Read Sound of Pen’s essay about Against The Current’s ‘That Won’t Save Us’. The song underlines ideas that will feel so relevant to your A-Level Lit study.
- MUSIC FOCUS: Against The Current.
- ACTIVITY FOCUS: Read our essay and then think about how you could apply the same argument to ‘The Handmaid’s Tale’ – or any of the texts you’re studying at school.
Ideas about redemption are threaded throughout Against The Current’s ‘That Won’t Save Us’. Why do those ideas feel so significant? Well, for starters, there’s the fact that so many of us live as part of an agnostic community. Once upon a time, it was God who handed out absolution, but right now it feels like we’re going to have to come to our own rescue. Years of wrongdoing have left the human race in absolute peril, and Against The Current draw attention to our desperate need for redemption. Without it, we are doomed.
What makes our need for redemption so absolute is the fact that so many people don’t even realise we need it at all. We’re too used to living the way we do; we barely see the problems right in front of us. ‘How did we become so numb?’ asks singer Chrissy Costanza. The rhetorical nature of the question implies a sense of disbelief that feels typical of young people today; it seems impossible that we can look around at our ecological and moral failings and not feel an intense sense of responsibility. Not that it’s only ignorance or lack of willing getting in the way of humanity and its redemption. When someone is numb, they are as physically incapacitated as they are emotionally indifferent: Against The Current might be suggesting that people are incapable of acting. The band note too how even they have been affected by this numbness. ‘I just started giving up,’ Costanza admits. This is worrying. The singer recognises our need for redemption and yet she can’t even bring herself to hope for it. ‘Are you proud of what we’ve come to be?’ she asks and of course the answer is implied: we CANNOT be proud of who we are. We have erred but still – either because we don’t see the extent of the issue, or because we don’t believe the issue is redeemable – we remain incapable of taking the action needed to save ourselves.
The problem seems further complicated by the suggestion that actually redemption is beyond us anyway. Against The Current are part of a wave of artists wondering whether we’ve done too much damage already – either that or we’re too damaged ourselves. We can repent all we want but there’s no time for us to clear our debt. Costanza notes that: ‘the duller the knife, the deeper the scars.’ The metaphor is effective. The ‘knife’ – the one we’ve used to hack the earth’s atmosphere to pieces, and the one we’ve allowed to serrate our own moral judgement – has gone in so slowly, we’ve hardly even noticed. This has allowed the knife’s point to penetrate in a truly deep and damaging way. ‘We just let it come undone,’ Costanza points out. The metaphor might allude to the ‘knot’ that ties us and our planet together – that symbiotic relationship which we’ve compromised through prolonged mistreatment of our fellow human beings and the planet we live on. Now, Against The Current tell us, we’re ‘sinking under the weight’. It’s true that when we sink we can’t breathe, and so that metaphor seems inextricably linked to the potential deterioration of a breathable atmosphere.
However, there may still be a glimmer of hope – and it would make sense for a sliver of optimism given the timing of the song. Right now, more young people than ever are voting and coming to terms with the importance of their role as the world’s guardians. ‘I don’t need a light to see in the dark,’ Costanza sings and, yes, the darkness is symbolic of the issues already highlighted. The sense that the frontwoman doesn’t need a light underlines the suggestion that she (along with everyone else) has become incredibly familiar with this setting – we can find our way around it with our eyes closed. Looked at from a different perspective, though, this truth actually feels encouraging. Now that we are so adept at moving around this environment, perhaps we have the power to change it. ‘Maybe we were born to fight,’ Costanza continues. The word ‘fight’ has connotations of struggle, and Against The Current argue that at the doors of this last chance saloon, we will need that spirit. Why? Because redemption is necessary and when something is that significant, we will battle for it. It’s part of who we are. Unless it isn’t. But if you fall into that latter bracket, then look out – because Costanza promises to ‘leave you alone to build up your walls.’ It’s a particularly striking declaration given how large Donald Trump’s efforts to erect a barricade between America and Mexico still loom in the public consciousness.
It makes sense, then – in the wake of a long period during which one of the world’s leaders so categorically denied the need to address any environmental concerns – that Against The Current feel the need to call out an attitude ‘that won’t save us’. Nor will simply saying we’re ‘sorry’. Redemption has never been simply about apologising, it’s been about making amends – and never has it been more important that we understand that. Redemption is so significant here because we’re so in need of it.
Now, put your new ideas into action. Have a look at some more Against The Current classes.