The Attack of the Vengeful Calligraphy: Train – “Hey, Soul Sister”

Train Hey Soul Sister


As the video starts rolling, the camera pans down from the sky and focuses on a little corner café, where the band members are just kicking off an impromptu jam session as they stand outside the café. Apparently this is one of the risks involved with dining at corner cafés in revitalized parts of town that were once abandoned warehouse districts. Rude musicians can suddenly break into song when all you want is your cobb salad with the dressing on the side.

There’s a handy street sign informing us that this hoedown is taking place at the corner of “Echo Park Av” and something else. That name rings a faint bell, so this is probably some really famous place that means a lot to people who live in California. For the rest of the country, there is no emotional attachment whatsoever. We just know that we shouldn’t eat at this place if we have a migraine or don’t care for musical accompaniment when we are busy sticking things in our mouths.

Before the song gets very far, we are completely distracted by the one band member who is playing what might be a ukulele. Or perhaps it’s just a guitar that somebody left in the dryer too long, not sure. This dude looks just like Howie Mandell, which is a somewhat discomforting thought if you let your mind dwell on it. Whoever he is, he’s very proud of his toy guitar, and he’s quite invested in ensuring that his Tiny Dancer makes everyone want to hold him closer.

Then, because music videos are not allowed to stay in one place for any length of time, we jump to an apartment of some kind, where all the furniture and accessories are completely white. Since this is not a realistic design choice, we know right away that something tragic is going to take place in this location. There’s a woman sitting in the midst of all this, looking a little confused, maybe because the white shapes are all blending together and she’s really not certain where the door might be. She’s probably very hungry and sad, not being able to figure out where the knocking is coming from when the delivery guy shows up with her Chinese food.

Then we zip over to another apartment, this one inhabited by some guy dressed in black. We can’t really see the furnishings in this dwelling just yet, because the camera person seems to have focus issues, so we don’t know if his belongings have a monochromatic theme as well. But we can see that there is a large, blank canvas on one wall. (I’m guessing that all the hip, young people who live near cafés with spontaneous live entertainment have blank canvases on their walls. It’s probably a requirement, with special sections that you have to initial when you sign your lease.)

Oh look, the next line of the song lyrics has miraculously appeared on the otherwise-purposeless canvas. That was very thoughtful on someone’s part. I don’t think I could have continued living if I didn’t know exactly what Pat Monahan was singing right at that moment. I am truly blessed. If I was a religious person, I would take this as a sign that I need to start tithing ten percent of my income to a mega-church that has placed profits before prophecy. But since I’m not, I’ll probably just buy some organic carrots and call it even. The results seem to be the same.

Hold up, we have a new development worthy of our attention. The next set of lyrics appears, and the words have now become animated, sliding off the canvas, along the wall of the apartment, out the window and across the trendily-restored building. This is certainly a bit surprising. Unless I missed an important memo, words shouldn’t really do that. I’m starting to get a little unsettled and we’re just thirty seconds into the show.

We zip back to the café for more shots of the band members, Howie included, as they jam along to the perky fake happiness of the song and do cute little dances. Pat Monahan deserves credit for perfecting the bed-head look that is still fashionable, but I think it’s fair to say that he will not be appearing on “Dancing with the Stars” anytime soon. (Here’s a helpful hint, Pat: Maybe if those jeans weren’t so tight, you might look a bit more fluid on the dance floor. Just trying to help.)

We suddenly realize that the slightly-creepy lyrics are now crawling around on all of the buildings and starting to leak on the sidewalks. I really don’t care for this. I know it’s supposed to be whimsical and fun, but it’s not coming across like that for me. It looks more like, I don’t know, the evil spread of the Dictionary Virus. I’m sure that if this video was playing in Hong Kong, the citizens would be running for those surgical masks that they relish so.

We roll into another montage of the band dancing and singing, just to remind us that this is a music video, after all. Pat has a really big chin, never noticed that before. Not a bad thing, merely an observation. (I’m just trying to give you all the details you might need, should you ever happen to appear on a game show where there’s a really important question about the facial features of lead singers.) Pat’s still having an issue with that dancing, jittering around like we might have an unreachable rash. (I’d blame the tight jeans for that as well.)

Uh oh, I hope someone tells the band that the crawling lyrics are now right above them, infesting the building where the café lives. I really don’t trust those words. They’re acting too much like Republicans, messing with things that are none of their business, intruding into the private lives of others, and running about mindlessly with no apparent purpose. This could get bad.

Uh oh, it’s too late. The lyrics are now appearing on some of the people sitting at the little bistro tables on the café sidewalk. Surprisingly, none of these trendy folk seem the least bit concerned that they have mutated into a Microsoft Word document. They just calmly continue with their lives, reading the newspaper or thinking about what hipster comment they can make in 140 characters or less on Twitter. I don’t think I would be this nonchalant if I was innocently munching on a bagel and the alphabet suddenly scrolled across my beer belly. But I’m not from California, so I probably just don’t get it.

Meanwhile, Pat and the gang are still playing and singing, completely unaware that mobile words have taken over the planet or that nobody is really listening to the band. (This is what happens in short-attention-span modern society. If you don’t take heed of your surroundings, then your surroundings might come to life in a manner that you didn’t expect. And if you wait three years before you put out another album, you basically have to start over with building your fan base, except for the stoners who have lost all concept of time.) The invading lyrics are soon joined by these vicious thick arrows that are pointing in all directions, adding perplexity and mayhem to the scene, at least for me. Everybody else is just waiting for the video to wrap so they can get a SAG credit.

Then, horror of horrors, the words and black arrows invade the pristine all-white apartment that we’ve almost forgotten about, appearing on the walls and vases and couches. Sad Girl ignores all of this and just pours herself a nice cup of coffee. Why is no one paying attention to what is happening around them? THIS is how criminals get elected to public office, nations go to war, and mind-numbingly uninteresting people become huge media sensations just because a pointless YouTube snippet of them making toast somehow went viral.

Okay, we’re back to Pat and the bouncing band. It seems Pat got a memo from the corporate office while we were gone, and he’s stopped trying to dance. Now he’s making hand gestures that look like something out of a really bad junior-high play where the director eventually went to jail due to unrelated criminal offenses. He’s all about the Big and the Dramatic, which is a bit much, especially since he’s currently singing about his “untrimmed chest”. Do those two words even belong together in a song? (Still, if he feels the need to whip off his shirt so I can better understand his artistic intentions, I’d be fine with that.)

We spend a while cutting back and forth between the band and the Sad Girl in her now zebra-themed apartment. She seems to be in a better mood, having had her coffee and all. But she’s still not taking heed of the letter invasion, instead choosing to read a large white book that doesn’t appear to have a title. (I guess the title decided to join the Noah’s Ark line of scampering letters as they frolic about town with mad abandon, sucking down beers and not properly tipping the overworked waitresses.)

Finally, Sad Girl notices the arrows vibrating all over her apartment, determines that they might actually be trying to get her attention, then rushes out the door, happily following the arrows. This would not happen in Texas. Here, people would pull out a shotgun and shoot the arrows, then ask questions later, if they even got around to that second part. Texans have a different viewpoint on life, with newborns being handed a gun license as soon as they squirt out of the womb.

Then we have a shot of the guy dressed in black jogging out of his monochromatic apartment, also following the arrows. We haven’t seen him in a while, so who knows what he was up to, but at least he’s not dancing or reading nameless books. (He’s definitely had time to use styling products on his hair and work out at the gym, skills that are much more valued in this baffling age, as opposed to obtaining a decent education or dedicating your life to helping others. Self-involvement is the new black.)

The next few scenes involve sad white girl and brooding black guy wandering along the city blocks, following the helpful arrows that are leading them to their destination. It doesn’t take much to surmise where this is going, and I would assume they will eventually meet cute and have mixed-letter children.

And the video ends with them doing exactly that, with their bipolar selves staggering toward each other in front of the very café where the Last Train to Rockville is finishing up their set. Pat finally quits dancing and making grand gestures, much to everyone’s relief, and the metropolis-dominating words are no longer in sight. You can see the diners in the café visibly relax as they realize that the alphabet is once again their friend. And the sun quietly sets on the corner of Echo Park Avenue and Sesame Street.

Today’s video was brought to you by the letters “B” and “W”….


Click here to watch this video on YouTube.

Originally published on 01/26/10, revised and updated with extra flair for this post.