“One of my biggest wishes is that we could figure out a way to live with the natural world instead of on top of it.”
– Songwriter Isaac Brock in the audio commentary on the Modest Mouse song Coyotes from their album Strangers to Ourselves.
I share his wish to realign people and nature.
Here: a personal go at his artful articulation of the issue.
When they’re brought forth, as in most pop and rock music, lyrics must be neither trite nor adolescent to avoid my complete rejection. I’ll throw that baby out with the bathwater all day.
With Coyotes, though, Brock captured my ear and my interest on first listen.
Hear a studio production and/or a live recording of Coyotes below (apologies in advance for the Vevo ads).
People and Nature: The Imbalance
My experience, observation, and opinion …
People need nature needs people.
People are nature is people.
It really is that simple. But we don’t behave that way. Or even think that way.
We tend to be short-sighted and selfish.
A consequence: we fail to account for the true costs of our actions; we make decisions that aren’t in our long-term interests.
As we devalue and even destroy aspects of our natural world, we devalue and destroy ourselves.
Our lives are less complete and less satisfying than they can or should be in the absence of a healthy, balanced, and grateful relationship with the natural world.
How Brock articulates some of these themes (full lyrics here), along with my read on them:
- “ghosts in the national parks” – we’ve quarantined and designated “nature,” a place to which we drive
- “like some serial killers” – taking what we need or want as we need or want it, we have little or no regard for the lives of other species (for example: the buffalo or the anthropocene in general)
- “giant ol’ monsters afraid of the sharks” – we’re completely irrational; only 10 people are killed by sharks each year, while a couple million people die from starvation (more here)
- “timber bound tree” – cut it down and monetize it (that’s why we grew it, right?)
- “and we say ‘what can we say?’” – we say we love everything, but we’re ultimately indifferent, comfortable, and complacent
Dramatic? Sure. Or artful.
Video: Coyotes by Modest Mouse
My first impression: unremarkable. But the break at 1:20 struck me immediately and obviously as essence.
Whether the coyote represents people or the coyote represents a place for the natural world in our day to day lives, that imagined return to the forest is a necessary reunion.
The lasting impression: honest and a bit doleful.
More on the inspiration for the video: Coyote rides Portland’s MAX light rail train in 2002.
Live: Coyotes by Modest Mouse
Tough to get up for a performance at CBS? Probably. It was the best live sound I could find on YouTube.
Strangers To Ourselves debuted as the #1 rock record and #3 overall on the Billboard charts in late March this year.
Coyotes was the second song from the album released for download (back in January).
I don’t know how much meaning will be taken from or traction will be gained from the song, but it’s a solid message for popular music and popular culture.
In connecting with it, I was forced to ask “what can we say?”
May it take similar effect with others.
May it be another grain of sand tipping the scale toward balance.
May it be a single drop of rain on parched earth (you know what I’m talking about, California).
I’ve enjoyed a few fantastic books about people valuing nature and people reconnecting with nature.
People and Nature: Rewilding
No, these are not coyotes. Yes, this is an encouraging restoration and rewilding by humans.
Afraid of the Sharks
Nice soundtrack on this one.