Ingrid Michaelson – “Men of Snow”

“Men of Snow” by Ingrid Michaelson somberly parallels the inevitability of a snowman melting to that of the melting of man. Paradoxically, optimistic piano accompanies Michaelson’s painfully true words making the song as uplifting as it is saddening. Much more talented than most singers, she maintains totalitarian control of her voice, creating noticeable shifts in pitch usually to draw attention to emotionally charged words. Orchestral violins match the grandiosity of her words in the chorus as she boldly claims “we’re men of snow” soon to be melted. In addition to the running metaphor, a winter motif is used primarily to accent the snowman analogy, but also to convey the cyclical nature of life. Winter “comes and…goes” ; what is done with Winter snow will not matter since it will ultimately be a puddle .

The parallel between the “man of snow” and humanity is drawn by anthropomorphizing a snowman in the first verse. This man of snow with dark “eyes”, a “nose”, and “snowy ears” became the speaker’s friend and listened to her “sadness” and “fear”. To her dismay, she discovered that her “friend” was dead the following day, “melted all away”. Michaelson chokes her voice to shift into a higher pitch as she recognizes her friend’s “eyes lying on the ground”. Unsettled, she continues onwards to explain that she made a sound that was “something like crying”—subtly quivering her voice on the final word—in response. Melting of a snowman, as cathartical as the passing of a close friend, was deserving of mourning. All of this emotional association with the man of snow, which is in fact composed entirely of water rather than tear and sweat, develops the human-like characteristics of the snow which will—like we will—“melt one day”.

Winter, the only season during which snowmen can survive, goes and comes she says, signifying the cyclical nature of life as a whole. Despite the inevitability of the passing of winter, mounts of snow are deposited. Time which “stacks up in piles like Winter snow” can be packed together to form anything from sweet, strawberry snow cones to sighing deposits of snow shoveled aside. Always, the choice exist. Nevertheless, Spring will come and melt what is made from the snow (indiscriminant of whether it is worthy of hatred or something to “love and hold so dear”). Then, what’s the point when “it won’t matter when we disappear”? French philosopher, Albert Camus, addressees this existential paradox of the human search for meaning in a meaningless world as the absurd. Discounting Kierkegaard’s proposition of transcending the absurd through a religious leap of faith as “philosophical suicide”, he explains that one must “live in revolt” by searching for meaning all while accepting the disorder (Camus 37-55). Michaelson leaves the listener at the doorstep of the absurd.

David Foster Wallace, in his 2005 commencement address to Kenyon College, explores the misery of not having control of thought. The adult mind, captivated by routine, gets through the day in auto-pilot. Without making the conscious decision the mind (by default) stresses itself while standing in a grocery line hearing a screeching mother disciplining her ADHD child with her painted face. Sitting behind never-ending  rows of cars in traffic, parched, behind gas guzzling Hummers, the mind cannot help but think of the damage it will have on the environment that grandchildren will inherit. “Thinking this way tends to be so easy and automatic it doesn’t have to be a choice…The only thing that’s capital-T  True is that you get to decide how you’re going to try to see it. You get to consciously decide what has meaning and what doesn’t” (Wallace 85-96). Michaleson’s anesthetic chorus seems to skipping over Wallace’s notion of choosing to give meaning to what matters. Instead she hopelessly concludes it “won’t really matter when we disappear”.  With parallel syntax and anaphora of “oh, one day you will”, the chorus conveys the inevitability of going away from this; “we’re men of snow, we melt one day”. By default, one’s mind may come to Michaelson’s very point. As Wallace suggests, there is authority over one’s own mind. Therefore, whether it is Sisyphus pushing a boulder up a hill for eternity or being caught in the monotony of daily life, Michaelson’s message, as painfully true as it may be, is as disillusioning as it is frivolous when a more satisfying outlook can be chosen.

Why be an endless bummer when you don’t have to be, right?

Camus, Albert. The Myth of Sisyphus. New York: Vintage International, 1991. 37-55. Print.

Wallace, David Foster. This is Water. 1st ed. New York: Little, Brown and Company, 2009. 85-96. Print.

~ Yogi P.

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