David Fleming
It's All Academic   www.davidflemingsite.com   
Day 72: Death Cab For Cutie (I Will Possess Your Heart)

July 7, 2020

You have to love any song whose first line is the provocative "How I wish you could see the potential/the potential of you and me." When it takes the artist five minutes to get to that line, well, that is leaving potential untapped for a long time. Death Cab For Cutie did this in 2008 with "I Will Possess Your Heart," including releasing the 8 and 1/2 minute song as a single. (Granted, they cut out most of the 5+ minute opening build-up of music, which kind of seems like wasting the potential before you even get started.)

"I Will Possess Your Heart" introduced me to Death Cab For Cutie, a band with a weird name, and who I prior to this time assumed was either really dark (the "death cab" part) or ironically upbeat (the "cutie" part).  In hearing this song, I realized quickly, at least as quickly as 5 1/2 minutes of the same boding bassline, piano sequence, and guitar feedback would allow, that they were on the dark side. Upon first hearing, especially the first 5 1/2 minutes (you might find my obsession with this lengthy intro repetitive by the end of this blog), I thought I was hearing the first Cure release in quite a few years, especially hearkening back to Disintegretation, The Cure's brilliant, moody album of epic length songs where the vocal almost always came in after several minutes. (Turns out that The Cure did realize an album, 4.13, at about the same time as Narrow Stairs, the album from whence "I Will Possess Your Heart" comes.)

Even though Death Cab For Cutie has never directly cited The Cure as an influence for the lengthy build-up or the overall creepiness of the lyrics (I'll get to that, sheesh, if you can wait 5 1/2 minutes to hear the voice, you can wait a few paragraphs before I discuss the lyrics), bassist Nick Harmer did admit modeling that bass, a handful of chords, all picked from the deepest part of the guitar, almost at the bridge, came from Cure bassist Simon Gallup.  Quickly the jam begins, echo and reverb from guitars wafting in and out, while the bass and drum plod along, piano and guitar trading off the main riff. Delicately, almost imperceptibly, about 3 1/2 minutes in, faint vocals can be picked up, a "nananana" lingering just over the horizon as the guitars wail and echo, and the piano, bass and drum march on.

Lead singer, Ben Gibbard, says that the song developed rather organically, with the band deciding when the right time would set in to start with the lyrics. Apparently, something at 5 1/2 minutes took hold.  Thank goodness, otherwise they might still be in the studio jamming.

Finally we get the "How I wish you could see the potential/the potential of you and me/it's like a book elegantly bound/but in a language that you can't read/just yet."  In that way only poets and pop stars seem able to pull off, the song's narrator sounds dutiful, respectful, patient in his plea to his object of affection.  After all, you just "gotta spend some time love/you gotta spend time with me," brash prediction from the barely noticed speaker.  Just don't freak out when you "find, love,/I will possess your heart."

I go back to something I have said multiple times over the last 71 days; pop songs can mess up young boys more than anything. Is there anybody on earth who, sans the rhythmic undertones, sans the 5 1/2 minutes of fore-foreplay, doesn't put out a restraining order on this guy? The facade is going to continue to fade away when he admits "there are days when outside your window/I see my reflection as I slowly pass."  Even when he attempts to repair the distance he is creating, his bridge, "you reject my advances and my desperate pleas/I won't let you down so easily," only makes everything worse. He can stand outside our window all night with the "you gotta spend some time, love/you gotta spend some time with me/and I know you'll find love/I will possess your heart" over and over.

Romanticized stalking is still stalking, and yet we still either buy the songs and/or watch the Hallmark movies, perpetuating the crap.  Long drawn-out introductions merely delay the realization.  Yet, I love to listen to this song.  It's still my favorite Death Cab For Cutie song. I can't help but wonder if my affection for it comes from having heard it first through video (hard to believe those still existed in 2008, but somewhere in the Grand Rapids cable systems, there was an obscure channel showing videos in 2008). The video is a beautifully shot series of scenes a single female traveler going across the globe, interspersed with the band playing the song in some sub-zero warehouse somewhere.

When I watch the video, I can't help but see the woman free from her obsessor.  That is a storybook ending.

"I Will Possess Your Heart." Narrow Stairs. Death Cab For Cutie. Atlantic. 2008. Video link here.

Day 71: Iggy Pop "Lust For Life."

Day 73: The Smashing Pumpkins "1979."

See complete list here.