Video was meant to enhance the musical experience when it was first introduced, but upon its wide use in the 80’s with the advent of MTV, it mostly cheapened the medium, and created an opportunity for sub-par artists to lean on image instead of talent to sell their music to the masses. Music at it’s heart is supposed to be filled with mutable themes that can mean something different to each set of ears and be a theater of the mind, while video can many times establish concrete borders around a song’s meaning, cheapening the experience. Or other times a video can make the meaning of a song something completely different than originally thought, in a good or bad way.
Chris Stapleton unexpectedly dropped a video for his song “Fire Away” Monday morning (2-29), and it’s wetting tissues and disturbing workdays all across the country with its candid and gripping portrayal of suicide and mental illness in the see-saw world of a bipolar reality. We already had a good sense that Stapleton’s “Fire Away” was about heartbreak, but the heartbreak portrayed in the video directed by Tim Mattia takes it to an entirely new level. The manic, then depressive moods are evidenced with biting, ghostly accuracy in a well-crafted short where Stapleton plays a bartender early on, and then lets the professionals do the rest. It’s hard not to get pulled in as the drama unfolds from the very real recollections we most all have of when mental illness resulted in tragedy in our own lives.
Fearlessly the “Fire Away” video meets a very real issue head on—an issue that seems to have no governor on who it affects: rich and poor, men and women, and individuals from stable homes with ample love, concern, and attention surrounding them. It also delves into how even the purest love can be a flimsy firewall for the destabilizing, and sometimes catastrophic effects of mental illness, and re-imagines the trope of the first responder having to come to grips as personal and professional lives collide.
The concern about the “Fire Away” video is that in a world where even Cheerios commercials are trying to get you to cry, is this constant barrage of emotional images and portrayals too much for the consumer to handle, over-saturating your daily media intake like sex used to do to the point of becoming opportunist? And is the similar oversaturation of cause-driven placement a little too emotionally rich to where it’s veering towards mawkishness or becoming commonplace like so many Oscar speeches that turn an entertainment medium into political theater? Is a country music video the best context to broach these matters?
What few can quibble with is the results, which is the immediate stock taking of one’s own life in the aftermath of the loss of another. This is what the video of “Fire Away” sets out to accomplish, and succeeds.