Safe Up Here With You: the Twilight Singers’ “Hyperballad”

Welcome to my latest obsession. I finally gave She Loves You, the Twilight Singers’ 2004 album, a metaphorical spin the other day. (Now that I have Spotify, I’m chocking in some of the holes in my musical knowledge.) It’s an album of covers, but the one that absolutely jumped out at me right away was “Hyperballad”. The through-composed style, the restrained instrumentation and vocal by Greg Dulli, the thoughtful, vivid imagery of the lyrics, the band’s dreamlike performance, relaxed yet hyper-focused…I could swoon. The restless, chiming guitar and yearning, soaring synth lines play off the trudging, rolling beat perfectly, lightening its steps until it becomes as welcome as your lover’s heartbeat. Dulli has been known to chew some scenery at times (“My Time Has Come” from Powder Burns, anyone? I mean, HONKEY’S LADDER?), but here he wholly feels the subtle soul of the song and his unselfish, out-of-himself delivery is totally right-on. He doesn’t even monopolize the choruses — they’re sung in unison, a lovely hymnic touch, like choral music. Trance gospel blues indeed.

The lyrics themselves are something special. Bjork’s words picture someone going out to the edge of a cliff early in the morning and pitching random things off. Then she watches them fall, intent on the sound they make, and doesn’t look away before they hit the rocks below. She wonders what it would be like to throw herself off, and would her eyes be closed or open? It’s both a metaphor and an psychological snapshot from daily life. The words picture the daily choice we must all make to love our person, our people, whoever they are, whatever the cost. They celebrate the daily sacrifices we all make that our partners, our children, our parents, our friends, never see or know, but that we make unceasingly, day by day, so we can stay with that person. The throwing things off the cliff is at once both a purgation, purifying, cleansing, and an act of renunciation — this is what I can do without.

The song also hints that this is for the sleeper’s protection, or the narrator’s — “this is so I can feel safe up here with you.” Maybe these are the things that the sleeper or the narrator would be tempted to use on each other, once the sleeper awoke and the day resumed its endless march until night. Maybe it’s better to throw those things away, whatever they are, before they get used on someone you love in a moment of anger and there’s no going back: these are the things I have to, need to, do without. But whatever you throw off the cliff every day — anger, pride, wondering how things would be different with a different partner or a different life — it’s never worth as much as the one who sleeps through the predawn ritual of pitching stray objects off a mountain precipice and meditating on their fall and smashing. For that person you throw everything you can lift, everything you can possibly bear to part with, and then some, off the mountain. Everything except yourself.

Kudos to Bjork for being honest enough to admit about thinking about throwing yourself off a cliff. Kudos also to Dulli for seconding her startlingly honest thoughts by choosing to cover this standout song. He knows what it’s like to kill yourself slowly, or to realize that if you don’t change your path you’ll end up dead. This song is about pondering the path you’re on, and ultimately deciding that it’s the right one. You want to be “safe up here” along with the narrator, because that’s what they want too.

Just expressing these kinds of compulsively honest, or dark, thoughts are enough for most people to give you the side eye, if not respond with outright alarm. With good cause, of course…but sometimes you just wonder. The ability of the human mind to play out “What if?” is one of our greatest strengths, and one of our biggest downfalls too. We play with temptation or create fantasy worlds, indulge in magical thinking and act accordingly…and real people, who care about us, get hurt. (Here’s where Dulli’s natural knack for the dark, the twisted, the addicted, the turned-out, yet also faithful and still somehow feeling despite it all, shines through.) Sometimes “What if?” is enough all on its own, as a question in the mind. Always make the choice to be present, to remain, to be steadfast — for others, and for yourself.

we live on a mountain
right at the top
there’s a beautiful view
from the top of the mountain
every morning i walk towards the edge
and throw little things off
like:
car-parts, bottles and cutlery
or whatever i find lying around

it’s become a habit
a way
to start the day

i go through this
before you wake up
so i can feel happier
to be safe up here with you

it’s real early morning
no-one is awake
i’m back at my cliff
still throwing things off
i listen to the sounds they make
on their way down
i follow with my eyes ’til they crash
imagine what my body would sound like
slamming against those rocks

and when it lands
will my eyes
be closed or open?

i’ll go through all this
before you wake up
so i can feel happier
to be safe up here with you

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