Monday, November 18, 2013

The Silver Gymnasium: A First Glance

When it comes to sleuthing out the meaning of an album, I've noticed myself getting lazy of late. In my Reflektor blog, I admitted that I wasn't sure whether or not there was a concept behind it; in my Young Knives write-up, I openly conceded that I had no idea what it was about at all. I feel guilty now, and I suspect that instead of shrugging and carrying on, I probably should have looked deeper and tried a little harder to ferret out some sort of sense. I was in a rush, I guess.

I picked up The Silver Gymnasium from Spillers on Saturday. Figuring that Okkervil River albums are typically packed with literary references and hidden meaning, I decided that this would be a good record to really think hard about. Okkervil rivers run deep, etc. To that end, all three Album Wall blog posts this week will be dedicated to working out exactly what The Silver Gymnasium is all about. For this first instalment, I'm doing it First Impressions style: no looking up the lyrics, no looking at the liner notes, and no rewinding or repeating of tracks. Just one listen, once through, and we'll see what I can glean from that.

On Wednesday, I'll allow myself a glance at the lyric sheet, and on Friday, I'll hit the internet and see what I can find out from the experts. For now, though, I've only the songs to go on...

The record kicks off with It Was My Season. It seems to about a forbidden love, filled with talk of secret meetings when the parents are away.

I'm uncertain as to the meaning of On A Balcony. It has me picturing a Romeo and Juliet kind of scene, with the lover calling down from a balcony, but that's based on little more than the name of the song.

Wow, talk about your eighties intro. Down Down the Deep River strikes me as a travelling song, with lyrics about sleeping in a tent and heading "down the road in December, down down down the deep river". Perhaps the whole album is about a journey from A to B, and this is just the beginning?

Deeper meaning aside, this is one heck of a tune.

Pink-Slips are the permission slips that parents have to sign before their children go on a school trip, right? This sounds like a 'We Gotta Get Out of This Place' sort of song, complaining about a crappy home town (populated by "sluts of both sexes") and expressing a deep desire to leave.

Lido Pier Suicide Car is a quieter, more considered song, at least until the last minute or so. Given the title and the talk of seeing God in the first couple of lines, it sounds like it's being sung by someone who is moments from death and thinking back on their life.

I'm really not sure about Where the Spirit Left Us. If I have to take a guess, though (and I do), I'd say that it's maybe about falling out with your travelling partner and carrying on the journey alone. Again, though, that's more to do with the title than the lyrics. Gleaning meaning on the first hearing is difficult, yo!

In White, our intrepid traveller runs into some danger. Near the end of the song, we find him nearly 'whited' out, insisting that "winter's here, it's too cold to drown".

Stay Young is about just that - staying young instead of growing up and dealing with life. "You've only got one", as Will Sheff tells us near the end, "so stay young."

I haven't a clue about Walking Without Frankie, so I'm going to grab my made-up travelling yarn and take another stab that's based entirely on the song's title. If you assume (somewhat generously) that my guess about Where the Spirit Left Us was correct - that our protagonist has split up with the person he was journeying with - then this song might well be him regretting that break-up and wishing he was still with him/her. "I want Frankie!"

All the Time Every Day sounds like it's about boredom, numbness, and a lack of any feeling, good or bad. My no-rewinding policy has left me without a specific line to point to as evidence, but hey, that's the impression it's given me and I'm sticking to it.

And so to Black Nemo, the final track on what actually has been a rather good album (regardless of how little meaning I've been able to chisel from it). Fittingly, we're finishing with another song that I can't quite puzzle out, although it seems to me that the narrator has died and now he's watching seasons fly by and seeing everything from the other side, beyond the grave. Incidentally, this song mentions On A Balcony again, so perhaps my concept album theories aren't so far-fetched after all.

I suppose we'll see. Come back on Wednesday, by which time I will have studied the lyrics and liner notes. Hopefully they'll help to shed a little light on this album.

Click here for Part 2.

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