Little Boy Blue

Bright Eyes' wunderkind Conor Oberst plunges into a world of adult-size despair with Fevers and Mirrors

Yet another plot point is revealed on the tracks "Arienette" and "Sunrise, Sunset." On both he pleads to a girl named Arienette for escape from a mental state awash in drudgery, anger, sadness and fragility. Who is this Arienette? The interview on the album broaches that subject as well, but in a way that deflates any hope of peeking behind the scenes of Oberst's plot line.

Interviewer: How about this Arienette, how does she fit into all this?

Oberst: I prefer not to talk about it, in case she's listening.

Mirror, mirror: Young Leonard Cohen? The ever-brooding Conor Oberst
Mirror, mirror: Young Leonard Cohen? The ever-brooding Conor Oberst
Conor Oberst
Conor Oberst

Interviewer: I'm sorry, I didn't realize she's a real person.

Oberst: She's not, I made her up.

Interviewer: So she's not real?

Oberst: Just as real as you or I.

Interviewer: I don't think I understand.

Oberst: Neither do I, but after I grow up I will.

The only optimistic moments on Fevers and Mirrors come during the final two tracks. "An Attempt to Tip the Scales" is the poppiest number on the album (despite Oberst's claims that the record is comprised of the "more pop" songs he composed, it's more accurately a collection of dirges). Sung in a lilting, soft voice over spare guitar strumming, Oberst criticizes the self-absorption of others ("I think you lost what you loved/in that mess of details/they seemed so important at the time") while he looks to the changing of seasons for a shift in circumstance ("Winter's gonna end/I'm gonna clean these veins again/So close to dying that I finally can start living"). Similarly, on the final track, the folky "A Song to Pass the Time," Oberst compares others' pain to his own, wishing he could help them.

Between these two last songs, the six-minute interview is inserted. After three quarters of an hour of expounding on his depression, unrequited longing and frustration, the Q&A session kills any expectation the listener may have of trying to understand Oberst and his obsessions, which is exactly his point. "You're seeing art, and obviously it has a lot to do with me because I made it, y'know, but there needs to be a separation between the art and the artist," says Oberst.

But where does that leave him? Is the fragile wunderkind capable of making the separation himself? Does he write what he is, or become what he writes? When making this album, was he subconsciously painting a portrait of himself that he's destined to conform to? Those are the kinds of questions that Conor Oberst has trouble answering himself.

"To be honest with you, it gets pretty blurry a lot of times, like what parts are me and what are some other things that are being employed to get my point across or make the song seem more absolute. There is a separation for sure, not everything that's being sung about, even though it may be presented in a first-person manner, it's not all me. But a lot of it is, and that's where it gets messy, 'cause it all just gets jumbled together, and that's why there's no point in trying to pick out specifics. I see it as just sort of extraneous."

Bright Eyes is scheduled to perform on Tuesday, March 21, at Modified, with Tristeza, and Harcuvar. Showtime is 9 p.m.

Contact Brendan Kelley at his online address:

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