are you ever going to help us, father?
can’t you hear your sons, your daughters?
it’s getting harder every single day.
it’s a struggle just to keep the faith.
will you lead your lambs to slaughter?
in “father”, the walls finally come crashing down on our main character.
confronted with real suffering and a feeling of utter helplessness, the emptiness of our most deeply rooted institutions suddenly becomes apparent. they offer no support, no solution.
in many ways, “father” is a plea to these longstanding institutions—a cry for help from our main character. but, it is a cry knowingly made in vain, for at this point, our hero is well aware that no help is coming.
“are you ever going to help us, father?” he cries, with a definite hint of anger—perhaps betrayal—in the voice. here, the word “father” is broadly used. it represents all forms of paternalism—any source to which we look for guidance and assistance. it is biological, sociopolitical, and spiritual paternalism. regardless of the form it takes, the features are the same: it seeks to control more than nurture; it breaks down more than it builds. but our main character finally recognizes this paternalism for what it actually is—an absentee father…a golden calf which demands obedience, but offers little in return.
of course, the journey doesn’t end with the final beat. home is in sight when Father demands: “i want more.” ever demanding and never satisfied, Father’s tantrum (think veruca salt ) provides an opportunity to really let loose musically. the temple truly comes down at this point. the winds are blowing. but our hero has seen and heard enough...
musically, the constant driving beat creates a sense of moving forward, a feeling of no return. the quiet space of each verse acts as the calm before the storm, culminating with the frustrated exclamations—or realizations—of our main character. “do we really have to drink that water?” “will you lead your lambs to slaughter?” each one more severe. these realizations give way to the chaos and confusion of the chorus, though it lacks the traditions and comforts of a typical chorus—there are no repeated phrases, no lyrical pleasantries cycled ad nauseum…just a single question from our main character.
in fact, the chorus plays like the beginnings of a riot, like a rally about to go wrong. the aggressive synths act as a replacement for traditional chorus vocals. like an angry mob, they twist and turn and yell and scream. the drums support them with what appears to be a concerted roar on every fourth beat. the wobbly, descending notes of the strings add to the instability of the situation—the listener should feel as if everything could topple at any moment.
something was needed, though, to carry the song forward—to propel the listener from one stage to the next, while still maintaining—and, in actuality, enhancing—the overall theme of the song. to accomplish this, spiritual-evoking vocals and hand-clapping were added. there is something tragically beautiful about spirituals. they are both an indication of colonialism—i.e., domination over another by means of physical force and indoctrination, particularly through education and religion—and of the resiliency and defiance of an oppressed people. here, they support the theme of paternalism, and reveal a growing dissatisfaction. “won’t be long, it won’t be long…the devil’s gonna hear my song.” this is not a literal devil, though it could be. rather, it suggests chickens coming home to roost. if the father ultimately fails to address his children, his children will find other means.
the strings which run throughout the entirety of the song are somewhat interesting. it would be difficult to pinpoint a specific musical pattern, because they were played straight through without any forethought or preparation. but there is a method to the madness. they embody the plight of the main character—abandoned, lost in the wilderness, yet continuously moving forward. they’re like the winds, keeping the weary odysseus from reaching home, but ensuring that he is prepared upon arrival.
lastly, it should be noted that “father” was the final addition to the album. for weeks, I held off on the release because i felt that something was missing. after the main character is confronted with true suffering in “trail of tears / put the gun down”, and before going off alone into the desert that is “the dream” and “tease”, a realization of things as they actually are needed to occur. “father” supplies that moment. once i recognized that need, it came about effortlessly, and was essentially completed in a day. not surprisingly, “father” remains sort of a personal favorite for me.
(*additional note: the final piece of the puzzle was actually the intro to the song—the last thing recorded on the album. the words are ancient Greek, from Matthew 1:23. Such a musical language…otherworldly. I recorded this once before as a teenager. why they came to mind yet again, i’ll leave for you to consider. but it does just seem to fit, though, don’t you think? )