In W.B. Yeats iconic 1920 poem “The Second Coming”, society post World War I is falling apart and in dire need of a savior. The sphinx that slouches towards Bethlehem has yet to arrive in 2007, but Conor Oberst feels a similar sense of impending doom in the wake of our own wars. His incendiary rebuke of contemporary culture is given center stage in this very watchable new video from indie-star Patrick Daughters. The director wisely chooses to avoid a narrative that might compete with the imagery of the words and instead concocts one that merely illuminates the energy behind them.
Oberst’s apocalyptic leanings are on full display through his biblical and political references that imply an inevitable end to modern civilization as we know it. The death of Satan, which is an ironic symbol for religion, reflects his contention that these faiths have lost their purpose in the deserts of their own emptiness and messages of fear. The whore of Babylon, which is yet another biblical sign of the apocalypse, is also commonly interpreted as a reference to Jerusalem. Thus there is the possibility that “great satan” refers to the United States and that what really “caves” here is Israel in the Middle East – where many winds collide.
This only touches the surface of Bright Eyes lyrical content, but these basic ideas shed some light on the concept behind the video. Though there is something rather lazy in picking an all-white audience at a tented concert dressed in cowboy hats and wife-beaters to represent what’s wrong with America, Daughters establishes that the crowd is firmly opposed to Oberst and company through his early shots of bored faces, even before the first bit of trash is thrown. The subsequent deluge of garbage coincides with the increasingly bleak imagery of the song, visually emphasizing the degradation of culture – or perhaps mocking what we like to call “civilization.”
The band plays on and the camera focuses tightly on Oberst’s painful delivery, further painting him as a rebellious spirit. These images, especially when the singer closes his eyes to sing, give further weight to the words he puts together. At the same time Oberst stands in front of a rising sun, which promises some change in the future. If you hear “Santa Clause is Coming to Town” in the early melody of the song it's most likely a sarcastic salute to some hopeful revolution. Yet like the majority of Bright Eyes catalog, this video does a good job of reminding us of everything that is wrong with the world without offering any valuable solutions. The ballast is buried indeed.