Albums to Love: Be the Cowboy by Mitski (2018)

Your twenties are for breaking down on the turnpike…

It’s always been hard for me to express my feelings. Even with myself. It’s like admitting I feel a certain way makes it too real for me. My feeble mind cannot fathom the fact that actually feel that way.

 I can’t be sad. I can’t feel alone. Isn’t that what people do in movies? Isn’t that what happens to people who actually have difficult lives? It can’t happen to me. 

I grew up in a household that encouraged me to say how I felt, but somehow, I never felt comfortable sharing that with my parents. This led me to bury feelings deeply within my psyche until I wasn’t able to hold them down anymore. For no particular reason. It only took two decades.

Now, at the tender age of 20, these feelings have managed to dig themselves up from the deepest and darkest crevices in my head and I am now struggling to come to terms with them.

This is where Mitski’s Be the Cowboy comes into the place. 

Musically, “Be the Cowboy” embodies the feeling that your 20s bring: It’s polished, grown-up and concise but it still manages to be fun, heartbreaking and filled with youthful sadness.

Mitski moved away from the bass-focused tracks and distorted guitars that made up her previous projects and moved towards a heavy use of synthesizers. It’s hard to compare her sound to anyone else, and though I firmly believe Mitski created a new genre on her own (I call it sad indie pop for mentally unhinged air signs), in this album she puts a theatrical spin to singer-songwriter indie rock.

It’s just that I fell in love with a war
Nobody told me it ended
And it left a pearl in my head
And I roll it around
Every night, just to watch it glow
Every night, baby, that’s where I go

Here, in “A Pearl”, Mitski talks about how we are often so accustomed to chaos and negativity that we feel weird without it. 

For me, the pearl is self-esteem, or lack thereof.

After years of experiencing parental disapproval, lack of luck in the love department and rejection from employers, my already frail mind has come to believe that I am just not good enough for the things I want.

Some days are better than others, but like my fellow air sign sings, I still constantly roll the pearl in my head. It’s something that has become such big a part of me that when I feel alright, I feel weird. It’s like I don’t know how to function without a mind full of worry and insecurities.  

For years, I was afraid to say this out loud. Mostly because to some degree, I like the person that I am. I like my face, my skin, even my questionable life choices.  So how could someone that likes himself still manage to not feel up to par to the things he wants? I ask myself that every day. Saying it out loud made it too real. 

I always thought being vulnerable and open with one’s feelings was a sign of weakness. If I couldn’t feel good about myself who would? I constantly fantasize about picking up everything and going away for a while. Feeling like there is nothing left for me at home, I just couldn’t help but wonder, who would miss me? Who can help me not feel this way? Who can save me if not myself? Who will hire me? Who will stick around after my limp body is burned and the ashes are put into a fancy jar? 

Nobody, nobody, nobody
Nobody, nobody
Ooh, nobody, nobody

“Nobody” manages to capture the many feelings I was often too afraid to admit I felt. Though this lyric is incredibly simple, the rawness of it comes through in the music beautifully. Mitski managed to make me breakdown on the turnpike by simply repeating one word over and over and over and over again. It’s a feeling so common to the human experience yet we barely talk about it. Why is it deemed weak to admit you feel ugly, undesirable, and unworthy? 

These self-loathing thoughts also brought about an uncomfortable loneliness that I was also too afraid to admit to myself. I used to think people who couldn’t be content by themselves were weak. Then I found myself being one of those people. Though I was surrounded by friends and family, I felt lonelier as each week passed by. But I didn’t want to say anything. I didn’t want to seem weak, or that I was incapable of taking care of myself, by myself. Just typing this makes me feel exposed, but I believe growth can only happen by stepping outside of your comfort zone. 

And I don’t want your pity
I just want somebody near me
Guess I’m a coward
I just want to feel alright

And I know no one will save me
I just need someone to kiss
Give me one good honest kiss
And I’ll be alright

How could I allow myself to be so vulnerable? Do people actually care about my feelings? Is it out of pity? I don’t want to hear words of comfort. I don’t know exactly what I want. But that’s what being in your 20s is all about, right? It’s about wanting someone near you while hating yourself for admitting it because deep down you know that you should be alright on your own.

I’ve started learning that it is okay to be exposed, and Mitski’s lyrics have helped me find a way to word the feelings I’ve never been able to decipher myself.  Whenever I find myself upset and can’t figure out the reason, I drive around playing this album for a couple of hours. I’ve found that after many tears, U-turns and a lot of wasted gas I can pinpoint the reason.

Maybe I’m the same as all those men
Writing songs of all they’re dreaming

But would you tell me if you want me?
‘Cause I can’t move until you show me

As a musician and a hopeless romantic (even if I hate to admit it) this specific lyric, from “Come into the Water,” pulls at my heartstrings in a very particular way. I’ve often written songs about love interests, real or fake, and constant waiting. There is this notion within myself that never allowed me to move away from the things that did not serve me.

At the time, I was holding on to the possibility of a love interest clarifying their feelings and intentions. I knew the answer deep down, yet something kept me from moving forward. What if? I’m not good at interpreting mixed signals. Maybe I just lie to myself. The way that Mitski passionately signs this line, in complete honesty, made me realize that there is power in vulnerability.

There is nothing weak about exposing your vulnerable side to the world.

Thank you Mitski, for giving me the strength to keep on being vulnerable. 

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Author: Andres Nuñez

Andres Nunez is a musician from Mexico living in Miami. He also likes dogs and forgets he's half Cuban.

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