Andrew Bird’s Noble Beast, Part 6: “Anonanimal”

With “Anonanimal” Andrew Bird has provided us with lyrics and a video that seem to be about some sort of “evolution”. I may be taking him to literally (which I may have done when I began this series) if I suppose that he is actually and only speaking in this song of the “scientific theory of evolution”. Therefore I think it is quite possible that he is speaking of some other sort of “evolution” – and using some personification of primitive animal forms to portray the human struggle?

But I do think that some of the things he says show that he may be trying to draw upon the supposed “correspondence” of primitive animal life to human life which makes some sort of “lesson” possible. It is also interesting to note that even the Bible sometimes teaches humans lessons from primitive forms such as ants:

Go to the ant, O sluggard;
consider her ways, and be wise. (Proverbs 6:6 ESV)

ANONANIMAL

by Andrew Bird, 2009 Fat Possum Records

I see a sea anemone
The enemy
See a sea anemone
And that’ll be the end of me.

While the vicious fish is caught unawares in the tenderest of tendrils
Underneath the tender gills

I will become this animal
Perfectly adapted to the music halls
I will become this animal
Anomalous appendages
A non-animal

Hold on just a second
Don’t tell me this one you know
I know this one I know this song
I know this one I love this song
Hold on just a second
Don’t tell me this one you know
I know this one I know this song
I know this one I love this song
I know this one

Underneath the stalactites
The troglobites lost their sight
Uh oh

The seemingly innocuous plecostomus
though posthumous
They talk to us
They talk too much

See a sea anemone
The enemy
See a sea anemone
That’ll be the end of me
Vicious fish was caught unawares
In the tend’rest tendrils
Underneath her tender gills and

I will become this animal
Perfectly adapted to a music hall
I will become this animal

Anomalous appendages
A non-animal

He begins the song with a description of life. It is as though he is the “vicious fish” that is caught unaware underneath it’s tender gills by the tenderest tendrils of the enemy anemone. I again marvel at the lyricism of Mr. Bird! The meaning here seems to include the following things: we are in some sense “vicious” although we have vulnerable “tender” parts; we have “enemies” that we “see” as beautiful, which also have “tender” parts, and also quite deadly; we can easily meet our “end”; life is dangerous. Overall this undersea snapshot shows the beauty and danger of all life.

Next he speaks of the necessity of adaptation. Because of the nature of life he will become “this animal…”. The animal he will become has “anomalous (deviating from what is expected) appendages” that make him “perfectly adapted to the music halls”. Is Andrew Bird saying he is the result of physical evolution from the vicious fish to what he is now – a human being? Or is he just using personification to show that what he became – a musical artist – is how he has adapted to life? Or is the answer not “either or” but “both and”? It is also difficult to know if he means that he is now not an animal because he is a non-animal, or if he could be saying that he is “anon” animal meaning somewhat anonymous? Of course he is much less anonymous with his career which seems to be becoming more successful by the day although it is possible that he still feels anonymous in some existential sense. And certainly an animal that uses its anomalous (aberrant) appendages to play violin, guitar, etc. is probably a good case for transcending animalhood (when was the last time you saw an animal playing an instrument?) G.K. Chesterton, noting the strangeness of man said

“The simplest truth about man is that he is a very strange being; almost in the sense of being a stranger on the earth. In all sobriety, he has much more of the external appearance of one bringing alien habits from another land than of mere growth of this one.” (The Everlasting Man, p. 36)

He then seems to speak of the riddle of life. The section beginning “Hold on just a second…” seems to be Andrew Bird anticipating the response of the listener who also senses the “life correspondence” in their own experience or it is a narrative of his own experience of realization. It is also noted that the riddle like lyrics: “don’t tell me this one – I know this one” show that although life is more of a song (“I know this song – I love this song”) than an actual riddle, that it is a riddle in the sense that it calls on us to figure it out. It is interesting that whatever read we give the song, ranging from physical evolution to human experience, that in any case life is something that calls for “knowing” or in other words, for meaning.

The rest of the song repeats what has already been discussed, except for the stories of the troglobites and the plecostomus. Troglobites are small cave dwelling forms of life including spiders, insects, salamanders, and fish, that have adapted to their surroundings and cannot now survive outside that habitat they have adapted to. Is Andrew Bird’s “Uh oh” saying that “adaptation” can be negative and bring blindness, or is he saying that adaptation may appear bad to one species but is what is actually necessary and beneficial depending on the actual habitat?

The plecostomus he curiously speaks of as “posthumous.” They are tropical fish, the scavenging algae eaters we use in our aquariums as vacuum cleaners. Somehow though dead, they still speak (see Hebrews 11:4). In fact, according to Andrew Bird, they “talk too much.”  Perhaps he is saying that the death of any creature reminds us of the nature of life as always subject to death.

So is Andrew Bird here presenting an actual theory of life? One thing I can say is that he once again has wondrously used music and lyrics to raise some interesting thoughts about life and its meaning. I will wait until after another song review to add a concluding post that will address some conclusions of different views of the nature of life and their importance as influencing humankind for better or worse.

Bryan M. Christman 4/15/12

Original Content © Bryan M. Christman and Manifest Propensity, 2012. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Bryan M. Christman and Manifest Propensity with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

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