On "Sun in an Empty Room," by The Weakerthans

Sun in an Empty Room
The Weakerthans (lyrics mainly from here; song available here)

Now that the furniture’s returning to its goodwill home
With dishes and last week’s papers,
rumors and elections,
crosswords, our unending war
the black in our fingers smear their prints on every door pulled shut
Now that the last month’s rent is scheming with the damage deposit

Take this moment to decide (sun in an empty room)
If we meant it if we tried (sun in an empty room)
Or felt around for far too much (sun in an empty room)
From things that accidentally touch (sun in an empty room)

The hands that we nearly hold with pennies for the GST
The shoulders we lean our shoulders into on the subway, mutter an apology
The shins that we kick beneath the table, that reflexive cry
The faces we meet one awkward beat too long and terrified

Know the things we need to say (sun in an empty room)
And said already anyway (sun in an empty room)
By parallelograms of light (sun in an empty room)
On walls that we repainted white (sun in an empty room)

Sun in an empty room (x 8)

Take eight minutes and divide (sun in an empty room)
By ninety million lonely miles (sun in an empty room)
Watch the shadow cross the floor (sun in an empty room)
We don’t live here anymore (sun in an empty room)

Comment:

It’s a weird feeling after a relationship to be strangers to each other. In fact, the estrangement happening while the relationship is ending – that’s probably the weirdest thing. We have routines for dealing with the people we’re fishing for pennies to pay the tax (GST) to; routines for bumping into others on the subway; routines even for people at cafes or restaurants.

You’d think breaking up doesn’t go through a routine, that it would be unique. But there are just things “we need to say, and said already anyway.”

Maybe something lies in that silent falling of the sun. There isn’t just routine in these lyrics – there’s movement away. Maybe something good is happening here?

The death of routine opens the song. All the problems we had with a lover could have just been put on a newspaper and used to wrap those dishes going back to goodwill. Memories of those problems are fast becoming smudges, and expenses from the time together are just beginning to come together.

It could be that a clean slate is a very good thing at a particular moment – those expenses can be dealt with later, after all. Plenty of couples break up because each partner wants something more, and costs from the past are no object. The walls are repainted white, and the sun is allowed to brighten the room and bring its own natural framework of light and shadow with it. This is a couple mutually breaking up. They feel their time together was an accident, and they tried to make too much of it.

“Movement away” vs. “touching” alone doesn’t tell us whether something good or bad is happening, though. Something underlies both of these themes that tells us what’s happening is an awful thing.

It’s sight which is the issue, and the light which allows for sight. When this couple looks at each other, they look at each other like awkward strangers. It’s the beginnings of love and only the beginnings of love – not caution because something exciting might happen, but perpetual “I can’t let this define me.” The sight is why the movement away – the line “The faces we meet one awkward beat too long and terrified” is more final than the speech or the touching.

But then how does one say the things needed for the breakup? What allows for the final routine to take place? It’s that image of the sun taking its own back that’s the key. This empty slate that both want – the only thing both can look at, because they can’t really look at each other – means they’re both homeless, just like light is while moving. They’re back to being wanderers again. The sun travels, but for all those miles, it has some place to occupy. Our couple doesn’t – goodwill is where the stuff is, not where they are.

5 Comments

  1. When I followed the link to the song it didn’t sound quite like something I’d have given much thought to, taken very seriously, if I’d heard it on the radio. Had I not been listening for lyrics and then reading them here I wouldn’t have known that there was something so… real there. This is what it feels like- those words, that sound- to find something over. It’s kind of amazing to find artists in so many disregarded (for me) places.

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