For our second song in this series, I have chosen one of my all-time favorites, Twin Size Mattress by The Front Bottoms. In it, the protagonist stumbles his way toward being a good friend as he “contributes to the chaos” within his own life.
The song shows how complex it is to find a positive way forward in the face of overwhelming shame and pressure to conform. This is how the song begins:
The inner lion that frontman Brian Sella speaks of is one that many of us feel, an animal who is trying to roar or lash out and yet still capable of deep connection and care for others. The lion that is just as at home licking wounds as inflicting them.
He then pivots to a metaphor of flood water, standing in for the challenges that come as you grow up, a torrent always coming at you, indiscriminate of the debris it carries within it. But, here he does not simply let the water come and wash us away. Rather, he shares that he will “help you swim.” It is in this helping instinct, this kinship to others that we first start to see positive masculinity take hold. It isn’t every man for himself, but rather a team pulling together to stay afloat.
And sometimes that initial help isn’t enough. The song goes on to describe ongoing trauma being inflicted upon a close friend. As “warning signs” are ignored and the snakes continue to bite his friend, the singer realizes the gravity of the situation. His friend is facing oppression and religious fanaticism. He is facing a forced “right way” to live, one that he simply cannot abide.
This orientation toward “praying for change” combined with the forced change of cutting hair or sending someone away to fix them is something that I experienced first hand. As I struggled with my sexual identity growing up in an evangelical environment, my parents gave me the book, “You Don’t Have to be Gay” by Jeff Konrad. It was a “punch to the face” for people who felt different or simply didn’t want to live within the confines of the most restrictive and hateful parts of the Bible. As I read the book and prepared to respond, I understood the friend in this song who must curse to get his point across.
Being a good friend and a good man is not asking you to continue to weather daily hatred. It is not being steadfast in your difference while others force their beliefs upon you. Good men know how to help you to get to a better place. They help you to escape and to make a home there. In the last chorus of the song, Brian sings these words:
He is finding a place for his friend within the band and within his life. He is not letting his friend be boxed in by hatred. Instead, he asks the friend to make music or to sing with him, adding voices to the world and creating something new in the process.
Furthermore, in making the decision to help his friend escape, the protagonist realizes that he is taking active steps toward making his friend’s life better. He is “contributing to the chaos” of helping someone get out of a terrible situation because he cannot stand idly by. He doesn’t want to blame others. He wants to take responsibility for a better future, and will it into being.
And it is this decision that I find most important. We cannot stand by as our brothers and sisters are tormented where they live. We cannot just watch and then complain about trans kids rights being taken away or people of color being murdered by police. We must invite them to come sing with us or better yet, join them where they are singing, to make loud and passionate music together that combats the hatred and small mindedness. It is far more fulfilling to live and fight alongside those who need help than to ask them to stay in a situation that is literally killing them.