WE NEED A FOREST FIRE
When I was in high school, my English teacher taught me about symbolism and how to find it in every work of art. She convinced me that all creative expressions somehow wove together into a bigger web of hidden ideologies.
Since then, my entire world view has been totally fucked.
Back in May, two of my favorite musicians, James Blake and Bon Iver, released “I Need A Forest Fire” on Blake’s album The Colour in Anything.
It’s a beautifully haunting track, incorporating precise harmonies, lingering reverbs, and ghostly synth notes.
But what strikes me most about this song is the poignant message hidden in its lyrics.
I’m saved by nature
But it always forgets what I need
I hope you’ll stop me before I build a wall around me
We need a forest fire
Think critically about those words.
Sure, they could represent reclusion or unresolved relationships or any number of human emotions, but if you associate them with the 2016 presidential election, they suddenly transform into something much more powerful.
Follow me for a minute.
The saving “nature” is America’s blind trust in its own optimistic predisposition. America believes the future will nurture and guide it away from desolation.
The second line exclaims America’s own selfishness—its vain assumption that fate works for microcosmic justice and that somehow nature subscribes to goodness and logic. The line also describes the helplessness Americans feel towards divisive rhetoric and caustic attacks that prevent positive resolution.
Quite literally, the “wall” represents physical barriers that halt amalgamation, however it also represent the isolation America is choosing that will stall it from facing questions of ethics and morality. It’s a threatening, last-attempt cry for preservation.
Now, I understand this is a skewed interpretation of the song, and it is not in fact the authors’ message. But that doesn’t mean this interpretation has no clout.
The message still applies.
In fact, the forest fire in the intended interpretation summons similar questions of distance, acceptance, and barriers. It’s a hymn to burn down the barriers that silence and stifle our voices.
Silence is acceptance. Inaction is action. Apathy is tolerance. Art is transformative.
And it’s also a damn good track.