By Stacey Egger
Lana del Rey’s newest album, Honeymoon, has enough on its most surface level to merit at least one listen- which will almost inevitably lead to a second, and a third. Its depth and variety of tone and its vivid lyrics immerse the listener in what feels like a very tragic day on the beach. But the artistry of Honeymoon goes deeper than this initial sonic generosity.
The first signs of something deeper appear as odd timeline discrepancies in Lana’s narratives. Even if the album is viewed as a compilation of separate narratives, it plays games with its own time frame. The third track, “Terrence Loves You”, is a good example of this. “I lost myself when I lost you,” Lana croons, before going on to tell the subject of her song, “You are what you are/ I won’t change you for anything.” Lana makes future promises to a present relationship that has already ended. The song continues with an eerie Bowie reference as she turns on the radio and television and tries to communicate with her lost/present lover (“Ground Control to Major Tom / Can you hear me all night long? / Ground Control to Major Tom.”). Lana plays with tenses and narrative elements throughout her songs, and the tone of galactic distance and disconnectedness never goes away.
If the album is viewed as one narrative, its timeline becomes even more tangled. For instance, the story of the relationship begins in terms of track order with Honeymoon (about which Lana has said “I feel like it’s where the record begins and ends”), in which Lana comments that her lover doesn’t go, because she is the only one for him. In the next track, “Music to Watch Boys To”, she “sees [him] going”, and then in “Terrence Loves You”, he has gone, yet she continues to speak of the relationship in the present tense. The middle tracks all keep the tone of “Terrence Loves You”, referring to different phases and aspects of a present relationship, while frequently switching suddenly to the past tense, as if referring to a relationship that has already ended. The second to last song (and Lana’s last original on the album), “Swan Song”, is a complex mix of beginning and ends, in which she dreams of running away from her present life to start a new life with her lover. In her last song, a Nina Simone cover, she continues to look back: “Sometimes I find myself alone regretting/Some little foolish thing/Some simple thing that I’ve done.”
Lana’s narrative in Honeymoon, whether one or many, is not a linear narration of time, nor does it fall in clear places along any timeline. But Lana is not making accidental tense errors and narrative mistakes left and right in her songwriting. In Honeymoon, she attempts to depict the individual consciousness, in which memory and potentiality can be just as actively real as present events. Things are not entirely linear in the individual’s perception; rather, the present always contains the past and the future.
Honeymoon’s eighth track, entitled “Burnt Norton (Interlude)”, supports this reading of the album. In the one and a half minute track, backed by shimmering synthetic melodies, Lana reads the opening lines of T.S. Eliot’s “Burnt Norton”, the first part of his Four Quartets:
Time present and time past
Are both perhaps present in time future,
And time future contained in time past.
If all time is eternally present
All time is unredeemable.
What might have been is an abstraction
Remaining a perpetual possibility
Only in a world of speculation.
What might have been and what has been
Point to one end, which is always present.
Footfalls echo in the memory
Down the passage which we did not take,
Towards the door we never opened
Into the rose-garden.
The Four Quartets is saturated with the concepts of time and memory. Burnt Norton presents a world of blurred past and future, potential and reality, which all come together to form whatever is the present, or consciousness. And this eternal present, which is composed of what “might have been and what has been”, and makes no ultimate distinction between the two, seems to be the home of Honeymoon’s psyche. Later in The Four Quartets, Eliot says,
Men’s curiosity searches past and future
And clings to that dimension. But to apprehend
The point of intersection of the timeless
With time, is an occupation for the saint.
Honeymoon lives at this point of intersection. Each song showcases a consciousness that exists of necessity in the present, but whose reality contains the past and the future (memory and potentiality). And Lana’s exploration of time goes beyond the confines of the album itself. Every song on the album (except for “Burnt Norton”) makes direct reference to at least one song from her older albums, with “Art Deco” actually including a sample from her song “Born to Die” (the “why?” repeated throughout its chorus).
While her use of time, references, and T. S. Eliot may seem like enough, Lana has left us even more clues. Honeymoon’s cover features a sun-hat, sun-glasses Lana draped over the top of a white open-top car stenciled with the words “Star Line Tours”, and a phone number. When the number (1-800-268-7886) is dialed, the full “Burnt Norton” track plays, followed by Lana’s voice welcoming callers to the “Honeymoon Hotline” and inviting them to listen to a couple of tracks from the album and the recordings of two lectures. One, a TED Talk by Elon Musk, discusses the new technology of electric cars. After briefly discussing the science and innovation involved in the cars, Musk begins to branch off, speaking of the cars’ responsiveness, the connection that the driver feels to the car and to the road that cannot quite be felt in a standard car. Lana has called a meeting that she had with Musk “one of the greatest days of my life”, and commented that she believes America to be on the cusp of new technologies in a way that it was in the 1960s. From the excerpt of the talk she has included, it seems that this comment about innovation refers, more than the specific technology, to the spirit and passion that surrounds the innovation. The world has changed and has created a need for very different technologies, and yet something of the spirit and love behind the technologies is retained- the romance of the car that was so rich in the 1960s is being reborn as technology is reborn. This is a good metaphor for Lana’s music, which incorporates many old-fashioned styles, images, and ideas, while remaining bitingly relevant and personal to modern listeners, and incorporating many new musical elements. Lana does not make throwback music. She holds on to things that she believes are fundamentally beautiful and musical, things “timeless”, and brings her time and her perspective to meet them. The lecture by Musk suggests this idea of timelessness underlying all change.
The other recording she offers callers is her “favorite lecture, ‘The Origins of the Universe’, from leading theoretical physicist and cosmologist Lawrence Krauss”. In the excerpt from the lecture that plays, Krauss describes a photograph of space taken recently, which features hundreds of colorful spots of light. “Every dot in this picture is a galaxy,” he says, “And these galaxies are in real colors, and the blue galaxies, the real distant ones, the faint ones, are maybe 9 or 10 billion light years away. So the light from them left 9 or 10 billion years ago, well before our sun formed 4 and a half billion years ago. And it’s interesting to me whenever I see an image like this… Many of the stars in this image last 5 to 10 billion years, and that means most of the stars in this picture don’t exist anymore.” Through the extreme distance of space, something physical and visible can be present-an image of a galaxy-while the galaxy itself no longer exists. These two lectures juxtapose Eliot’s concepts of time and timelessness. Things die, but there is something fundamental that is eternal, and the temporal things attain meaning and some kind of lastingness only by their “intersection” with eternal things.
Honeymoon seeks for this kind of meaning and lastingness at the intersection of time and timelessness. The style of the music is amorphous and decontextualized, themes (like the color blue) carry from song to song and from other albums. Lana does not accept the vantage point of a specific time or place, but twists time in her songs, at once depicting the way human consciousness interacts with the present and pointing to a kind of humanity that is timeless. The images Lana creates are well described by Eliot’s words later in the Four Quartets:
“…Not the intense moment
Isolated, with no before and after,
But a lifetime burning in every moment…”
In the context of this timeless humanity, all of the things she has lost, the pain she has felt, and the potentialities that have never been and may never be realized have a kind of reality and meaning that carries on.
Eliot says in the Four Quartets, “If all time is eternally present / All time is unredeemable.” The eternal presence of all that has happened and will happen prevents any real human capacity for change. Since the present contains the past and the future, present action cannot really fix anything. But this eternity of time is also all that gives time meaning. As Eliot says, “Only through time time is conquered.” For Eliot and Lana, the intersection of time and timelessness is both death and salvation. We cannot redeem time, because it is all with us at once. But only this being all-at-once gives it eternity, and gives any events meaning.
“This is the use of memory:
For liberation- not less of love but expanding
Of love beyond desire, and so liberation
From the future as well as the past.” (Eliot, Four Quartets)
Lana seeks to redeem time and find meaning in the pain of her life by pursuing the intersection of the timeless with time. By presenting experiences as they interact with the human consciousness, she finds meaning in their beauty, humanity, and timelessness.
Stacey Egger is a sophomore studying history.