Monday, May 26, 2014

jack handey

Have you ever gone to a place like Song Meanings to read what others think might be the meaning behind a song?

I just spent 10 minutes reading these entries for this song.

Let me tell you what they all missed.  Well, all except one.


There's an old parable about two Buddhist monks, one senior and one junior, walking along a road.

They come upon a young princess in a sedan chair set down on the ground just this side of a stream crossing.

Next to the sedan chair are the princess's two porters, one of them standing and the other sitting on the ground, holding his ankle. The elder monk walks up to the porters and asks them if they need assistance.  The standing porter describes what just happened:  as they began walking toward the stream, the front porter slipped and injured his ankle, and is no longer able to walk on it.  The porters do not know how they will get the princess across the stream or their journey continued any further.

The elder monk promptly volunteers himself and his junior as able and willing to carry the princess and her sedan chair across the stream.

"That way," says the senior monk to the uninjured porter, "you will be able to carry your injured brother across the stream.  Perhaps once across the stream, the three of you will find your solution."

The elder monk walks back to the junior monk and tells him what he must do.  The junior monk complains, but knows there must be some good reason for the task.  He walks up and introduces himself to the princess.  Then, when she is ready, he and the senior monk pick up the sedan chair and carefully carry it across the stream, being careful to not lose footing and dunk the princess.

The uninjured porter manages to get his hobbled brother across.  The monks say farewell to the princess and her porters, and continue their journey.

Several hours pass without much said between the two monks, and then the junior monk begins complaining about how the princess was too precious to wade the stream herself, and griping about the porters' inability to solve the problem.  "One of them could have carried the princess across first on his back, then crossed back again to the first side, and then carried the injured one.  I don't understand why they were so stymied.  I don't understand why it became our problem.  Why were we helping with the privileges and expectations of royalty?"

The senior monk stops in his stride and turns to the junior.

"It seems to me that we crossed that stream hours ago.  I set the princess down when we reached this side of the stream.  Why are you still carrying her?"


Sure, "carry the zero" is a math pun and/or geek joke.

Someone in the comment thread mentioned the song is about Buddhism.

Maybe it is, maybe it isn't, but it reminds me of the Buddhist monk parable/fable stated above.

Listen to the senior monk.

Carry the zero.

Lug no baggage.


I think some of the other comments hold possibility.

"Zero = loser" said one comment, "it's about carrying around a loser in a relationship."

Well that much is pretty obvious as the brown skin of the onion, eh?  What other layers are there?

One comment says it's Martsch talking to himself.  The loser he carries around, as a burden, is himself.

Seems plausible.

People hear what they want to hear.  There's all sorts of botched, mis-heard lyrics everywhere, sung faithfully in time with the real lyrics, by people who imagine they have the song dialed and tight.


One thing I wonder about is that I have always heard one section as:

Count your blemishes.
You can't.
They're all gone.

I can see your
putting them back on.

The linked version says can't

If the lyric is "can" then he's being snide.  Predicting the pattern will hold true again.

If the lyric is "can't" then he's saying, "you already got over this, but now you're bringing it up again."

So it depends on whether this song is sarcastic or empathetic, I guess.


Harold Caidagh said...

You either bought a smartphone or tablet thingamajig, or you got a home computer with internet connection. In other words, you actually spent some of the coins you earned. Congratulations. Good job doing your patriotic duty.

Harold Caidagh said...

I find it ironic, Chet. You're supposed to be the lawyer keeping this blog out of hot water and here you are posting provocative things.

I'll tell you something about that song, Chet. He's talking about someone else, most likely. Opening line. And then later he says

I was trying to help
but I
guess I pushed
too hard
Now we can't even
touch it
afraid it will
fall apart

If he's not talking about/to someone else, he's schizoid. Or hearing voices or something like that.

Or maybe he's manic-depressive, the manic voice talking to the depressive side.

I guess you were right about that onion, you sly bastard.

Chet Redweld said...

Hal, maybe you'll take a moment out of your busy day and consider what subjects I have mentioned and how I have raised them.

It's just something to think about, if somehow sometime you find you have nothing else to do.

Harold Caidagh said...

Yeah, so then what's up with you using the cool-headed, even-keeled term fuckin' in that comment thread, Chet?

Chet Redweld said...

You already know he's a thinker, even if he doesn't reference Big Beard in his lyrics.

Chet Redweld said...

That same person recorded a great version of Carry the Zero:

Chet Redweld said...

It seems like everyone who writes about Built to Spill forgets to mention Jim Roth's guitar and how it fills out the songs. BtS even has 3 guitars sometimes. When the band has been as it is in the two Sydney videos (which is how it was when I saw them in 1999), Roth isn't a silent partner doing mild rhythm duty to fatten the overall sound, he's doing as much texture and solo as Martsch. The interplay is more like Verlaine and Lloyd in Television, O'Brien and Greenwood in Radiohead. Probably closer to Radiohead, where everyone talks of Jonny Greenwood and nobody mentions Ed O'Brien.

Harold Caidagh said...

So what's with him convulsing as he plays and sings? He reminds me of Joe Cocker.

Chet Redweld said...

I didn't realize you were an artist working at his level, Hal. I think if you have the kind of talent he has, it doesn't matter if you shake like you are going through withdrawal when you play/sing. Does how he looks have any bearing on how he plays? Or sings?

Harold Caidagh said...

I suppose you can call that singing if you want. It sounds like a field recording from the severe cases wing of a hospital for the terminally insane. But then I always thought Joe Cocker had Parkinson's or something like that.

Chet Redweld said...

David Berman speaks for me here:

Harold Caidagh said...

Your ski vest has buttons like convenience store mirrors?