Woke Me Up Inside – 10. MY LAST BREATH, WHISPER, and Coherent Mission Statements

All I wanted to say was I love you and I’m not afraid.

It would be nice if I could say it took me this long to write this, the final proper chapter in my series on Fallen and wokeness, because I was spending hours every day agonizing over each word, ensuring that the thesis and evidence provided therein would crystallize this whole ragged mess into something beautiful, singular, and focused.

Nope! Instead I’m inspired by my specific inability to do that.

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.

searching for individual songs gets you so many fan-made images that whisk me back to the days of Xanga and 200-px-width websites. I miss you pre-Gamergate internet

But first, the last leg of music thoughts. I’m lumping these songs together not just for thematic and exhaustion purposes, but also because frankly they don’t do much for me as individual units on the album. “My Last Breath” is about as straight-from-the-Poe-bookshelf as Evanescence lyrics go. Romanticized suicide is icky enough when it’s subtext; I struggle to get past it at the surface level here. Musically, I often confuse it with “Tourniquet”, and I can’t figure out anything better to say. Basically, we’re at the bottom of the barrel, not necessarily regarding quality but definitely invention. No shame if you like this one — I don’t hate it at all — but it can’t elicit much more than two and a half yawns out of five from me.

“Whisper” was a song Evanescence had recorded previously, on their Origin demo album and elsewhere. On Fallen, it has the feel of something massaged and polished, but for me that’s not entirely to its benefit. Amy Lee’s wailing isn’t as interesting to me here, almost like it’s sticking largely to safer/narrower channels of expression than at moments earlier on the album. The choral echo backing her vocals is thin; the string accompaniment is nice but rarely audible above the broader arrangement. The weird build that starts about two minutes in is probably my favorite part; Amy Lee’s vocals drop under the arrangement in a way that’s rare, and the drums build up to the drop, but all that leads into an un-rousing guitar solo before things return to standard. The ending is kind of neat, with the Latin gutturals, but it’s all over before it goes anywhere. Three yawns out of five.

(We are not going to address the last song on later reissues of Fallen, which is the re-recorded “My Immortal” that includes the band jumping in at the end in one of the goofier moments I could imagine on this already-pretty-goofy album.)

OK: Now that we’re at the end, let’s do some retrospective, shall we?

When I first started this blog series, my intention was to cover feminism to the best of my understanding using Evanescence songs as analogies. “‘Going Under’ is about gaslighting,” I thought, and figured the other songs could be brought into a similar structure. This was going to be a sort of Feminism 101 For Dudes Who Liked Fallen.

The problems with this were innumerable; two big ones were 1) assuming I knew enough about feminism to be teaching a 101 course, and 2) assuming Fallen was actually organized and readable in a way that could facilitate a one-by-one plucking of distinct, entry-level topics surrounding feminist theory. But that second issue belies an even bigger issue, which is the assumption that there even are “entry-level topics surrounding feminist theory,” or that “feminist theory” is an unshifting enough thing to be nailed down to a tracklist from 2004.

I’ve mentioned the hell-world of 2018 explicitly throughout this series, in specific events and as a broader marker of just how bad things can get — and now it’s 2019, and nothing has really changed except a number and that everything is changing, constantly, beneath our feet. Sometimes rising, sometimes collapsing; sometimes the floor is lava and other times it’s a creaky floorboard and other times it’s a rising pillar, stronger than we thought even as its trunk narrows while the height grows.

What I’m saying is that this is an era of tremendous, unstable, and rapid growth and distortion of ideas like “feminism” and “wokeness”. Some time earlier this decade, modern-era feminist and queer theory stormed finally and fully out of the gates of academia and began to mold the discourse not just in dissertations, but also in Tweets and memes.

(I was going to connect this to The Toast, my personal early-2010s gateway drug into the contemporary version of the discourse, but then I ended up reading Daniel Ortberg’s thing about owls for like the thousandth time, and got distracted, so in the interest of not turning this into a 10,000 word scribe on how Ortberg and Chris Onstad are two of the largest influences on linguistics in the Internet Era, I say to you nevermind!)

Words like intersectionality, triggers, privilege, etc. jumped out of a world that had saddled them with pounds and pounds of nuanced baggage and into a world that couldn’t see and didn’t care about that baggage, and reduced them to their sharpest and most violent edges. Despite what insert-today’s-anti-PC-warrior tells you, this is less true of the people who use those words than it is of those who criticize those words, but it’s still true in a broad and critical sense: We’re having very complicated conversations using oversimplified terminology, and it leads to constant confusion and frustration.

I’ve talked about that already. What I want to shift to here is how this affects mission statements, endings, the whole notion of the thesis. Basically, the one thing you should learn about intersectional/queer/feminist culture, the one thing I take away every time I find a new viewpoint or read a new essay or watch a new Lindsay Ellis or ContraPoints video, is that nothing is simple and everything is contextual and there are no Definitive Final Words about anything, ever, in any discourse.

Personally? I’m okay with that. See, I’ve always liked ambiguous endings in creative works. Not the binary kind, like Inception‘s insufferable and pointless final shot, but true ambiguity, where you come out of the film or book not entirely sure what you just read but having many Feelings and Thoughts that all seem to collide in your head at once. (The Southern Reach trilogy grasps at this quite deliberately, as does its sister film Annihilation.) Once upon a time I sought Definitive Answers to these questions; now I like to ponder the complexity of theme and stay content within my frustration at the text. Messiness is human, after all.

And so: Almost certainly throughout this series, or elsewhere on the blog, or on my Twitter or Facebook or in casual conversation while I’ve had a couple too many beers, I will contradict or have already contradicted myself; I will explain the same concept in startlingly different terms; I will apply critical frameworks arbitrarily and subjectively; I will confuse one thing for another thing and discuss neither articulately or accurately; I will be wrong, very wrong, and only realize it much later long after forgetting that I once said the very wrong thing at all, and therefore will be convinced I was always right. So will you, like it or not, though perhaps not in the specific context of discussing Amy Lee’s vocal posture and/or intersectionality.

Evanescence is full of contradictions, too. It’s full of messy text and subtext, jarring attempts at stitching together genre and theme either with or without the artists’ consent, occasionally sparse and occasionally a hodgepodge of orchestral components that only sometimes cohere in the manner of an Abbey Road-era Beatles song, but more often feeling a little weird and at odds with itself more in the manner of a Let It Be-era Beatles song.

seriously: art is a teenager given 20 minutes on a pirated copy of photoshop

Music’s like that in general, but to go back to how I started this essay series, Evanescence’s explicit positioning in its heydey — hey kids check out this nu-METAL band but whoa it’s a LADY! — and its interaction with the lyrical form of the time — she’s angry too, boys, except maybe not about anything you’re angry about and also sometimes it’s you she’s angry at? — gives it a particular context of seeming contradiction.

And Evanescence, which at this point in the band’s history may as well be Amy Lee’s psuedonym, still makes music. I’ve mentioned Synthesis before. (What an interesting title given what we’re talking about today!) But the album itself feels less like a “synthesis” and more like an expansion of that jumbling nature. The removal of nu-metal elements gives it some focus, sure, but the lyrical content and arrangements span multiple decades of Lee’s life, multiple levels of maturity as a person and an artist, and so many moods from anger to resilience to surrender to sorrow; it’s messy. It’s human.

Feminism — any sociopolitical movement or ideology, really, if it’s honest with itself — is messy, too. It defies summary. What it encourages instead, or what I’d encourage at least, is learning: constant, tail-seeking, sloppy, prone to mistake and correction. We identify ourselves first by our boundaries — what do we like, and what do we not like — and find the nooks and crannies once the silhouette’s defined.

I was thinking the other day, while reading a Daniel Ortberg piece about his transition, about how while I can’t possibly identify cleanly with his day-to-day struggles, I do identify with the modes of expression he uses to cope with those struggles, i.e. self-effacing humor, the comfort of old habits, rambling lists. I feel the same way about Natalie Wynn’s “I identify as trash” mantra; it’s not self-humiliation as much as it is self-preservation. Laugh at what makes you cry. I’ve done that; I do it all the time, consciously or not. It’s a survival mechanism. (We’ve already talked about those, too. I’m sure I’ve doubled back and repeated myself, or contradicted myself, in the process.)

There are always footholds we can use to find purchase in others’ experiences. They will not let us enter the cave at the precipice or in the pit, but in climbing the exterior we can scale and perhaps begin to comprehend the breadth of the interior. The difficulty isn’t seeing those footholds, but grabbing on to one after the other, the next always another strain away no matter how hard it was to find the last one. Sometimes we will slip or a foothold will break; we should climb regardless, because it’s the only way to know how high the walls go, how craggy their texture, how fragile the form.

This whole essay series was a learning experience for me. In writing about things I presumed to know, I needed to reinforce or relearn; usually that came with the crushing realization that I’d been largely wrong about my presumptions. That crushing realization is sometimes framed as “checking your privilege”; despite how many white men seem to bristle at that, I find it thrilling and necessary.

(I also think paying your taxes is a thing everyone should be happy and proud to do, so take this as far as it’ll go for you.)

I first heard Fallen when I was 17: old enough to think I could think, young enough that self-moulding was inherent and not intentional, like it needs to be now. The album is precious to me in a lot of weird, personal, particular ways, some of which I’ve explained here and many of which I have not.

Reframing it like this, in this semi-academic series of rambles half-connected to the cultural zeitgeist, helps me keep my nostalgia alive, helps me rock out at work to some genuinely timeless jams, but it preserves something else, too: A messiness of which I am simultaneously embarrassed and proud to be a part, internally and within the bright hellscape of our stupid, wondrous today.

Next time: Oh no wait. Actually I might do a coda just so I can talk about “Lacrymosa” or “Imperfection” or other one-off bangers from the oeuvre. Based on how long it took me to write this one, though, I think maybe I won’t hold myself to a deadline on that any time soon. Thanks for reading!

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