October 12, 2016

Feeling Alive: An Analysis

The first time I heard “Feeling Alive,” I was at the Brady Theatre back in May at Hanson Day. It got to me in a way I couldn’t explain at the time, and I found myself standing there with happy tears forming just loving this song. I left feeling excited and restored in some way, but also confused by why it had such a strong effect on me. It wasn’t until I was talking with another fan a few days later that it hit me why this song felt so strangely familiar and important—it felt like a continuation of “Tonight.”

If you haven’t read my analysis of “Tonight” from a few years ago, you’ll probably get the most out of this post if you pause here for a moment and go check it out. To sum it up, “Tonight” has been my favorite Hanson song since Anthem’s release because it reminds me of exactly how much I have to lose and how much I have to be thankful for when it comes to this band. To me, "Tonight" had a note of finality and gave me a glimpse of just how close Hanson was to walking away from their music. It sounded like the story of a last hurrah before an end. And "Feeling Alive" sounded like the morning after "Tonight" where we all managed to make it to "tomorrow's daylight." Cue the happy tears. (And the lesson plans.)

"Feeling Alive" vs. "Tonight"
Both songs use fighting metaphors to talk about what I presume to be the same topic: creating music. “Tonight” uses boxing—“box to the ropes,” “your heavyweight knees buckle under a ton,” and “don’t give up without a fight.” “Feeling Alive” uses battle/war imagery. We’ve got cannons firing, talk of winning or losing, and being “on both sides of the barrel” of a gun. Even the drums sound like a battle march. So why does this matter? Because there's one big difference:

Boxers fight each other; soldiers fight together.

It's the secret to making it through to that next morning, working together as a team instead of isolating yourself and feeling cornered.

The other obvious similarity is the theme of raised hands. There’s “Throw your hands up” in “Tonight,” and “Lift your hands up high/reach up to the sky” in “Feeling Alive.” This is where I go back to my English teacher roots because the wording totally matters. As I said in my previous post, the particular wording used in “Tonight” has a more negative connotation. In every day use, you “throw up your hands” in frustration or to signify giving up. But the image of lifting your hands up to the sky? It’s a celebratory action found in several places throughout the Bible. Lifting one’s hands is common in an act of worship or praise. Am I arguing that this is a Christian song? Not at all. I just can't ignore the word choice and the fact that lifting one's hands to the sky is a historically positive thing showing joy and gratitude.

Because I actually do want you to make it to the end of this post without falling asleep, I'm cutting the paragraph I had here about the subtle differences in the first person perspective and the use of implied "you" subjects in "Tonight." Just know that it totally exists and you have been spared. There's a handy TL;DR graphic below, anyway.

"Feeling Alive"
Despite the strong connection I see between these two songs, I do think "Feeling Alive" is an incredible song on its own. It's vague enough for the meaning to fit a lot of different situations, but I see it as a metaphor for my favorite musicians joining together in the fight to continue putting out great music. The song acknowledges a struggle and still leaves room for doubt and uncertainty ("Even if we don't survive," "If we've lost or won"), but as a whole the message is positive. It's the story of a fighter who would be cautious and insecure under normal conditions, but has been tasked with a cause and a passion that he simply can't ignore.

In the beginning of the song he depicts himself as directionless. He claims that he isn't a leader, yet he goes on to flawlessly command a full choir, and you can hear the evidence of his success in the background "oohs". His growing confidence is mirrored by the sound of building drums as the song progresses, and there's a moment in the last verse where his voice seems to reach a final, desperate peak as well. You can hear the desperation and urgency when he sings "I've fallen on my face while just standing in place," and I think it's this revelation that ultimately leads him to action and to our chorus of "Tonight I won't stand still." It's 2016's version of "And we won't go down."

(Don't worry, there won't be a follow up post comparing "Feeling Alive" to "This Time Around" even though it's full of war imagery too.)

The line "I'm humble by your side" is also an important one. It may sound hypocritical at first to see someone referring to themselves as humble, but it's the rest of that sentence that matters. He's not saying "I'm a humble guy;" he's saying "I'm humble by your side." The best definition of "humble" that I found says it means "showing deferential or submissive respect." He's showing respect and appreciation for the ones fighting with him, whether that means the other members in the band, a congregation of fans, or both. And that joyful choir? I like to think that's their representation of us in their battle, and proof of what they can achieve when they work together.

I think some will read a little too much into the part at the end that says "There's just one act left in this play" and take it as proof of some impending end, but you can't isolate that line and ignore the rest of the song.

I've said
Just about
All I can say
There's just one act
Left in this play

There's a subtle shift between "say" and "act" where this hesitant speaker finally admits he needs to stop talking about feeling directionless and actually DO something about it. The final act here is literally just to act (instead of "standing in place"), and the play metaphor is a play on words with the EP's title. It's the very end of the last song on the EP; it's the final act of the play, or "Play." 
And with a title like "Feeling Alive"? I have to take it at face value and say it feels like the band is in a really good place to me.  I'll be readily anticipating the next production.

Not bored yet? Here are the notes I made before I started writing this post. There are a few things that didn't make the cut here, like what I think the "seƱorita" line is referring to. I'd love to hear your interpretations of the song, too!

(Too small to read? Open in a new tab or click here.)


asphodelia said...

Wow, that was a proper NERDING OUT! I've been pondering over the meaning of the song too since writing my blog post, to the point that I was considering a separate post at some point. I hadn't thought of FA as a continuation of Tonight but your interpretation certainly works (I'd never thought of Tonight as a 'final bow' song but now I can totally see that).

What I'd add from your analysis is thatI think this is a very Taylor-centred song and I'll need to sit down and elaborate my thoughts - but basically I think it's about him and us - the fans. I think it's about Taylor more than Hanson the band.

But whether it's about Taylor or Hanson as a band - your final assessment is really spot-on:
"And with a title like "Feeling Alive"? I have to take it at face value and say it feels like the band is in a really good place to me. I'll be readily anticipating the next production."

I agree with that, definitely. I think they've definitely put a lot of effort in both Loud and Play. I still think they could do better. I don't want to influence your next review so I'll shut up now - but when you're done with your reviews and have read my post we need to discuss.

Unknown said...

Hey! I love love love this analysis and had the same exact thoughts about Feeling Alive and Tonight. I'm a musician and I'm actually working on a mash up of the two already. Feeling Alive caught me in a way no other song has in a very, VERY long time (or maybe even ever). I'm truly (for lack of a better word) LIVING for it.


Holly said...


Thanks! The mashup idea sounds awesome; I'd love to hear it when you're finished. You should come back and comment with a link or hit me up on twitter (@_hollywouldnt) when you do!

Unknown said...

I absolutely will!! I have so many Hanson covers it is....honestly pretty absurd. But I'm super excited about this one.