Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Owl City Allegory: Interpretation of Beautiful Times

My Take: A reflection on struggling with sin and the loss of assurance that comes right in the midst of, or after, stumbling.

First, here is how Adam introduced his new single on beautifultimes.owlcitymusic.com.

Hi friends,
I am flying home to Minnesota and wanted to write to you. This summer is the five year anniversary of Ocean Eyes and I can't believe how fast time flies. Back home I sometimes drive past the UPS place, the Coke warehouse or the old construction sites I worked at prior to OC and I'm reminded how good I've got it. Six years ago I was bored and uninspired and now every time I drive by the old prisons I never thought I'd escape from, I feel that much more fortunate to get to do what I love. For that, I thank you for your support, and more than anything, I praise God with all I have.
Over the last half year I've been plotting my next moves and deciding how and when I want to imagine the next chapter of Owl City. I've decided to do something I've never done before and release a handful of standalone EPs throughout 2014. I've never released consecutive EPs à la snapshots in a photo album or short stories in a book or a series of paintings in a collection, but I'm excited to release a slow-and-steady stream of music this year.
Thus, it is with tremendous pleasure that I present to you a new Owl City song entitled, "Beautiful Times". Deeply subjective and personal, it has a dark beauty I find compelling and the essence of the track offers the idea that life is wonderful despite the burdens and afflictions that seek us out. It is an anthem for those who search for strength to rise above hardship. I was honored to work with yet another of my favorite artists, Lindsey Stirling, who was kind enough to grant me the honor of featuring her. I hope you enjoy this song as much as I enjoyed creating it.
Finally, I wish to thank you for being so patient as I finish the upcoming chapter in my story. I appreciate your loyalty more than I know how to say.
A verse for consideration. I think this may summarize the song pretty well.

 "Weeping may tarry for the night, but joy comes with the morning."

Psalm 30:5

This is the post on Adam Young's tumblr that gave me the go-ahead, or green light, to proceed with a theological interpretation of the song:
In Him was life, and that life was the light of all mankind.The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.”
-Gospel of John 1:4-5
Basically this what I think the light that Adam Young was referring to in his song Beautiful Times. 

Adam "reblogged" that, which is the tumblr version of a facebook 'like' or a twitter 'retweet.' It represents your agreement with what was said.

Line By Line

"A spark soaring down through the pouring rain and restoring life to the lighthouse. A slow-motion wave on the ocean stirs my emotion up like a raincloud. When did the sky turn black? And when will the light come back?"
Take this all together. If the light, as indicated in Adam's reblog, represents Christ, then the lighthouse is Adam. [henceforth, Lighthouse Man] Since the spark (of light, one presumes) comes down from above (symbolism referring to heaven, in universal practice), and 'restores life,' one could view this description as either the moment of salvation or as Psalm 51:12 says, "the joy of salvation," a further reassurance to the believer after they have stumbled and God picks them out of their sin and reminds them that they belong to Him.
The ocean vs lighthouse seems to represent trouble or trial in life affecting Adam/the believer/the lighthouse, as it were. Rain generally symbolizes sad circumstances. 
The sky turning black could refer back to the initial moment, when sin entered the world in Eden, or to the recent, last time when a person sinned and hurt their relationship with God, making it hard to see Him and feel confident of His helpful presence in their life.
The light coming back can then, again, mean one of two things: proximately, the restoration of the believer to a position of God-confidence after sin, or ultimately, the restoration of creation to a perfect world and the total removal of all spiritual darkness forever. I favor the first alternative as the primary meaning, for reasons discussed below.

"A cab driver turned to skydiver, then to survivor, dying to breakdown. A blood brother, surrogate mother, hugging each other, crying their eyes out."
The next stanza detours to describe people who are struggling in a broken world, as well. Their relevance to the lighthouse is not very clear, but it could simply be that the first person is observing them and reflecting. This is supported by the quick re-tour to the chorus just after the observation is made. The artistic description--simply saying that they are, in an incomplete sentence, further implies that they are a painted scene and not a new character being introduced. I think the purpose of these people in the song is to make the song apply to more than just the singer: this is a message for everyone in trouble.

"I'm ecstatic lie a drug addict locked in the attic, strung out and spellbound. I fought all through the night, oh oh but I made it alive. The sun's starting to rise. Oh oh these are beautiful times. This fight of my life is so hard (x3) but I'm gonna survive, these are beautiful times." 
That's one section of lyrics, and it all hangs together. Look, what does a drug addict do when he locks himself in a hotel room or attic? He's going through withdrawal and trying to cure his addiction by depriving himself of it. What's the obvious spiritual metaphor here? The believer (Lighthouse-Man) is struggling with his sin, the sin that made the sky turn black for him, hurting His relationship with God by sinning against Him. He's putting his faith in action by repenting--turning away from his sin and striving for purity in action.
"I fought all through the night, Oh, oh, but I made it alive. The sun's starting to rise. Oh, oh, these are beautiful times. This fight of my life is so hard, so hard, so hard, but I'm gonna survive. Oh, oh, these are beautiful times. "
That's why he survives in the end. You don't need your sin. When you try to leave it, it will feel like you're hurting yourself, but in the end it is Life that you receive. That's why the sun's rising at the end of that lyrical section. The light, God's filling presence, has returned to the Lighthouse-Man's soul. And so the Lighthouse-Man reflects at the end, that though there's fire in his life (struggle with sin) that's "so hard" (you never stop fighting it and you're bound to lose from time to time), still he's "gonna survive," because he is secure in his saving faith in Christ, not dependent on his own religious goodness to know this. It's about the light, not the struggle in the attic. That's why the light is the major theme of the song, not the guy lying in the attic.
And by the way, he's ecstatic because he's looking forward to the great joy he will have when he is restored a) in a right relationship with Christ b)at the end of his life when God will perfect him and finally make him sinlessly pure. The reference to being strung out implies the stress, either of the guilt of sin or of the difficulty willing oneself to fight against it. Being spell-bound can either mean fascination by whatever the sin is, or fascination with the process of sanctification.

"A bad feeling burned through the ceiling, leaving my healing heart with a new scar. A dead fire rose, and rose higher, like a vampire, up from the graveyard. When did the sky turn black? And when will the Light come back?"
So the previous stanzas left us with the Lighthouse-Man having survived the night--or metaphorically, he struggled with his sin and overcame in obedience to see the Light, the Holy Spirit's indwelling presence in his life, fill his heart again and give him strength and confidence.

The healing heart further confirms my interpretation that this is about an internal struggle over one's desires and the conflicting forces that vie for the heart's affection and devotion: a person's natural yearning toward sin, and a (saved) person's spiritual yearning for God.
Then, immediately after this, the above stanza I quoted implies that a new temptation or sin grabbed hold of him and became a new struggle. The vampire symbolism seems to indicate that it is something dead, (not to mention the "dead fire") and indeed, the Bible says that we are dead to sin (Romans 6:11). So the dead man,the old man, that part of the Lighthouse-Man that is subject to sinful urges, is "rising up" and it's consuming Lighthouse-Man like a fire, hence that symbolism. So now the sky has turned black again, and we return to the chorus. Basically this stanza introduces the concept that struggling with sin is something that continues in a cycle throughout a believer's life. You don't stop. You "fight all through the night," as the lyrics say. The fire in your life is so hard, but you're going to survive.

"We all suffer but we recover, just to discover Life where we all are."
This seems to me to express the immanence (closeness to us) of Christ. He is there, for any of us to reach out to, believer(to sanctify) or nonbeliver(to save), no matter where we are, no matter whether, or how much, we struggle. We recover when we find Life--Christ.

It's poignant to note that all suffer, and Life is (available) where we all are, but all don't recover. The fact is that we don't all overcome. But this is beyond the scope of the song, and so it emphasizes that for those who do recover, they recover by discovering the Giver of Life (implied; this is my pigeon-hole).

This line could be improved with "but we recover, when we discover..."

"my heart's burning bad and it's turning black but I'm learning how to be stronger."
I think the turning black is implied, in context to the song, to be a temporary thing that is happening right now, not that it's getting worse and worse. Rather, the Lighthouse-Man is saying that he's beginning a new bout of fighting with the dead man within him, but after successive struggles where he's learned to rely on God and to persevere, he has learned "how to be stronger," in other words, how to deal with sinful temptations in better ways and to depend more and more on God for victory over sin.

"And sincerely, I love You dearly. Oh, but I'm clearly destined to wonder (wander?)"
I think the addressee in this final line is God. And if the last word is "wander" it is expressing the ever present struggle with temptation that exists this side of eternity. And if it is "wonder," it is expressing the Lighthouse-Man's mindset in the midst of his trials, as he wonders a) when the Light will come back and make it end or b) how this particular struggle will grow his faith and purify him.

And indeed, 
While Adam has a tendency to give goofy answers in interviews, I'm going to take this and run with it, 'lest he says otherwise. According to the man himself, he says the last word is "wander," and that justifies my interpretation. It's his wandering heart that the song is about.

Final thoughts:

I think the reason the track is entitled "Beautiful Times" is that because the Lighthouse-Man has saving faith, the Light is in his life even when the sky is black and so he has hope for a wonderful solution to his present struggles--"I'm gonna survive. Oh oh these are beautiful times." The time is quite simply the time between now and eternity.
And why is the singer a lighthouse? Why have I been referring to Adam metaphorically as the "Lighthouse Man?"
Matthew 5:14-16 "14 “You are the light of the world. A city built on a hill cannot be hidden. 15 Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house. 16 In the same way, let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven."
Bravo, Adam.

~ Rak Chazak


  1. A very good interpretation of Adam's new song :).

    Although I would like to point out that the lyric was "this fight of my life....", not "this fire of my life....".

    Otherwise, it's very good.

  2. I thought this was very inspirational, makes me enjoy the song evermore:)

  3. I could immediately see similar symbolism in this song from the first time I heard it. I'm glad I'm not the only one that interprets it this way and I love the song.