“All Up The Seething Coast” is the empty-hearted black-hole center of We Shall All Be Healed, which is really saying something for an album about meth addiction. Darnielle never shies away from the realities of drug abuse, but the other songs on the album imbue the suffering of these characters with some sort of greater meaning, if not for all of mankind then at least for the characters themselves. The tweakers in “Qutio” and “Mole” still have dreams of better times, even if those dreams are just an empty lie. The guy in “Against Pollution” finds something life-affirming in a fatal act of self-defense, even if the weight of it is slowly crushing him. The narrator in “Home Again Garden Grove” makes scoring a fix sound like a last-ditch run behind enemy lines, one last bit of romantic flourish before he gets locked away.
Well, the narrator in “All Up The Seething Coast” has reached the point where the pretty varnish has rubbed off and all that’s left is the bleak, physical reality of addiction. To match this state of mind, Darnielle strips his writing style down to the bare bones; there’s none of the poetic language or grandiose lyricism that he normally deploys to balance out more mundane details, just the sad, daily routine of a person who has disappeared so far into their own need that they’ve ceased to exist on anything but the surface level.
He starts his day eating candy bars and drinking coffee full of milk and sugar, because that’s what his new appetites dictate and he doesn’t particularly care what his diet does to his body. His dinners are arranged by someone else (a nurse? the staff at a halfway house?), and he just goes along with it, probably because any meal-prep beyond putting $1.25 into a vending machine is either beyond the limits of his ability or outside the realm of his interest. And it doesn’t really matter, because whatever they serve for dinner, he’ll just cover it with sugar, anyway. He’s obsessive enough that spends his days clipping pictures out of magazine at random and sticking them on his wall, but his thoughts are so unfocused has to write things down on his hands and arms or he’ll forget to do them. In only a few lines, we get a clear picture of a human life cut off from any of the things that make life worth living.
If the words themselves weren’t enough to get the point across, Darnielle doesn’t even sing the verses, choosing instead to recite them in the same detached, uncaring way that the narrator approaches his life, only breaking into a weak, half-sung melody when he reaches the chorus, where he drops the money-line:
And nothing you can say or do will stop me
And a thousand dead friends can’t stop me
And Jesus, what can you even say to that?
I don’t want to ascribe too much motive to this character, since We Shall All Be Healed is a largely autobiographical album, and this song in particular strikes me as self-lacerating enough to be based on Darnielle’s own personal experience as opposed to that of his friends. But what’s most remarkable here is the narrator’s’s awareness of his own insatiable addiction. He might not have actually decided, might not have actually sat himself down, weighed the options and made the decision that getting high was the most important thing in his life, that the only thing that could make him stop getting high is his own death – but he knows it’s true.
He reiterates in the second chorus, “The best you’ve got is powerless against me/And all your little schemes will break when they come crashing up against me,” and he tosses off, almost as an aside, “Anybody asks, you tell ‘em what you want to tell ‘em.” This is a man who cannot be reached by anyone, no matter what language of love, healing or just plain survival they speak.
“It’s a bad place I’m in” — yeah, no kidding.