“Pyotr” – Bad Books

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Prepare to get your sad on. This is the song that plays during a movie montage where the main character just broke up with his girlfriend. The camera cuts back and forth between the breakup fight and the main character packing up his stuff, eventually concluding with him driving away in his 2006 Hyundai Sonata. He probably stares into the rearview mirror until he rounds the corner.

This song, and its meaning, were graciously introduced to me two weeks ago. I’ve had a hard time getting it out of my head since then. Even Future’s “Purple Reign,” pretty much the exact opposite in every way, hasn’t been able to evict it fully.

Like Alt-j’s “Taro,” which Drewbert so astutely wrote about last year, this song changes completely when you learn what it means. Most songs mean something, but if you really listen to this one, you kind of have to look into the background. So. Here it is.

Pyotr is Peter the Great, the Russian tsar. He marries Catherine, a servant who would eventually become tsarina and empress when Peter dies. But Catherine is unfaithful, and Peter discovers her and her Lover (shudder. That word sucks). The lover is executed, and his head is dunked into a jar. As punishment, Catherine is made to look at the Lover’s final resting place.

The song is told from the perspective of Peter and the Lover, with the perspective swapping from verse to verse, even after the Lover, in the immortal words of Michael Scott, had his cappa ditated from his head.

It’s a very sad, mournful song; both men love Catherine. From Peter’s perspective, you get the feeling of a wounded animal: “I know I am not the man you desire / I know you think I’m some kind of fool.”

But he’s also a tsar, so you know what they say about wounded animals: “I know you would gaze into his eyes forever / I figured out just how to give that to you.”

I like that line. Not because of the eye-poppingly brutal vengeance it describes, but because of the depth of pain Peter clearly feels.

The other line I like, from the perspective of Mr. Lover after Peter “found us in the western wing sleeping”: “And I tell you in the heat of the struggle / Nobody ever takes my eyes off of you.”

I keep trying to pick a favorite verse or lyric, but the song is amazing throughout. It’s the sort of song you listen to on repeat hoping you find a lyric you haven’t heard yet, or maybe the song will magically double in length. The last verse, from the perspective of the now-dead Lover, is incredible. “It’s so good to see you back here again.”

I’m going to take a long walk in the woods or something. Are there woods in Nebraska?

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