Every Jot and Tittle: How a Comma and a Period Changed Timeless

Posted: December 18, 2013 in A Little Less Profound
Tags: , , ,

By Glen

In the lead-up to Such Hot Blood, there were fearful whispers among some followers of The Airborne Toxic Event that Mikel Jollett’s much-lauded lyrical quality may be – *gasp* – slipping.

The culprit: repetition. “Safe,” “True Love” and lead single “Timeless” were among the first of the new songs with which we became acquainted, and all three make extensive use of repetition as the writer spins his story. As listeners weighed in with their gut reactions, the responses were decidedly mixed. The word “lazy” was lobbed more than once.

While the case can be made that it was nothing new for Mikel to use repetition as a lyrical device, (see “Wishing Well,” “Does This Mean You’re Moving On?,” “Innocence,” “The Winning Side,” “Changing,” “Welcome to Your Wedding Day,” and “Strange Girl,” among others), it was undeniable that the new tunes were the most extreme example yet, and a long way from “Sometime Around Midnight” – a rambling tale set to music that defied convention by becoming a smash hit despite lacking traditional hooks and chorus.

As the remainder of the album was released, the fears were allayed. Though some longtime listeners remain underwhelmed by the aforementioned songs (myself not among them; “Safe” in particular being my favorite song on the album), Such Hot Blood as a whole proved every bit the songwriting equal of its predecessors. As it turned out, the balance of the album dabbles in repetition only sparingly. Entries like “Bride and Groom,” “This is London,” “Elizabeth” and “The Fifth Day,” along with b-sides “Dublin” and “The Way Home,” stand proudly alongside the very best in the band’s lyrical library, and a significant portion of the fanbase rates Such Hot Blood as Mikel’s finest wordsmithing effort to date.

Not only that, but as it turns out, in the case of “Timeless,” there’s much more going on than meets the ear.

About a month after the album came out, I finally got around to listening through it with lyric book in hand. (Since I had the songs memorized within a couple days, it hadn’t seemed like too pressing a priority.) Little did I know that the placement of a comma and a period would completely change how I understand the chorus to “Timeless,” and engender a much greater appreciation of its wording.

Before I read the lyrics, based on the way it’s sung, I always understood it as, “everything we have, we have, everything oh my God…” The second “we have” and “everything” were extraneous, as though they were just there to fill space that needed vocals. The thought of the narrator seemed truncated and incomplete.

But in fact, the way it’s written is this: “everything we have, we have everything. Oh my God…”

When I read it with that punctuation, it transformed the meaning for me. The words aren’t repeated; they’re reflected. The second “we have everything” is no longer unnecessary; it is actually essential to the thought that is being conveyed: everything that you and I share together is everything we need. I need nothing beyond what I have with you.

Far from being a throwaway, this phrasing is imbibed with meaning, and drenched in emotion. But our ears deceive us, and we miss the nuance in our rush to label it repetitive.

Mikel’s lyrics are pure poetry, and they demand to be read, not just listened to. In discussion with some other fans, my friend Mistie relayed a similar revelation she had when she first read the words to “The Graveyard Near the House:”

At first, it sounded like he was saying, “I could list each crippling fear like I’m reading from a will. And I’ll defy everyone and love you still…” Which, to me, sounded almost like a rebellious teenager defying EVERYONE to love this person. Because of the situation I was in, it still meant the world to me, the thought of defying narrow-minded people and loving my partner still.

However, my mind was blown completely when I read the lyrics and realized that what it actually says is, “I could list each crippling fear like I’m reading from a will. And I’ll defy every one and love you still…”

Every (space) one. Not everyone. I’ll defy every one. Every crippling fear that I just listed. My crippling fears that keep me from fully loving someone, or from trusting fully. All that sabotaging baggage that we each carry around. THAT is what is being defied.

Which made it take on such a huge new meaning to me, much more profound (in my opinion, anyway).

Again, the most minute detail – in this case, a single space inserted between two letters – produces an entirely new perspective on the meaning and implications of a phrase, and a deeper appreciation of both the writer and his craft.

Have you had similar lightbulb moments as you’ve read Airborne lyrics? Share them below!

Purchase “Timeless”

Glen, Fan of The Airborne Toxic Event 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. Erika McGuire says:

    I love this . Makes me wish there was an airborne book of poetry to be dog eared and loved .

    Like

  2. Anna says:

    I never realized it was “every one” and not “everyone” in Graveyard!!! Consider my mind blown. Big thanks to Mistie and Glen for this post! Thought I couldn’t love Graveyard any more than I already did. Wow.

    Like

  3. An article full of shit, hot lyrics lost on the general public. Sorry Glen, didn’t mean the comma. lol

    Like

  4. LOL Keith, you had me worried for a second there.

    Like

  5. …serious now, the uniqueness of this piece of journalism, is what makes this website a bit special. (Still nervous about the use of commas from here on in though).

    Like

  6. I said all these songs are love songs
    Just love at times can make you feel like shit
    So you write a string of words down
    Better if there’s a *comma* in it.

    Like

  7. Susan says:

    Catching up on my reading and just saw this post. Another gem, Glen. I had always heard ‘every one’ in Graveyard but the missed the nuance of “Timeless.” It has never been on the top of my list but it has now been raised a notch or two. Thank you!

    Like

  8. […] 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 […]

    Like

  9. Zach Heller says:

    Of course, now I am challenging myself to find more lyrical mysteries like this by listening to every song.

    Liked by 1 person

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