Song of the Day: “Sleeping Lessons”


The past two weeks, we’ve looked at songs from the genres of classic rock and electronic music. This week, we’ll move into new territory once again, and turn our attention to the world of indie music.

I have to admit that I’ve been choosing these genres with my own tastes in mind. At first it seemed a bit close-minded, but that’s not something I’m willing to worry about anymore. The way I see it, I’m simply sharing some of my favorite songs with the world. And if you don’t happen to like a particular song, or genre I’m covering, feel free to leave a suggestion below. i won’t promise to follow every one, but I’ll do my best to listen with an open mind.

Now that that’s out of the way, we can move on. This week, we’ll look at songs from four indie bands that I just can’t get out of my head. Today, its “Sleeping Lessons”, by The Shins.

Sleeping Lessons

“Sleeping Lessons” is the first track on The Shins’ third studio album, “Wincing the Night Away”. The titles of both are references to lead singer James Mercer’s insomnia. In an interview with Rolling Stone, Mercer explains that the songs on the album addressed “human-condition stuff”. Apparently, insomnia fits that niche. And from the way “Sleeping Lessons” starts off, it sounds like insomnia is the only real topic. “Go without /
‘Til the need seeps in”. Sounds like he’s talking about having trouble with sleep, right?

But as the song progresses, Mercer’s cryptic and visual lyrics seem to hint at something else. Take a look at these lines from the chorus.

“And if the old guard still offend / They got nothing left on which you depend / So enlist every ounce / Of your bright blood / And off with their heads”.

Off with their heads? But I thought this was a song about struggling against insomnia. What gives?

Throughout the song, themes of revolution and rebellion reveal themselves if you take a closer look. And I don’t necessarily mean revolution in terms of full-on anarchy or anything. This is more of a rebellion against American capitalist society, as I see it.

Take another look at the first lines of the song. “Go without / ‘Til the need seeps in / You low animal / Collect your novel petals for the stem”. Now, the first two lines could be a reference to sleep, but the last two don’t fit with that.

Imagine we live in a society with a struggling lower and middle class. They may be referred to as ‘low animals’ by the wealthy business-owners, who simply want them to continue consuming material goods and supporting businesses. “Collect your novel petals for the stem” can be interpreted as acquiring needless things that distract us with their pretty looks (new clothes, cars, bigger homes).

I won’t go into this interpretation too much more, but if you’re looking for one that tackles each line, you can go here.

Final Thoughts

While I don’t always like to bring in politics to discussion on art, music, and literature, it’s often an unavoidable subject. Because, like it or not, all art is inherently political. Because art reflects life, and life reflects art. I don’t mean to be reductive, and if you disagree with me that’s fine. This is just one man’s opinion. I’m sure you can find scores of others to back up a myriad of conflicting views. But this one belongs to me.

Anyway, that about wraps up our discussion of The Shins’ “Sleeping Lessons”. Tomorrow, we’ll look at another song from an indie band. I’ll do my best not to be as annoyingly political. But no promises.






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