Check out Andrew Bird's new single, "I felt a Funeral, in my Brain," which features Phoebe Bridgers. The project is a collaboration with the Emily Dickinson Museum, and the video features handwritten transcripts along with footage of Emily Dickinson's lifelong home.
Andrew Bird has recorded a collaboration with Phoebe Bridgers billed as a "reimagination" of the Emily Dickinson poem "I felt a Funeral in my Brain." According to Bird (whose latest album, Inside Problems, was released this past summer): "I came across this Emily Dickinson poem and found it to be the most vivid description of an inner world I've ever encountered—it became an inspiration for the songs on Inside Problems. Who better to sing it with than Phoebe Bridgers? I sent her a demo and so, here we are."
Bird and Bridgers are an ideal duo for turning this poem into a song: as songwriters they are both masterful scene-setters, and inhabit the characters of their songs with almost eerie presence, as if haunting their own material. Bridgers is particularly suited for the spectral, otherworldly nature of Dickinson's poem, and when she comes in on the fourth verse—"As all the Heavens were a Bell"—it's an arresting moment, rich, beautiful, and just a little bit spooky.
Andrew Bird often employs literary themes in his music. His single "Atomized," which was released in early 2022, was inspired by Joan Didion's essays about the atomization of life in mid-twentieth-century America. Stacy Chandler, writing for No Depression: The Journal of Roots Music, explains that Didion saw 1960s America as:
a dark time in which society and she herself were falling apart. Didion was building on a famous line from the poet W. B. Yeats, who wrote in his World War I-era poem "The Second Coming": "Things fall apart; the center cannot hold."
Here in 2022, Bird finds pieces flying too, with technology taking the blame for pushing us apart and making it harder to find our humanity. ("Things fall apart" gets a plum spot in the lyrics of Bird's "Atomized.")
Bird also took up Greek mythology in his 2019 album, My Finest Work Yet, which features probably my favorite Andrew Bird song, "Sisyphus." Cameron Young, writing for The Student, states:
Bird comes closest to the mainstream indie-pop with tracks 'Olympians' and 'Sisyphus', both of which feature triumphant, accessible choruses. The latter grapples with the moral consequences that ensue if you "let the rock roll." Throughout the track, the Greek mythology figure Sisyphus is used as a metaphor for man's, and possibly Andrew Bird's, search for meaning in life. The lyric, "at the precipice pause" references a Camus essay discussing when Sisyphus is at the top of the mountain, hesitating and becoming conscious of the futility of his rock-rolling routine. The bleak subject matter is countered by Bird's 'Life of Brian'-esque whistling solo and buoyant piano line.
I highly recommending jumping into some Andrew Bird if you're not already a fan. I was fortunate enough to see him right before the pandemic shut everything down, and it was probably one of my top five favorite shows of all time. He's extremely talented and incredibly engaging. He's touring now through April 2023—go see him if you can!