Jason Isbell’s “If We Were Vampires” tells the story of a harsh yet unavoidable fact of life- everyone dies.
He twists this sad phenomenon that most of us do not like to think about into a beautiful story of love. If we were all vampires who lived forever, there would be no point to live in the moment and enjoy the precious little time we have in the world.
Listening to this song changed the paradigm in which I view mortality. It is usually something I, like most people, do not think about. However, Isbell paints a portrait of mortality in a new light- it’s a gift meant for us to appreciate every moment, because no one is sure just how much time anyone has.
Isbell’s story in “If We Were Vampires” is vivid in the colorful details he includes:
The light coming off of your skin
Your nails leaving love’s watermark
paints the picture of an attentive yet passionate love.
Isbell’s vocals express so much emotion in just a single verse. His lyrics are pure poetry, and so relatable to anyone who has ever been in love. He doesn’t speak of the crazy, passionate, Hollywood movie romantic love, but a pure, grounded-in-reality love.
I was so engrossed with his lyrics listening to this song for the first time. Hearing such a beautifully sad archetype of a love story gives one a sense of appreciation for the little moments in life.
Perhaps the most heart-breaking part of the song is in the lines,
It’s knowing that this can’t go on forever
Likely one of us will have to spend some days alone
Maybe we’ll get forty years together
But one day I’ll be gone
Or one day you’ll be gone
The song invokes a sense of great happiness at finding a girl he truly loves, adoring every little thing about her. Yet it also invokes great sadness because it hurts knowing that one of them will eventually pass away, leaving the other to live the rest of their life without them.
Even worse, they cannot spend all of eternity together. As much as one may wish to spend forever with their lover, it is the concept of morality that makes love worth having.
During some points, the female vocalist- his wife- is heard in the background vocals. I took this as being a symbol of her sharing the same thoughts- a relationship so pure that they know their love for one another without a moment’s hesitation. But at the times when she isn’t singing, this may allude that she is gone or, in the context of the song, does not even exist and is merely a figment of the narrator’s imagination.
Because in today’s times, how may a couple be so perfect for each other- so sure of their relationship- that they know without hesitation they will be together?
He may even wish he was a vampire to not feel the pain of it all.
Isbell’s song attracted me with its title: the myth of the vampire has fascinated us for centuries- from Dracula, The Lost Boys, Interview with the Vampire, and the modern-day Twilight series. Some of the main issues involving vampires always centers around love. How can an immortal being enjoy a life of love with a human?
Once the problem of immortality is solved in the story- either through the mortal being a vampire or sometimes, the vampire becoming mortal, the story ends, because it is not interesting anymore. A mortal life filled with normal, everyday love between two people does not seem as exciting as the myth of vampires.
If we were vampires and death was a joke
We’d go out on the sidewalk and smoke
And laugh at all the lovers and their plans
Isbell fashions a wonderfully simplistic yet realistic story of the relationship between love and mortality. Isbell hints at the story if they were vampires- laughing at the lovers who make plans. There is a certain attraction to living above feelings and mortality- smoking on the sidewalk and laughing at those idealistic lovers has an almost hipster-esque quality.
He wishes to be on a different level from the normal lovers strolling down the sidewalk, but no one is immune to the contradiction of wonderfully forlorn love.
I love the simplicity of this song’s melody and message. It’s a song seeped in sadness, while showcasing a wonderfully pure stance on love and life.
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