purpose. Or, rather, does he have purpose in and of himself? Is the tarty grape not valuable in and of itself or does it only have value in its utility to deliver enjoyment to the palate of drunk French company downing bottles of Zinfandel?
The pattern of slight build up of intensity in the choruses back to obscurity in the verses repeats with the intensity grown to the last chorus. However, the intensity is rather underwhelming. It does not satisfy like other intense moments in the album. And it is not meant to. The song ends as it began but with Weiss’ voice more distant and eventually fades into oblivion–perhaps caught in the black hole of existential self-loss.
“The Son of the widow you raised from the dead. Where did his soul go when he died again?”
The subject recalls the gospel story of Jesus raising the son of the widow of Nain from the dead. Instead of being captured by the miraculous nature of the story of a boy risen from the dead, the subject reveals the existential tragedy of it. It is not a story of resurrection but of resuscitation. Ultimately, the boy dies once again. We do not know the rest of the story of the boy’s life after his resuscitation. Did he live a resurrected or resuscitated life?
Is it our self that frames our finitude? Is it the loss of our self that inextricably interconnects us with the Other?
In the mystical tradition, God is often urgently painted as ontologically wholly Other–apart from the finite. The mystics, through rich contemplative and sometimes grueling practices, acknowledged their finitude, thus losing their self in order to connect to the wholly Other, God.
Like the subject in ‘Son of a Widow,’ there is a psychoanalytical self-flagellation of losing one’s self in this mystical tradition, albeit a much less violent loss of self and more a sorrowful one.
There seems to be overflowing wisdom in the mystical tradition with the juxtaposing interplay of losing one’s self to interconnect with a greater Other. It may be why Jesus urged his desperate followers to lose their life in order to interconnect with it–a much more expansive It…
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