This is Sam Herring—he’s got Marlon Brando’s face, a Tasmanian Devil’s roar, a stagehand’s attire, and Joseph Gordon Levitt’s eyebrows:
But those dance moves are all his own.
This performance was somewhat of a viral sensation for Future Islands two years ago when they made their TV debut on Letterman. Later that year, Pitchfork named “Seasons (Waiting On You)” their best track of 2014.
Now that I’ve replayed this performance two dozen or so times, I can watch it without feeling so many of the visceral emotions I felt the first time. But I can break down those instinctual, animal reactions into three distinct phases.
Phase 1: Defensiveness
Where’s the too-cool-for-cool attitude of a young musician? What is he trying to prove? Why won’t he just let me watch him without wanting to scoff and call him a freak?
There’s something threatening about Sam Herring’s posture and vocal delivery: witness his bar-brawling hooks that lead into both choruses. At times my hackles raise at his savanna-clearing roar, while at others my instinct is to dismiss him entirely: What is this bozo doing on national television strutting around like a headless chicken?
Then I think: this guy doesn’t have the problem. It’s my problem for being offended by someone who’s just doing his thing. Which leads to my next emotion.
Phase 2: Concern
At 2:06, Herring beats his chest hard enough that I can feel it on my own sternum, two years in the future. He does it again even harder at 3:04. I’m worried for him. I think he’s going to hurt himself. I want to call him, maybe talk him down from his rabid overflow of expression.
And yet, I think he’s the one who’s trying to talk me “up”. If you listen to the lyrics, this song is about someone who has “grown tired of trying to change for you.” The “you” seems to refer to one of Herring’s relationships that had recently ended, but in this song it comes out as more of a statement of artistic self-expression—I’m my only constant, and so I should never try to compromise myself.
This person—and Herring makes me see him as a human being, much more than as a musician—does not, and should not, change for me. Which leads into my third emotion.
Phase 3: Connection
I think it’s no accident that this song caught on so heavily when it hit the public eye. It’s memetic because of this performance, but if the song was hollow, if it had no emotional resonance, there’s no way it would be as affronting as it is.
Herring delivers that emotional core—he’s unguarded completely, inviting you to expose your raw nerves. The bass, drums and synths pave a steady walkway for his voice to stagger down: “as it breaks, the summer will wake/But the winter will wash what is left of the taste”.
It’s a personal experience of transience. Samsara, all things must pass, seasons change, but some people never do. But that resentment is misplaced: he admits that trying to change himself was wrong, and so he can’t ask for the same thing from this person.And in acquiescing with that fact, he accepts the real, meaningful in his life that spawns this song.
It’s the immortal paradox: there’s a core of being at the center of everyone (some would call it a soul), but to think that it’s fixed and immutable is to ignore that seasons change, but they’re always the same seasons.