Continuing my track-by-track appreciation of Lana Del Rey’s newest album, Did you know that there’s a tunnel under Ocean Blvd…
Track 8: ‘Fingertips’
Yesterday’s song might not have seemed radio friendly but it’s ‘Uptown Funk’ compared to the free form poem set to music titled ‘Fingertips.’
The first time I heard this I didn’t pay much attention to the lyrics, distracted by trying to work out the structure. Where is the chorus? Why does the melody shift from verse to verse, and in some cases echo melodies from songs on earlier albums? What the hell is this thing?
When I sat down with the lyrics, I had an entirely different experience.
Del Rey recorded these stream of conscious thoughts as voice memos, laying bare some of her most painful experiences. She touches on, among other things, her absentee mother, her uncle’s death, her history with anti-depressants, and a teenage suicide attempt.
I can’t recall the last time I heard a song this nakedly personal. It’s a skeleton key that unlocks mysteries throughout her whole catalog. It’s less a song than an open wound, bleeding memories in a beautiful soprano.
She wraps up the poignant confessional with these crushing lines: “I give myself two seconds to breathe and go back to being a serene queen… I just needed two seconds to be me.” She’s dropping the veil for the length of a song before returning to her life in the spotlight.
This song, and ‘Kintsugi’ before it, remind me of the direction Joni Mitchell took on Hejira, her sprawling jazz-pop eighth album. These aren’t the songs you’re going to pop on a road trip playlist, but they reveal a more profound artistry than Del Rey’s earlier work ever hinted at.
When I look back, tracing fingertips over plastic bags
Thinking, “I wish I could extrapolate some small intention
Or maybe just get your attention for a minute or two”
Will I die? Or will I get to that ten-year mark?
Where I beat the extinction of telomeres?
And if I do, will you be there with me, Father, Sister, Brother?
Charlie, stop smoking
Caroline, will you be with me?
Will the baby be alright?
Will I have one of mine?
Can I handle it even if I do?
It’s said that my mind
Is not fit, or so they said, to carry a child
I guess I’ll be fine
It wasn’t my idea, the cocktail of things that twists neurons inside
But without them, I’d die
They say there’s irony in the music, it’s a tragedy, I
See nothing Greek in it
Give me a mausoleum in Rhode Island with Dad, Grandma, Grandpa, and Dave
Who hung himself real high
In the National Park sky, it’s a shame and I’m crying right now
To get to you, save you, if I take my life
Find your astral body, put it into my arms
Give you two seconds to cry
Take you home, I, I’ll give you a blanket
Your spirit can sit and watch TV by my side
‘Cause, baby, I
Ran through a time when I felt you were doing it
I couldn’t handle it, I was in Monaco
I couldn’t hear what they said on the telephone
I had to sing for the prince in two hours
Sat in the shower
Gave myself two seconds to cry
It’s a shame that we die
When I was fifteen, naked, next-door neighbors did a drive-by
Pulled me up by my waist, long hair to the beach side
I wanted to go out like you, swim with the fishes
That he caught on Rhode Island beaches
But, sometimes, it’s just not your time
Caroline, what kind of mother was she to say I’d end up in institutions?
All I wanted to do was kiss Aaron Greene and sit by
The lake, twisting lime into the drinks that they made
Have a babe at sixteen in the town I was born in, and die
Aaron ended up dead and not me
What the fuck’s wrong in your head to send me away, never to come back?
Exotic places and people don’t take the place of being your child
I give myself two seconds to cry
Let it crash over me
Like the waves in the sea
Call me Aphrodite, as they bow down to me
Sunbather, moon chaser, queen of empathy
I give myself two seconds to breathe
And go back to being a serene queen
I just needed two seconds to be me
An open wound of bleeding memories – definitely not what I am typically wanting to hear when I listen to music.
The artist’s shaping of those journal entries, voice memos, deepest inner thoughts is what creates the art. Taylor Swift has shared artistically rendered copies of some of her journal entries to accompany an album, but I’m not sure anyone would celebrate her artistry if she just strung a few of those random passages together and called it a song.
Lana Del Rey’s decision to share the raw emotions and observations is touching and likely quite powerful for many of her listeners. Still, I imagine opting to give them a more tangible form would be even more so. Hell, Eminem’s “Cleanin’ out my closet” was a searing portrait of his mother and also quite a bop. ;). (And one that apparently led him to write another song – “Headlights” which I don’t know at all – as a sort of apology)
How art can bend and morph and still be art is all quite fascinating.
I think rap is a good reference point for this song. I’ve heard a lot of rap songs that are feeeform catalogs of thoughts and feelings without a traditional structure. It’s certainly a jazz tradition as well.