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Coldplay - The Hardest Part

(Text as at 18/12/2010 19:58:05)

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I’d been intending to write a brief animadversion on the ambiguity of artistic productions, and the conflict between aesthetics and control. Assuming that you have something to say, and are not using precise prose to say it, how do you prevent yourself being misunderstood without compromising the aesthetics of the method of presentation of your message? Should you be concerned that your work will be misunderstood and abused? We think of the Nazis’ misapplication of Nietzsche and Darwin. Maybe their use of Wagner was nothing more than legitimate application. However, is there a uniquely correct interpretation of a work of art, whether this is great art or a lesser work, or is a level of ambiguity necessary to all art? Do artists – in particular in the auditory or visual arts – in general have a message that is even clear to themselves? We might bring to mind didactic art of the Soviet of Nazi kind. This has a message that cannot be mistaken, but is it art?

I’m sure much has been written on this subject within the province of the philosophy of aesthetics and other philosophical disciplines, of which I’m ignorant. However, I’ve recently been sent a YouTube link to a Coldplay video that seems to me to have been popularly misunderstood. At least that is the impression given by the comments associated with it on YouTube, and the intentions of the originator of the forwarded email I received. You should probably view the video before proceeding, if you’ve not already done so (0.1% of the world’s population seem to have if YouTube counts distinct viewers). Click YouTube: Coldplay - The Hardest Part to view Coldplay’s The Hardest Part.

Well, if you like Coldplay you’ll think it a cracking good tune - but what about the video? The circular email implies that it has a feel-good, optimistic message, but this seems to be the opposite of what is intended. Of course, the video is not produced by Coldplay themselves – see Wikipedia (Click Wikipedia: The Hardest Part (Coldplay song))) for some background, and follow Coldplay - The Hardest Part (Lyrics) for the lyrics to this and other Coldplay songs – so we have another interpretive layer to dig through.

We can assume that either the band, or the video producer, intended the video and the lyrics of the song to be connected. You can’t generalise about sentiments, but I’d have thought most English viewers would find something vaguely hideous about the video, or at least some points of tension. It’s very cleverly done – especially the cloak thrown across the stage – but there are intentional clashes in it, and it makes you feel uncomfortable – or ought to. The band comes from England rather than America, so probably shares this viewpoint. The producers of the 1980’s show, an excerpt from which has been spliced in with the band’s performance, obviously intended the message to be positive. We can go on and on. Though we’re in late middle-age, life isn’t over yet – just look what a somewhat wobbly 84-year-old can do! Yet there are obvious tensions within the video. The introductory and terminal music from the show is horribly strident, especially when compared with the tunefulness of the track itself, and the gleeful enthusiasm of the show hosts and participants grates against the cynicism to be expected of any self-respecting bunch of British artists.

But it’s the lyrics that really give the game away. “The hardest part was letting go, not taking part". It’s just blindingly obvious that the intention of the video – in showing someone who refuses to let go and takes part too late – is to illustrate these sentiments. That there are nevertheless tensions is what makes letting go “the hardest part”. And the sentiment “Everything I do it just comes undone, and everything is torn apart” – timed to coincide with the old lady’s final wobble – undermines any feel-good factor somewhat.

I thought the old lady had been taken advantage of. She’s obviously skilled – presumably once a professional dancer - proud and “good for her age”. The fact that she wobbles at the end is very poignant, and would be humiliating were she not past the age of most humiliation and treated like a little child for whom allowances must be made. This is the ultimate humiliation and makes the whole episode ugly. She’s treated like a performing puppy with grotesque condescension. She looked as though she had some integrity about her that was totally lacking in all those around, who were using her for their own ends. Also, why does a society with such a strong belief in post-mortem existence find appeal in not letting go of this life? Whether we are to remark that she is now well dead is possible but doubtful – it may be a step too far.

Quite why Coldplay should consider this a “terrible song, good video”, and connect it to REM’s Losing My Religion escapes me. Both aspects seem excellent to me, and the only connection with REM I could see was the vague “I wonder what it’s all about” lyric.

I’d also recommend Coldplay’s The Scientist (Coldplay - The Scientist (Video)). It’s very clever – especially as the miming runs forward while the video as a whole runs backwards. It’s also quite moving in a sentimental sort of way. I’m not 100% sure what it means, though – other than as a recommendation to wear seatbelts. My suspicion is that this is the clue. Of course, the girlfriend would have been somewhat more mangled in real life than in the video, but it’s the leaving-off of the seatbelt that’s the critical turning-point, that we wish we could rewind life to correct. This is a rather idle thought, given the impossibility of acting on it. Maybe it’s just lamenting the fact that trivial decisions or indecisions can have terrible consequences not realised at the time, but only in retrospect. Something along the lines of the thought usually attributed to Soren Kierkegaard (though occasionally to Goethe) that life can only be understood backwards, but has to be lived forwards. This episode is rather more difficult to understand backwards – but the mental rewinding required to work out how we got to the situation we’re in today is also hard. The video bears watching twice.

Previous Version of this Note:

Date Length Title
03/05/2008 11:02:24 6161 Coldplay - The Hardest Part

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18/12/2010 19:58:05 811 (Coldplay - The Hardest Part) None

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