A friend of mine introduced me to CocoRosie close to three years ago now. I wholeheartedly despised the duo early on. I vividly remember the experience of listening to them for the first time–it wasn’t pleasant. Specifically, the first song I heard was By Your Side, a song I’ve grown fond of over the years, but it definitely was an acquired taste. It serves as a good introduction to the charming, haunting, sui generis sound of the group.
But, since their most recent album, “Heartache City,” came out in late September of 2015, I’ve listened to “Forget Me Not” probably a dozen or more times per day. I find myself asking why.
First, the song is has a pleasantly naked feel–it’s disarming. In its nakedness it encourages nakedness on the part of the listener. Thus, the listener is open and vulnerable as the musical probe delves deeper into memory and feeling.
It opens loosely, only to fall into itself with the rhythmic chatter of hardly recognizable noises emitted from unidentifiable objects. It sounds a bit like a typewriter, maybe two, but also a bit like coins dropping while a music box is being wound up–the last idea making sense, as the delicate chimes that carry through the song are reminiscent of little music boxes, complete with spinning ballerinas inside. The sorrows of lost childhood–the phrase “insurmountable nostalgia” comes to mind.
Once the vocals enter, the combination of the the monotone recitation of the lyrics and the lyrics themselves sends chills up and down the spine and causes eyes to well up unexpectedly, yet almost instantaneously. It sounds like a spell, like something chanted over a boiling cauldron under cover of darkness in the forest. That’s one of the unique things about CocoRosie. The vocals can be so dry–arguably lacking in expression or feeling–yet it is this very dryness, this very emptiness that conveys the feeling of a hole being torn in your chest and your heart being ripped out, all to the slow and steady sparseness of a hi-hat, snare, and kick. A feeling much more powerful than even the most evocative operatic voices, as the sound of CocoRosie mimics the emotions themselves.
Just when we’ve gotten used to the steady chant of lyrics, we’re hit with the chorus, the high-pitched sonorous whisper, as delicate as crystal wind-chimes shaking in the breeze, only more beautiful–more painful. The chorus is as follows:
“If only I could remember you,/Your name on a tree, your blood inside of me,/Your songs all unsung, your thoughts all unspun,/Where would you live? Where would you dance?/How would you make love, who would be your dove?/If only I could remember you, if only, if only.”
The lyrics alone are a poetic feat–unsung songs, unspun thoughts, you can’t help but wonder what the muse–presumably a person–of the song was like. You can’t help but think of unsung songs in your own life (The Sun Also Rises‘ Jake and Brett come to mind–“Isn’t it pretty to think so?”).
You can’t help but insert people from your own life as the subject–it’s easy, given how the song encourages you to open your chest up to be rifled through like an old chest-of-drawers.
Then, in the lyrics, come the more painful questions to ask: “Where would you dance? How would you make love? Who would be your dove?” All these things we’ve wondered…past lovers, people who were once our own “doves.” People who have all but vanished from our lives.
Alternating between the low, rhythmic chants and the feather-in-the-wind lightness coupled with the despair of poured cement that makes up the chorus, the song leads us through the ups and downs of heartache–the bitter remembrance, the sorrowful wails of longing for a person, for even just a fraying memory.
While it’s the opening track on an album called “Heartache City,” it’s not your typical heartache song–it goes deeper than the cliche pain of a broken heart. “Forget Me Not” takes us to a place where a past lover is so far in the past that they don’t even exist in memory. There’s the undying longing to remember and think of the person, but the potential for remembrance is gone. The love, however, seems to be ever-present. Immortal in itself. A vestigial reminder of what once was.
I’ve listened to this song over coffee. I’ve listened to it in the shower. In the car. While in the woods walking my dog. While eating dinner. While driving alone into the night. I’m listening to it as I write this.
I thought I’d be able to explain its je ne sais quoi–to verbalize what it evokes in me in an organized, thoughtful, well-written blog post. I feel as if I’ve fallen flat. I can only urge you to listen to the song. Listen over and over and over again. And maybe you’ll feel what I’ve attempted (and, I think, failed) to convey.