Facing Problems In LIFE

Saba’s 2018 album CARE FOR ME was all about his process of coping with the deaths of family members and other issues in his life. “LIFE” encapsulates all of these ideas into one song. The standout aspect of “LIFE” and CARE FOR ME is Saba’s ability to paint a vivid and personal account of his state of mind in this time so listeners can empathize with him. The biggest theme on “LIFE” is the unpredictable and transient nature of life and what the people’s lives mean to other people.

Saba opens the song with a commentary on the prison system in America and it’s unfair treatment of black people.

They want a barcode on my wrist (barcode on my wrist)
To auction off the kids
That don’t fit their description of a utopia (black)

Saba uses allusion to fit multiple meanings into these 3 lines. First, the “barcodes on my wrist” most predominantly reminded me of the treatment of Jewish people in Nazi concentration camps but the later inclusion of “to auction of the kids” made me think of slave auctions. The mini theme within these lines is about the prison system and mass incarceration of black people in the US and racial tension in general. While these don’t specifically relate to losing loved ones, it does give some backstory as to why there is so much turmoil in his life as well as others with these same experiences. Giving listeners the ability to experience what Saba goes through and how he views the treatment of black people in America is one example of how “LIFE” is poetic.

The chorus in “LIFE” repeats the names of people Saba has lost that had significant influence on his life,

They killed my cousin with a pocket knife
While my uncle on the phone
He was gone for more than half my life
He got out a year and then he died
I was honor roll, talking to my father on the phone
Left the city when I was just four

These few lines relate to the main theme of loss being unexpected and life being temporary, but in order to really experience his emotions you need to listen to the music. One of the aspects of poetry we talked about in class is how delivery of lines affects the meaning of the words. Whenever the chorus comes up, Saba’s voice becomes very deep, distorted, and sped up with a booming bass line setting the tone for the few seconds of the chorus. I believe he chose to rap the chorus this way because it adds to the impact of his losses and the dark/deep places that he ended up in because of them.

Something a lot of people struggle with is expressing their true feelings. It is common in people who feel depressed or are just struggling to be happy with their lives and Saba illustrates this feeling in these following three lines,

Tell me it’ll be okay, tell me happier days
Tell me that she my bae, that I won’t be alone
Tell ’em I’ll be okay when he ask, “How’s my day?”

Saba uses the repetition of “tell me” to show he’s asking other people for validation in what he’s doing and to give him hope for the future. The last line is the most impactful in showing how people hide their true emotions. Almost everyone can relate to saying “I’m okay” when they’re really not but either don’t want to trouble other people or don’t want to face their feelings. Saba shows how the combination of wanting the help and validation of other people while simultaneously feeling unable to seek help creates a vicious cycle of self-loathing and depression.

While this song focuses on the sad feelings of loss, other songs on CARE FOR ME address how he overcame his sadness by facing his problems head on instead of continuing to run away and stay in denial. It’s only 40 minutes long so I highly recommend listening all the way through if you feel you’re trapped and need some music to relate with and potentially learn from.

Anti-Immigration Migrants

In Exit West, Mohsin Hamid does an excellent job of analyzing how migrants are perceived by the communities they move into. One of my favorite lines expressing the ideas of anti-immigrant proponents is in Chapter 6 when Nadia is watching the woman from the Vienna art gallery on board the train,

found herself surrounded by men who looked like her brother and her cousins and her father and her uncles, except that they were angry, they were furious, and they were staring at her and at her badges with undisguised hostility, and the rancour of perceived betrayal (110)

The most interesting part of Nadia’s observation is that people withthese beliefs exist and are probably more common than many would believe. Somebody’s looks don’t tell the whole story of their opinions or emotions. I’m not sure how common it is in real life but there have certainly been examples in history where people dislike others similar to them because they don’t like their past identities (or ones they don’t want to associate with anymore). These feelings come in many different forms such as pity, remorse, or the hatred and anger expressed by the men in the passage. I think this is a really interesting look at the human psych and how we view ourselves compared to other people.

What Is An Existential Crisis And How Do They Impact Us?

I don’t think there is any better time than 2020 to be talking about existentialism and existential crises. An existential crisis occurs when a major life event, not necessarily a positive or negative, occurs and causes a person to start asking questions about their identity.

Imagine you are a musician who has been playing an instrument since a very young age. An opportunity arises to perform a solo at a concert and you practice and practice and practice to absolutely nail your performance. But when the time comes, you play notes offkey or out of time and totally bomb and begin to question whether the time you put into music was really worth it.

The choice to pursue music was one you made off your own free will (exercising existentialism) and ultimately grew to become a large part of your identity. Existential crises are necessary for our growth as human beings since they can provide new outlooks on life and existence and also force people to face the choices they’ve made in the past to create their identity.

Themes of “Escape from Spiderhead” in Other Media

While “Escape from Spiderhead” covers numerous themes, the one I want to focus on is the somewhat forceful use of drugs in order to control people (especially emotionally). This idea is reminiscent of a videogame I’ve played called We Happy Few. The game is set in city in a 1960’s dystopian version of Britain where there was a traumatic event, called the “Very Bad Thing”, that occurred from a German invasion and occupation in WW2. In order to prevent citizens from feeling guilt and depression, the government invents a drug called Joy that suppresses all unhappy memories and leaves its user in a chemically-induced euphoria. The citizens are also required to wear white masks that form their faces into permanent smiles. As the Joy depletes, the citizens see the city as it really is after the war: trashed, poor, and ruled by a police state. The police state forces the citizens to take the Joy in order manipulate the population and keep the city in order. Those who don’t take it are either killed, banished, or force-fed the drug. Although “Escape from Spiderhead” is set in a much smaller scale, lab vs city, the implications of their uses are very similar. The Joy from We Happy Few is almost identical to ED556 by putting their users in a euphoric, entranced state.

Jeff’s Belief of Predetermination

Towards the end of George Saunders’ Escape from Spiderhead, Jeff goes on a long rant during his trip on the Darkenfloxx. In it he references how the world has screwed the prisoners over because of predetermination of their fate as prisoners. Jeff explains that all of the prisoners in Spiderhead had been “charged by God with the responsibility of growing into total fuck ups”. However, Jeff also includes that the surroundings of each individual had a part in waking up these violent moments. At the end of his rant he claims “and yet their crooked destinies had laid dormant within them, seeds awaiting water and light to bring forth the most violent, life-poisoning flowers”. While I don’t agree with the notion of predetermination of destiny at birth, it is important to notice that he mentions the negative surroundings as the “water and light” that cause the “seeds” to grow into harsh reality.