I am frequently amazed at how unpopular the popular, post-enlightenment idea that humans are basically good seems to be among rock musicians. Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness (flashback!) by the Smashing Pumpkins is a classic example of this — look no further than hit singles “Bullet With Butterfly Wings” and “Zero” to hear Billy Corgan probe the depths of his emptiness and loneliness.

Along these lines, I’ve recently started collecting 7″ vinyl singles, and was struck by the lyrics in an unreleased b-side by the band Bloc Party. In the song, called “Cain Said To Abel”, singer Kele Okereke imagines a confession from Cain to Abel, using it as a backdrop to explore his own brokenness. Two dynamics in the lyrics instantly struck me.

First was the dynamic of outside judgment directed at the singer: “this self obsessed sinner, I hear he loves to drink…I hear he loves a fight.” It is a striking reminder of how quick we are to label the sinfulness of our peers–always in condemnation, never commiseration. Splinters and logs, anyone?

Second, and most powerful, were the lyrics at the end of the song. “You look up, you look over, you can see it/Disappearing, disappearing instantly/Literally, literally, telling them/They’ll be different, They’ll be special singer, They’ll be better…” Kele is trying to reconcile his experience with what he wants to believe about himself, and about the world. He has reached the realization that he is not special, different or better, and, despite his attempts, sees that dream “disappearing, disappearing instantly.” Like with Susan Sontag (see DZ’s post a few months ago), the veil has been lifted, and the mirror shows the truth. Be it sin, sickness, or anything else, the human condition eventually reveals itself.

Cain said to Abel
“Brother I’ve been bad
Killed a fleet of angels
With my bare hands”

Cain said to Abel
“Brother I’ve been bad
And I can’t find my glasses”

This self-obsessed sinner
I hear he loves to drink
This self-obsessed sinner
I hear he loves a fight

Success has been cruel
This year has been hard
Falling out of love
With the one thing I had loathed

This self-obsessed sinner…

Discipline, discipline, disappearing
Echoing, echoing, exiting
Disappearing, discipline, disappearing
Nothing there, nothing works, nothing matters
Every time, every time, I look over
Everything, everyone, every time
Family, family, shredded by
Liberty, liberty, literally

You can be, you can be, you can see
Eventually, literally, instantly
History, history, disappearing
Echoing, echoing, exiting
You look up, you look over, you can see it
Disappearing, disappearing, instantly
Literally, literally, telling them
They’ll be different
They’ll be special
They’ll be better

This self-obsessed sinner…