The Toxicity of Dependence

The song “Paul” was released in 2016 as a part of Big Thief’s album Masterpiece. The song follows the speaker’s reminiscence of a previous relationship. As the narrative unfolds the sentiment of the speaker becomes more clear: healthy relationships can not flourish when one of the individuals is not healthy themselves. 

This overarching theme is established in many ways, the most notable of which is a consistent allusion to alcoholism. Throughout the song, the speaker includes mentions of drinking in a manner that suggests that her position in her former relationship was similar to that of an alcoholic. In the first verse, the speaker chastises herself, having almost “let him in ” again. While ruminating over this regret she remembers, 

“Then he pulled the bottle out, And then he showed me what love was.” 

The speaker is nodding to the idea that her and Paul’s love was similar to a bottle of alcohol – she knows havoc will ensue from indulging and yet she continues too because of an addiction. This idea come up again in lines like,

“I’ll be your real tough cookie with the whiskey breathe,”


“We were just two moonshiners on the cusp of a breathe,”


“I’ve been burning for you baby since the minute I left.”

All of these lines fit into the analogy of alcoholism which establishes the idea that this relationship was one of dependency and irresponsibility, rather than stability.

In addition to this analogy, the speaker uses a self effacing tone to establish her volatility in her relationship with Paul. This tone is first sparked in the chorus, 

“I’ll be the killer and the thriller and the cause of our death.”

At first, this self deprecation is taken as playful in the context of the height of their relationship, but as the song goes on and the audience is guided through the course of their love, it becomes more clear that the speaker’s instability will be their demise. The speaker goes on to except her self doubts,

“As I realized there was no one who could kiss away my shit.”

This self-hating tone is once again sparked in the final moments of their relationship,

“I couldn’t stay, I’d only bring you pain.”

Taken altogether, the speaker’s self awareness creates a tone of progressing self loathing which helps the audience understand that the reason the two ultimately couldn’t stay together was because of the speaker’s unreliability. In conjunction with the analogy about alcoholism, it is established that the speaker learned from her relationship with Paul that she will never truly be content with another before she is content with herself.

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