Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Week 16: "Cath..." by Death Cab for Cutie

Cath...
She stands with a well intentioned man
But she can't relax with his hands on the small of her back
As the flashbulbs burst she holds a smile
Like someone would hold a crying child

Soon everybody will ask what became of you
Your heart was dying fast and you didn't know what to do

Cath...
It seems that you live in someone else's dream
In a hand-me-down wedding dress
With the things that could have been are repressed
But you said your vows and you closed the door
On so many men who would have loved you more

Soon everybody will ask what became of you
Your heart was dying fast and you didn't know what to do
The whispers that it won't last roll up and down the pews
And if our hearts were dying that fast,
They would have done the same as you
I'd have done the same as you
“Cath…” is the first of three songs by the Seattle-based band Death Cab for Cutie that I will write about over the course of this 52 songs in 52 weeks project. DCfC is a band that I hold in such high regard, however, that I could do a feature called “52 songs by Death Cab for Cutie in 52 weeks.” (See below.)

This song is the second single off DCfC’s newest album (their seventh), Narrow Stairs, which I wrote about when it was first released last spring. It immediately grabbed me as my favorite song on the album.

“Cath…” is a sad song. (If you don’t understand what the song is about, the literally-rendered music video will make it clear.) But, I find the song exquisite for the way it describes a precise moment. Sung from the point of view of an omniscient third person narrator, the song captures everything in that split second of indecision, not only Cath’s deeply ambivalent feelings, but also the hand on her back, the camera’s flash, the whispers in the pews.

Musically, the song is more up-tempo than the lyrics would suggest. And musically, the song is at least as strong as its lyrics. It begins with an inventive series of guitar chords (explained here) and then settles down to support the first two verses. When the second verse is extended with the line about whispers in the pews, the music crescendos and hammers home the final lines of the song.

It is the twist in the final lines of the song that both ties the song together and makes it something more than it has been up to this point. All along the song has been distanced and descriptive, perhaps to the point of seeming judgmental. Yet, the final lines of the song are empathetic and reflexive. The listener is lifted up out of the pews and made to stand in Cath’s shoes.

While probably not intentional, the rhymed words “you,” “do,” and “pews” suggest a two word sentence often usually uttered at weddings: “I do.” The implicit suggestion of those two words leaves the song unresolved. The narrator confesses: “I’d have done the same as you.” As the song ends, we are left to answer the question for ourselves: “Would you say ‘I do’ too?”

In addition to the video links above, here, here, and here are links to three live versions of “Cath…”

If I were writing a feature called "52 DCFC Songs in 52 Weeks", here would be the songs I would choose (the higher a song appears, the more I like it):
1) Cath… (Narrow Stairs)
2) What Sarah Said (Plans)
3) Transatlanticism (Transatlanticisim)
4) Sound of Settling (Transatlanticism)
5) Blacking Out the Friction (The Photo Album)
6) Different Names for the Same Thing (Plans)
7) This Charming Man (You Can Play These Songs With Chords)
8) Marching Bands of Manhattan (Plans)
9) We Laugh Indoors (The Photo Album)
10) Death of an Interior Decorator (Transatlanticism)
11) Why You’d Want to Live Here (The Photo Album)
12) Bixby Canyon Bridge (Narrow Stairs)
13) Company Calls (We Have the Facts and We Are Voting Yes)
14) The New Year (Transatlanticism)
15) Flustered / Hey Tomcat! (You Can Play These Songs With Chords)
16) I Will Follow You Into the Dark (Plans)
17) No Sunlight (Narrow Stairs)
18) Amputations (Something About Airplanes)
19) Army Corps of Engineers (You Can Play These Songs With Chords)
20) A Movie Script Ending (The Photo Album)
21) Expo. '86 (Transatlanticism)
22) Tomorrow (You Can Play These Songs With Chords)
23) That's Incentive (You Can Play These Songs With Chords)
24) Long Division (Narrow Stairs)
25) We Looked Like Giants (Transatlanticism)
26) I Was a Kaleidoscope (The Photo Album)
27) Pictures in an Exhibition (Something About Airplanes)
28) Title & Registration (Transatlanticism)
29) Brothers in a Hotel Bed (Plans)
30) I Will Possess Your Heart (Narrow Stairs)
31) 405 (We Have the Facts and We Are Voting Yes)
32) Styrofoam Plates (The Photo Album)
33) Company Calls Epilogue (We Have the Facts and We Are Voting Yes)
34) Passenger Seat (Transatlanticism)
35) TV Trays (You Can Play These Songs With Chords)
36) Summer Skin (Plans)
37) Tiny Vessels (Transatlanticism)
38) Title Track (We Have the Facts and We Are Voting Yes)
39) Bend to Squares (Something About Airplanes)
40) Grapevine Fires (Narrow Stairs)
41) This Temporary Life (Future Soundtrack to America)
42) Lowell, MA (We Have the Facts and We Are Voting Yes)
43) Line of Best Fit (Something About Airplanes)
44) Stable Song (Plans)
45) Song for Kelly Huckaby (You Can Play These Songs With Chords)
46) The Ice is Getting Thinner (Narrow Stairs)
47) For What Reason (We Have the Facts and We Are Voting Yes)
48) Debate Exposes Doubt (The Photo Album)
49) Talking Like Turnstiles (Directions DVD)
50) Talking Bird (Narrow Stairs)
51) A Lack of Color (Transatlanticism)
52) Fake Frowns (Something About Airplanes)