Yip Harburg, celebrated composer of The Wizard of Oz, once said, “Words make you think a thought. Music makes you feel a feeling. A song makes you feel a thought.” Harburg said that concerning the lyrics for the score of his 1939 classic, lyrics that - in conjunction with the orchestral progression and Judy Garland’s tactful approach to her character - allowed viewers of the film to feel the same sense of yearning that protagonist Dorothy feels as she journeys to the wizard. Music, in a variety of ways, can allow listeners to empathize with the artist or in many cases, feel recognized by the artist with whom they may share similar feelings. In the case of The Front Bottoms, an American rock group, their 2013 song “Twin Size Mattress” was well-received by their thousands of fans who greatly empathized with the artists’ message of the ubiquitous pain and great trauma of loneliness.
In their two-minute masterpiece, the band conveys thoughts and feelings of isolation with nearly every lyric. “With tears in my eyes, I begged you to stay,” they wrote in the song’s third verse, using forlorn language like “begged” and the image of tears to show a sense of desperation as the singer attempts vainly to convince his friend to stay. This desperation is an emotion that I felt often in the months leading up to my move to Gwinnett County. Vainly, I tried to plan convoluted schemes for just another day, another hour, another second in the home, neighborhood, and schools I had grown up in. I felt isolated as I was being forced away from the friends I had known since birth, shut out as my family refused to listen, and heartbroken when my grandfather died at the age of sixty-three. All I wanted to do was stay in the comfort of the only home I had ever known, but four weeks later, I was sleeping in a new bed with the same pain that later built walls as I tried to soothe it. “Never graduating up in size to add another,” the Front Bottoms lament as the song comes to a close. After the move and my grandfather’s death, I felt broken and alone as I tried to make friends, a feeling conveyed in the last verse of “Twin Size Mattress.” I could not make friends for fear that I would soon lose them like I had my closest friends. Although the pain has subsided, the unease that I could still lose the friends I have made still lingers as I try to enjoy the moments I have with them. The song heavily implies these emotions, emotions that I believed I was alone in having, through figurative language.
Outside of the relatability of their lyrics, the Front Bottoms show great creativity in their use of literary devices such as personification, allusion, and imagery to communicate their message of traumatic and painful loneliness. For example, in the very first line of their song, the band writes “... the wiry broke down frames of my friends’ bodies.” This subtle imagery can be a nod to the sudden or gradual weight loss associated with depression and/or loneliness. Later in the song, my current fear is conveyed with an allusion to Steven Speilberg’s 1975 classic Jaws.Written by award-winning composer John Williams, the shark’s main score not only implies impending doom or danger on-screen, but also still gives original viewers a sense of inexplicable dread. In “Twin Size Mattress,” the song is referenced in the fifth verse. “But it should've felt good, but I can hear the Jaws theme song/On repeat in the back of my mind,” the artists write, relating the sense of terror associated with the infamous score to the singer’s fear or dread of losing his friends, a feeling similar to mine as I finally begin to enjoy myself around my friends. Additionally, the song’s third line has a biblical allusion to Noah’s Ark. “When the flood water comes, it ain’t gonna be clear/It’s gonna look like mud/But I will help you swim…” the band states, referring to the forty day flood that was said to wash man of sins in biblical times and comparing the singer to Noah, who saved the animals of Earth by taking them aboard his ark and, in a way, helping them swim. In the context of the song, the flood in this instance can mean parental or external authority forcing the friends apart due to a belief that they are a deplorable influence. Furthermore, the song’s subtle use of personification and metaphor in the last verse allows listeners to place blame on a tangible representation of loneliness. The line that begins the verse is as follows: “She hopes I’m cursed forever to sleep on a twin-sized mattress…” The “she” in this example is loss, loss that is forcing the singer to be alone “forever” on a “twin-sized mattress,” which is usually only large enough for one person, connecting the recurring theme of loneliness.
Loneliness is a feeling many hate to feel, a thought many hate to think of, but in listening to “Twin Size Mattress,” I found peace in feeling the thought that is loneliness. Throughout the many traumatic events that happened in my life, this song was one of the few that made me feel slightly less alone, for which I am grateful. The overall theme of the song, I feel, can be summarized as follows: Loneliness, as a thought, feeling, or otherwise, can be painful, but learning to cope or just accepting said loneliness can be a colossal step in getting better. By using subtle and well-crafted imagery, metaphors, and allusions, as well as a carefully constructed plot, the Front Bottoms not only created a thought-provoking song, but also a story that could not have been told any other way.