Sunday, July 10, 2011

Songs Taken Literally: Meet Virginia

In 1998, a rock band from San Francisco, California (as opposed to San Francisco de Macoris in the Dominican Republic) unleashed "Meet Virginia," a compelling geopolitical and psychological case study of an alternate reality in which the United States is a monarchy and Virginia, a former princess suffering acute depression and personality disorders, is determined to seize political power through exercise.

Virginia is clearly obsessed with being "the queen," yet the fact that her mother "works on carburetors" indicates that her family's royal status has been revoked, probably in an
coup d’├ętat that took place during Virginia's youth. This rebellion was apparently bloodless since many members of the royal family were left alive, though the motives and nuances of said conflict are deliberately left open to interpretation.

Rather than bore us with overly expository narrative, Train wisely alludes to internal familial strife with the line, "Her brother is a fine mediator / for the president." This subtly provocative line hints that her sibling is in fact collaborating with the very political powers that overthrew their family! This is especially striking when one considers that the before-mentioned political powers have sentenced the deposed royal family's patriarch to "wrestling alligators" in some kind of gladiatorial-type setting, thus "Meet Virginia" also speaks to themes of honor, courage, and familial loyalty.


Virginia's own goals are often subject to intense doubt and contradiction; for instance, she "wants to be the queen" yet periodically screams, "I don't really wanna be the queen," hinting that while she craves great political power (perhaps to avenge her father and kill her brother), she also fears what the ruling political powers may do to her if she fails.

I will not waste time elucidating the obvious parallels between Virginia and Shakespeare's Hamlet, so far as her indecision is concerned.

Rather than become the figurehead of an underground movement, or attempt to break through the apathetic labor philosophy of her spirit-broken mother, Virginia hits upon a curious strategy: she begins "[wearing] high heels when she exercises," a move that hints at self-loathing (reminiscent of self-flagellating monks in the 13th and 14th centuries) coupled with an acute need for higher endorphin levels to combat her growing desire to commit suicide.

On the surface, Train seems to be hinting that Virginia is a deeply disturbed and unreliable figure, but upon closer study, we realize that she "loves babies and surprises." This adds significantly more dimension to her character and hints that there is much more to her than meets the eye. For instance, she is obviously crafty, in that she deliberately neglects her appearance (especially her hair, which is "always a mess"), probably to project helplessness and lull her enemies with a false sense of security.

Virgina also possesses a startling capacity for courage in that, like her father, she "never compromises" (unlike her mother and brother, who seem outwardly content to betray their family lineage) and openly speaks over the telephone (which is surely bugged) about how she disapproves of the ruling political party. This could be a dubious decision reflecting her rapidly deteriorating psyche, though I believe there is another, far more intriguing possibility.

Train informs us late in the song that Virginia also possesses "magic" intuition and that the "shape of her body" is "unusual." While this hints at a number of possibilities, the most likely would seem to be that Virginia possesses supernatural characteristics, perhaps to a degree that the ruling political party--and even those members of her own family who betrayed her--are, in fact, acutely afraid of her.

The fact that Virginia is still alive hints that her potential for rampant murder is either not fully appreciated, or else the ruling political party is incapable of destroying her--either because she wields enormous support with the laypeople, or because she is, in fact, invulnerable to many forms of conventional attack.

There are also hints that Virginia's powers have not yet achieved their full potential, which might be another motive behind her exercise: Virginia's supernatural abilities are enhanced through physical pain, with the help of sleep deprivation ("she only drinks coffee at midnight"). While we cannot say for certain if these latent powers exist in the other members of her family, the fact that her father has not exhibited them despite being subject to gladiatorial combat would hint that Virginia is one of a kind. In fact, in all likelihood, she is some kind of mutant, a Christ-like figure destined to abolish democracy and restore this alternate reality America to a monarchy style of government.

More telling than the political ramifications of this song, though, is its close attention to character development. Train again displays their knack for making unbelievable characters more believable by giving Virginia distinctly human traits (loneliness, self-doubt, latent maternal instincts, etc). They also add additional depth by daringly incorporating themselves into their story.

Virginia is stated to find the narrator (presumably Train's lead singer, Patrick Monahan) beautiful. In the second verse, in fact, Monahan momentarily confuses himself with his own fictional character when he confesses that he "smokes a pack a day." Given the sheer volume of literature detailing the dangers of smoking and the difficulty that smokers have in quitting, plus the various characteristics of Virginia herself, it is no great leap to suggest that "Meet Virginia" also functions as an allegorical representation of Monahan's desire to quit smoking and perhaps undergo a sex change.

Some critics might find fault with a singer equating his nicotine addiction and possible sexual confusion to a supernatural, former noblewoman engaged in a psychological and geopolitical struggle where the stakes are literally life and death. However, I applaud Train’s bold, multi-dimensional approach to song-writing and wait for the day when such close-minded countries as Australia will allow this kind of edgy, Shakespearean songwriting to peak higher than #91 on the charts.

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