Phil Simmond’s St. Arc, Pt. 1: In the Oak is a daunting track.
I found it daunting at first because of its length. The song – really, a compilation of songs – stretches out to just over twenty minutes.
Upon listening to it, I found that its daunting-ness could be more easily attributed to it needing every minute of those twenty to convey the raw emotions of the author, who evidently had a soul-gnawing break-up.
At least, that was my interpretation of the song. I listened to it as a narration of the emotional journey an individual takes after losing love. The song can be divided up into different stages of him getting over his lost love: shock, despair, anger, and then hope. Of course, the song is not that cut and dry in how it displays these emotions; if it was it would have been numerous songs, not just one twenty-minute tune.
Phil starts out with an uplifting melody that works as a wake-up call for himself, and to listeners.
It’s like he’s coming to the realization that his love has been snatched away from him, and the listeners are getting filled in on the drama. The melody is uplifting solely because it is consistently rising, but you can feel a note of panic in Phil’s voice, as if he is about to topple.
In the shock section we get the sense that his love was not lost to him, but rather snatched away from him. There is a violence in his description of the loss that plays into the themes he consistently contrasts of destruction and closeness, of safety and distance. Phil explains that he was completely destroyed, while the woman he lost was safe:
Sitting on a satellite
Avoiding the falling meteors.
The theme of destruction, though, is contrasted with the theme of rebirth.
Phil jumps between being lower than low, feeling destroyed to the point of being dead, and rising, reaching for hope.
His destruction is quite evident in the second stage he explores, which is despair. In this section the melody thins out and his voice displays a desperateness. In the first stage he was just realizing that love was out of reach, and now he knows it is.
He sings like a man condemned to death, a voice beyond the grave.
When silence falls, when waters choke,
from that place in time, another line in the oak.
And I know you called, but still I lay.
With no changing tide, another line in the oak.
This imagery paints a ghost like figure, silent, tinged with violence, unmoving, largely forgotten, watching his lost love.
He wanders through this portion like a ghost. The graveyard imagery is emphasized by the piercing ghostly wail which continually punctuates the song. He whispers in a haunting manner as if he has died.
Don’t wait for me,
which contributes to the image of him being deceased. He is telling his loved ones to move on without him, to not feel what he is feeling.
The death imagery is accentuated by the war-torn scenes he paints, which embrace that love is a battlefield.
See me crumble…
lift me from this rubble…
The birds fly by…
You left me for dead.
The next stage of his grief is anger.
In this section, he’s attacking his loved one and attacking himself. He recounts his lover’s sins, and his own sins. There is heavy “fallen” imagery in this section. He explains that he has fallen from love and has fallen from grace.
He does not paint his anger as a bad thing, though, which makes sense because anger can be good in a break-up. The second you become angry is the second you start to recover from being in love with a person. In my experience, when you are sad you are mourning; when you are angry you are distancing yourself.
Because of this it is no surprise that he conveys after being angry that he wants to move on, which is a positive change of tone, since initially it feels like he wants to wallow forever. He croons,
I have been waiting for the longest time
just drive, just drive, just drive.
There is a lot of repetition in the song, which mimics the way his emotions are hammering on him. It also accentuates the cyclical imagery in the song.
And finally, in the end of the song, he’s in the hope stage.
He evokes cloud imagery. The singer is floating, and falling, softly, slowly. He ends with the phrases, repeated,
There are lights on
now I have somewhere to go.
There are lights on, now I am home
now I have somewhere to go.
It’s been a long journey, but Phil Simmonds is finally home – or maybe somewhere else entirely, forever just another line in the oak.