One of the best parts of being a university President is the opportunity to speak with students – to hear their perspectives on their lives and our society. These perspectives bring a freshness, a novelty, to matters of perennial interest. To get these discussions started, I often ask students about what they are reading, hearing, attending or watching. Interestingly, two students recently mentioned the same song – the newly popular “Recovery” by Frank Turner.
The song features two well-worn rock themes – “take me back, I’ll be better next time” and “drugs mess people up.” The song’s final chorus combines the themes, tying recovery to romance – intoning “Darling, sweet lover, won’t you help me to recover” multiple times before it abruptly cuts out. It’s a great pop song, well worth a listen, but there are two additional aspects that merit notice.
The first is the striking dissonance between music and lyrics. Like Barbra Streisand’s classic version of “Happy Days Are Here Again,” in which her sadly expressive tones betray the cheery refrain, the music and lyrics of “Recovery” don’t match. In this case, the lyrics hold the themes of distress (“you’re not lying there any longer and I know that it’s my fault”), while the music is light and rollicking (think early British invasion), but the vague sense of disquiet is the same.
The second aspect of note is the characterization of the subject’s recovery, ostensibly from the previously referenced drug abuse. The song’s chorus emphasizes that some mistakes have an impact that is hard to redress: “A long road out to recovery from here, a long way back to the light. A long road out to recovery from here, a long road to making it right.”
Whether this chorus is a literal reference to drug abuse or a metaphorical description of our broader societal challenges, it represents themes that resonate for our students. Understanding these resonances, as well as the disquiet that pervades “Recovery,” may help us understand some of the challenges our students face as they learn and grow in a demanding time.