mewithoutYou – “Michael, Row Your Boat Ashore”
Sometimes more is said through how something is expressed than the precise words being articulated. I’d be lying if I said that I’ve cracked the hidden meaning behind every lyric of “Michael, Row Your Boat Ashore.” Heron of the past with a baked clay! / Truth swans! kaleidoscopic highway!…??? Your guess is as good as mine, but I’ll be damned if Aaron doesn’t sound convincing as hell when he screams it at the top of his lungs, as if it were the most important message he’s ever conveyed. But there’s a startlingly sad truth behind this song, and really all of [Untitled], that beckons you to have a little patience with this swirling vortex of distortion and mind-numbing screams.
Weiss’ struggles with depression and identity are well-documented, and this song represents his breaking point. It’s something he slyly alludes to in the next song – the album’s closer, which really serves as more of an outro to “Michael” than anything substantial – when he sings, have I established a pattern, perhaps a bi-annual mental collapse? – followed by a forlorn someday I’ll find me. It’s a moment of lucidity – his “coming down” – following this episode of absolute heightened panic, where he is far less eloquent. On “Michael, Row Your Boat Ashore”, he sings to his bandmate and brother (not-so-coincidentally also named Michael) about feeling as though he is slowly losing his mind – like he’s sinking and can no longer steer the ship: Michael, won’t you row that boat ashore? Your little brother can’t paddle anymore! It’s as heartbreaking of a moment as any in mewithoutYou’s notoriously poignant lyrical catalogue, allegedly based upon a real conversation that the two siblings shared over the phone.
That’s the thing about “Michael” – at a cursory glance it seems to be absolute nonsense, but there’s enough nuggets of coherence to suggest that Weiss is actually just that elaborate – that everything, even the stuff nobody could possibly understand – carries some form of minuscule meaning to the near-manic frontman. It’s kind of like that moment at the conclusion of “Rainbow Signs”, where Weiss alludes to an inside joke between him and his late father. He never bothers to divulge it, because he values that intimacy – it’s something no one else will ever know besides him and his dad. I get the feeling that there are shades of that occurring here as well, where certain lines offer clarity – like Wonder who’ll my children be? Strangers like their mom and me? – while others intentionally leave listeners scratching their heads because, well, Aaron simply doesn’t want us to see every inch of insanity going on behind the curtain.
And that’s essentially what “Michael” is – a curtain, or this wall of hazy reverb and discordance – designed to keep us at bay while Weiss has a moment with himself to release all of the pent up anger, confusion, and pain devouring him from the inside out. It’s one of his “bi-annual mental collapses” as he coined it, just sheer emotion and intensity flung against the wall where everything doesn’t have to make sense. Basically, we’re listening to Aaron losing his mind. Weiss’ seemingly casual conversation with the archangel Gabriel adds another existential dimension, where he pleads about his path to everlasting life (am I still on that narrow way?). It’s both awesome and unnerving at the same time.
I always felt like this song was a little misunderstood. When I first heard it, I was blown away by its sheer intensity – from the mind-blowing drum fills to the electrifying riffs – but I had no idea just how deep the whole thing went. I think that a lot of mewithoutYou fans still have yet to peel away those layers. There’s so much going on here that – even as I sit here over six months past this song’s release, acting like I know what’s going on – I’m still certain that I could expound upon more meanings years from now. There’s endless layers; it’s a bottomless pit of rage, confusion, and fear. I will never stop discovering new things about “Michael, Row Your Boat Ashore”, and amid all the ugliness, that’s quite the beautiful prospect.