Julia Stiles on Andrew Bird’s ‘Lusitania’
Actress Julia Stiles appeared in the “Bourne” film series. She will star in the off-Broadway play “Phoenix” at New York’s Cherry Lane Theater from Monday through Aug. 23. She spoke with Marc Myers.
I’m always looking for new music by artists who aren’t well known yet. That’s how I discovered guitarist-songwriter Andrew Bird in the early 2000s. When he released his “Break It Yourself” album in 2012, I loaded it onto my iPod, took it on a flight and wound up playing the song “Lusitania” over and over again. I even made “Lusitania” my alarm-clock song.
“Lusitania” is a ballad that opens with Bird whistling and playing guitar backed by this big ’60s Wall-of-Sound drumbeat. Then he sings in a deep, beautiful voice. The song is about the breakup of a supposedly unbreakable relationship, and his line, “But somehow it don’t register as pain at all,” resonated with me. Throughout the song, Bird explores how heartbreak can be murky.
None of the song’s lyrics are obvious and his sentence structures are poetic: “If your loose and libel lips / Keep sinking all my ships / Then you’re the one who sank my Lusitania.” Here, the song’s true feelings are beautifully masked by Bird’s unusual word choices and how they sound together: “You’re laying mines along your shore / Through my hull it ripped and tore / We don’t study this war no more.”
The song’s ocean motif is also appealing. I’m almost never happier than when I’m on a beach. I like the pull of the tide, which you feel in this song’s instrumental arrangement. It’s a primal thing, like a heartbeat. About halfway into the song, singer St. Vincent [ Annie Clark ] takes over, and it’s like hearing the woman’s response to Bird’s feelings. When she sings “Go ahead say something dumb boy / There’s no shame,” it sounds as if she’s trying to coax words out of him. When they sing together in duet, it’s powerful.
I often listen to “Lusitania” whenever I’m in an overwhelming situation. The melody and instrumentation are so soothing. This is particularly true on a movie set, when things get chaotic. Humming the song calms me down.