Obsess over a song: “Agoraphobia” by Deerhunter
There are certain songs which pull me in, and that I obsess over.
Agoraphobia is a Deerhunter song from 2008 off the album Microcastle, and it’s one of those. In other words, I listen to it obsessively and can’t help but write about the reasons that it’s compelling.
It’s a simple song melodically and structurally, but complex and haunting lyrically and texturally. Although it’s in a major key (“happy-sounding” in theory), its mood is restrained and the lyrics address a subject only occasionally explored in rock music: crippling anxiety and a desire to escape one’s own body.
What’s special about Agoraphobia is that Cox describes what would typically be a nightmare scenario (losing all freedom and senses) and paints it as a seductive fantasy. And it’s contagious! The dream-like guitars and detached vocals envelop us in a place where we float without our senses, and gain clarity and peace.
Bradford Cox is the principal component of Deerhunter. Cox has Marfan’s syndrome. He has discussed having body image issues, and has described himself as gay and/or asexual, depending on his confidence level.
It’s easy to imagine Cox penning these words as an outsider who wants to escape his body and the anxiety brought on by interactions with others in society. He stoically paints his fantasy of fading out completely. To listen to this song is to enter this enclosed room and disappear in his dream.
A ghostly-sounding Cox immediately opens the song, over levitating guitars, with:
Cover me, cover me / Comfort me, comfort me
His idea of comfort (from his agoraphobia) is to be covered, or buried, perhaps alive.
The first verse is:
I had a dream
No longer to be free
I want only to see
Four walls made of concrete
Nothing to stare at but blank walls…and the security and seclusion they provide.
He describes it further:
6 by 6 enclosed
See me on video, oh, oh, oh
Feed me twice a day
I want to fade away, away
The already-strikingly-thin Cox wants to witness his own disintegration, as if in an out of body experience. And underneath these self-erasing lyrics, the drums and guitar gain momentum, pushing the chord progression back around the corner, back into ethereal vamping.
And after some time
I know I would go blind
But seeing only binds
Vision to the eye
This verse is where the lyrical high note. Cox’s resignation is complete, and includes losing his eyesight, but in his fantasy, this will grant him clarity, inner vision and peace. He realizes that vision is a construction of more than the eyes, including all the senses and the mind in concert. Daredevil knows this perfectly well.
Anyway, the only reason Cox can imagine this place of calm is because he dreamt it, not because he saw it with his own two (unnecesary) eyes.
It also rhymes beautifully. This verse rhymes internally, and Cox delivers it in a lethargic sing-song nursery rhyme. It’s a catchy and brilliant way of stating that our senses are no more real than our thoughts.
The lyrics conclude with another lost sense:
I’d lose my voice, I know
But I’ve nothing left to say
Nothing left to pray
No echo in this place
More resignation, or rationalization. Cox has an escapist fantasy, to depart from reality altogether, to no longer exist. Are there no echoes because his four concrete walls are too close to reflect and reverberate sound? More likely, the echoes are quiet because he’s ceased to make a sound.
A 90 second instrumental section ends the song, as fuzzed-out melodies join in over the cloud-like vamping. Cox has nothing left to say…he’s escaped into a cloud of noise and guitars. The lushness of the sound similarly lends to our own disintegration, the perfect soundtrack for staring into a blank wall.