The Strange Dichotomy of “Life”

What do you do with those really great moments of life, those times when you’re most happy? Like when you’ve just sold your first short story, or a novel. Or it’s your wedding day, or the birth of a child. Maybe you’re celebrating a fiftieth anniversary. It’s your parent’s or grandparent’s eightieth birthday and they’re in great health. So you’re beaming. And do you, at that moment, spare a thought for the ending, the fact that no matter where we are in life, eventually it ends in death for all of us?

Of course not! Why would you? Revel in the now. (Unless you’re of a particularly morbid character.) . . . And yet, that death is still out there waiting for each of us, isn’t it?

Before I lose you, I’m not here to dwell on death, but rather to examine the uplifting message in the song “Life” by Devin Townsend. As the two or three people who read my posts regularly will recognize, I’ve been rather obsessed with the music of Devin Townsend recently. And I’m OK with that. “Life” is a happy song; you can have a listen while you continue reading below:

Unlike most Townsend songs, “Life” is short and sounds enough like popular music that it could fit in with other music played on the radio. It follows a “traditional” verse-chorus-verse-chorus-bridge-chorus structure, which is also rare in the Townsend music I’ve encountered. The sound is so upbeat, so fun, it could have been recorded by an ’80s hair band. And lyrically, it seems to be sending a positive message, saying basically that life is short so be sure to enjoy yourself while you can.

But wait a minute . . . is that really what it’s saying?

The song begins and ends with spoken quotations. The one at the beginning is

In the exuberance of life, there’s an awareness that one day, we will have to look death in the eye.

Now we’re right back to the idea I started out with. The chorus of the song is

How long can this life go on
Who we are what we are . . .
I’ll see you on the other side

To me, that sounds almost like someone who longs for death, who’s weary of life and is ready to see what’s beyond the mortal veil. Can a song call “Life” that has such a happy sound actually be about death? That’s a sobering thought—but it does also lend credence to the idea that this song is about seizing the day, lest the day seize you.

The quote that ends the song is also open to interpretation:

In death, not only are the mightiest and most humble brought down to the same level, but we’re no different from any other organism.

On one hand, it’s a reminder that we humans are no better than monkeys or amoebas, ducks and dinosaurs; we all come to dust. But on the other hand, there’s something affirming is this statement as well: We are all together in this great adventure called Life. The feeling I get from this song makes me take that second reading as the more valid.

So that’s “Life.” I’ll see you on the other side.

Follow B. K. Winstead on Twitter at @bkwins

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