In honor of last night’s experience trying to sleep , I decided it would be a good thing to reflect on a song that has long been a favorite of mine, but one which I have held back in reviewing because in many ways it is too personal of a song for me. At any rate, this particular song is one of those which reflects my own philosophy about writing as well as many of the concerns that my personal writings deal with. Given that I tend to think about issues that are not particularly uncommon, I figured it would be good to look at the issue of writing as a way of coping with life, and a look at some of the issues that tend to rob us of sleep and peace of mind, not only for Miss Nalick, but also for me.
Although this song was not a huge hit, it has been the most successful song by far of the singer’s career, being the only song of hers to crack the Hot 100, peaking at #45, as well as #4 on the Adult Contemporary charts. Part of the song’s success was probably due to the fact that it received a great deal of popular attention in movies and television, striking a nerve with producers as well as listening audiences who heard the song and related to its confessional lyrics about love and art and sorrow . As a melancholy ballad, the song tends to particularly hit home for me as well given my own personality and inclinations.
The first verse of “Breathe (2 AM) reads as follows: “2 AM and she calls me ’cause I’m still awake, / “Can you help me unravel my latest mistake?/ I don’t love him, winter just wasn’t my season. / Yeah we walk through the doors, so accusing their eyes, / Like they have any right at all to criticize. / Hypocrites, you’re all here for the very same reason .” Here we see the song begin at 2AM, a most inauspicious time to be awake, when a friend of the narrator (presumably the singer/songwriter) is calling because she is in a relationship with someone who is too dark and gloomy for her tastes. So her friend takes her to a bar, and everyone looks at the friend like she is a whore for going out looking for guys even though she is with someone else, even though most of them are in that bar at that time for that exact reason–not wanting to go home to unhappy relationships. All too often people try to self-medicate their problems with alcohol and sex, both things that people tend to be looking for at a bar. It is immensely hypocritical for people to make fun of those doing the exact same thing for the same reasons.
In the second verse, Anna Nalick turns her melancholy pen to sing about a depressed young soldier boy who drowns his sorrows in alcohol but who has a beautiful smile, even if it is seldom seen: “In May he turned 21 on the base at Fort Bliss. / “Just a Day,” he said down to the flask in his fist, / “Ain’t been sober, since maybe October of last year.” / Here in town you can tell he’s been down for awhile, / But, my God, it’s so beautiful when the boy smiles. / Wanna hold him, maybe I’ll just sing about it.” Despite his alcohol-related depression, the singer-songwriter longs to hold the fellow, presumably out of love and affection for him. However, showing some emotional distance from her longings for love and affection, she sings about the sad young man instead of holding him close, as she would prefer to do. Here again, we see that the singer’s company appears a bit too enamored with alcohol as a way of coping with difficulties, suggesting a bad influence on the actor as well as a shared sort of melancholy.
The bridge and the third verse show the singer’s reflectiveness about the experiences of herself and her friends and her own use of writing as a way to cope with life’s difficulties: “There’s a light at each end of this tunnel, / You shout ’cause you’re just as far in as you’ll ever be out. / And these mistakes you’ve made, you’ll just make them again / If you only try turning around. / 2 AM and I’m still awake, writing a song. / If I get it all down on paper, it’s no longer / Inside of me threatening the life it belongs to. / And I feel like I’m naked in front of the crowd, / ‘Cause these words are my diary, screaming out loud, / And I know that you’ll use them however you want to.” All too often people keep making the same mistakes over and over again because they simply run away from their experiences (turning around) rather than really soul searching and repenting and changing their ways. All too easily we fall into the same patterns, not seeing that the lights in the tunnel that we see are sometimes trains ready to run us over. Interestingly enough, the closing verse of the song has the songwriter awake at the same time as her friend going to the bar, but instead of drinking like her friend and the young man she loves, instead she chooses to pour her sorrows out into her songs, writing to keep her thoughts and feelings from threatening her life and well-being, even if she knows that being open and honest about her reflections exposes her to the harshness of others who would take her openness and take her words and twist them against her. And yet even knowing that her words will be used against her by the wicked and the unscrupulous, she still insists on openness and creativity as her way of coping with life’s vicissitudes. I can certainly relate.
These various themes are united by the chorus, which goes slightly differently but largely the same after the three verses: “‘Cause you can’t jump the track, we’re like cars on a cable, / And life’s like an hourglass, glued to the table. / No one can find the rewind button, boys, / So cradle your head in your hands. / And breathe, just breathe. / Oh breathe, just breathe.” We can’t rewind the things that have happened to us, as much as we might want to, so we might as well take a breath and just keep on doing the best we can, even if time only runs one way in our earthly lives and that is away from us. We’re also all interconnected with each other so we can’t jump the cable and just go whatever path we want. This is true even if one is awake at 2AM writing sad songs about our lives and the lives of those around us. For truly Anna Nalick and I have the same sort of mentality about our works, the same honesty and sincerity and openness, and the same concerns about time, love, life, and loneliness. Such is the life.