This city is haunted by the ghosts of failure, I am one…
The apparitions Mikel Jollett references in “Bride and Groom” are familiar to fans of The Airborne Toxic Event, for this is hardly the first time they have haunted one of the band’s songs. Indeed, the ghosts of failure can be found lurking in the shadows of much of TATE’s work, not least of all their first album.
They are present in “Wishing Well,” as the narrator muses that it would be easier to catch the first train out of town than to reassemble the pieces of his broken life. They stalk the singer in “Does This Mean You’re Moving On?” and “Sometime Around Midnight,” when he finds himself unwilling or unable to let go of a relationship that is clearly over. They drive him to seek out “Something New” with which to calm his ragged nerves. And they are personified in “Missy,” a song that Mikel frequently introduces as being about a fuck-up; when you don’t know what to do with your life, so you just travel around and make music with your friends.
The specters are most plainly visible, though, in “Papillon.” Here there is no justification, no rationalization, no attempt at a solution. Nothing more than the stark realization and full acceptance of this one fact: “I’m such a mess.” And getting messier by the day, it would seem.
If the pen is a sword, Mikel’s has only gotten sharper with each successive album. It’s not just that his technical songwriting skills have grown through the years, though they have. It’s also that his perspective has widened, enlarged by another decade or so of life experiences.
There are clear themes running through The Airborne Toxic Event’s music; threads that connect their most recent work to their earlier efforts. Death; love; loss. And of course, those pesky ghosts of failure.
“Bride and Groom” picks up that thread begun in “Papillon,” and demonstrates just how far Mikel has come, both as a songwriter and as a person. What once was a mess has now become a stunning ruin. The failure remains real and present, but it’s been infused with hope and purpose. Dreams have gone unfulfilled, but the journey has left something beautiful and valuable in its wake.
It’s a hard won maturity, and it could only have emerged from the crucible of trial. The trials Mikel faced, which led to the creation of the band, are well documented. The album that was birthed from those ashes is a flawless snapshot of that particular moment in time, when Mikel was in the midst of the fire, consumed by flames of confusion and panic and desperation and despair.
But with time has come wisdom, and an understanding that failure is as necessary as it is inevitable. It shapes who we are; every door that closes also opening up a new world of possibilities. True, this couple may never become the bride and groom they thought they’d be. But what will they become instead? What will emerge from the rubble of unrealized dreams?
The ghosts of failure are ever present, but they are not to be feared. If we listen carefully, they may even whisper in our ear, pointing out a new and better path into the future.
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.