Girl Graffiti is Nothing At All: Hotel Lights’ Ecclesiastic Echoes

January 11, 2012 at 10:53 am, by

You ever wonder what it would be like to meet the author of Kohelet, a.k.a. Ecclesiastes (you know, the “vanity of vanities,” “futility of futilities,” “vapor of vapors,” “havel havalim” guy*)?

Would he be emo today? Would he be goth? Maybe ghetto? J. D. Salinger‘s Holden Caulfield (from The Catcher In the Rye)? Perhaps the late, often cynical Jewish thinker Yeshayahu Leibowitz?

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 hehbetlamed (ה-ב-ל, hvl) 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).

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1 Comments So Far

  1. Cathy Posted on I think just about everyone holds their loved ones cleosr when thinking of 9/11. But one lesson I learned from 9/11 is that there isn’t always an answer.I was a freshman in college in fall 2001, an international studies major. Like most 18-year-olds, I was pretty sure that I could dig up an answer to any question; if I didn’t know it myself, a teacher would, or maybe I could find it on the internet. I was working at a law firm that year, and heard the news at my desk. Everyone told me that my university would cancel classes, but I didn’t care. I felt like I had to leave work and go to my regularly scheduled international studies class so I could talk to my professor; the only word I could think of all day was WHY? and had to hear her tell me the reason. A few of my classmates had the same idea, and we collected expectantly outside the classroom door and waited for our professor. She of course never came that day, and we eventually quietly gave up and went home one by one. I like things to be cut and dry, black and white. I don’t like gray areas, or the unknown. The last 11 years have at least taught me that you have to live with all shades of life, but I didn’t know how to live like that at 18. In retrospect, I think 9/11 is responsible for me changing my focus from international studies to English. I think my logic was that if you disagree over something in the global sphere, people can get killed, but there are rarely fights if two people disagree over Faulkner. So for me, 9/11 is a time to remember what happened and realize yet again that there are no rulebooks to life. That you’ll never be able to understand some things.

    Aghavni, February 12, 2014 at 3:38 am #
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