I am not really a musician, but sometimes popular music does seem to stray into the realm of the mythological, and that's fascinating to me.
Last week daughter had a dance performance and one of the numbers in the program was to the pop song by Australian singer Lenka, "Trouble is a Friend." Apparently this is a very popular song that has been featured on American TV shows, shows that I do not watch. When I heard this song during the performance, I was immediately struck by its stalking 6-note piano riff, ethereal cloud of xylophone notes, and breathy, cute girl vocals. I found it on YouTube, bought it on ITunes, and played it for the rest of the weekend.
The beloved, who is a great music afficionado, thinks this song is nothing special, but I am of the opposite opinion. I think that Lenka has captured something deep and important about the experience of young women in this song, experience mirrored by the story of Pandora.
I have argued in a number of places (here, but mostly in my head) that the story of Pandora is the original teenage girl story-- the tale of a young woman ready for marriage placed into an unfamiliar setting with the terrible potential for unleashing all the ills of the world, plus hope. The fact that I am now the father of a teenage girl has intensified this feeling by about one hundred fold.
Lenka sings as a woman for whom "trouble" is both a friend and a foe. Trouble is envisioned as masculine, of course. He's always there, you can't get rid of him, he makes you feel bad, and yet there's something attractive about him ("I'm a sucker for his charms"). The idea of trouble as omnipresent, negative, and yet attractive, seems to me to encapsulate perfectly the teen girl's simultaneous attraction to and repulsion from "drama," the current buzzword for whatever's happening that is clearly going to be the end of the world, whether it involves boys or not.
Pandora, too, is seen by her creator, Hesiod, the curmudgeonly complainer who was probably a father of teenage girls, as a troublemaker who intentionally opens the jar of ills that Zeus gives her. Far from being a victim, either of circumstances, or of curiosity, Pandora seeks out drama, and this, so Hesiod says, is the downfall of men.
I once wrote a poem about teenage girls in the voice of Hesiod that I like:
Hesiod's Poem To His Teenage Daughter
You are powerful
You have the gifts of the gods
Your outside is impossible and
Your inside is impossible and
You can't help but open
full of spirits
inside and outside me
I can't help myself
as the spirits circle
All I can do is write
Hesiod's helplessness about the teenager is channeled into a myth that becomes one of the most popular stories in the Western world.
The Greeks hoped to rein in the teenage girl by marrying her off young. Part of this is found in the Greek word damar, wife, which literally means "tamed." Nowadays we let young women extend this difficult, drama-filled period of their lives into their twenties and sometimes beyond. Mostly, I am told, you get your daughter back around the age of 22. Hope so.
This is a creepy but highly creative music video of the song, using paper cutouts. It has been viewed by over 5 million people on YouTube, attesting to its status as, if not myth, something very close to it. Tell me what you think.