– Narrated For You –
Do you know how disorienting it is to stumble upon meaningful pop? In an era of repetitive mass appeal, it’s like sudden vertigo. Every time it becomes instinctual to cast away popular new music as merely super-catchy, fleeting entertainment, an artist emerges that reveals my knee jerk assumption as baseless and premature. Here lies mellow beats and poignant lyrics inspiring nostalgia even with their first listen. This might be Alec Benjamin’s greatest talent: his ability to convey such relate-ability effortlessly. Each song is a story of his life, narrated for you, that could very well be about you.
This isn’t an album review so much as it is a reflection on each story told, song by song. I’m not a musician. Only another writer, who with a bit more talent, would have been.
Song titles in bold, song lyrics in italics.
“If We Have Each Other,
Then we’ll be fine.”
Like the worst of the written tragedies, this story weaves the dark and the light. Teenage pregnancy with the anticipation of motherhood, the inevitability of death ending currently flourishing relationships, surviving high school’s ups and downs and being made who you are by them.
Strong bonds of blood and chosen family. Hope and a commitment to being present, to being dependable even in face of all the hardships forthcoming.
The Water Fountain is a song about growing up too fast written by someone who should still be growing up. The soft repetitions play like the confused murmurs of a confused kid. One who is trying to voice answers they have yet to learn. One who is offering excuses for behavior they had to be told was wrong. Using the figure of the fountain is perfect, beyond the obvious Freudian use of water imagery as a metaphor for sexuality . It conjures high school encapsulated in the small stolen moments between classes. The brief time frame between obligations – a rushed time to blurt words spoken before the speaker knew what they meant. ‘In Love’ too young. Too young to be in love. Too young to know what in love means.
“And now I’m just another who got hurt,
Doing Annabelle’s Homework.”
Story Three keeps us in high school. It may not be the young love of earlier, but unreciprocated crushes can be heartbreaking, too. And realizing that you’re being used and undervalued by said crush? Ugh. It’s an important lesson that should be self-evident but often isn’t: love cannot be bought, and anyone willing to barter and trade for it, isn’t offering the genuine article.
Let Me Down Slowly.
One of the most sympathetic songs of the collection.
“Now I’m slipping through the cracks
Of your cold embrace.”
This is where the breakdown begins – this is the end. The relationship that doesn’t have the blood ties or the strength of a forever marriage like in Story One. The one without the childlike innocence of youthful confessions as in Story Two. The creeping death of a pairing mutually chosen instead of abandoned in its infancy like the parasitic interests of Story Three.
This is watching the demise of a love from the inside, knowing you can’t stop it, only try to slow it down.
40 days is such a powerful, Biblical number reminding us of warding off temptations. Instead of facing his trial in the desert, Benjamin faces his at sea. Single minded devotion paralleled in simple lyrics and poetic structure, Swim, our Story Five, is definitely the most direct song here, but it allows a pleasant way across to the deeper waters of what’s incoming.
Physical violence and the resiliency of children AKA Boy In The Bubble. It’s not often we get both sides of a bullying story, especially in such a short form medium. No justification, but sympathy. Understanding. The bully of this narrative is being abused at home by a drunken father.
“Come the lightning and the thunder,
You’re the one who’ll suffer”
He must mean that literally to his bully – when it rains and he seeks shelter – he’ll suffer at the hands of his father. When things get difficult, he’ll suffer. Benjamin, our bullied, defiant protagonist, has a caring mother at home. She’s right there at the beginning. 6:48. No matter the physical trauma, he’s got the better end of the deal. And he knows it. That’s why he can like the pain. Why he’ll never give the satisfaction of his fear to the bully.
Why hello there, Christianity Reference #2: Genesis edition. Steve is delightfully folksy, with the finger picking of the guitar, how striped down it feels… there’s an intimacy in the message – such an uplifting plea to be grateful.
“Oh, you want what you can’t have,
But you’ve got all the things you need.”
It’s nice to hear a reminder to be happy with all your current fortune from a pop song.
“The changing of the seasons
Never changed my hurt.”
No one gets over watching a loved one die. Time doesn’t heal all wounds. There’s Gotta Be A Reason... except when there isn’t. Benjamin sings of accepting darker fates – failed dreams and running out of time – by numbing yourself to their pains. He’s able to position himself in the shoes of another without judging how they put those shoes on. Or what condition they’re in.
Even when speaking of what seems to be either a serial killer or a heart-breaking Casanova, Outrunning Karma maintains a casual storytelling air. Although he also casually condemns him to Hell – from the church steeple down to Satan – he really just tells his tale. Between the bugs and the hearts and the lying bodies, forsaking people and fleeing into the night, this makes a subtle epic if it is indeed about a literal murderer.
Hyperbolic hypothetical notwithstanding, Benjamin touches on a very common insecurity here. ‘Am I Enough?’, ‘Will you still love me if…?’, ‘Do you like who you’re changing me into?’. If I Killed Someone For You translates to if I killed the old me for you, would you still care for me.
“That night I put my youth in a casket
And buried it inside of me
That night I saw through all the magic
Now I’m a witness to the Death Of A Hero.”
Notice, his hero might have been the one who ‘died’, but it’s a part of him that was locked away in a coffin. It’s human to internalize betrayal and disappointment. Losing the pristine version of someone ‘super’ can feel like the end. Not to them, but to the viewer. The hero who died wasn’t Superman, it was the little boy who believed. We never forget watching our heroes fail us. They inevitably always do. And each time, we bury a bit of self for their truth.
In this final story, I catalogue all the things learnt about Alec Benjamin. This seems fitting given 1994 is so titled after the year of his birth.
1. He’s a DC comic guy. He mentions Superman (x2) and Batman.
2. He’s familiar with Christianity. Churches and forbidden fruit and the importance of 40 days.
3. He can write as intimately about his own experiences as he can about those of others.
“Now tell me what you want to be
Because you grow up too fast.”
He ends at the beginning. It’s a great way to finish a story, narrated for you.