A life of Arctic Sounds

By Modest Mouse

As long as you're gone,
I can’t apologize,
For all the things that I haven’t said and done.

And 100 miles is a long drive inside a car.
200 miles is a long drive inside a car.
300 miles is a long drive inside a car.
400 miles is a long drive inside a car.
500 miles is a real long drive in a car!
600 miles is a long drive inside a car.
700 miles is a long drive inside a car.
800 miles is a long drive inside a car.
900 miles is a long long long long ways in a car.
And 1000 miles is a long drive inside a car!
1100 miles is too far inside a car.

I wrote my name on the sun,
Hey alright I might be goddamned.
A life of arctic sounds,
Hey alright I might be goddamned.
All the sad comedians,
Hey alright I might be goddamned.
I wrote my name on the sun,
Hey alright I might be goddamned.
A life of arctic sounds,
Hey alright I might be goddamned.
All the sad comedians,
Hey alright I might be goddamned.

I might...be...goddamned.

There are many different possible interpretations of this song:
1. There isn't any specific meaning. It's a phrase repeated several times put to music, sandwiched by disparate stanzas with no particular meaning.
2. It resembles the thoughts going through someone's mind while on a particularly long road trip, possibly to see someone in order to apologize.
3. Its meaning is evident in the title. The arctic is desolate and the beginning, middle and ending sections address the theme of loneliness.

The most interesting, expandable and worthy of analysis seems to be the third interpretation.

Let's view each of the three sections individually:

"As long as you're gone,
I can’t apologize,
For all the things that I haven’t said and done."

It's generally not a good idea to analyze art from the spectacles of the first time viewer or in this case listener. But I believe that doing so in this instance proves the theme of loneliness. Before even listening to the song, the title betrays its meaning: "A Life of Arctic Sounds" can be nothing but a life with very few people in it. The virgin listener should apply the title to this section and understand that the person he is talking to doesn't really exist. Normally a jilted lover says phrases that end in "for all the things that I have said and done." The emphasis on the negative, haven't, shows that the relationship didn't exist. They are things that haven't been said and done, a love that hasn't been exchanged. If that's not enough to bring home the meaning--each of the other two lines is a negative statement. He can't apologize. As long as you're gone--negative in the sense that her (we assume it's a female, but it could be anything) existence is negated. In a life of arctic sounds, you can't apologize for things unsaid and undone, because everyone's gone. You're alone. One must also ask why he needs to apologize for things unsaid and undone. If you reverse the lines and make them positive they become:

"As long as you're here
I can apologize
for all of the things that I've said and done."

The stanza becomes the words of an apologetic at-fault lover asking for forgiveness. So the protagonist of this stanza knows that if there were some relationship he would strain it and eventually cause its demise. In a life of arctic sounds, there is no relationship so the phraseology must be negative. In this manner the protagonist is saying that he is incapable of a functioning relationship, thus the lonely lifestyle.

Section Two:

This section has eleven lines and each line exclaims that its increment of 100 miles is a long drive. It seems like this section is the same line repeated eleven times, but in reality there is almost as much repetition in the third section. In fact there are five distinct frames in which the exclamation is placed.

1. And X miles is a long drive inside a car (lines 1, 10)
2. X miles " " (lines 2,3,4,6,7,8)
3. X miles is a long long long long ways in a car (line 9)
4. X miles is a real long ways in a car! (lines 5)
5. X miles is too far inside a car (line 11)

The frames are similar enough to create the semblance of eleven repetitions without actually repeating anything more than three times consecutively. In "Taxi Driver", one of the best case studies of loneliness, Travis Bickle wrote this (presumably, or just thought it, it isn't entirely clear) in his journal:
"My life has taken another turn again. The days can go on with regularity over and over, one day indistinguishable from the next. A long continuous chain. Then suddenly, there is a change."
Regularity, then sudden change. It clear even from the internal logic of Mr. Bickle's statement that the days did not go by with regularity. He was in a downward spiral, only to be interrupted when he hit rock bottom and began to lose his tenuous grip on sanity. This section of "A Life of Arctic Sounds" is a downward spiral of sorts, although it progresses upward. The exclamations of miles represent lengths that he would go to in order to defeat loneliness. His final statement, that 1100 miles is too far, symbolizes his defeat. And it resembles the typical defeat of the lonely man, in that he didn't even try. He simply thought about what lengths he would go to, stuttering at 100 (it's long, but by virtue of his continuation to 200, it is a road trip that he would probably attempt) adn every number until giving up at 1100. Lines 5 and 10, where he screams the latter part of the exclamatory phrase (starting with "A REAL LONG...") represent the frustration at the condition of loneliness--paralyzed, unable to act he lets out his emotion but continues the charade of imagining what lengths he would go to.

Instrumentation and Tempo.

Section one contains no drums and delicate vocals (especially the high note hit in "gone"). The tone is clearly minimalist. As the song progresses it gradually


Yesterday a customer from last summer appeared in Wal-Mart and somehow I remembered him. He remembered me as well and we looked at each other for an awkward moment during which time both of us scanned our minds for specifics. We both made funny-head-turned-faces as I exclaimed, "I moved you last summer." He said "yeah." We bullshitted for a bit about his house and neighborhood being finished. He had really thick glasses. During this conversation, a person I've known for a long time, but rarely talk to walked by and we waved at each other. After the natural end of our conversation (which I almost always instigate--I tend to feel rejected if the person I'm talking to says, "Well listen you have a great day, and I gotta go buy my widget"--my solution is to bail first.), the man ahead of me in line let me cut him because I only had one item and he had a cart full. I thanked him as I cut ahead of him. He then said if I'm looking for a job (with my newly acquired college degree) I should talk to him as he's looking for a people person. He took my phone number and gave me his card.

I'm not a people-person by any stretch of the imagination, and if the job requires it I would be ill-fitted for the task. But I am fraudulent and composed of bullshit so this could work.


From Word of The Day for August 5, 2004
Trivia: Bloviate is closely associated with U.S. President Warren G. Harding, who used it frequently and who was known for long, windy speeches. H.L. Mencken said of him, "He writes the worst English that I have ever encountered. It reminds me of a string of wet sponges; it reminds me of tattered washing on the line; it reminds me of stale bean soup, of college yells, of dogs barking idiotically through endless nights. It is so bad that a sort of grandeur creeps into it. It drags itself out of the dark abysm of pish, and crawls insanely up the topmost pinnacle of posh. It is rumble and bumble. It is flap and doodle. It is balder and dash."

Other H.L. Mencken quotes:

"A cynic is a man who, when he smells flowers, looks around for a coffin."

"A poet more than thirty years old is simply an overgrown child."

"Faith may be defined briefly as an illogical belief in the occurrence of the improbable."


Not Again

It's not blogger that loses the posts, it's me being careless and clicking into preview, clicking here or there or the server crashing. But you could write a novel with all my lost posts.

I don't know if I'll ever be inspired to write what I just did. I wrote it quickly, I don't know. I hope tomorrow I will be able to reanalyze that song. Otherwise, it'll be gone forever, like a balloon slipping out of a child's fingers.