Over on a web site called Songmeanings.net, you will find some commentary below the printed lyrics of a song by the rock band the Weakerthans called “Civil Twilight” that reveals how fans have deconstructed the meaning of the song While there is too much relation of the lyrics of the song to images found in the official music video, the intellectual engagement with the words is serious and insightful. Which is absolutely appropriate for such a seriously insightful band as the Weakerthans.
“My confusion corner commuters are cursing the cold away” is the opening line and, while certainly more literate than the average opening words to a pop song, engenders a little bit of confusion that must be worked out in order to get that the singer drives a bus for a living. What follows is the musing of a fellow ruminating over a relationship with someone and the brilliance of the song specifically, and the Weakerthans in general, is that it is entirely possible to interpret the precise details of the songs differently.
Consider the admission that the singer spends much of his time preoccupied with trivial distractions like counting down the seconds left in a minute and reciting Canadian provinces and the names of actors. A literal interpretation of “Civil Twilight” being about a bus driver makes sense of these lyrics as method for dealing with the soul-crushing repetition of his job. Another way to look at it is from the perspective that meaningless recitation of trivial matters and clock counting is an effective way to keep from obsessing over the pain of romantic loss.
The observation by the singer of “Civil Twilight” that he passes by a certain house every other hour of the day that his lost romantic counterpart once told him was a place she had to go makes sense within the context of his job. The following lines recall that moment from the past when she said she had to go to that house and include the intriguing detail that he was incapable of looking into her eyes and instead focused his attention on a crack in the wall or ceiling or floor that the landlord promised he would get fixed. The prominent interpretation by those at Songmeanings.net indicate a belief that the crack was in that house and that she lived there and he is emotionally overwrought at having to pass by that memory several times a day.
The context of the title of the song leads to a significantly different interpretation that the reason he could not look at her when she said she had to go there is because he knew right then she was lying about something. The crack that the landlord needed to fix isn’t located inside the house on his route, but back at the place they used to live together. And while that house he passes by so many times a day may or may not be on his route, the real cause behind his obsessive need to drive past is because it is a totemic symbol constantly reminding that things might have turned out differently if he had not, as he later recounts, failed to say something when he had the chance.
Such an interpretation that the product of what is, absolutely, the best thing about this song specifically and the Weakerthans in general. Civil twilight, you see, is actually a scientific definition used in navigation to define that period of the day when the center of the sun is geometrically positioned so that artificial lighting is not necessary to distinguish terrestrial objects. In other words, civil twilight is when humans are able to see things clearly and naturally.
Now, don’t you want to get to know a band that comes up with a song title like that?