I'm Good, I'm Gone: Lykke Li, Looking Back, and the Culture of Loss

Elizabeth Lyons

Feb 01, 2013

Alone in my apartment, I still prefer to listen to music on my iPod. There's something about the immersive experience of music through headphones. There's something about the way I can sing along and not have to hear my voice as I do so. Perhaps it's different for those with a good sound system in their house--but for me, it's the speakers on my computer or the headphones. And Pete Townsend and his warning on protecting your hearing be damned, I turn up my music as loud as it will go. While Aimee Mann and Salt-n-Pepa get equal time, the best love, the biggest love, goes to what I lovingly call the Swedish Triumvirate: Robyn, Lykke Li, and Miike Snow. All three, in addition to creating music that falls somewhere between electronica and pop, tend towards the futuristic and apocalyptic in their music videos. Li, in particular, has some beautifully rendered images that are akin to Rorschach butterflies in her song "Get Some." The song I have on a loop that is getting me through all this February rain is "I'm Good, I'm Gone," which has the lyrics:
I'm stepping, I'm stomping, I'm all gone Give me the tone and I'm all gone Yeah I'm walking by the line Not here but in my mind
There's something so sweetly aggressive about Li in this song--the way she sings about loss and need, a "you" who only seems to criticize and a narrator who is working, "peeking over shoulders," knowing she'll "get it back." Of course, as with many lyrics, we accept abstraction in a way we wouldn't on the page. It's never clear what the singer will get back, or what line she's walking by--but the song has the hook and the bass, handclaps and a piano's sad progression, a soprano in distortion. There's a sweetness to the loss in "I'm Good, I'm Gone" that I can't seem to parse out. And perhaps this inability to parse it out is what gives it such power. This same loss I can't seem to parse is at the heart of one of my favorite poems: Brigit Pegeen Kelly's "Song." She begins,
Listen: there was a goat's head hanging by ropes in a tree. All night it hung there and sang. And those who heard it Felt a hurt in their hearts and thought they were hearing The song of a night bird. They sat up in their beds, And then they lay back down againĀ½.
The directive is what always stops me in this poem. The narrator is involving the reader in the experience of the poem, in the recollection of the memory, in such an explicit fashion. Listen, the narrator says. Listen. Here is this story, of a girl and a goat named Broken Thorn Sweet Blackberry, of a goat that sings the way a murdered person must (or should) haunt their killers. This is, of course, a haunting as well: for goats can't sing, or at least not the way they do in Kelly's world.
The body lay by the tracks. The head called to the body. The body to the head. They missed each other.
Both Li and Kelly, to me, are singing the same story--one of keeping a loss at the center of a life, of an experience. For Li, however, the loss seems to be a choice--the refrain "You'll be calling but I won't be at the phone" implies that the narrator knows someone is trying to keep a connection, and chooses to remove themselves from the equation. In Kelly's poem, the entire town tries to repair the girl's loss, to raise money to buy a new goat, to find the perpetrators. They want, in essence, to remove the event--to protect a child. I was raised in the South, in the strange world of Flannery O'Connor, of a mother who says someone is walking over your grave when you shiver--a strange concept, I realize, but a comforting one as well. And perhaps there are many who are trying to avoid loss, or deny it--but I think that Lykke Li is smart to sing "We must go"--because sometimes, the hardest part of the mourning is accepting that things cannot be repaired. Once that hard work is done, as Kelly writes,
Not a cruel song, no, no, not cruel at all. This song Is sweet. It is sweet. The heart dies of this sweetness.
Writing of loss is always bitter, and also sweet; and for many writers, it is the thing we will always turn over in our minds.