Today I'll be analyzing the song A Car, A Torch, A Death by Twenty-One Pilots, from their 2009 self-titled album.
I'm going to be doing this a bit more impressionistically than usual, and flesh out in prose below the lyrics the story that plays in my head as I listen. This song is a weird and dark Christian allegory. It's like Leonard Cohen's Master Song done in the musical style of The Postal Service. When I first heard Tyler sing the standout line in his whiny voice, it struck me as such a sudden, surreal claim for gravitas that I was hooked.
This is just one possible reading of the song. There are of course others; see the Genius page.
The air begins to feel a little thin As I start the car and then I begin To add the miles piled up behind me I barely feel a smile deep inside me And I begin to envy the headlights driving south I want to crack the door so I can just fall out But then I remember when you packed my car You reached in the back and buckled up your heart For me to drive away with
I'm starting another day of a difficult journey. I'm driving up a high mountain, the air getting thinner due to altitude. Some deep purpose sustains me, but I'm losing touch with it. I see the other cars who are driving downhill and my resolve briefly fails; I want to stop trying, straining, and just fall. But then I remembered: as you prepared me for this journey, you gave me your heart. You gave it away.
I began to understand why God died
When I remember that you gave me your heart, I begin to understand the kind of love Jesus must have felt to make him give up his life for mankind.
The demon sat there waiting on her porch It was a little dark so he held a makeshift torch And when my car was far out of sight He crept in her room and stayed there for the night
(Camera zooms out) Meanwhile, as the speaker drives away with his friend's heart, evil in human shape waits on her porch. When the speaker is gone, the demon comes into her room. Her life is infected.
And then I felt chills in my bones The breath I saw was not my own I knew my skin that wrapped my frame Wasn't made to play this game
(Camera goes back to the speaker in his car) I feel the cold, and it is dreadful, but the feeling is not all my own. I see your breath in my car, though you are distant, and I know that the feeling comes from you, and that you are in trouble. Shit, I'm not made for this. I'm not supposed to be doing this.
And then I saw him, torch in hand He laid it out, what he had planned And then I said, "I'll take the grave Please, just send them all my way" I began to understand why God died
Suddenly, I see the demon in front of me. He must be everywhere. He grins and describes the minute details of the long suffering you will endure, as your life is eclipsed by him. I can't stand it. I break and offer to die myself, as long as you and all the ones like you are spared and delivered into my arms.
The air begins to feel a little thin As we're waiting for the morning to begin But for now, you told me to hold this jar And when I looked inside, I saw it held your heart For me to walk away with I began to understand why God died
I am still driving up the mountain, and you are distant. We're both waiting for morning to come and end the long night of suffering. But you've given me your heart, trusted me with it, even though you knew I wasn't coming back. The love I feel now is the love Jesus must have felt as he died.