Mythology Around Midnight

Posted: September 13, 2013 in A Little Less Profound
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The Airborne Toxic Event: Sometime Around MidnightBy Glen

No song in The Airborne Toxic Event catalog has been the subject of more discussion, analysis, scrutiny and adulation than Sometime Around Midnight. Volumes have been written on the 2008 iTunes Song of the Year – a mega hit that defied not only the rules of songwriting, but also music industry conventions governing how and when a record by an unknown band gets broken.

So as I gingerly prepared to write about the masterpiece that is Midnight, I was all too aware that I had nothing to bring to the table in terms of technical and lyrical analysis that hasn’t already been said (and said better) by others. If that’s the angle that interests you, I can render no greater service than to point you to shmoop’s thorough dissection of the meaning, techniques and musical influences behind the song. Their consideration of how Mikel bends time and perspective as he spins his story is particularly insightful.

Neither do I have a gripping personal story to tell in relation to the song. Sure, I count myself among the legions who found in Midnight a complete and utter revelation; one which turned my own musical universe on its head the moment I heard it. But it wasn’t because Mikel was telling MY story – indeed, as someone who’s been in a happy and stable relationship since he was 16, and for that matter has never imbibed in more than two alcoholic beverages in a single evening, Midnight shouldn’t connect with me on any personal level… but of course it does.

So, devoid of expert analysis, and lacking my own tragic tale of relational woe, I turn my attention instead to the mythology around Midnight. You see, the stories behind the song have become TATE lore: how it was born out of Mikel’s week from hell, in which his mother was diagnosed with cancer, he himself was diagnosed with auto-immune disorders, and his relationship with the girl in the white dress met its demise. Or later, how the resultant song surged to popularity not through traditional industry channels, but organically through the web, and ultimately through KROQ, L.A.’s biggest rock/alternative station, who added it to their rotation without the band having even been signed to a label.

But with all that’s been said and written about Airborne’s signature song, there remain a few pieces of the puzzle that may surprise even some who think they know everything there is to know about Sometime Around Midnight.

TATE Trivia Time Question: Which band member is quoted in the lyrics to Sometime Around Midnight?Elizabeth: Midnight Sequel?

Since the release of Such Hot Blood, there have been a number of Facebook/Twitter Q&A’s with various members of the band. And it seems that no matter who is doing the answering, there’s one question that always gets asked (well, two if you count “Will you marry me?”). Is Elizabeth the woman from Midnight?

The query stems, of course, from the allusion to that famous white dress in Elizabeth: “She said, ‘I’ll be listening in my favorite white dress.'”

It was a solid theory. Unfortunately, Mikel has put a pin in this notion with his responses. Yes, Elizabeth is a real person (though she has some mythical qualities, as Mikel has also described the song as a conversation with this mermaid he knows). But it’s not the same person. And yes, the callback to Midnight is intentional, but Elizabeth’s reference to the white dress is just an inside joke, because she knows how much he likes that dress. (Much of the song is Mikel poking fun at himself, taking himself to task for writing such heavy/depressing lyrics.) So Elizabeth is connected to Midnight in a way, but it’s not a direct continuation of the story.

Who Broke Up with Whom?

It’s widely assumed that Mikel was the dumpee in the failed relationship, or at the very least, that it was a mutual parting of the ways. After all, the character in the song is clearly heartbroken, and pining for a woman he still wants but can no longer have. And with all the other upheaval going on in the writer’s life when the relationship ended, it seems an odd time for him to choose to break things off with his primary support person, when it seems obvious that he still loved her.

Nevertheless, it was indeed Mikel who broke up with the girl in the white dress – not the other way around. He set the record straight in an extended interview with a Pakistan radio station (see below – and as an aside, how great is it that the band would give 45 minutes of their time to talk to a radio station in Pakistan?). Says Mikel of her reaction to the song: “She was pissed!”

She was like, ‘Yeah dude, you broke up with me, and then I tried to get you back for months, and then the one night I was out with some other guy… Literally I think I texted you earlier that day to see if you wanted to go to this thing with me at Safari Sam’s, and you said no, so I said fine, I’m going with this other guy.’

Was it Really Over… Like, Forever?

In a word: no. Sometime after the events described in the song, the couple got back together. In fact, they resumed dating for another year or so before finally moving on for good.

(Jump to the 23:10 mark for the discussion on the events described in Sometime Around Midnight)

 

I have to admit, when I first heard this interview, it threw me for a bit of a loop. Knowing that he dumped her, and that she was the one who kept pursuing him, and that she even asked him out that very day, AND that they ended up back together for awhile… it all seemed to blow a hole right through the middle of the song. I thought it was a true story?

But then I realized: none of it matters. It is a true story. These details, while surprising, don’t change a thing. Because the song is not about what happened that fateful week when Mikel’s life fell to shit. It’s not about the year that followed. It’s not even about that morning, when she texted him to see if he wanted to join her for the evening.

It’s about a single fleeting moment; a minute or two sometime around midnight. For those 120 seconds, this is exactly how he felt. It doesn’t matter who initiated the breakup, or what would happen in the future. Right now, at this moment in time, seeing this woman with that other man, the memories rush back like waves, regret seeps in, and he absolutely must have that which he cannot possibly obtain. And it breaks him in two.

And he communicated this feeling so precisely, so vividly, that this gut-punch of a song knocked a 13-years-married, never-been-drunk, first-time-listener squarely on his ass. And I’m far from the only one.

Click here to purchase Sometime Around Midnight

TATE Trivia Time Answer  Steven Chen. In Steven's recent Facebook  Q&A, he said of Midnight: "It's actually a true  story. The whole band was at the same bar,  and the events of the song proceeded to  happen to Mikel. I told him, 'You look like  you've seen a ghost.'" And now you can remember this everytime you see Steven's guitar pick.

 

Glen is the founder and editor of This Is Nowhere. He’s grateful for an understanding wife and kids who indulge his silly compulsion to chase a band all over the Pacific Northwest (and occasionally beyond) every time the opportunity arises.

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Comments
  1. gkerber says:

    It knocked me on my ass also :-). Still does. I didn’t know any of this. Another good job, my man.

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  2. Glen, awesome analysis of the mythos behind Midnight! I had listened to that Pakistan interview since I’m friends with @Pink that had sent me the link. We were surprised by the revelation of “Jess” (Tess?) as the name of the Midnight girl since he says all the songs are about 3 girls: “Jess, Catherine, (mumblemumble), there’s three.” at 23:35. We assume the third is Elizabeth, since there’s a title song written about her. Then Ammar (the interviewer) says at 23:40 “Who’s Jess?” since he’s surprised about the name.

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  3. I had read that Steven had said the ghost comment, but had not made the connection with Steven’s pick though!

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    • I don’t think there actually is a connection to Steven’s pick… someone asked him about the pick, and he just said he likes ghosts and wanted something nerdy, lol. I just think of this line now everytime that I see the pick on my desk!

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  4. Still interesting to ponder if there’s a subconscious connection to the line in his decision to use the ghost as his icon.

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  5. Susan says:

    I’ve been essentially writing an analysis of Midnight in my head for ages. Thanks, Glen, for ‘writing it all down’ much better than I could. When I first heard that Pakistan interview, I posted it to the forum and was shocked that it garnished very little interest. I thought everyone’s jaw would drop as mine had. The best part of the interview is Mikel’s exchange with the band as he giggled about the incident. He is such an imp! 3 new songs & a great blog entry by Glen…it’s an excellent day to be an Airborne fanatic!

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    • It’s such a brilliant interview… I guess not everyone has the stamina to sit through 45-minutes, but they’re missing out! Thanks for the kind words… it is certainly a great day for TATE fans, though the blog has little to do with that. I am LOVING The Way Home!

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  6. Marc Kushner says:

    Glen. Our experiences and love of Airborne are so similar. I’m 44. Happily married for 14 years. Two kids – 12 and 10. And absolutely crazy about this band. Like you, I was knocked on my ass when I first heard Midnight five years ago. I had to know more about the band who put out this masterpiece. So I searched for more. The next song I heard was Wishing Well and I was just as blown away as I was with Midnight. That was a one two punch I’ve never recovered from. So 5 years and 14 shows later they’re still knocking me on my ass.

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  7. Jamie says:

    I know I already told you how much I love this post, Glen but I thought I’d make it official here also. Fantastic. Every TATE fan should be required to follow this blog. You are doing great work. πŸ™‚

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  8. […] Mythology Around Midnight: Some little known facts about the band’s best known song. […]

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  9. […] Mythology Around Midnight (“Sometime Around Midnight”) All At Once, I’m Out of Control (“All At Once”) The Curious Case of The Kids Are Ready to Die (“The Kids Are Ready to Die”) Six of One, Half a Dozen of Something Else (“Half of Something Else”) The Hitchhiking Game (“All I Ever Wanted”) If You Die Before I Die (“The Graveyard Near the House”) Every Jot and Tittle: How a Comma and a Period Changed Timeless (“Timeless”) The Ghosts of Failure (“Bride and Groom”) […]

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