I grew up in the kind of household where bedtime was non-negotiable. When it was time, it was time. Any attempts at bargaining were met with the kind of parental anger that is not loud and shouty, but deathly quiet and therefore more terrifying.
As I approached the age of ten, however, I discovered a loophole: I could stay up past my bedtime if I watched the news with my parents.
Watching the news as a kid was (and probably still is) a strange experience. It’s a hint that the world is much more complicated than you, as a child, can imagine. I remember hearing words and phrases that I didn’t understand, spoken by reporters with strangely perfect hair despite being in the most chaotic and distant countries, reporters whose voices rose and fell in strange cadences unique to network newscasters.
But most of all, I remember the anchor.
He was a smooth-voiced man named Knowlton Nash. He spoke with the same calm severity regardless of the topic. As he spoke, my parents would make strange, quiet noises of agreement or dismay or intrigue or worry or satisfaction. He stared at us through enormous late-80s glasses, and we stared right back.
The news program that Knowlton Nash anchored was called “The National,” and in my childish naiveté, I assumed it was named after him. Why wouldn’t it be? He appeared to be the most knowledgeable, even-tempered person in the universe. And if he could make my parents sit and listen, he must have been special.
By the time the news was over, I was usually half-asleep, and the end credits would jolt me awake. My parents would creak off the couch, and I would quietly march up to bed, with strange images of a day’s worth of current events floating through my head.
Having stayed up later than usually allowed, I never protested. Besides, staying up any later would be pointless; the day was over. By signing off, Knowlton Nash had made it so.
What makes this a beautiful song:
1. Through much of the song, lead vocalist Matt Berninger‘s voice is doubled, an octave below itself. Gives it a calm, trustworthy confidence, like a news anchor.
2. I love the line, “I was a television version of a person with a broken heart.” It reminds me of the foreign correspondents on the news, that combination of studio-phony and gritty reality.
3. The chord progression spends very little time on the tonic. To me, this makes it feel hypnotic, unfinished, and ever-serious, just like the news.
Recommended listening activity:
Re-writing the most important moments of your life in headline form.