I find myself helplessly consumed with “Older Brother”, a conflicting position that poises the repeat button of my iTunes with the reality of losing this emotional masterpiece in an erosion of overexposure.
At first glance, the song is nothing more than a summery melody that effortlessly pleases as it glides along. The opening of the tune pairs the breezy, beach duo of a Beirut-equse ukulele melody with shimmering chimes coloring the background. And while the musical elements of the song shine, “Older Brother” is so much more than pleasing to the ear, presenting the listener with such a juxtaposition of emotions.
As the song progresses, the lyrics initially fall in place with the mood of the song, pairing the innocence of childhood with the happy go lucky feel of the ukulele. However, from there emotions start to blur as the backing music continues on but the vocals and lyrics seem to indicate something stirring beneath the surface.
As the lyrical story plays out throughout the song, the story of a friend who committed suicide seems to unravel in front of the listeners. From there, the audience is swept between an emotional divide, with the almost cheery arrangements presenting the story of utter grief.
Here we have someone who lost his best friend, a brotherly figure who decided he just didn’t “want to live with that frown” anymore and killed himself. Not only does the speaker have to cope with the grief of losing his best friend but also knowing that maybe things could have been different and maybe he failed him. Sure, he knows his friend is “just where [he] wants to be,” but what a useless crutch to rely on.
And yet, the speaker carries on, upholding superhuman strength and selflessness. Suicide is often regarded as such a selfish act but here the speaker bears the burden without complaint, even going as far to say “I love your troubles are now gone” even as he now has to go on without him. Instead of refusing the pain, the speaker accepts it, telling his friend “Don’t worry, I’m not sad,” as he continues to hold the friend’s “memory close to [his] chest” and even vows to look after his sister, another victim that the friend left behind.
His resigned statements of grief are his only acknowledgement of his pain, statements that hardly even come across as such; terribly hard things to deal with that he just passes over. He asks the question “Could you have stayed just one more night, for all of us to say good bye?” but holds no grudge at all. He is a saint that understands the pain.
And this message of optimism is carried on through the music, as the message all comes together. Such a beautiful human sacrifice is shown when the utterly depressing verses naturally lead into the uprising of inspiring “oohs” that show the shallowness of the word beautiful. The music shows none of this pain, instead it reflects the beauty of the person and the friendship that was lost, nearly pushing away all the pain while respecting the gravity of the situation.
I guess when all is said and done, love is all about sacrifice. I’ll never forget the end of the movie Juno when Juno and Paulie are sitting, singing the Moldy Peaches song and the track team runs by, so simply and effectively showing that love requires this sacrifice. Mark (Jason Bateman’s character) just couldn’t sacrifice his dreams to save his marriage while Paulie throws his entire future in jeopardy by being there to support Juno. And for the speaker to keep loving his friend, the same sacrifice his required. And damn is it beautiful.