Poetry for the Layman #3 - 'HeavyDirtySoul'

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Welcome back!

This installation of the series Poetry for the Layman is going to be different from the others. For the past two posts I have covered older poetry and the focus was in making it understandable for those who don’t have experience in reading poetry. For this post, I will be presenting you with what I call ‘Modern Poetry’, or lyrics if you will, and the focus will shift from simply making it readable to more poetry analysis.
I have chosen for this entry one of the most popular songs by my favorite band, Twenty One Pilots. I intend to do a future series that is a poetry analysis of the works of Tyler Joseph at some point and this provides for a jumping off point. If this particular post is enjoyable than I will know to do more. That being said, let’s dive right in!
For a good poetry analysis, one must understand some of the background and world lenses of the author as well as a history of the work itself. To use a previous poem as an example, it was part of the implied knowledge of the author and when the poem was written that the reader would know that the flea in The Flea would be understood as a metaphor for sex. It was a common perception at the time of writing that sex was a mingling of blood. While this isn’t how sex is seen today, it remains a pivotal part in understanding the substance of the poem. Hence, context is king. The worldview of the author and the time period of the piece are important to understanding it completely.
With that being said, here are a few brief notes about Tyler Joseph of Twenty One Pilots.
First, Joseph is a Christian and his faith plays a large part in his life. As with any person who practices a faith and integrates that into his understanding of the world, it will bleed into things they create. Second, Joseph makes a living writing content that is somewhat ambiguous and abstract in nature leaving much of what he writes open to interpretation, making it perfect for analysis.
And here are a few brief notes about the lyrics from ‘HeavyDirtySoul’, written by Joseph.
‘HeavyDirtySoul’ while the first track on the album Blurryface (May 2015), wasn’t released as a single until over a year and a half later (December 2016). A music video was released two months later in February of 2017. It was also featured as the opening song on the setlists for both the Blurryface Tour (May - November 2015) and the Emotional Roadshow Tour (May 2016 - April 2017). More recently, the song has become a tie from the Blurryface album to the Trench (October 2018) album.

You can catch a spoken word version of this by Tyler Joseph himself here.

Per the set standard for the Poetry for the Layman series, my notes will follow the lyrics they apply to and can be found in italics. As songs tend to repeat portions over the duration of the music, I will be cutting back on the scale of lyrics so that each section is only covered once in my analysis, this will also help the lyrics to flow more like a traditional poem.

By TwenyOnePilots

There's an infestation in my mind's imagination
I hope they choke on smoke cause I'm smoking them out the basement

These opening lines sit as the beginning of the ‘Blurryface’ album and they set the scene for the story Joseph is looking to tell. The central character for this era in Joseph’s works is Blurryface, for whom the album is named. This character acts as a physical representation of Joseph’s own fears and insecurities, which he believes are ones that are common across most of humanity. As with previous works by Joseph, he is seeking to rid himself of this darkness that he fights within himself. This is a common theme across both the albums ‘Vessel’ (2013) and ‘Blurryface’.

This is not rap, this is not hip-hop
Just another attempt to make the voices stop
Rapping to prove nothing, just writing to say something
'Cause I wasn't the only one who
wasn't rushing to say nothing
Joseph is known for his musical ability to blend music styles that traditionally aren’t paired together, such as electropop and rap rock (and a little ukulele thrown in for good measure). ‘HeavyDirtySoul’ is known for being a particularly rap driven song with quickly paced lines. Joseph reminds his audience early on in the song, and the album, that his writing is meant to be more than just a music experience, it’s meant to control something inside himself and something inside us.

This doesn't mean I lost my dream
It's just right now I got a really crazy mind to clean

Joseph has been pouring himself into Twenty One Pilots since 2009, through the changing of bandmates, and the tough road of touring and self-promotion. Making music has been his dream and he has found a place where he is able to do that, and to inspire those around him. These lines are meant to reinforce that his desires are the same, but beyond just writing and creating music there is more he is trying to do.

Gangsters don't cry
Therefore, therefore I'm
Mr. Misty-eyed, therefore I'm

This section, while a bit tongue in cheek, is another pointer to the song being a rap-heavy track. The idea of not crying and remaining ‘misty-eyed’ is a call back to previous lyrics from Joseph, specifically the song ‘March to the Sea’ from the self-titled album released in 2009. In this song, those waiting in line refuse to look to the sky because they might ‘get a raindrop in your eye’ and it would appear that they are crying.

Can you save
Can you save
Can you save my heavy dirty soul?
Can you save
Can you save
Can you save my heavy dirty soul?
For me, for me, oh
Can you save my heavy dirty soul?
For me, for me, oh
Can you save my heavy dirty soul?

This section is the song’s namesake. HeavyDirtySoul, shifts from a reminder to fans that Joseph’s writing is meant to be more than a song to a cry for his soul to be saved. The ‘for me’ implies that he is unable to do so himself, and therefore is asking someone else to do so for him. Leaning on the understand that Joseph is a Christian it is not out of the question to assume he is asking God to save his heavy, dirty, soul, as he is incapable of saving it himself.

No, I didn't understand the thing you said
If I didn't know better, I guess you’re all already dead
Mindless zombies walking around with a limp and a hunch
Saying stuff like, "You only live once"

Here we see a shift back from Joseph’s attention being on asking for help to his words and commentary for the audience. He remarks on the lack of life from those listening, saying that he doesn’t understand what they are trying to communicate, and comparing them to zombies. This theme of the audience being unaware of their current state continues into the promotion of the newest Twenty One Pilots album, Trench (2018) in which the fans anticipating the album's release are regularly reminded that they are ‘asleep’.

You got one time to figure it out
One time to twist and one time to shout
One time to think and I say we start now
Sing with me if you know what I'm talking about

In these lines, Joseph reminds those listening of our own mortality. We have one life on this earth and we need to make it count. We need to take the time to do the things that are important. Joseph also reminds his audience to ‘think’ and to start now. ‘Thinking' is a theme you can find all across Joseph’s lyrics. He has compared thinking to the opposite of being asleep in the song, ‘Car Radio’ from the album Vessel. Joseph often implies in his writing that one cannot truly live if one does not ‘think’.

Death inspires me like a dog inspires a rabbit
Death inspires me like a dog inspires a rabbit

This particular section was interesting to me as my knowledge of rabbits is a bit larger than the average person’s. When rabbits run from a predator they do so over memorized paths. The way rabbit’s brains work, because they are not super big and most of that power is used in analyzing information intake from their large ears and eyes when they are in panic mode, they default back to paths they already have mapped in their minds. They will run a path until they make it back to their hole, their safety. With that knowledge, this last section ends the lyrics on an interesting note. Joseph is saying that death springs him into action, it spurs him to run. But to someone who knows a bit more about not just rabbits, but Joseph’s background, we find it to be no great leap to imagine that death inspires him to take action. Death inspires him to follow paths that lead him home.

Hopefully,  you enjoyed this newest installation of Poetry for the Layman! If you are wanting to know more about Twenty One Pilots, or Tyler Joseph as a writer, I would suggest that you check out their website here.

Credit to the artist, Jamie Street, for this post's art.