Girl Graffiti is Nothing At All: Hotel Lights’ Ecclesiastic Echoes
January 11, 2012 at 10:53 am, by Jonah Rank
We can’t really know who Kohelet would be today, but I personally can’t help but hear echoes of Ecclesiastes on Girl Graffiti.
On the third full-length studio release from the indie slow-rock band Hotel Lights, Darren Jessee sings about a lot of nothingness. Yet it’s beautifully captivating how neatly Darren (accidentally?) captures Kohelet‘s sentiments.
For starters, just as Kohelet constantly talks about futility (check out 1:2, 1:14, 2:1, 2:11, 2:15, 2:17, 2:19, 2:21, 2:23, 2:26, 3:19, 4:4, 4:7, 4:8, 4:16, 5:6, 5:9, 6:2, 6:4, 6:9, 6:11, 6:12, 7:6, 7:15, 8:10, 8:14, 9:9, 11:8, 11:10, or 12:8), Jessee expresses a lot of disinterest on this album. At the album’s opening, “Falling Down,” Jessee barely mumbles, “Earphones in, / Not listening.” On “My Own Cloud,” the singer quits thinking about an ex: “I don’t owe you any more of my attention.” There’s the hangover headache that dominates the loud yet sleepy “Headboards and Aspirin.” And there’s more…
Early in the book, Kohelet pronounces his lifelong hatred of living (2:17). Jessee begins the trippy “My Pretty Quirk” singing, “I’m jaded, but I made it.” And Jessee’s tattooed lover (nicknamed “Girl Graffiti”) contemplates her life, having “always found the dream to be better than the real one,” for dreams taste so much better than reality bites.
Nonetheless, neither Darren nor Kohelet is an eternal party pooper. Track 3 of Girl Graffiti somehow parallels Kohelet‘s Chapter 3–the basis of The Byrds’ “Turn! Turn! Turn! (to Everything There Is a Season).”
“There is a time for everything and a season for every experience beneath the heavens,” says Kohelet (3:1). “A time for embracing and a time for keeping distance from embracing… a time for loving and a time for hating…” (3:5, 3:8).
Enter Track 3; Jessee takes us back in time. “It was 1986,” sets the scene of “Dave Sharkey To the Dance Floor.” “She was listening to Prince… / He was holding back the waves… / Maybe this time she’ll come around.”
Well, because there is a time for everything, she does come around for Mr. Sharkey–currently “freaking out.” In the final verse, the dream-girl holds out “her hands of which had only one white glove. / This time, he’s not alone when he lets go.”
But, that’s just one hopeful song. Parts of Girl Graffiti sound irreversibly dark.
Kohelet cryptically warns, “One cannot fix a crooked thing” (1:15), and, on “Super 8mm,” Jessee introduces us to a lady who “got into a place [she] could not explain to anyone”–a point of despair, a point of no return.
So, Girl Graffiti concludes with Jessee singing “Into the Blue,” reviewing his life: “I make things to break / For my own sake. / It’s nothing at all.”
“Havel havalim, hakkol havel,” taught the nihilistic Kohelet. That Hebrew word-root of heh–bet–lamed (ה-ב-ל, h–v–l) literally means “breath.” “Breath of breaths,” he taught. “Everything is breath” (1:2).
But breath isn’t nothing. At the very least, breath is evidence of human life.
Jessee concludes “Into the Blue” with these words: “Just keep on breathing / Like it’s nothing at all.” The bland, uninspired human life, heading “Into the Blue,” is nothing at all.
On former releases, Hotel Lights had some heavy rockers ( “Marvelous Truth”, “Talking To Lisa,” and “Norina” to name a few), but this album is an overall slower and lighter collection of darker songs.
At the Girl Graffiti release party, I met a new New Yorker (just moved from Canada). He walked into The Rock Shop unfamiliar with Hotel Lights. He was seduced by the music he had heard from the street. He’d never heard music like Hotel Lights’ before. I don’t think anyone ever has.
Girl Graffiti is a less heavily rocking collection of Hotel Lights’ uniquely and carefully orchestrated electronic pop, and it’s a change that makes me wonder what’s next for the band. Will their next release have a little more lift?
“Super 8mm” tells us a tale of Jessee’s lost muse. But “Dave Sharkey to the Dance Floor” offers hope: “Maybe this time she’ll come around.”
*FUN FACT: Traditional readings are often inclined to say that Kohelet is a man; however, his name is a feminine Hebrew word. In 7:28, Kohelet is described with feminine language.
*DISAPPOINTING FACT: Kohelet probably was a man. In 7:28, the letter ה (heh) in the word אמרה (amerah, meaning “[she] said”) was very likely placed there by mistake. Without the ה, the verb means “[he] said.” Check out the similarity of 12:8, where ה appears right after אמר (amar).
Tags: 1986, 2011, Alan, Alan Weatherhead, bet, cynicism, Darren, Darren Jessee, Dave, dave sharkey, dave sharkey to the dance floor, Ecclesiastes, emo, Falling Down, ghetto, Girl Graffiti, goth, Hakkol havel, Havel havalim, headboards and aspirin, heh, heh-bet-lamed, holden caulfield, hotel lights, Hutchins, Into the Blue, j. d. salinger, Jessee, Kohelet, lamed, Leibowitz, Marvelous Truth, My Own Cloud, My Pretty Quirk, nihilism, Norina, One, prince, Salinger, Sharkey, Super 8mm, Talking To Lisa, The Byrds, The Catcher In the Rye, The Rock Shop, Turn! Turn! Turn!, Weatherhead, white glove, Yeshayahu, Yeshayahu Leibowitz, Zeke, Zeke Hutchins, אמר, אמרה, ה-ב-ל, הבל, הבלים, הכל הבל, קהלת