"While You Were Sleeping" by Elvis Perkins
Album: Ash Wednesday
A song steeped in grief shouldn't be something you would play over and over again, but that's exactly what I did this year with Elvis Perkins's "While You Were Sleeping." A Song of the Week selection earlier in the year, "While You Were Sleeping" became a much-played song because of its cathartic power. It is a heartbreaking song, especially when you consider the losses Perkins suffered that very much informs the song. Perkins is the son of Anthony Perkins, who died from AIDS complications, and Berry Berenson, a photographer who died on one of the 9/11 planes.
Essentially a lullaby, "While You Were Sleeping's" impressionist lyrics don't explicitly address the deaths of Perkins's father and mother, but only someone who has endured such grief can possibly write a song so sad and heartwrenching yet also make it sound so sweet and redemptive:
While you were sleeping
You tossed, you turned
You rolled your eyes while the world burned
The heavens fell, the earth quaked
I thought you must be but you weren't awake
In the song, the idea of sleep is used as a comforting notion, the possibility that it was all a dream and that in sleep time somehow stops. As the song develops, though, and as the music rises, sleep begins to represent what is missed in life--the blink-and-you'll-miss nature of existence. I guess I listened to this song a lot this year because it is ultimately a reassuring song. I have not endured the kind of loss Perkins has experienced, but the song--and the rest of the album--isn't just for them. "While You Were Sleeping" suggests that we are resilient beings. The grief and sorrow won't completely go away, but somehow we find a way of muddling through. In Perkins's case, his art must have been a great source of comfort.