It’s no secret that I love Typhoon; I love their size, their sound, their words, their references. I love how they all work together like a cohesive, chaotic storm and the fact that they so brilliantly use brass and string. I love how interconnected and intellectual their lyrics are. I love everything about them.
Today marks the one year anniversary of the release of Typhoon’s third musical triumph and I think I’ve finally listened to it enough to be able to put into words the story/concept/tale of White Lighter and what it’s all about.
Unlike Hunger and Thirst (whose conclusion marks the start of the following album) and A New Kind of House (which left the listener wondering if Morton managed to “pay [his] debts” and “start anew” [Firewood] like he declared he would), White Lighter has a sense of completion in terms of its story.
The whole album is, by their own admission, more or less a chronological tale of front-man Kyle Morton’s life and starts “in the beginning” [Artificial Light], the very beginning; as in, start of the universe beginning, in Artificial Light.
The song is a prelude of sorts to the album, even giving it it’s title as Morton declares that some mystical “artificial light” that “everyone [has been] bow[ing] their heads towards” since the dawn of time has resulted in people viewing the world in so many different ways and resulting in so many different actions and thoughts.
He claims (or at least, I believe him to claim) that the world’s different “lovers…fighters” and various other world views stem from seeing the world differently; that people’s artificial lights (purpose, religion, reason, worldview) are all unique. Morton’s artificial light, he specifies, is the titular White Lighter in that he feels cursed to die young.
For those of you unfamiliar with the White Lighter myth, four musicians (Kurt Cobain, Janis Joplin, Jim Morrison and Jimmi Hendrix) were all left handed, all died at 27 and all had in their pockets at the time of death, a Bic white lighter. When you realise that 27 is the same age as Morton was when he wrote the album, and consider his life story (which I’ll get to in a moment) you can begin to see the link that he’s made and begin to see why he believes he has an “expiration date” [Prosthetic Love].
Now, before moving onto Morton’s more personal story I wish to talk about life in general and the idea of morality which Morton toys with in the album. Just like he carefully thinks through (or appears to think through) every single thing in his life and the universe, he doesn’t stray from exploring the idea of evil in our world. He notes how there are so many “scares” and bad things “on the front page” of every newspaper we read; wars, “ice age[s]” and how, through our consumeristic society, it is more or less caused by us. He states that we now live in a world where we’re terrified for the lives of our children, because of the “world that we’ve willed them”.
And, now here’s the kicker, it’s become such commonplace, we’ve just accepted that this is the way the world is now and it’s become trivial “dinner party conversation” [Young Fathers].
Following Young Fathers, Morton’s Fork and Possible Deaths (the depressing part of the album) deal with the notion of mortality as Kyle realises that he’s not going to “live forever” [Morton’s Fork]; that death isn’t just ‘possible’ but inevitable.
He realises that, be it “cancer” or an “accident” [Possible Death], we are all “shit out of luck” [Reed Road] in our destinies and we will all suffer the same fate; just like the dilemma of Morton’s Fork (two choices which inevitably lead to the same disastrous outcome. I’d like to praise Morton here for his double use of the phrase) Morton realises that no choice he makes in life will ever prevent the inevitable; that just like the stars he stares out at in Possible Deaths, he is already dead.
Depressing and morbid? Certainly. Perhaps it was written about a time in Morton’s life where he did not have a positive outlook; I don’t know, I’m not him and I can only speculate, just like I will speculate that both songs, although essentially depressing, have a hint of happiness.
They contain a glimpse of the perfect contentment found at the close of the album as Morton claims that we have to try and “catch” and savour “the time that we have left” [Possible Death] and, with an uplifting chorus of his peers, he declares that although he may be alone, everyone is “in this” trial “together” [Morton’s Fork].
From here, the album becomes less ambiguous and metaphorical, and more specific as Morton tells, with beautiful imagery, of his contraction of Lyme disease through “a bug” that “bit [his] leg” [The Lake] meaning that he didn’t “get bigger” his body didn’t “grow up to be [him]self” [Artifical Light] or at least not the self he envisioned as a child and not the self that people told him he would be.
So now, as a result, he “pin[es] for the things [he] could have been” and keeps “starting over” [Hunger and Thirst] in the hopes of being something better, or different, or, perhaps, something closer to the person he dreamed as a child. But, alas, his results are trivial, and he becomes too much like his cynical character from Dreams of Cannibalism; unwilling and slow to change. Repeating the same mistakes, pining for the same things, and building “the same damn house” [Dreams of Cannibalism] rather than building A New Kind of House and moving on (moving forward) with his life.
More aftermath and fallout from Morton’s illness is touched on in The Lake. It tells how he cursed at the universe that his friends got the girls
“…my closest friend the one that I confided to/ I wanted her, but she wanted you…”
This notion also likely also demonstrates how bitter he was to the people around him who got to be all of the things, and enjoy all the things that he had so hoped to do. But instead he was cursed to be stuck “sick in bed”.
It tells how he resented and “disowned [his] own family” and friends, how he felt “ashamed” for not feeling “good enough”, and how he prayed to “be anyone else”.
The album then moves on as he moved on, to more or less the present in a rather joyful sounding Hunger and Thirst where he finally accepts what he cannot change, stops “pining” and finally moves into A New Kind Of House.
Whether it’s because of the “inspiration” gained from his Young Father, the endless love he received from his family who never “lov[ed] him like the way [they’d] love[ed] anyone else” or just a gradually gained knowledge, he finally declares that he no longer cares to be the things that he’d originally aimed for.
He no longer reflects the sentiment that he will be “Caesar or nothing” (an old quote, touched on by Kierkegaard who Morton frequently references, in which a man “because he did not get to be Caesar, now cannot bear to be himself” (The Sickness Unto Death p. 19), and thus sees himself as nothing). Instead he accepts that the “lives [he’s] let go” still “live” with him [Hunger and Thirst] in that they’ve helped make him who his.
He chooses to be “happy” [Caesar], in spite of everything.
Now in Common Sentiments, Morton, called by a “white ghost from [his] past” and eerie voices in his “dial tone”, takes a brief look back at when he was younger, ill, “passing out cold” and wondering when he will finally be better.
He uses this gift of retrospect to remind himself to stop waiting for a “spell” to make him better and instead commit to “make [him]self” better so he can “bear the fair or foul weather” that life brings; so he can take all life throws at him. He’s commited to “be[ing]” good” despite the fact that his “body be broken”. He’s committed to moving forward with his life, a sentiment (if you’ll pardon the pun) partially seen in Artificial Light, but also seen conclusively in Post Script (yet another Kierkegaard reference).
Post Script concludes the album by taking a look into Morton’s future, as he grows old and his face “harden[s]” with time alongside the love of his life, whom Morton loves “unconditionally” [Post Script]. The woman is described poetically in Artificial Light where he realises that, like life, he cannot hold onto her forever and that trying to do so would be like trying to take a “photograph of a sunset” and fully capture its beauty. He does not, however, let this sentiment effect his love for her. His response, in fact, is quite the opposite, readily declaring that he wants to go through life with her; he wants to buy a house, “grow a garden” and do all of those cute coupley things with her.
In short, he is finally content and happy or, as this is us looking into the future, he finally believes he will be content and happy and he firmly declares that he’s going to “finish what [he] started” in life and that “growing up” was, all in all “more appealing” than he originally thought in his tragic childhood.
This notion of love, acceptance of his life, Morton’s sense of comforting contentment in addition to the captivatingly beautiful three minute string piece, provides the listener with a comforting sense of conclusion and an anticipatory sense of excitement as we wait patiently for the next chapter in Typhoon’s cynical book.
And we didn’t have to wait long either, with the whole album being ever so eloquently epilogued with Reed Road; a track which Morton claimed was just not ready to be placed on the album.
In all the live recordings I’ve found of the song (the only recordings there are), Reed Road is segued into from an epic version of Caesar and neatly summarises, like any good epilogue should, and parallels the whole White Lighter album as, “like a film strip” we “go for a ride” through Morton’s life.
We see reflections in that the notion of mortality is touched upon once again in Reed Road, with Morton declaring that we were all “born in a hospital bed” and we will all “return to the hospital bed”.
We see reflections in the chorus of Morton’s peers claiming that they love him more than (or in spite of) his illness and, if they can help it, they won’t let him fade away just like they never “lov[ed] him like the way [they’d] love[ed] anyone else” in The Lake.
We see reflections in the “school that taught [him] to talk when [he] had nothing to say” [Reed Road] and its similarity to the naivety he had when he was a child, just “learn[ing] to talk” [Caesar] and claiming he wants to be Caesar.
We see reflections in how taking the time to “see where [he’s] from”, just like in Common Sentiments, a light has been turned on to “all the lies [he’s] told” [Reed Road] and the truths he’s buried (see The Lake) has allowed him to changed his perspective.
We see reflections in how his “friends[,] lovers” and the “people [he] hates” [Reed Road] all came together to help form him into the man he his, much like the characters, “foes and lovers” in Morton’s cynical book from Dreams of Cannibalism who all became identical and contributed to our hero’s supposed lack of change.
I say supposed because, come the end of Reed Road, just like at the end of the album, it is clear that Morton has chosen to change. Clear as he realises that all “six billion moths” (perhaps representative of the people in the world) are flying towards “a fire in the forest”, an artificial light, if you will. Here, those “moths are all gonna die”, the trivial “things that they like” impaling and destroying them.
Morton, on the other hand, chooses a different path and decides to walk “away from the fire”, towards “the ocean”, deciding to accept redemption from God’s (I’m assuming, I am unaware of Morton’s religious views) or else some ambiguous person’s “offer to no longer be tortured”.
Or, at least, that is my interpretation.