An Easter Meditation: Death Cab for Jesus

It’s Easter weekend and that should mean something to you. Regardless of how you feel about religion, the church or Christian people; you gotta know that something cataclysmic happened through this Jesus. While the death of Jesus is filled with its own power and cosmic significance, it’s his resurrection and its disruptive implication upon all of us that stirs our unsettled souls and fills us with divine yearning.

To this I respond with a song. Take a moment, click the video, listen, read on and I’ll try to put it all together for you.

I don’t know how many times I’ve listened to this song in the past year. If I had to guess, I would guess over…. one thousand. There’s a depth and breadth to it that resonates within one’s core. The introspection, the examination of life’s details, the witness of death, the sense of loss, and then of course, the haunting and uplifting ending challenge.

It’s a song of counterbalances. Upon first listen, it is quite simple with its metronomic rhythm, simple melody and observational, almost spoken lyrics. However, upon repeated listens it’s complexity is revealed:

There are more than 7 rhythm lines that emerge. There’s the piano, bass, drum, the alternate piano, the vocal line and organ pad – each playing a different complimentary rhythm! Every great song that you love will have this quality.

I have to mention the drum beat. It harkens to an old steam engine that is about to tick and chug to a halt, a musical foreshadowing of the impending demise of the patient. Its simple pattern is deceptively complex. The  12/8 timing would crush most drummers, it’s that damn brilliant.

Did you try to sing along to the song? It’s impossible. It seems simple and sing-songy, but it actually takes incredible effort to hit everything Gibbard sings. The only other instrument that could reproduce his vocal line, maybe be a violin… or a saw! You might expect an emotionless deadpan vocal delivery from this singer, however there’s an affected sweetness that draws you to believe every word he sings. So while the song is quite somber and covers a very serious subject matter, the death of a loved one,  a caring gentleness cradles you through to the end.

Then the break occurs and the whole song dissolves into a reverent moment of silence at Sarah’s melancholic revelation:  “Because love is watching someone die…”

Enter one, lone pulsing and undulating keynote played over and over  in unnerving urgency. Visually it’s like that of a failing heartbeat fluttering on a monitor.

Then, out of nowhere comes the end…

The simmering cymbals and marching drum-like rhythm flutter in.  Soon they’ll be accompanied by the return of the keyboard and guitar hook –  that now sounds strangely eery. The combination of both are so intentionally unsettling and hurried that they practically nudge you to crawl out of your mediocre skin to do something with your f-ing life!

The whole scene has changed. The cardboard set of the ICU falls to the ground as the band tips their hand. They have stopped playing the song and now play to YOU. No longer a raconteur, Gibbard breaks character, looks straight into the camera and becomes the poet-prophet calling out for you to examine your own self: “Who’s gonna watch YOU die???” It is so emotionally expansive and convicting  – it’s prophetic!

That hypnotizing refrain, “Who’s gonna watch you die?” sung over and over. This does something to you. It cuts through all of life’s bullshit. Because in the end you want your life to mean something. Before you take your big sleep, you want your ICU waiting room to be filled with anxious, wailing, saddened lovers and friends.

As a listener, you’ve been duped. Because you see, the song isn’t at all about the sights, sounds and smells of the dying. No, it’s about what you are doing with your LIVING?  That haunting query unglues you. You are provoked to resist everything that conspires to limit, suppress and suffocate your life’s fullness. Shaken from your slumber, you are  called to respond to the question, “Who’s gonna watch you die?” And there is only one, honest and eternal response:  “Hell no, I’m not going that easy! I’m not going to let THIS kill me! I want my life to mean something damnit!”

In my imagination”What Sarah Said” is a postmodern allegory that parallels the  ICU waiting room with Jesus followers at the foot of the cross. Now juxtapose that with our own waiting for Christ’s return and ask yourself, what is your purpose? What are you going to do with the death and resurrection of Jesus? How will our lives be worthy of such a witness and reverence to our own deaths?

The death and resurrection of Jesus does the same thing. Intense and powerful as it is, we can be duped into only appropriating the tragedy of the cross. The deeper scandal is revealed in the resurrection. Because it is there that the truth of the story is revealed. Our faithless hearts are caused to burn within us because he is risen. With bold gladness we realize that we are not hapless prisoners in this life, thus we too can shout, “O Death, where is your victory, O Death where is your sting!” It is this promise of our own eventual resurrection that compels us to do something with our lives.

The Easter story, Christ’s passion for us, his death for all mankind, they are not only about what has happened. It’s about what WE do with it. We’ve all heard, read about, witnessed and know about the death of Jesus and so now an answer is begged of you: So, who’s gonna watch you die? Why?

Who’s gonna watch you die?



About johnmusick

revealist, writer, speaker, consultant, life-coach, polymath
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2 Responses to An Easter Meditation: Death Cab for Jesus

  1. Joshua B says:

    Great blog! Plans is actually my favorite album of all times from any band. I love the actual story of this song where Sarah (a friend of the band) starts to cry when she thinks that one day she’ll have to watch her partner die – or vice versa. Such love that makes one dread the day when they have to depart from their loved one is compelling. How deep and greater is the father’s love for us.

    • johnmusick says:

      I’m embarrassed to say that while I had heard of the group for years, I never really listened to any of their music until last summer! I first heard “What Sarah Said” while at Espresso Royale downtown and was smitten. I too am undone by God’s love!

      Thanks for reading and commenting!

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