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Music / Conor Oberst

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Conor Oberst (born February 15, 1980) is an American singer-songwriter from Omaha, Nebraska, best known as the frontman for seminal Turn of the Millennium indie band Bright Eyes, who have their own page. He has also done Dylanesque solo work and fronted many other bands, from Emo Music cult favorite Commander Venus and Post-Hardcore Fugazi-style Desaparecidos to indie-rock band Better Oblivion Community Center and folk supergroup Monsters Of Folk. His lyrics range from personal to political.

Tropes that describe or appear in Oberst's work include:

  • After the End: The implication of the narration preceding the videos of Zigzagging Toward The Light and Common Knowledge is that Conor is being interviewed by an AI some time after some form of apocalyptic event which involved, at the very least, a relatively long term blackout.
  • Album Closure: "Till St Dymphna Kicks Us Out" is a - very much relatively - upbeat ending to the very dark Ruminations.
  • Album Title Drop: From "Mamah Borthwick (A Sketch)" on Ruminations - "Every time I tempt fate, there's a major earthquake, heard the people scream, as the ceiling fell, every building damaged, only one left standing, it was Frank Lloyd Wright's Imperial Hotel, a Rumination, in my mind, winding like the ramp at the Guggenhiem".
  • Alliterative Title: "Cape Canaveral".
  • All Love Is Unrequited: Commander Venus's albums and Bright Eyes' earlier songs like "Haliegh, a Lie..." and its sequel song "I've Been Eating (For You)".
  • Angst: What his music is mostly known for.
  • Animal Motifs: "Eagle on a Pole", "Counting Sheep", "Snake Hill".
  • Celebrity Is Overrated: The entirety of Ruminations is this trope, as well as some Bright Eyes songs ("Lua", "Land Locked Blues", "Lover I Don't Have to Love").
  • Celebrity Song: "Dylan Thomas".
  • Character Title: "Danny Callahan".
  • Cradling Your Kill: "Desert Island Questionnaire" ("kissed her while he killed her / like a good Samaritan").
  • Darker and Edgier: Not that he could ever really be described as Light or Soft, but Ruminations definitely qualifies, especially the suicidal references in "Counting Sheep" and discussions of death on "Next of Kin", plus certain lyrics in "Mamah Borthwick (A Sketch)".
  • Death of a Child:
    • In "Counting Sheep" two kids (whose names are obfuscated on the version on Ruminations) "drown in a pool" and are "killed walking to school" respectively. Live versions name them as Louise and Billy, in that order.
    • Very darkly shown in part of "Desert Island Questionnaire", where someone "took her from the playground to a farmhouse cellar / kissed her while he killed her / like a good Samaritan".
    • "But even Western medicine / Couldn't save Danny Callahan, / Bad bone marrow, a bald little boy".
  • Deliberately Monochrome: The album art for Conor Oberst.
  • Double Meaning: St Dymphna of "Till St Dymphna Kicks Us Out" is both a New York bar and the patron saint of the mentally ill.
  • Due to the Dead / Excessive Mourning: The subject of "Next of Kin", who keeps his dead partner's bathrobe on the bedroom door even though she's "been dead for a year or more" is on the border between these two tropes.
  • Face on the Cover: On his solo albums Conor Oberst, Ruminations and Salutations, although he's shown either from the back or in an otherwise obscured fashion on all three.
  • Guyliner: Worn in some TV and concert appearances during his time with Bright Eyes.
  • Heaven Above: One possible metaphorical interpretation of the "Presidential suite up on the 37th floor" in "Empty Hotel By The Sea".
  • Improbable Age: He was already writing and recording music and opening for local acts by the age of 13, was signed onto a label at 14, and made Fevers and Mirrors ó later included on Pitchfork's list of 200 best albums of The '90s ó at 19.
  • The Insomniac: The narrator of the aptly-named "Counting Sheep".
  • It Makes Sense in Context: "Mamah Borthwick (A Sketch)", and, to some extent, "Kick".
  • Listeners Are Geniuses:
    • "Mamah Borthwick (A Sketch)" will make absolutely no sense unless you have, at the very least, read the Wikipeida article on Frank Lloyd Wright.
    • The title of "Till St Dymphna Kicks Us Out" is a reference to both a bar in New York (now closed, sadly) and the patron saint of the depressed and mentally ill.
  • Littlest Cancer Patient: "Danny Callahan".
  • Location Song: "Cape Canaveral" is set in Florida, "Till St Dymphna Kicks Us Out" in NYC, and "Chesapeake" in, well, Chesapeake.
  • Long-Haired Pretty Boy: At certain times in his twenties.
  • Lyrical Cold Open: The Salutations version of "Tachycardia". The version from Ruminations opens with a Piano chord.
  • No-Tell Motel: Referenced in "Gossamer Thin".
  • Ode to Intoxication: "Till St Dymphna Kicks Us Out".
  • Older Than They Look: Oberst is now over 40, but nothing about him, not his face, hair or even his name doesn't say "kid".
  • One-Man Song: "Danny Callahan", "Valle Místico (Rubenís Song)", "Dylan Thomas".
  • One-Word Title: "Tachychardia", "Kick", "Nikorette", "Bloodline", "Spoiled".
  • Protest Song: The bread-and-butter of Oberst's later songwriting.
  • Real Life Writes the Plot: Ruminations alludes to a number of incidents from Oberst's mid-thirties, from a health scare and subsequent hospitalization to the media circus surrounding the (later recanted) accusations of a female fan.
  • Rearrange The Album: Salutations is basically Ruminations re-recorded with a full band.
  • Recurring Dreams: "Tachycardia" from Ruminations, with the line "A Bad dream / I have it seven times a week"
  • Religion Rant Song: "Dear God" from Monsters of Folk has Jim James and Conor Oberst ranting about God letting bad things happen in the world.
  • Shout-Out:
    • "Dylan Thomas" references the poet's death, deliberately lying about its cause.
    • "Kick" is about Kathleen Kennedy, and "Mamah Borthwick" is about Frank Lloyd Wright.
  • The Something Song: "Valle Místico (Rubenís Song)".
  • Stealth Insult: The song "LAX" would be quite sweet, in its own way, were it not for the line "You're a drag queen's dress / you're a plastic knife / you're pretty, dangerous and so untrue", which is, at the very best, a backhanded compliment.
  • Stock Sound Effects: The stock audio clip of a girl shouting "Tuxedo Mask!" featured in the song "Time Code" was also used in menu music in the 1998 children's computer game Rockett's Adventure Maker.
  • Stylistic Suck: "A Little Uncanny" off of Ruminations is filmed in the style of a 1990s VHS, right down to the "Coming Soon" logo and FBI warning at the beginning, and the grain throughout.
  • Supergroup:
    • Monsters of Folk is Oberst, Mike Mogis (also of Bright Eyes), M. Ward (of She & Him), Jim James (My Morning Jacket) and Will Johnson (Centro-Matic).
    • Better Oblivion Community Center, which is Conor and Phoebe Bridgers.
  • Three Chords and the Truth: A lot of his solo work qualifies, especially the entirety of stripped-down Ruminations.
  • Vocal Evolution: In his youth, he was known for his distinctively warbling voice, which breaks and quavers a lot less now that he's older.
  • Wanderlust Song: "Cape Canaveral".
  • Word Salad Lyrics:
    • "Kick" from Upside Down Mountain has some slightly strange lines. Even knowing that it's about Kathleen Kennedy doesn't massively help.
    • The first verse of "Zigzagging Toward The Light" is also a bit odd. "Home is a perjury / a parlour trick / an urban myth", indeed.