I often take away messages from music that I don’t believe the artist originally intended. Music is part of what I’ll call my system for sense-making and synthesis, in that I actively engage in ritual practices like listening to songs from artists I’ve never heard before as a way of shaking up my perspective and hunting for new ideas, perspectives, or metaphors.
Yesterday, as I was scanning the New Music Friday playlist on Spotify, skipping most of the songs after about 15 seconds as they fail to capture my attention, I came across this song called “It Gets Dark” from the Norwegian pop artist Sigrid. Now besides being a pretty solid bop (if you’re into the genre), what really stood out to me was a metaphor from her lyrics, which describe something seemingly obvious–the idea of leaving home to somewhere it gets properly dark where you can actually see the stars. Here’s the chorus:
I’ve never, ever been this far away from home, and now I know
It gets dark, yeah, it gets dark and I
I’m moving at the speed of light, I have to go
But now I know, it gets dark so I can see the stars
Now part of what makes this seemingly boring concept of leaving home and seeing stars striking for me is my own experience with a dark sky location, the kind with almost no light pollution. I grew up in the woods pretty far from any major cities, so I thought I was pretty familiar with what stars looked like, and then I found myself completely blown away the first time I experienced an actual dark sky, only 2 years ago on the big island of Hawaii. If you’ve never had the opportunity, I encourage you to check out a dark sky map, find a spot to go and have the awesome experience of seeing what the night sky looked like before we obscured it with electric lights.
This song planted a nice little metaphor in my head about the invisible becoming visible, almost like an extension of the David Foster Wallace piece “This is Water“, which begins with this story:
There are these two young fish swimming along and they happen to meet an older fish swimming the other way, who nods at them and says “Morning, boys. How’s the water?” And the two young fish swim on for a bit, and then eventually one of them looks over at the other and goes “What the hell is water?”David Foster Wallace
In the case of how I heard “It Gets Dark”, the stars are more obscured the closer we are to “home”. If you happen to live in a city, this is literally the case. You can’t see the reality of the “water” our tiny planet is swimming in because we’ve constructed these massive systems that inadvertently obstruct that kind of larger systemic awareness.
But here’s where the metaphor gets interesting for me (and I should note I am now a ways away from the actual intent of the song):
This is a useful metaphor to think about how culture works. It imposes a filter on our perspective, constraining our ability to see signals emanating from the natural world and systems around us. In order to see those signals, we might have to take a journey “away from home” to a place where the blaring lights of our cultural structures aren’t impeding our view. This is why it can be so difficult for people to understand one-another’s lived experience. Our view of others’ reality is literally obscured by the constraints imposed by our own.
To me, this idea of becoming aware of the water we swim in or the fact that our skies are reflecting back the lights emanating from our own systems is important… it’s a step towards becoming more capable of seeing whole systems, either by taking that journey “far away from home” or by relying on others whose difference can compensate for our filters, who can therefore help us fill in the gaps in our view and understanding.
edit: Also likely related, this poem from Jon Margolick, which when I first saw it gave me that same powerful feeling–that with the simple magic of time and motion we can make the skies appear awesome and brilliant once again.