The Artist

There is a song I am listening to these days. It's called Unbreakable Chain, and it's sung by Daniel Lanois.

Writing about music never quite works. So, here it is for a watch and a listen. 

To me, the song is about communication. Attempts at communication, failed communication, suspended communication. The title, to me, refers to the silence that has the nature of an unbreakable chain. It binds us in isolation. 

The song is sprinkled with references to communication attempts. In the first verse, we are asked to consider the shadowy nightscape of communication: dreams.
It's not the pitter-patter of the one in your dreams..
In the second verse is another familiar form in the story of communication, the belief, the instinct that the elements are somehow making themselves known to us in its own language. 
You walk and you know that the wind is not passing you by/ It's speaking and you listen and the tears don't come out when you cry...
In the third verse, the artist presents the communication that is prayer. And the silence that seems to attend its attempts. The artist reminds us we are in the world dissemination, not dialogue. The decision-transmission rhyme is beautiful. 
It's thirty years ago and you live with your decision/ You talk to him in a prayer, you send out your transmission... 
In the next verse we see the city for the first time. A sympathetic reading calls up all sorts of images of signs, marquees, newspaper boxes. We can hear the din of the city as voices go up, radio signals move through. Architecture tells its story. Car horns sound. Telephones ring. TV sets produce images and sound. Neon flashes. This is where the chain will be broken. But not yet. 

It's no accident that the next verse focuses on that meagre, overlooked message form that was the mainstay of the newspaper advertising model: the classified ad. 
And you, you put an ad in the paper/ It's foolish but maybe, maybe he'll see 
And then comes a reminder that we are in the city. 

The final verse begins with the conclusion the artist has helped us reach, and that is that somehow the unbreakable chain is connected to voicelessness, or communication that is not embodied dialogue. 
He stares at you and you step back and no words are spoken...
The climax of this silent movie of calling is the first response and, with it, a kind of cosmic nod of approval.
 You say hello to your boy and he says Mama you've awoken/ Ah, yes, you have broken the unbreakable chain... 
This is what the song means to me. I am sure there is more, so I will keep thinking about it. In the quiet times. 

And  I wonder about the nature of poetry, how it itself is a form or faith-based communication that someone out there will get it. And get it. 

And I wonder, as I get ready to hit the Publish Post button, who this blog post is going to. Maybe Lanois will see it one day. Maybe it's for my sons Mike, who is playing his guitar down the hall, and Alex, who is studying classics downstairs. Maybe it's for this blog's only subscriber: Shelagh!

Or, maybe, it's just going to me in the future. For a moment where the past speaks and a chain is broken. 


  1. Thanks for posting your analysis of Daniel Lanois's song. I am a substitute teacher in a high school English class and we are comparing the song to Susan Beth Pfeffer's short story "As It Is With Strangers". I especially like your idea that silence binds us in isolation. Check out the short story if you get a chance. Also, I found an article about Lanois in Rolling Stone magazine you might like... He's a super talented guy!

    1. Thank you very much for reading the blog, double thanks for getting in touch, and triple thanks for the suggestions for further reading. :) It is nice to hear from you.


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