Cinematic album tells the story of addiction through three generations
The Lumineers showcase an important message on their third full-length studio album, released on Friday, Sept. 13, but it was the accompanying music videos that revealed the true meaning of the album. “III” focuses on addiction — something that lead singer Wesley Schultz became familiar with when a close family member struggled.
In a recent interview on Morning Edition, the founding band members explained their thought process. Schultz and drummer Jeremiah Fraites share their history with relatives’ continuing struggle of addiction.
“I remember my mom woke me up, she said, ‘Sweetheart, your brother got arrested last night,’” Fraites said. “He was arrested in a car, it was around 2:00 in the morning.’ He had smoked PCP and he was so high on drugs that he went inside this A&P, which was like a local supermarket out in the East Coast, and he drank Drano, which is just an unbelievable thing. I don’t know what compelled him to do that. But he was in the ICU for a couple of weeks with second and third-degree burns on his throat.”
Soon after, Fraites’ brother died of a heroin overdose.
With the two band members’ unfortunate connection to addiction, their album follows three generations of a family as they struggle with their own addictions. The first generation introduced is Gloria, who is an alcoholic struggling to take care of her child while maintaining her marriage.
“Gloria is an addict,” Schutlz tweeted in an explanation. “Her character was inspired by a member of my family, and no amount of love or resources could save her. She’s now been homeless for over a year. Loving an addict is like standing among the crashing waves, trying to bend the will of the sea.”
The slow tune of the piano places the audience into a dream-like haze. The videos create a new dimension, the viewers feeling the heartbreaking pain of how addiction impacts a family.
“There’s this almost cartoonish piano that interrupts the guitar,” Schultz said. “It’s almost like the guitar hands it off to the piano and I think, within the reality of being closely involved with an addict, there is a cartoonish nature to life […] and there’s a mania. There’s a manic nature that is found in that piano… So in the song, every time the guitar is the main focus, it’s the daughter talking to her mother. And every time the piano is the main focus, it’s the mother giving her side of the story back to the daughter. It’s sort of this kind of conversation.”
We see the beginning of Gloria’s addiction in the second song, “Life in the City,” which illustrates her downfall and how she inched closer to her breaking point with alcoholism. With the lyrics, “and if the subways flood and bridges break,” the relation to “Sleep on the Floor” from the band’s 2016 album “Cleopatra” adds a new layer to the song.
“With drug addiction or alcoholism, it really affects the individual and then it has a sort of fallout effect — similar to the effects of a radiation bomb — over time and over years and years, it continually tends to affect people’s loved ones,” Fraites said.
As the album progresses, listeners meet Jimmy, Gloria’s son. Jimmy is a father who struggles with his own addiction. “Jimmy Sparks,” is a conversation between Jimmy and his son — it’s a lesson. Jimmy tells his son repeatedly never to pick up a hitchhiker because it’s “us or them.” When the song ends, Jimmy gets into trouble and is brutally beaten up. He finds himself walking down the road, in the middle of a snowy day. On the opposite side of the road, Jimmy’s son is driving home from a graveyard shift, but taking his dad’s advice, he doesn’t stop to pick up his father, instead leaving him on the side of the road.
“I think [the song] has a couple layers to it where you’re not really sure why he kept driving and if he even recognized [Jimmy],” Schultz said. “If he did, what does that mean? I think for someone who’s not around an addict very closely, it probably sounds very cold, but to anyone who has been, there are a lot of people who understand what that means, unfortunately.”
The songs were brought to life in a 37-minute movie set to the tracklist of “III” and which artfully communicates the pain that accompanies addiction.
The movie shows the highs and the good times Gloria had in her life. She dances with her husband, a soft smile on her face, and she bonds with her mother. The movie also shows the lows of Gloria’s life, including the danger she put her daughter in. The music videos perfectly capture devastation and love.
Storytelling music videos aren’t a new concept, but The Lumineers took their storytelling to new heights — these are undoubtedly heartbreaking heights, but the album wouldn’t be the same without them.
Written By: Itzelth Gamboa — firstname.lastname@example.org