Is "Best Day of My Life" Really the Best?
I was first interested in the use of monster imagery. As I'm sure we're all aware, the supernatural and the unnatural have been taking up a rather large portion of the pop culture imagination over the past decade or so, from the increased interest in the fantasy and superhero genres to the vampires, werewolves, zombies, and dragons we see cropping up around every corner. Even the supernatural imagery of the Bible, via blockbuster films like Noah (2014) and the forthcoming Exodus (2014), is feeding this popular desire for something beyond the merely normal and rational, beyond the urban and mundane. There is a current within the human imagination that is searching after something beyond us, and not only beyond us. We are searching for something beyond us that surges through us and sweeps us up into its otherworldly existence. Bella is the object of desire of both vampires and werewolves; she is their center. Magic courses through the veins of seemingly "normal" Muggles who turn out to be wizards. Seemingly ordinary Hobbits "carry the fate of us all". Supernatural abilities are bestowed on Peter Parker, Steve Rogers, and Hal Jordan; Clark Kent discovers he is Superman; Bruce Wayne and Tony Stark become more than merely human; mutants are born. Even the horror of zombies involves a fascination with being "the survivor", the one who beats the odds, the super-man. In amongst the fascination with the supernatural is a desire to be the focus of all the supernatural activity. The Force flows through you.
Why the interest in the supernatural, in the monstrous? Why do we "stretch our hands out to the sky" for the aliens, the heroes, the monsters to come and take us? Why do we desire to "dance with monsters through the night" and "howl at the moon with friends"? We are creatures ordered towards something beyond ourselves, something great and mysterious, ultimately, to God. Whether we acknowledge it or not, as human beings we are hardwired for religion, for worship, for contact with the Divine. In our secular, materialistic world, we are not provided many opportunities for fulfilling this part of ourselves, this longing for participation in mystery. Stories of magic and gods and heroes and monsters that willingly interact with us, for better or for worse, aims to put something into that empty space inside us that God should fill. We are searching for the mystery of God; we respond to the mystery of the unnatural or supernatural. We desire it, as well as the things that stand for it, like the night and the moon. These images are much more mysterious because they are shrouded in darkness, in veils of the unknown; thus, we enter into mystery. Every act of cultic behavior is a response to our natural desire to be in communion with something beyond ourselves and beyond the natural scope of reality.
What I found most interesting about the way this idea is portrayed in "Best Day of My Life" is the development of the theme throughout the stanzas. The first stanza initiates the theme of dreaming. It is in the dream rather than the reality that the poet "jumped so high I touched the clouds"; he leaves the earth, the natural world, behind to enter into a different landscape, a different mode of reality. This is where the poet can meet with monsters: "I stretched my hands out to the sky / I danced with monsters through the night". In looking up and out beyond the confines of nature, the poet can meet with the supernatural and "dance" with them, form a communion with them. This is the dream from which the poet does not want to be woken, this mystic experience of participation in something beyond the self, beyond the natural. This is the best day of his life.
Something interesting happens in the second stanza, however. As the poet "howled at the moon with friends", "the sun came crashing in". The idea of howling at the moon tends to take on two different meanings in our idiomatic language. On the one hand, to "howl at the moon" can mean "to enjoy oneself without restraint". According to this definition, the sun can be seen as an enemy of the pleasures of the night. When the sun imposes itself on us, when the daylight of reality comes back into our lives, the dream is over, the fun is over, and the humdrum world comes back into focus. On the other hand, another idiomatic use of "howling at the moon" is to chase after something unattainable, to cry out to something that has no capability of answering. In this sense, the sun crashing in puts an end to the useless crying to something that cannot answer; it puts an end to chasing after the unattainable. In this sense, the sun itself provides something attainable and responsive. The brightness of the moon, after all, is only a reflection of the radiance of the sun. According to this rendering of the idiom, the poet was only chasing after a reflection of the true mystic experience in his dances with monsters and his communion with the night. The true mystical presence is experienced when the Sun comes crashing in. The poet seems to support this last reading of the lyrics with the following lines: "But all the possibilities / No limits, just epiphanies". The sun does not render the cultic impulse null and void; it does not impose limits on the unrestrained joy of the poet. In fact, it provides "epiphanies" that the moon and the night did not. An epiphany can refer to any sudden insight or revelation, but most specifically it refers to the manifestation of a deity. In an epiphany, God makes Himself manifest, He reveals Himself to humanity. In this sense, the sudden appearance of the Sun, the "crashing" into our lives of God Himself, is a moment of epiphany. In amongst all the longing for communion with the supernatural in all of the cultic impulses in all places throughout the world, even in our post-modern, materialist, secularist, rational, 21st century urban center of the universe, God reveals Himself in answer to our desire for Him. When it is time to wake from the dream, the reality will be even better than we could have imagined.
The final stanza brings this spiritual dimension into play: "I hear it calling outside my window / I feel it in my soul". It is no longer the poet who searches for divinity, who reaches his hands up to the sky to pull mystery down to himself. Mystery and Divinity have come to him, are calling to him, are tugging at that empty space inside his soul, longing to fill it. It is now God Himself who invites the poet to communion, who says, "Come and dance with Me." The natural world has been changed, infused with the mystery of the supernatural: "The stars were burning so bright / The sun was out 'til midnight". The sun and stars are visible together; the light of epiphany and the darkness of mystery have met. And the poet's response to this is: "I say we lose control". When faced with the glory of Divinity, humanity loses itself in the dizzying joy of being swept up into the dance. We "lose control" over our lives and our destinies in the sense that we give over our entire beings to the One who, as Dante says at the end of his Divine Comedy, where he experiences himself the ecstasy of the Beatific Vision, "moves the sun and other stars". In the same way as Dante felt "my desire and my will / were being turned like a wheel", the poet feels his own human idea of self-will being given over to the One whose will is all. When the joy of the Divine Love is discovered, how can one do anything else but give up everything to chase after Him and join the dance?
Of course, this is just one interpolation of the lyrics to this song. And, according to that reading, it is definitely the "best day of my life". Naturally, this song could also just be about the excitement of achieving success as musicians in the modern music market. It could also simply describe the natural joys provided by the pleasures of this world in the presence of those friends who make life so worthwhile. Neither of these interpretations of the song would be inappropriate or "bad", to say the least. However, I wouldn't call them the "best" either.
The point of this blog is not to tell anyone what they should or should not consider entertaining, nor what films, books, lyrics, or television shows are morally or artistically good or bad. The point is to engage with the stories that are creating our culture on an intellectual level, to meet the morals with our minds before they go to our hearts. Once you know what's in the entertainment you imbibe and you're aware of how it may be shaping your perceptions of the world around you, well then, imbibe away!