The first time I saw the film Once, starring the duo that comprises The Swell Season, I went alone on a random, rainy Thursday afternoon. Given that my boyfriend of six years and I were officially participating in the cliché that is the “temporary break,” it is safe to say that my movie selection was not the smartest choice I’d ever made.
If you’ve seen Once, you know that it’s propelled by the raw emotion of Glen Hansard’s and Markéta Irglová’s signature “I know we’re about to break up, but let’s make this right” acoustic folk. The irony lies in the fact that the two characters, seemingly on the verge of a newfound romance, are at their best singing of current relationships that have long been headed toward disaster. At the conclusion of the movie, the two go their separate ways, ending their short-lived and curious relationship before it ever really begins. Both characters are inspired to say goodbye in order to jumpstart a life that’s been stalling for quite some time, albeit a life that is comfortable in all of the right ways, a life that fits.
I was invited to a press screening of the movie a few days later, and even though my relationship wasn’t exactly firing all on cylinders, I invited my ex-ish boyfriend as my plus one. I had an overwhelming desire for him to hear the music that seemed to articulate our standstill better than we could. On the Oscar-winning “Falling Slowly,” Hansard sings, “Take this sinking boat/ and point it home/ we’ve still got time…” and on “Lies,” “I think it’s time/ we give it up/ and figure out what’s stopping us.” Those lyrics became ghosts, creeping around my head, and God forbid, forcing me to think even more than my hyperactive mind already did. What were we gonna do?
Clearly, the harmony Hansard and Irglová enjoyed during the making of Once became a reality, as they dallied in a romance of their own, only to amicably part ways before the release of Strict Joy, their October follow up to the film’s soundtrack.
Even though the album features sunnier takes like “Feeling the Pull,” the two haven’t given up their knack for capturing lovers in the midst of turmoil, and their experiences have thus lent a sense of autobiographical credit to their lyrics. On the Van Morrison-esque “Low Rising,” Hansard earnestly sings, “I wanna sit you down and talk/ I wanna pull back the veils/ And find out what it is I’ve done wrong,” as a man sincere in fixing what’s broken.
But, these delicate confessionals are not without their rays of hope. On “Rain,” Hansard admits, “I know we’re not where I promised you we’d be by now/ but maybe it’s a question of who’d want it anyhow.” Preach, brother. There is intimacy in the mundane, there is luxury in simplicity, and the duo illustrates that well…even if the majority of those we know blindly subscribe to a set of prescribed values they can’t explain.
In a black and white world, I am drawn to lyrics that articulate the gray, the flawed perfection that permeates our lives, our connections, us. Once refused to follow Hollywood’s rulebook for silver screen relationships, so does The Swell Season, so do I. That’s why that ex-ish boyfriend went on to become my husband just a few weeks ago. And I’m very happy to have a life that’s comfortable in all the right ways, a life that fits.
He said it: “For me, it’s [Strict Joy] just an audio diary. It’s just another installment of the life we lead.”