Wednesday, September 26, 2012

A Guided Tour of Ten: Porch

[A Guided Tour of Ten]
There is a breathless, frantic intensity to Porch. Two scenes play out in my mind, and I'm not sure which one I like more. One has a person running through their apartment in a bit of a daze, by themselves and coping with the end of a relationship. The other sees a person storming out of a house, trailed by the song's narrator, begging for the person to stay as they throw their car into reverse and head off into the distance. In both situations the key to the image is movement—because if the narrator stops they will collapse. Either way it begs the question, what happened here?

And that's how the song starts—the riff only plays for a second before Eddie belts out ‘what the fuck is this world running to?’ There isn’t a whole lot of profanity on this record, so it has extra emphasis here, and I like that he says running to instead of coming to. There is a sense of deliberation in the later—as if the world is playing out some scripted event, whereas here there is a crashing immediacy to the question. And whatever happened seems shocking—there is no message, no warning or time to prepare. It reminds me of a moment in college when my girlfriend at the time told me, seemingly out of the blue, that she wanted to break up. We had had some problems but I was hopelessly in love and had really pushed all this to the side because I didn’t want to confront it, and when that suddenly came up (I think I asked her what was wrong because she seemed upset and that just burst out) there was a pause (it felt like an eternity even though I know it only lasted a few seconds) and then the world suddenly seemed to speed up, with me racing to keep up with the blur. Some of the little moments Eddie captures in the song are great too, like the ‘you didn’t leave a message lyric’—the request for something tangible to hold onto as a relationship reaches a violent end

I've always thought Porch was about a woman pleading with a man to stay, but it works with either gender. The ‘would you hit me?' lyric works either way here, with the singer hoping that perhaps some kind of physical act will offer some kind of outlet for the problems that are dragging the relationship down. In either case it is a request borne of desperation, and has particularly sinister overtones if the voice of the song is supposed to be female.

So what is driving the collapse of the relationship? The second verse makes me think that the issue is pregnancy. It is hard to tell if this is something I'm reading back into the song due to the pro choice message Eddie scrawls on his arm during the Unplugged performance, plus all the comments made at early shows about choice. If the singer is a woman I imagine her discovering she was pregnant and the guy just absolutely freaking out, tearing out of there rather than staying to confront this new reality—the woman offers to abort the child for him (perhaps he thinks she won’t—‘ the cross I'm bearing home ain’t indicative of my place’) but he won’t stay still long enough to listen. But the cross she’s bearing could also just be a more traditional metaphor for the suffering she’s enduring—perhaps this is a woman declaring an end to an abusive relationship, demanding change from the partner. The way Eddie positively seethes when he sings ‘there ain’t gonna be any middle anymore’ makes it clear that regardless of what is going on a line is being drawn, that she wants an end to the daily minefield of complications that is fast ruining their shared lives.

Porch is about weathering a storm, and the title is key to that. A porch brings to mind warm and cozy images of home, of tranquility and safety—and Porch is about the destruction of that safety. The first half of the song sets up the collapse, the back half deals with it from inside. The music has a galloping energy to it—it sounds like running, as if the person is trying so hard to stay ahead of the events that threaten to overwhelm them. The chorus is both a declaration of need and independence. The singer fears being alone and wants so powerfully for the person leaving to stay (she's running to catch up with him) and there is certainly a sharp edge of desperation to the final minute of the song (which I think is only matched by the end of Alive in terms of its power in their entire catalogue)— she is pleading for things to go back the way they were, but at the same time she is also forcing herself to come to grips with it (you can hear her arguing with herself under the music in the bridge). The cries are not only cries of despair, but strength, fortifying her for the struggles that she will have to face alone. This isn’t the breakdown at the end of Black where the comfort and release for the listener comes from the fact that you aren’t alone in your suffering. In Black there isn’t strength as much as there is solidarity in pain. There is something empowering about the finish of Porch—from the closing of the bridge to the end of the song we have the incredible rolling drums, the great bass line, the soaring andempowering riff (so much fantastic music is buried in the mix—next time you listen to Porch try and block eddie out and just listen to the music-from about 2:04 to the end), and Eddie's primal screams—ragged but determined. It is an emancipatory moment in the midst of a destructive whirlwind, an act of creation just as everything else around you falls apart. Porch finishes with the righteousness of a last stand against seemingly overwhelming odds, with nothing to offer but yourself and the determination that it will be enough, because it has to be.

‘Here I stand, I can do no other, God help me”—Martin Luther

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