I’m fully prepared to defer to John Darnielle if he posits differently, but I think there’s no story from Greek mythology with more of an indie rock vibe than that of Sisyphus. The story of a egotistical king who was punished by the gods, cursed to roll an enormous boulder up a hill only to have the freedom granted him upon reaching the top eternally thwarted by the rock magically tumbling the bottom every time. And thus the cursed task began anew. The radiant defeat of the Sisyphus story gives it a fine layer of indie cred. No matter what is done, the burdensome toil of merely existing doesn’t abate, and heaven knows we’re all miserable now.
In the new single from his forthcoming album — with the wickedly wonderful title My Finest Work Yet — Andrew Bird invokes the Sisyphus story for a characteristic dose on tuneful melancholy. In the lyrics, he artfully expands the metaphor, thinking about the doomed destination of the boulder (“Well, I let the rock roll on down to the town below/ We had a house down there, but I lost it long ago”) and suggesting the dictates of imposed fate are no longer the driving force behind the repeated chore. In a way, the track is a reclamation of misery, firmly emphasizing the perseverance built into the Sisyphus story. No matter the circumstances, surviving is a victory.
“History forgets the moderates,” Bird sings, and its an inspiring call to arms, or at least a gentle nudge to arms. We’re still in an indie rock place. There’s no reason to risk getting anyone too excited. Laconic charm can carry the day just fine.
Right. Now back to the boulder.