Airborne Toxic Event’s “Sometime Around Midnight”

by Jess

I’m going to tell you about a song.  I think The Airborne Toxic Event’s song “Sometime Around Midnight” has an excellent sense of narrative and drama.  Here are the lyrics:

And it starts, sometime around midnight.
Or at least that’s when you lose yourself
for a minute or two.
As you stand, under the bar lights.
And the band plays some song
about forgetting yourself for a while.
And the piano’s this melancholy soundtrack to her smile.
And that white dress she’s wearing
you haven’t seen her for a while.

But you know, that she’s watching.
She’s laughing, she’s turning.
She’s holding her tonic like a cross.
The room’s suddenly spinning.
She walks up and asks how you are.
So you can smell her perfume.
You can see her lying naked in your arms.

And so there’s a change, in your emotions.
And all these memories come rushing
like feral waves to your mind.
Of the curl of your bodies,
like two perfect circles entwined.
And you feel hopeless and homeless
and lost in the haze of the wine.

Then she leaves, with someone you don’t know.
But she makes sure you saw her.
She looks right at you and bolts.
As she walks out the door,
your blood boiling
your stomach in ropes.
Oh and when your friends say,
“What is it? You look like you’ve seen a ghost.”

Then you walk, under the streetlights.
And you’re too drunk to notice,
that everyone is staring at you.
You just don’t care what you look like,
the world is falling around you.

You just have to see her.
You just have to see her.
You just have to see her.
You just have to see her.
You just have to see her.
You know that she’ll break you in two.

I love songs that build.  I think of most songs as shaped rather like wheels, with the verses radiating out from and simultaneously linked by the chorus.  But songs like this one are more like stairs; they take you somewhere far from where you began.  “Midnight” begins with soft instrumentation then moves into smooth guitar stylings that make me think of Explosions in the Sky.  The vocals kick in with the same soft tone, then the bass and drums join them at the end of the first stanza.  The song continues in this vein, gradually amping up in correlation with the storyline, one of a love deferred.

The music intensifies as the girl is leaving the venue until the stanza that begins with “Then you walk,” when Mikel Jollet’s voice is strident and pained, as though he is sobbing and shouting all at once.  This is my favorite part of the song because it becomes so visceral.  The scene is crystal in my mind, with cracked, sharp edges, painful to the touch.  Our protagonist stumbles drunkenly in the street, heartbroken, repeating, “You just have to see her,” like a mantra.  The protagonist in this story is actually a second-person character — sort of the reader/listener, but also someone else altogether.  The second person has been much maligned, but in this instance at least, I can let myself fall completely into the persona laid out for me, and it makes the effect of the song more intense.  I’m right there.  I’m sobbing and stumbling and broken.  It’s my world that’s falling around me.

I think the lyrics to this song are poetic, which always gets me, and a cut above a lot of mainstream music.  As Scroobius Pip sagely said, “Thou shalt not use poetry, art or music to get into girls’ pants…use it to get into their heads.”  Airborne Toxic Event, you’re in my head.  For example, “And you feel hopeless and homeless / and lost in the haze of the wine.”  Adjectives in triplicate, and the alliteration of hopeless, homeless, and haze, give this sentence so much emphasis and emotion.  Or, “She’s holding her tonic like a cross.”  I picture a priest with a crucifix descending upon demons or a girl home alone clutching a cross to ward off her fear.  I think the tonic, for the girl in the song, serves a little of both functions.  Or how about the jump made in, “So you can smell her perfume. / You can see her lying naked in your arms.”  They say smell is the most emotive of the senses, and for the protagonist, the smell of her perfume immediately conjures up the image of a memory they shared.

This is a pretty elementary reading of the song.  It’s not even close to the scrutiny of close reading I think you could apply here, but I’m trying to write this while I’m at work, for crying out loud, so I don’t have oodles of free time.  I just think it’s a great song, and a great story, and it does exactly what it sets out to do in a purposeful, well-executed way.  Score one for Airborne Toxic Event.