Emily Haines: Our Hell… is a Good Life?

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Why does anyone watch a particular video or film?

I am guessing that most people at least “initially” gravitate towards a particular piece due to some familiarity with a person or persons involved. Why does anyone stop watching a particular video or film? Loss of interest? No direction? Too strange?

If any of the above is remotely accurate, the following music video does not have a lot going for it. For starters, few people are familiar with Emily Haines. Second, the first 15 seconds of the video involves a slow zoom of a girl in a pig mask. To top it off, the entire music video is filmed in the “negative”. (Will make sense once you hit play)

When not performing “solo”, Emily Haines gives her time to Canadian bands Metric and Broken Social Scene. Her recent “solo” album entitled “Knives Don’t Have Your Back” comes soon after her father’s death (poet Paul Haines) and understandably carries a reflective tone about it. The following song, “Our Hell”, is the first track of this album and is just as intriguing as the video itself.

Jaron Albertin, who directed the video, does not shy away from allusions and metaphors representing a reality that many are familiar with. The “seemingly” simple and peaceful images of friends amidst a beach scene are juxtaposed by the negative filter in which we experience them. Although this tension is represented visually throughout the video, it is the irony of a particular lyric that has captured my attention:

All this weight is honest worse
We’re moderate, we modernize
Till our hell is a good life

Haines and Albertin are asking important questions relating to both our personal and social world: What is “good”? What is “perceived”? What is “broken”? What is “inevitable”?

The idea of life with others has a few inescapable and ironic realities. We deal with our stuff alone, yet the “alone” is amidst “others” (who are also dealing “alone”). Albertin and Haines play with these realities in a poignant way (see ending) and seem to be interested in the “how” in which we deal. Whether you are familiar with Haines or you like pig masks or not, I’m guessing you are familiar with “dealing” and “stuff”. I invite you to these questions and leave you with one in which I ask myself… Is your hell a good life?


Like this video or Emily Haines? Check out her video “Dr. Blind” featured in our Top 25 Videos of 2006.


[mov version]


Our Hell (Lyrics)
By Emily Haines (and the Soft Skeleton)

First went wrong is hard to find
We’re paralyzed, we apologize
Our hell is a good life

Last went wrong
Where’s my prize?
Under the lights
Can we call it in?
We’ll be on the road

Can we stop?
When we stop
My back will turn
Your face toward the fence

What I thought it was it isn’t now
What I thought it was it isn’t now

All this weight is honest worse
We’re moderate, we modernize
Till our hell is a good life
All we know what to forget
How to do right
Coloring in the black hole

Can’t we stop?
When we stop
My hands will shake
My eyes will burn
My throat will ache
Watching you turn
From me toward your friends

What I thought it was it isn’t now
What I thought it was it isn’t
Punishment to stall what is done
What I thought was in is missing out
What I thought it was it isn’t now

There’s a pattern in the system
There’s a bullet in the gun
That’s why I tried to save you
But it can’t be done
It can’t be done