Resolved: On Death Cab for Cutie’s “The New Year”

for Nancy

The New Year
Death Cab for Cutie (lyrics and song available at songmeanings.net/jango)

So this is the new year
And I don’t feel any different
The clanking of crystal
Explosions off in the distance
in the distance

So this is the new year
And I have no resolutions
For self-assigned penance
For problems with easy solutions

So everybody put your best suit or dress on
Let’s make believe that we are wealthy for just this once
Lighting firecrackers off on the front lawn
As thirty dialogues bleed into one

I wish the world was flat like the old days
Then I could travel just by folding a map
No more airplanes, or speedtrains, or freeways
There’d be no distance that can hold us back

There’d be no distance that could hold us back
There’d be no distance that could hold us back

So this is the new year (x 4)

1. Getting to the issue:

The narrator proclaims he doesn’t feel any different – the clanking of crystal might as well be explosions in the distance, the external doesn’t affect the internal.

Whatever the problem is, most types of resolutions are too small to deal with it. He doesn’t abandon the concept of resolution altogether, though. And he has hinted that “distance” is something weighing on his mind.

The external doesn’t affect the internal because the internal is resolved that the problem is external. If the world were flat and could be folded – if distance didn’t matter – then there wouldn’t be an issue.

The problem is the external, to put it bluntly. This isn’t a love song necessarily yet. The issue at hand is brought forth most clearly in a stanza describing a party:

So everybody put your best suit or dress on
Let’s make believe that we are wealthy for just this once
Lighting firecrackers off on the front lawn
As thirty dialogues bleed into one

“Let’s make believe that we are wealthy” – like what we do could be like that done in the first stanza, the official, distant celebrations. Maybe crystal has different facets because it is thirty dialogues blended into one, each dialogue representing the same differently.

2. So what is the issue exactly?

It’s simply not having means to do what one wants. What makes this a love song is “us,” but the lament about wealth isn’t trivial. What I think is happening is this: in order to love, you have to pretend like you’ve made it, like as if you’re already wealthy.

Now of course, we’re not wealthy. But if we confronted that reality and perhaps did a more important “self-assigned penance,” we’d put ourselves in a position where we’d never cross distances and find love. I’ve said about “Transatlanticism” that people cross oceans all the time for love, and it works somehow.

At the same time, ignoring reality isn’t exactly a smart move. I’ve talked many times about couples breaking up over finances, fighting for the pettiest of reasons. Does the song give us a solution?

I mean, weirdly enough, this song does sound affirming. This is the new year, again – we get chances. And the chances that matter most are the ones we’re patient about. It’s a good thing to not change substantially, to wait for those who matter, to wait until the time is right. Our narrator has taken what seems to be cynicism, turned it into resolve, and is better for it. He can celebrate knowing that the world was never flat, but there will be no distance that can hold us back.

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