Today I have decided to do something different than my usual “letter-essay routine,” yet is nonetheless very important to me. So, instead of writing about a recent, realistic fiction book that I’ve read, I’m here to write about one of my favorite albums of all time. Twenty One Pilots by Twenty One Pilots, also known as Self Titled.
The Self Titled album was released on December 29th, 2009, 18 days before the main creator turned 21 years old. Tyler Joseph is the man that created this 62-minute album in his basement along with his two other friends, Nick Thomas and Chris Salih. Fast-forward nine years to see Twenty One Pilots as a two-man group with a drummer, Josh Dun…and the constant Joseph. This is not just the band that you say you “know” because you’ve heard two of their hits. There is so much passion and meaning and work from them that goes without any recognition.
The interesting name comes from a play that Joseph was studying in school, named All My Sons by Arthur Miller. This play is about someone who provides airplane parts during WWII. He then discovered that some of the parts are faulty which leads him to a very tough decision. The main character can either sell these faulty parts and save his family, or choose to save other pilots and never be able to provide for his family. He decided to sell them and it resulted in the death of twenty one pilots. This man ended up committing suicide at the end of the play, due to the guilt that he could not bare to live with. Tyler views this as a constant reminder that you always have to make the right decision, no matter how painful it is. And you always need to be able to justify your actions.
Tyler Joseph was born and raised in Columbus, Ohio, along with his three siblings, Zack, Jay, and Madison Joseph. Both of his parents work in education. While his mother was a math teacher and his father is a principal, they are also basketball coaches. This resulted in Tyler playing basketball from elementary school to being a point guard in high school. Every person in his family are practicing Christians. And you can see how much of an influence his religion has made on his life and his music. For example, Tyler has a three-part tattoo that “represents something that saved his life.” He has shared that he doesn’t want everything about himself around the internet, but us weird fans have figured it out for ourselves and found out that is a bible verse and the Roman numerals for 43:16:33.
Tyler has been very open about his difficulties growing up with his mental health. He was diagnosed with depression and anxiety at a very young age. He was homeschooled until high school and didn’t have too many friends, but as I mentioned before, he was a phenomenal basketball player. He was in every newspaper, in old videos that people took of him at games…he made every shot, and every night before dinner, he had to shoot 500 baskets. Even today, Tyler is amazing at the sport. But one Christmas, when he was seventeen, he got a piano without having any experience with the instrument. This is when his love for music grew. He recorded an album in his own basement named “No Phun Intended.” He most definitely did not suspect the fame this album would receive in his later years, so he used this to talk about his struggles. But it is obvious that he feels less comfortable talking about this during interviews and is much more vulnerable and raw with his music.
This album opens with Implicit Demand for Proof. This song starts with an enchanting piano that would distract most listeners from what Tyler eventually says. This whole entire song is about his feelings towards or about God. At this point in his life, he felt so helpless that he would do anything to know that there really is something out there looking out for him. Something or someone that could save him. He is “implicitly demanding” proof that he exists instead of just hearing what he wants to hear. He realizes that he his being absurdly blasphemous by going as far as taunting God and saying,
“Strike me down
I am calling your lighting down from your dark hiding place
Go ahead and show me your face”
I think that fear or uncertainty about the concept of life or religion is something that everybody could share their experiences about, but it is something that we are either afraid or comforted by. Tyler, for instance, is saying that he would rather be hurt or be in pain than have to live, fearing and awaiting an answer to the unknown question.
The fourth song on this album may be my favorite. Addict with a Pen. If there is one song to listen to on Self Titled…this is it. Even though it may not be the slowest song, it could be classified as the most vulnerable and heartbreaking. It obviously has some sentimental meaning to Tyler because it is one of the only old songs that he pays any acknowledgements towards. It is also one of the two songs that he will get emotional while performing. Tyler starts this song out by addressing God and saying,
“Hello, we haven’t talked in quite some time. I know I haven’t been the best of sons.”
This whole song is metaphorically saying that Tyler is traveling through a desert which represents his mind. And he “hasn’t found a drop of water” or he “hasn’t found a drop of life.” This could obviously be interpreted as a very religious song, but when broken down, the meaning goes so much farther than just religion.
Water is the most crucial resource for all living organisms. He can’t find the things that are mandatory for living so he can’t find the reason, either. Continuing this theme, he says,
“I try desperately to run through the sand
As I hold the water in the palm of my hand
Cause it’s all that I have and it’s all that I need
And the waves of the water mean nothing to me
But I try my best in all that I can
To hold tightly onto what’s left in my hand
But no matter how, how tightly I will strain
The sand will slow me down and the water will drain”
You can actually imagine someone trying to run through sand while holding water. Tyler is holding the absence of death in his hands, but the water will inevitably slip through them. He has been trying so hard to find this will to live, but at some point…he is going to run out of every single reason to keep breathing. He keeps going back and forth with his thoughts, saying that he is being too dramatic. This is probably what he has been told before, and those doubts from others make him question himself. At the end of this verse, he says one of the weakest and most defenseless things to say:
“My trial was filed
As a crazy suicidal headcase
But you specialize in dying
You hear me screaming father
And I’m lying here just crying
So wash me with your water.”
To be honest, I’m trying my best to describe these songs and their meaning, but nobody will know what Tyler went through besides himself. And nobody can grasp what I’m saying and nobody will get chills in their veins without hearing the heart-wrenching pain in his voice, which makes it even more upsetting to imagine him saying this. To imagine anybody having to suffer with this. To picture Tyler screaming and begging and crying for someone to save him at a point where he felt so lost. He is begging for God to give him more reasons to live; to give him life. Absolutely nobody should have to go through that.
The next song to talk about is the ninth song on this album. A car, a torch, a death. No, this song is not a love song. Nobody knows who this song is about, but I personally feel that Tyler would never write a love song like this, especially at this time in his life. But it does talk about Tyler’s first experience of putting someone else’s needs before his own. We hear him talk about his own struggles, but it’s rare to hear him talking about another person and what they are dealing with. This track starts out with Tyler being in a car. It is revealed that he is painfully driving away from someone’s house, and as he is travelling farther and farther away, he can’t even feel an ounce of happiness in him. Tyler describes his drive and says,
“I began to envy the headlights driving south
I want to crack the door so I can just fall out
But then I remember when you packed my car
You reached in the back and buckled up your heart
For me to drive away with.”
If Tyler is viewing headlights going south, that means he’s heading north. In other songs, the south has been represented as a happy place. A place much better than the north. So by saying that he is envying those cars, he is showing that he wants to go back to be with the person he was previously with. But while he is feeling so lost and hopeless, he remembers that person and how they gave him their love and their trust. Tyler couldn’t just throw that away.
This later goes to what is happening to the other individual while Tyler is still narrating.
“The demon sat there and waited on her porch
It was a little dark so he held a makeshift torch
And when my car was far and out of sight
He crept in her room and stayed there for the night”
This “demon” clearly represents any internal battles that this girl is dealing with. And Tyler’s mind is filled with these thoughts while he’s leaving her and he is thinking about how much pain their separation could be causing the girl. In many of Tyler’s songs, he mentions that his dark thoughts are specifically prominent during the night time and how he is constantly waiting for the sun to rise so those thoughts can slightly settle down. Tyler starts to come to a realization and starts to recognize this demon. During this recognition, he says,
“And then I saw him, torch in hand
He laid it out, what he had planned
And then I said, ‘I’ll take the grave
Please just send them all my way’
I begin to understand why God died.”
This is referring to Jesus dying on the cross. Dying for us and for our sins because of his love for us. Tyler knows what this person is going through, and he can’t bare the thought of her experiencing the same things that he is dealing with because he knows how much it hurts. Since Tyler is so familiar with this “demon,” he starts to feel so helpless considering he knows that it is impossible to get rid of. Everything was out of his control, so even though Tyler talks about not being able to handle the pain anymore, he would still take all of this girl’s inner demons as long as she is free. Tyler is quite literally saying that he would end his life as long as she doesn’t feel the need to.
The next song to discuss is trapdoor, which is the tenth song on Self Titled. This is one of the less metaphorical songs, but also one of the most touching. Tyler is evidently speaking about a depressed man, but considering how deeply he speaks about this man’s struggles, it can be easily assumed that Tyler is just speaking about himself in the third person. The theme of this song is really just invisibility and loneliness. It is started out by saying that every morning, when this man wakes up, he puts on a new mask to alter his true personality and emotions. Tyler really emphasizes the fact that nobody really knows this man. He even says that “nobody knows his real name, but now he just uses one that he saw on a grave.” What is trying to be expressed is that this man is well beyond gone. He feels as if he can classify himself as somebody who has already died, at least mentally. But the chorus is really what everything really revolves around:
“Take me out and finish this waste of a life
Everyone gather around for a show
Watch as this man disappears as we know
Do me a favor and try to ignore
As you watch him fall through a blatant trapdoor.”
At this point, who ever this is, is practically begging to die. And as I mentioned before, he is so far gone. So this man is not physically dying, but mentally, he has. And absolutely nobody has noticed. As mentioned later in the song, this man “lives like a ghost.” Invisible. Which is one of the most painful ways to live. Feeling unnoticed and uncared for. Tyler is trying to say that everybody has known this man. They see him every day. And they just watched him die. Every single day, they observed a little part of him go missing and they didn’t do a thing to help. They actually saw this man come closer and closer to death and they just kept watching. Not everybody can ask for help. And this man is walking around and probably feels like his pain is so noticable. Probably walking around waiting for someone to save him but nobody can see under that mask. This is also a song that is very difficult to listen to if you really tune into Tyler’s voice. It’s so powerful…like he wants this man to be recognized and to be heard. At one point he is just screaming for someone to “finish this waste of a life.” You can hear the pain. And at the very end, you hear him sigh, as if it was almost exhausting to tell this man’s story.
The final track to mention is Before You Start Your Day. The thirteenth song which I think helps end on a good note. This is by far the slowest and many would say that this is the saddest. The first two lines are:
“Open the slits in your face and start your day
You don’t have much time to make your slits look just right.”
It is a very strange opening line because slits are usually classified as actually cuts or wounds, but the “slits” in the first line are someone’s eyes. Meaning that he is telling somebody to wake up. But in the next line, the slits could be interpreted as self harm. Tyler has not been very vocal about this issue but he has been seen wearing a rubber band which is often used as a substitute for the pain. But that topic is something that I don’t this is necessary to talk about. Notice that Tyler is not talking about himself. He is not talking about a specific someone in the third person. He is actually talking about us…the listeners. This song is about letting us know that the purpose of creating this band is so he could be there for us. And many of his fans have gone through something very similar to what Tyler has struggled with. So when he says “I’m in your mind.” Even though he isn’t really there with this person, (the fans) he might as well be, because he truly does understand what they are dealing with. Tyler later says, “Look in the mirror, and ask your soul if you’re alright.” He is telling us to look at our reflection and to really be truthful and honest with ourselves. That we need to be able to acknowledge our issues so we can fight our battles. He then switches the lyric to say that instead of him being in our minds, that we are in his. Tyler is trying to show his love and care for us. He has talked about how he feels that he has a responsibility to care for and save us from whatever we are dealing with. And he also says that he is very unsettling and heartbreaking to know that there are fans out there that don’t see any value in life. So he goes on to sing,
“Know that you were made holy
Open up your eyes and see
The clouds above will hold you
The clouds above will sing”
Religious or not, he is trying to telling us that everyone has a purpose. Whether we have found this or not, it is constantly there. And everybody needs to open their eyes and acknowledge the fact that they have worth.
This is a person and an album that means the world to me. Tyler Robert Joseph has saved thousands and taken individuals out of the darkest parts of their life. He is the closest thing that some people have. He is an idol. His importance to me could never be put into words, which really does make it upsetting to hear people say that they are huge fans of this band without even hearing a song from this album. I have spent a countless number of late nights and tears on this masterpiece. If anything, it is inspiring. It is inspiring to hear somebody at such a low point in their life; somebody that desperately walked into a forest and hopelessly screamed “is there anybody out there?” And today, he has thousands of fans screaming the answer back to him.
I have been waiting to use my ten for the thing that deserves it. This is it. This is my ten.