My Pain

Release Date: 8/09

Album: GO WEST




I want the whole world to suffer for my pain
You'll never know me enough to feel my pain
A heart pumping rancor, and cankered in disdain
You'll never love me enough to heal my pain

You move through the world without turning a hair
And aloof to the dirt at your heel
Mistress of your fate
Untroubled by conscience, thought or intention
And grinding us under your wheel
I will recriminate

No man is my brother, no islands concern me
But those that would laugh at and spit at
and spurn me
What's done is Donne – meditations won't turn me
So ask not for whom, 'cos the bell will toll for thee

I remember a playground with two empty swings
I remember the back of the hand
Kneel me down to pray
An indifferent eye to deny me compassion
and I know that you don't understand
I will make you pay

Millions will wonder what sired this black rain
I will open fire to mire you in my pain
I'll tear you asunder and plunder your aeroplane
Fly into a building to assuage my pain

Now we breathe in the ashes of countrymen lost
Raise our fists and we vow our revenge
From sea to shining sea
And when bombs go astray
to make martyrs of mothers
The cycle repeats once again
With one boy's misery
With my pain


Adam - vocals, acoustic and electric guitars, keyboards, percussion
Teresa Cowles - bass
Tracy Landecker - counterpoint vocal

Adam sez:

Along with "1 in 4," "My Pain" is one of the most intense songs on GO WEST. It was one of those things where you get a really strong lyrical idea and you're not sure whether you can pull it off. "My Pain" is about the root of evil, and how and why very disturbed people can justify committing mass murder. It's the only song not directly connected, by accident or design, to the GO WEST concept, but to me it is one of two possible outcomes of the cascading sense of isolation and failure that progresses through the album (the acceptance of "Trains" being the much more positive, though still bleak, other option).

There's a lot to say about this song, and given what's happened in my own life it's easy to misinterpret, so I'm going to get into a little more detail about its meaning than I probably normally would. The basic message of "My Pain" is simple: people hurt other people because they're in pain themselves, and the more that feeling is allowed to fester, and the more people try and fail to make connections to others, the more twisted people get, and it becomes a vicious cycle. The song also gets a little at the roots of terrorism, but the point isn't just that dropping bombs on people is likely to radicalize them, but that we don't take the time to really get inside the mindset of the people we're fighting. We begat evil just by not thinking very much about how people different from us are thinking and feeling. This is tricky because on one level the song does show compassion and understanding for very evil people (and how evil begats evil), and I think this is a really important thing for us to acknowledge, because any one of us, if we feel far enough removed from society (or feel powerless enough), are capable of feeling the impulse to just wreak vengeance on the world and destroy.

Now, note I said "impulse." There's one other thing to understand about the person in "My Pain" and that is that person is fundamentally weak. Everyone knows what it feels like to be unloved, to be dissed, to not be able to connect with others, and for some people it can be really crippling. However, the person in this song is incapable of examining their own behavior. Everything's about what was done to him; there's no self-examination whatsoever. So for me personally, while I understand WHY a person would be motivated to do this kind of thing, there's a basic immaturity and selfishness that I will never be able to accept or condone. I know lots of people who struggle daily with social handicaps and mental illness. I've dealt with some of these issues in my own life. Yes, it's hard. But you have to fight on, even if it's a losing fight. Most people do, and that's the everyday heroism of life that goes uncelebrated. If you just piss and moan and complain and never look in the mirror, you may become the guy in "My Pain."

Most of the album, including "My Pain" was mixed and we were in the last stages of working on a few remixes and the rerecording of "Cut and Run" when, on April 3, 2009, a disturbed loner with delusions of persecution burst into an ESL class in Binghamton, New York and opened fire on everyone in the room. In a minute long burst of semi-automatic gunfire, 13 people were murdered; only one person in the room survived. Among the dead was my surviving brother's wife, Hongxiu, a lovely woman who was there to improve her English skills so she could make a success of her marriage and her life in the United States.

In the initial shock of something like that happening close to you and also having your family's private tragedy being the lead story on CNN, it took me a while to compute that the exact scenario described in "My Pain" had played out, in bloody reality, in a very personal way. I felt very, very squeamish about having written a song that got so throughly inside the head of someone who had murdered my sister-in-law. The only good thing about it was I did not have the same problems trying to come to grips with the meaning behind it that the rest of my family did. Part of the reason was that I did not know Hongxiu that well, and much of my grief was directed at the effect of the tragedy on my mother, brother and sister, especially on top of my other brother's death not long before. But the other part was I had already walked a mile in the killer's shoes writing this song. As a human being, it creeped me out. As a songwriter, I knew I'd done my job, because how I felt about the topic and what I wrote did not change at all before and after I experienced it, first end, on the receiving end (albeit indirectly). I didn't have to wonder why this guy went beserk and did what he did; he was isolated from humanity and he was crazy. I get it. It's not the same as condoning it, though...because the guy could have asked for help, he could have tried to fix the problems in himself, but he never did. He made it about the rest of the world. Because he was, fundamentally, a weak person. Like everything else on GO WEST, "My Pain" doesn't offer easy answers: the person in the song requires compassion, but he also lacks self-discipline.

The haunting background vocal on this song is by Tracy Landecker, who was a great friend and an awesome sounding board while I was recording the album. She also took many of the photos in the album booklet. The song has a strong John Lennon vibe, but the band I most was inspired by in writing it was Arcade Fire.

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