Content warning: this post deals with heavy subjects and mentions themes involving suicide. If you prefer to avoid these subjects, then do whatever makes you most comfortable. Feel free to skip this post, and if you’re in the mood, you can check out this review I wrote on “Park Song” by Bee Hall.
“A Lovers Plea (Act I)” is a collaboration between Nashville based indie-rock duo Mitchell Taylor and Sam Katz (Mountains Like Wax); and the also Nashvillian singer-songwriter, Julien Baker. The song is featured on the duo’s debut album, Before There Was Plenty, which was released earlier this April.
Katz and Taylor are unguarded in their songwriting; the choice and arrangement of words is carefully thought out, yet feels specifically painful. “A Lovers Plea (Act I)” starts with lyrics that are bare and pain-ridden:
Rusted hearts left open
You’re holding back
Your levy palm
The pain in these words is palpable. “A Lover’s Plea (Act I)” is a scene of hopelessness and despair that comes from recognizing deep loss. The lyrics are sung with a light melody and a near pop-like sound, though to call it a pop song feels wrong. In true Romeo and Juliet fashion, the words ‘rusted hearts’ and ‘holding back your levy palm’ brings to mind the scene of a lover finding their loved one near death, and the flood of emotions that follows in its wake.
The words describe an image so painful, though framed in the negative; that is, we learn about what happens by piecing together from what we haven’t been told.
And I’m so afraid
‘Cause I don’t want you to leave
Now even pulsing blood feels like a waste
A loss so unbearable that nothing could come close, when the things around you lose their shape and meaning without that person; so that ‘pulsing blood feels like a waste’. Mountains Like Wax make music with intention, their songs can ‘disturb the comfortable and comfort the disturbed’ which is what art should do. These next lyrics make up the song’s chorus, and describe the lover’s plea:
What do you say?
Are you so afraid?
Afraid of what, exactly? It’s not entirely clear whether it’s the fear of the unknown, or fear at the thought of moving on without that person. The narrative then switches to his partner, or the lover in the song, sung by Julien Baker. The lover’s narrative says something different, but the words hit just as hard:
You say you’ve been in love
You’re holding back what’s given up
These words bring light to the lover’s’ fear: the fear of not being met halfway emotionally, of your feelings not being reciprocated or matched by the person you love. These words offer comfort, or perhaps a respite from their suffering and feelings of isolation that are all too familiar. People try and match the emotional pace of the person they’re seeing, since they fear being too vulnerable, or too exposed to possible hurt. We hold back on the way we feel, for fear the feelings won’t be returned, but in the meantime, we are mostly only hurting ourselves.
As I try to piece together what exactly it is that this ‘plea’ in “A Lover’s Plea (Act I)” entails, my thought is that he is asking his lover to take the ‘Lover’s Leap’. The Lover’s Leap, which is called Shinju in Japanese, and is a ritual of the double suicide of lovers. The fear alluded to throughout the song is a recognition that they cannot get back what they once had, and so they may as well not try.