There’s a line in the song “Smoke Signals” by Phoebe Bridgers that seems to come into my mind daily:
“I want to live at the Holiday Inn, where somebody else makes the bed.”
Yes, I think of that line when I make the bed. No, I don’t want to live at the Holiday Inn. But Bridgers has created a powerful metaphor in that line. It is just one of many contained within the hypnotically melancholy five minutes of the song.
“Smoke Signals” contains some of the most evocative lyrics I’ve heard in a long time. That’s not to say they are unusually profound. It’s more that they accomplish a kind of vivid storytelling that pulls you in and makes you feel the emotion behind the words and visualize the personal history behind them. I don’t know if the song is autobiographical. I actually prefer not to know, because I don’t want any additional details to color or distort my perception of the piece as a self-contained whole.
To that end, I’m sharing two versions of the song. The one I want you to view first is an intimate, late night acoustic performance filmed in a hotel room during South By Southwest. It’s part of the NPR Music South X Lullaby series. It’s a beautiful, no-frills performance that lets you focus all your attention on the singer and the song.
There is also a music video for “Smoke Signals,” which is evocative in its own way. The stark, high-contrast black and white cinematography compliments the music well. At the same time, though, the video creates an image for the viewer rather than letting them visualize something in their own imagination.
Don’t get me wrong, it’s a fine video. But it’s not the way you should experience “Smoke Signals” for the very first time. Instead, you should lose yourself in the words and discover how they make you feel.
Phoebe Bridgers full album is expected later this year. When it comes out, I’ll plan to spend my first listening session with my eyes closed.
Because everyone has something in their life that makes them wish somebody else would make their metaphorical bed.
Here’s the video for “Smoke Signals”: