The Body, The Blood, The Machine: Getting Back Up in a Scarier World
3 December 2016 Music
By: Erik Svensson
photo Courtesy of last.fm
There is some irony in 2016 being the ten year anniversary of The Thermals’ opus, The Body, The Blood, The Machine. It’s an album written around the concept of a couple attempting to escape a United States controlled by a fascist government pretending to protect Christianity in order to oppress and kill its citizens. Presented to the world in what now seems like a comparatively benign time, these songs feel grimly appropriate to the fears that many face at the onset of a Trump presidency.
It was written in the middle of the Bush administration, centered on an imagined dystopia, the worst possible outcome of a government takeover by bigots and fear mongers. With every appointment announced by our new president-elect, many people become increasingly genuinely scared for their own human rights.
No one dared believe we could ever come to such a tipping point so abruptly. Hours before polls closed, it seemed as if the themes of the album would be pushed further from reality. Yet now, we exist in a situation so dangerously close to living out the situations in The Body, already terrified of neo fascists being put into power, shocked that a wall is still on our new president-elect’s agenda and appalled at the obvious parallels to past horrors, as our president-elect ran on with a plan to force Muslims to register their religion.
Hutch Harris, singer, guitarist and songwriter for The Thermals writes for The Talkhouse about his feelings on the relevance of the songs contained on The Body, stating, “I’m not happy with the fact that they sound like they were written this year — by Trump himself. (Trump has already begun naming his undesirables, starting with Muslims, Mexicans and pregnant women.)”
“An Ear For Baby” contains lyrics that bring to mind promises of a new wall, among other things, presented as orders to the listener, “Draw the bridges, dig the ditches deep, we’re gonna need a new border / Get thyself in line for your reassignment, for the new first world order.” Another strange parallel that can be found between 2016 and The Body is in the song “Power Doesn’t Run On Nothing.” The song contains lines like “so give us what we’re asking for / cause either way we’re gonna take it / our power doesn’t run on nothing / we need the land you’re standing on / so let’s go, move it” and “they’ll give us what we’re asking for / cause god is with us / and our god is the richest.”
The meaning behind the song is apparent when analyzed; focused on the displacement of people solely for the oil beneath their feet. For those engaged with the issue, these lyrics very obviously bear a resemblance to the situation in North Dakota, where the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe is protesting against the Dakota Access Pipeline, which has the potential to harm the drinking water and environment of the Native Americans living there. The album paints a bleak picture for listeners, and the imagery of a government openly persecuting its citizens, hunting those who try to escape and trying to isolate itself further from the rest of the world is all more anxiety-inducing than ever.
The Body is not without hope however, and this article is not to bleakly wallow in fear of the possibilities of what may come, or to point at these songs and just say, “look how wild this shit is,” and make no effort to fight back against such horror. The Body, The Blood, The Machine is not a work that aims to make listeners despair at the thought of such horrors being inflicted upon our country and our fellow human beings, as much as the lyrical content imparts tales of woe from dystopia. The Body contains an inexplicable force that feels as if it was always meant to be heard at moments like this in our lives.
As Judy Berman writes for Pitchfork, “Art can only counterbalance suffering by propelling those of us who have the autonomy to act past hopelessness. Albums like The Body are reasons to live, not die.” Just as Berman writes about not giving up, The Thermals are not giving in either. Recently the band donated a large portion of show profits to Planned Parenthood and encouraged fans to donate as well. This counterbalance to negativity and refusal to give in to hopelessness is part of why there’s power in this album. The songs collected on The Body can and ought to be used as a fuel to remind listeners why they need to fight against a government’s seemingly rapid descent into maddening bigotry and corporate conflict of interest. In a piece for Watt, Harris expressed a similar view about the power of music, stating: “They can evoke the most powerful emotions inside of us, at times when we feel brittle and broken. They can be cleansing, at times when we feel we will never be clean again. Most importantly, songs are absolutely unbreakable.They are powerful tools that we will continue to use in an never-ending battle against fascism.”
The survival of our human rights and the safety of marginalized people doesn’t run on nothing. It runs on the will to fight and the engagement of its citizens; those who would strip our fellow human beings of their rights run on compliance, complacency and apathy. Let’s not give them their fuel.