On this sinking ship
A churning, red ocean. Rusty remains of buildings. Dirty pools of water, littered with plastic. Old computers thrown into an empty swimming pool. These are some of the opening elements of Weyes Blood’s “Generation Why” music video. 30 second into the video a bloody organ is being tugged out of one of the old computers. It’s pretty disturbing. And it gets even more disturbing as the video progresses. The world is going under - or it already has.
Weyes Blood has been making music for a long time, but I hadn’t listened to her before I stumbled across this interview at Pitchfork. The headline - "Weyes Blood Finds Hope in a World That’s Going to Hell” - was enough to grab my attention. I was also intrigued by the title of her 2016 album, Front Row Seat to Earth. When I went on YouTube and found the video described above, it captivated me. It also made me incredibly sad. Both the lyrics and the video spoke to the fear and the sorrow that I’ve been carrying with me for a long time. The fear of the future and the sorrow that so much of the earth is already beyond repair.
In the Pitchfork interview, Weyes Blood talks about the “loss of innocence” that came with watching Al Gore’s An Inconvenient Truth. She describes it as “getting kicked out of the garden of Eden”, and although I can’t remember a similar defining moment, I really relate to it. These days, I can hardly watch nature documentaries without constantly thinking about the melting polar caps, the dwindling insect populations, the dying coral reefs and puffins building nests out of plastic. I still haven’t brought myself to watch the newest David Attenborough series - the one where walruses throw themselves off cliffs.
I’ve been worried about the future for as long as I can remember, but lately it’s been on my mind constantly. I’m someone who compulsively clicks on every article with dire predictions about the future, and after reading about the latest climate report from the UN, I’ve found it hard to dismiss it as just me being unhealthily paranoid. Given the growing support of Extinction Rebellion, a lot of people no doubt feel the same way.
There’s a sense of defeatism in the “Generation Why” song. Weyes Blood describes how “the fear goes away” once she realises that she “might not have to stay on this sinking ship for long.” It’s an ironic line, of course, because in a climate breakdown scenario, there’s nowhere for us to go. Towards the end of the song she sings soothingly about being carried “through the waves of change”, but in the video she douses herself with petrol. A friend steps towards her and lights a cigarette.
The last lines of the songs are: “I know my place / It’s a beautiful thing”. In light of the destruction in the video, these lines strike me as alarming. But they seem to resonate with something the singer says in the Pitchfork interview:
I want people to think about the reality of what’s going on but also to feel a sense of belonging and hope and purpose. I want to make sure everybody feels like they deserve to be alive […]. I’m speaking to anybody who feels overwhelmed by the sheer mass of all these problems. I hope you could have a smile during the apocalypse and be grateful for whatever conditions exist, because life is a beautiful thing.
I find it hard to imagine having a smile during the apocalypse! But I think she’s talking about the need for hope, and that’s certainly something I relate to. She describes hope as a muscle that needs to be exercised, and talks about the importance of waking up to the situation and then “kicking into gear”. And this is what more and more people have been doing lately. Something seems to be happening - with the school strikes spreading to more and more countries, the green wave in the EU elections, and the Extinction Rebellion managing to pierce the bubble of denial.
I think we’ll probably see a wave of musicians (and other artists too) writing about climate change in the coming years. Weyes Blood has followed up the theme on her latest album, Titanic Rising. The title of the first song, “A Lot’s Gonna Change”, seems ominous - especially paired with the obvious allusion in last one: “Nearer to Thee”. But I’m going to let a line from that first song provide me with some encouragement. “You’ve got what it takes in your life”, she reassures the listener. It sounds a little silly - almost like something from the self-help genre - but I’ll still allow it to be a little mantra for the situation we’re in. According to estimates from the UN, we only have around 11 years left to prevent irreversible damage from climate change. I really hope we’ll be able to use those years wisely and ambitiously.
And speaking of hope - I’m going to read Active Hope, a book about finding solutions to the crisis as well as learning how to “not go crazy”. (I have to admit the book cover makes me skeptical - it looks a little like something off the New Age shelves, but it was recommended to me by a writer colleague that I really trust! She runs this climate blog together with another writer - check it out if you read Norwegian!)
Weyes Blood doesn’t solely focus on climate change, by the way. Here’s a cool tune and a wacky video to wrap up this blog post and lighten the mood! (And don’t worry, it’s not at all as grim as it looks!)