“Elizabeth” by Elizabeth: An Interpretation of “Elizabeth” Through Hispanic Culture

Posted: November 8, 2013 in A Little Less Profound
Tags: , , , ,
Mikel Jollett of The Airborne Toxic Event: "All your songs are sad songs." Photo by TATE fan Ryan Macchione

Mikel Jollett of The Airborne Toxic Event:
“All your songs are sad songs.”
Photo by TATE fan Ryan Macchione

By Elizabeth

With the release of “Elizabeth,” Mikel Jollett offers a highly intimate look into his personal relationship with his longtime girlfriend, Elizabeth. At first, I was so excited to hear the song because Mikel was singing my name, and I could secretly imagine he was singing about me. Elizabeth was a Mexican girl, which was another connection to the song, because, hey, *I* am Hispanic! (My Dad is Cuban, my Mom is Guatemalan, and I was born in Los Angeles.) The more I listened (how many times is too many to have an Airborne song on autorepeat? Apparently, I don’t know the answer to that question as I can’t seem to tire of listening to their songs again and again), the more the song made me think of my own personal experience of being an uptight Cuban-Guatemalan girl (okay, that doesn’t roll off the tongue quite as easily). I wondered why Elizabeth wanted everyone to know the (love) song was about her, and then it hit me: Elizabeth had the same overwhelming need for social approval that had been hammered into my brain my whole life growing up!

In Hispanic culture, it doesn’t matter what you think about your boyfriend; what matters most is what your family and friends think about him. You are taught “What will other people think?” as your primary lens through which to see the world. “Is this outfit too tight?” Well, you ask, “What will other people think?” and then you change into something else that gets you the social approval. The more I thought about it, the more that I realized that Elizabeth couldn’t relax and be happy with Mikel without the social approval that she craved and that Mikel probably wasn’t providing in a conventional way: his songs were “sad” songs, even when they were together.

Why shouldn’t he be writing songs about flowers and heart-shaped boxes if he was happy with her? She probably thought that something was wrong with her if he couldn’t write a conventional love song. She needed Mikel to demonstrate to her social circle that he loved her by writing a happy love song with her name in it so that all her friends would know that it was a song written about her. This overwhelming need for social approval causes you to question everything if it doesn’t conform to the social expectations, to the norm. Being Airborne fans, we know that Mikel is a highly intelligent, articulate, contemplative, introspective, sad poet boy, who also happens to be a tattooed rock star who is often touring around the country and the world – hardly the stuff of conforming to the norm. In addition, Mikel doesn’t conform to the social expectations of the ideal husband in a Hispanic immigrant culture that desires achievement of the American dream through the typical expected path of:

  • going to college (check),
  • getting a good, stable job (being a musician is seen by many immigrant parents as an unreliable career that may not be able to provide the American dream to their daughter if she should marry Mikel),
  • getting married (a Hispanic Dad would wonder what is wrong with Mikel if he’s almost 40 and never been married), and
  • having kids

This nonconformity to the typical, expected path to achieving the American dream likely causes Elizabeth’s family to question the value of her relationship with Mikel, and this pressure, in turn, causes Elizabeth to question if she has “given up her love too soon,” giving it to someone who can’t give her social approval through the conventional path that she so desperately craves. This makes Elizabeth want Mikel to write her a love song with her name in it, to be able to show everyone and prove that Mikel really can be the ideal husband that her family desires for her. The final song that Mikel provides, while giving Elizabeth the name so that her friends know the song is about her, doesn’t provide the happiness she desires; the love song is still a sad love song, because “love at times can make you feel like shit.” In addition, Mikel paradoxically says, “I love you Elizabeth” at the same time that he says that he’s “never known love” and that “this is just [his] best guess.” My best guess is that this isn’t the love song that Elizabeth had expected.

Elizabeth judges Mikel through this frame of perception: nothing matters unless your family and friends approve. Elizabeth desperately wants her friends to know the song is about her; she needs to have her name identified to everyone so that she can get the social approval that she so desperately craves. Personally, I think her dissatisfaction with Mikel (“There’s a distance in your eyes”) is that he doesn’t live up to her family and friends’ idea of her ideal man. I think Elizabeth is really the one who has never really known love; all she has known is the need for approval.

I hope that Elizabeth can learn the lesson that I have learned through my marriage to a highly intelligent, articulate, contemplative, introspective, sad poet boy and my own struggle between the overwhelming desire for social approval and my emerging need for self approval, which proved to ultimately be more important than what others think of my husband and me, even my family and friends.

Early in our relationship, I had fallen prey to another typical teaching in Latin American culture. There’s a saying that (roughly translated) goes like this: “You marry them and then you fix them.” This idea that you can change your man has been the scourge of my relationship with my own husband! The cruel reality that I have finally learned is that trying to change a person doesn’t work and then you’re left with grappling with the fact that you really can’t change a person, you have to accept them for who they are, even if that means that your family and friends don’t approve. It has taken me a long time to come to terms with the fact that not only can I not change my husband to suit my need for social approval, but that I have to accept him for who he is without wanting him to be something different. He feels that he would be less of a man if I was able to make him change into something he’s not. Listening to “Changing,” I think Mikel would agree.

Purchase Elizabeth

ElizabethElizabeth is known as Kethra (her cat for 16 years) on the TATE boards. She is a native of the Silver Lake area of Los Angeles, living in the Sunset Junction area specifically. Tragically, she didn’t learn about Airborne until she moved to Portland, at Pink’s urging.

  1. Susan says:

    Interesting perspective, Elizabeth. I find it fascinating how our realities causes each of us to experience songs from different angles.


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