July 7, 2013

An Analysis of "Tonight"

Ever since I got Anthem, I intended to do a close reading of "Tonight" to see just how many references to past Hanson songs might be buried in there. I finally sat down with a pen and paper and wrote the lyrics by hand, then started underlining and scrawling notes in the margins. I dug and dug until I hit something--or rather, it hit me.

The first time I heard this song, I loved it. On the surface it made me feel the way I feel at a Hanson show. "Jump in the crowd/ throw up your hands/ and sing it out loud/ tonight." I thought it had the same kind of uplifting urgency as "Scream and Be Free" that tells you to seize the moment and live every day like it's your last, don't let life pass you by, [insert cliche], [insert cliche], etc. And it's probably no revelation to some of you, but somewhere between scribbling little green boxes around "Chase down the dream" and "one more," the finality of the song punched me in the face.

First, I want you to read the chorus as a fan. Picture yourself swaying in the packed crowd of some anonymous dark venue, belting out these lyrics:

Tonight is the first night
Tonight is the last night.
Don't care what has come before;
Tomorrow's an open door
So box to the ropes
Jump in the crowd
Throw up your hands
and sing it out loud

It's a familiar feeling, right? You're throwing up your hands in happiness, just letting go of the outside world and whatever stress may be awaiting you once you walk out those doors. Nothing else matters in that moment, so you're going to let it all go just for tonight.

Now go back and read it from the perspective of a band that knows they've hit a harder rut than anything they've overcome in the past. The phrase "irreconcilable differences" may be looming in the air. It might be the last song you ever write together.

(No...really. Scroll back up and read it again.).

To sum it up in one overused bit of Tumblr terminology: FEELS.

Suddenly that open door is saying you're free to leave, you're throwing up your hands in frustration and defeat, and you're up against the ropes fighting one last round, for one night only before you throw in the towel. Tonight.

Despite all its great Queeny sounds, it's a really heavy song if you let it be.

And because this is what I originally set out to do with this post, here's the version without the punch in the face, just noting all the direct references to past Hanson songs:

 (Pretend I boxed in "walk" in the line "too tired to walk." I totally meant to.)

...and then what happens when you give me a red pen and I form my own ideas:

7/10/13 ETA: I've seen a few responses more or less disagreeing with this interpretation, which is totally okay. I just wanted to clarify that I'm not saying this is definitely what the song is about or what Hanson meant us to get out of it, it's just one interpretation that I think happens to fit pretty well (even if by coincidence). In the end it still stirs up all my "feels" because even if I'm way off base with this interpretation, the fact is we know Hanson did reach a breaking point last year, and I imagine they did have feelings similar to the ones I read in these lyrics. Whether or not they intentionally put them into the song, only Hanson could tell you.

10/11/16 ETA: I came back to this post because I'm working on a similar analysis of "Feeling Alive," and something new hit me. The line "When you walk the line brilliance can sound insane" has always bugged me because I could never really make sense of it. It took THREE YEARS and a great new song for me to come back to this post and have a lightbulb go off in my head. So for what it's worth, I think the line that's being walked in that lyric is the line of deciding to give up or deciding to push through, where one more step in the wrong direction could mean the end, and a step in the right direction is good, but you're still so close to giving up and have a long way to go. When you're in that place and the mindset of just being done, even the most rational, reasonable suggestion or idea can sound impossible or like it isn't worth it, i.e., "brilliance can sound insane" because you're not in the right headspace to be receptive to even the best suggestion in the same way that simple tasks become difficult for those suffering depression. You have all my respect if this is old news to you; I feel like I just pulled out a 3-year-old splinter I didn't even know I had.


jyoung said...

LOVE your analysis. Whether or not you're reading too much into it...tag hanson and post it on twitter???

breakmydreams said...

I love to see and hear about what other fans get out of Hanson's songs...