Woke Me Up Inside – 9. HELLO and Survival Mechanisms

seriously though this album cover is way better than Evanescence’s actual album covers

Hello: I’m your mind, giving you someone to talk to…

You’ve definitely heard “My Immortal,” but have you listened to “Hello,” otherwise known as the Evanescence piano ballad for real hardcore Evanescence fans? (we call ourselves “Evanesceheads”) (actually even better is the piano/instrumental ballad “Eternal” from Origin, you’ve probably never heard that one, I’m smarter and better than you because I have a functional grasp of Wikipedia and YouTube)

This is part of a series on Evanescence and feminism; you can read the introduction, and use the wokemeupinside category to find the whole series so far. ALSO: Bizarrely enough, there are spoilers for the finale of season 13 of It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia buried in here. They will be marked carefully, so do not worry.

Seriously, though, I’ve always loved this song more than the more-pop-ready “My Immortal.” It’s eerie and haunted and like that other piano ballad, it lets Amy Lee stay mostly understated. That’s even truer here than before, and that’s part of the beauty of the song: Lee only belts for a moment right at the end, her voice breaking a bit on the final, piercing cry of “Hello, I’m still here,” and given that the song otherwise never rises or bellows, that volume has a power that doesn’t come up often on this otherwise very structurally staid album.

Her quiet vocals get as much of a central placement as they do in any song on the album, too. Aside from the flourish of eerie sound that opens the piece, the only instrumentation is Lee’s voice and her piano. The piano line is simple, with only minor variations between verse and chorus, which allows for a clarity of lyrical expression not found on the heavily produced, voice-doubling bangers elsewhere.

Lee wrote this song about the death of her sister, Bonnie, which happened when Bonnie was 3 and Lee was 6, far too young to fully process or understand the tragedy. I did not know this until researching for this piece, and damn, it really puts the barbs on the edges of the lyrics. The song’s speaker, given the weight of a more mature perspective without separating it from the central figure, i.e. it’s sort of like Amy Lee is talking to her childhood self, but also more directly the survival mechanisms of that child. The song provides a mesh of conscience and affect, building for a confused and traumatized child the tools to cope and survive (“Hello, I’m the lie / living for you, so you can hide”).

Honestly, this is far more affecting and powerful than any alternate interpretation I can provide, but I’m going to struggle on nonetheless, for the sake of this blessed series. The music gets four and a half quiet interludes out of five; it is my second favorite song on the album and a rare piece of crystallized, focused emotion and meaning on an album that otherwise feels very content to remain at the level of aesthetics and mood pieces.

What I find most interesting about the lyrics of “Hello” is how, because they position the speaker as both within and without the self (the “I” is the self, but also the projected shield for the self; again, both affect and conscience), they present a person aware of their self-denial. Think about this couplet:

If I smile and don’t believe
Soon, I know, I’ll wake from this dream

This comes in the same stanza as the “I’m the lie” line from above — it is a statement of the choice to deny, the choice to present a false front. This isn’t someone uncertain who they are in the wake of destabilizing truth, but it is someone grappling with whether and how to embrace that truth and how to keep it at a distance.

There are lots of angles I could take from here that would strongly resemble the talks about intersectionality and self-care we had in previous essays. Indeed, this concept of knowing one’s inner self but not wanting to show it — either for the damage it would do to others or to one’s own social (and/or familial) station, emotional stability, or otherwise — is a common aspect of the decision to “come out” in queer culture, still very central and complex in a 2018 that ostensibly allows for much more mainstream embracing of those within that culture.

Small tangent: It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia, of all things, commented with startling clarity on this notion in its most recent episode, the final of its 13th (!) season.

(spoilers, as mentioned)

This latest season has had the character Mac embracing his sexuality, the denial of which was the source of so many jokes at his expense in previous episodes. (His public acceptance of being gay doesn’t seem to have changed his extreme narcissism or bizarre religious fervor, much to the show’s continued comedic benefit.) In the finale, he wants to come out to his convict shithead of a father, and chooses to do so through the medium of interpretive dance.

On the IASIP I remember, from any year past, this would have been played as a climactic, gut-busting joke to end an episode, a failed farce of a performance that would reveal the outsized separation between Mac’s impression of himself and objective reality. Instead, the last five minutes of the episode are some of the most startlingly beautiful, emotionally vulnerable, and powerful images I’ve possibly ever seen in a television show. Watch it here, though I would say it works better in the context of the show to this point and the episode in specific, simply because it’s so different than anything the show’s ever tried before — totally devoid of irony, character subterfuge, or punchlines.

Mac describes his struggle with identity (tied up with both his sexuality and faith, as mentioned above) as a struggle in a rainstorm with a hot chick who’s also God. It’s a very external, performative interpretation of an intensely internal journey, and it manages to feel like both in the actual performance. The dance is so physical and emotional that it matches the raw intensity of any moment in any medium where a character undresses their psyche in public, to be judged and viewed for who they truly are instead of the masks they wear.

Like the speaker “Hello,” it manifests emotions as another person (here, the partner in the dance), a reflection and refraction of the soul. Both works acknowledge the failures and struggles along the path to self-revelation, the self-deceit that takes place as we cope and understand how we relate to the world to whom we feel we must lie and perform, and to what degree those lies and performances mirror or shield our true identities, protecting us until we are ready.

(spoilers for IASIP end here)

I can’t help but think about this as we approach Thanksgiving 2018, the latest in a sequence of what I imagine have been some of the shittiest and most stressful Thanksgivings yet for those who struggle to smile and hide among those who might not accept their truest selves. And this is the angle I focus on, from a feminist perspective, with “Hello”: the measures of performance and external compliance we must take to survive in a world often hostile to the implications of a true feminist theory.

Don’t try to fix me, I’m not broken, cries the song, and haven’t we all attempted to self-correct for feelings that some part of us know were really true, no matter how poorly the room would react? At the family dinner table, a parent or uncle might say something embarrassing or racist or simply ignorant to the cultural sensitivities and nuances that have grown within even the past two years of discourse — but they remain the parent or uncle you’ve always loved, and so perhaps you wheedle and hedge and find a way to end the exchange with a laugh, wondering as you do how much of your soul drowned just now in the icy river of compromise. You break a part of you that wasn’t broken, “fixing” it for the sake of a world that should be fixed instead.

This might sound dramatic, but it’s quite honestly how I feel much of the time in this post-2016-election hellscape. I work at a company that serves government clients, and even as much as those clients have not changed much in the wake of 2016 (the cogs continue to work as ever they have outside the shadow of the levers at the top), the palpable sense of omnipresent dread and fear has only grown over time. We take certain steps and avoid others in a precise dance around the unveiling of horrors writhing just beneath our feet.

And revelation itself is a stressor; whereas in the past I might have felt from relief or catharsis from raging on topics of politics or feminism in a Facebook rant or simply out loud to loved ones who sympathize, now those same words usually only hurt me worse, refracting upon themselves and amplifying my awareness of just how poisonous discourse is, and how rotten it always was even when it looked less pallid and boiled less at the surface.

Suddenly I know I’m not sleeping
Hello, I’m still here
All that’s left of yesterday

Even worse, I’m just an ally; the stakes have risen for me only in sudden, stark visibility. For others, this is a time of unprecedented violence and fear. In the backlash against movements like #metoo, the continuing tremors of our post-Gamergate Internet of SWATting and doxxing and bomb threats and mass shootings, we find true reasons for prominent feminist voices and thinkers to be afraid for their lives and families.

Internet assholes speak of the chilling effects of “PC culture”, but this is the true chilling effect — the threat of violence can force people to shut down, to compromise their values, simply to survive. When feminism and other such theories are purely academic, this problem rarely presents itself — academics can be seething, but usually only wield nonstandard rhetorical practices instead of weapons — but out in the wild, ideas like rape culture, triggers, intersectionality, and general cultural sensitivity seem to rile up a subset of people who make life dangerous for anyone who publicly subscribes to those ideas.

How to live as yourself in a world that threatens you for the expression of your values? Sometimes, you hide in plain sight; sometimes, you laugh at a joke that curdled your blood; sometimes, you smile at a comment that raised the hackles on your neck; sometimes, you walk in deliberate slow steps, so the other person does not realize you are fleeing.

You might notice that this is all just an extension, an exacerbation, of rape culture itself. It’s Margaret Atwood’s line, the one Louis C.K. appropriated: men are afraid that women will laugh at them, and women are afraid that men will kill them. In 2018, the reasons for that fear on both sides have warped and mutated; men both monstrous and nondescript have become the most hair-trigger sensitive creatures on the planet, while women have tried to raise their voices and keep them raised even as violence and subjugation rain down in greater and greater torrents. The victories are louder, but so too are the backslides and counter-protests.

I don’t mean by “both sides” to suggest equivocation; that’s the business of our largely shitty and responsibility-abdicating media minds and pundits, who strive to pretend politely that the world is only as it ever was while sinking slowly into rivers of blood. I mean to say that the heat has been raised unreasonably in the room, and everyone is sweating now more than ever, though only some of us are blocking the exits.

So we sleep, and we hide, and we ignore when we need to, to survive. We find comfort in our bubbles, our insular groups and our own minds.

Playground school bell rings again
Rain clouds come to play again
Has no one told you she’s not breathing?
Hello: I’m your mind, giving you someone to talk to

Would that we could do this always without things getting still worse, but ah, there it is, and so we must step outside into the storm and dance in steam, must go on believing in ourselves and accepting our feelings as true, such that we can do the work of rejecting falsehoods and hate and stepping, ever slowly, toward some measure of equality.

Next time: Jeez this series will always be a heavy bummer, huh? Let’s move on to the significantly more nondescript “My Last Breath” as we wind towards something resembling a unifying theory of Fallen‘s flavor of feminist performance.

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