Hello everyone! For my English class, we did a song analysis paper where we critiqued the rhetorical devices and imagery used in a song and music video. The Used, my favorite band, has an amazing song called “All That I’ve Got,” one of my favorite songs. Today, September 29th is the ten year anniversary of this album, “In Love and Death’s release! Here is my analysis paper for anyone who is interested! It is kind of long, but this song deals with a lot in a four minute period, and I’m really proud of it!
I recommend watching the music video first:
All That I’ve Got
Depression is a common side effect of a great loss, especially when losing someone you loved. It is one of the main stages of grief and dealing with the life after a significant person is gone (Boelen 2150). In The Used’s song “All That I’ve Got” from the album In Love and Death, writer and lead singer Bert McCracken wrote most of the album, including this song, in the wake of his pregnant girlfriend’s death. The song discusses the idea of grief and depression, along with a person’s outward facing emotions and inner thoughts when facing the suffering after a significant death. Bert uses diction, repetition, allusions Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, and metaphors to explain the process and feelings involved with losing a loved one and the feeling of helplessness and confusion in trying to reach the answers and end of those feelings. In the music video, the main character is trapped within a looping puzzle revolving a book that is ultimately solved within his own mind which can be interpreted into a metaphor of being trapped in grief.
The music video starts out seeing a boy in a used bookstore, looking confused. He walks to a pile of books and picks up one called “All That I’ve Got” with the heart from the album cover on the front. As he opens it and flips through it, the music starts, and on the first page, a picture of an old mustachioed man in a round hole-like window, drawn with an eerie art style gestures for him to come along. A scream in the background is heard as it zooms in to the drawing, almost falling through the hole. This is the first allusion to Alice reading a book and going down the rabbit hole at the beginning (Carroll). It relates to depression and grief because tragic things happen suddenly and the shock is so surreal, one barely knows how to deal with it.
The video flies through a forest of barren trees until it comes to a large house where the boy is seen in the same art style. He then morphs into his real life-image wearing a black bowler hat, a bowtie, black pants, a white button down shirt, and a black jacket. As he looks around himself in confusion, the camera cuts to The Used’s lead singer wearing a bowler hat and a white shirt similar to the boy’s. This suggests that he is related to the boy in some way. Bert is the first of many characters the boy meets, much like the many characters Alice meets on her own surreal journey. He sings the first lyrics, “So deep that it didn’t even bleed” (“All That I’ve Got”). These lyrics pertain to the emotional hurt grief takes shape as—not something tangible or physical that can bleed, but the deep agony of depression and heartbreak. Bert sings, “And catch me off guard, red handed,” while the boy looks around the room in confusion as to how he got there. The lyrics and his actions suggest that by “catching him off guard,” he is thrown into this grief without warning and does not know how to deal with it. The next line, “Now I’m far from lonely” may be interpreted on the surface that he is not lonely, but it is much deeper than that. His grief is not mere loneliness, but deep loss and heartbreak that stuns and confuses a person. The lyrics “Asleep I still see you lying next to me” is sung while the boy catches a glimpse of The Mustachioed Man wearing a pocket watch, a bowtie and a top hat with the same heart from the album cover and the book cover from the beginning on it from the first page. The pocket watch alludes to the White Rabbit’s watch in Alice (Carroll). The boy starts to walk towards him, but the doors close as he approaches, similar to Alice’s constant chasing of the White Rabbit but him forever being out of reach. The lyrics and the video imply the feeling of loss and longing for the person to be there; the speaker is in denial from his sorrow, not wanting to face the truth that that person is gone, symbolized by the doors closing when trying to get a better look. Bert repeats, “So deep that it didn’t even bleed, and catch me, I…” This repetition symbolizes the idea that “still seeing them lying next to him,” yet them not actually being there hurts him deeper than physical pain.
In the video, the instruments appear to be moving in reverse from falling down and the band appears in normal attire to perform the music. The instruments’ movements are surreal and do not make sense, adding to the confusion of new loss and relating to the series of events that happen throughout the video and in Wonderland. The lyrics, “I need something else would someone please just give me” creates a sense of desperation to stop feeling the misery of loss and depression. The next line, “Hit me, knock me out and let me go back to sleep” give the same atmosphere of wanting anything else than to feel the emotional pain. This line also relates to the idea of rather having physical surface pain than the deeper suffering.
In the video, the boy asks Bert, “How does the story end?” Bert replies, “Only he knows,” referring to The Mustachioed Man. The boy asks, “How do I find him?” to which Bert gestures toward the doors that were just shut in front of him with the man behind them. The man is a metaphor for “The End” and the answers the boy is seeking. Relating to the idea of grief, The Man is what will finally allow the boy to accept what has happened, whether that is good or bad. The door closing on him symbolizes how he is trapped in his own grief right now, unable to reach The End. The lyrics, “I can laugh all I want, inside I still am empty” creates the image that on the surface all may seem well, but inside the emptiness that used to be filled with the person the speaker lost is overtaking everything. This goes back to the lyrics “far from lonely,” because he is not lonely at all, he is empty inside, angry with the world, miserable without that person, all from the grief and loss and depression. Once again, the repetition of the line “So deep that it didn’t even bleed, and catch me, I…” is sung, reinforcing the emotional turmoil inside.
In the video, the chorus starts with the band singing and the boy comes across another man in similar color clothing sitting at a piano, going through a book. Upon closer inspection, the book is the same one the boy picked up at the start of the video. The lyrics, “I’ll be just fine pretending I’m not,” are sung as the boy asks the man, “Where is he?” and the man replies, “I don’t know. I’ve been looking for years” while flipping through the book filled with empty pages. On the surface, the lyrics indicate that he is pretending to not be fine and that he is actually okay. However, going deeper into the meaning of his diction, he is pretending he is “not fine” because he is not “not fine,” he is in a deep emotional state of emptiness, despair, and depression. The next line, “I’m far from lonely, and it’s all that I’ve got.” Just as that line is sung, for less than a second in the background of the band playing, a person in a rabbit mascot suit is seen sitting behind the drummer. Like said before, he is very far from lonely and “not fine,” and now after the loss of his loved one, this emotional chaos going on is all that he has to show he is still alive, despite how dead and awful he feels inside. The rabbit signifies his descent into madness and grief as time goes on in search of The End with the answers. In terms of the video, the book the man is going through is another metaphor for the speaker’s life. The pages are empty and the man is reading the book looking for answers at The End. Next to the book is an hourglass that has about three quarters of the sand still at the top, indicating not much time has passed since it has been flipped over. However, the man’s words, “I’ve been looking for years” shows that he has been flipping through the empty pages of the book searching for his answer, symbolized by the Mustachioed Man, symbolizing searching in himself and his own emptiness looking for the answer and “The End.” Bert repeats the line in the chorus again, “I’ll be just fine […] all that I’ve got.” This repetition signifies the importance of convincing others that he is merely “just fine” while dealing with his inner emotions alone.
The boy catches a glimpse of the Mustachioed Man and leaves the person flipping through the book. He walks across a room and sees The Man peeking out from behind the curtain in another room. He is not moving as the boy comes closer, and the boy believes he will almost find the answers in The Man. While this is going on, Bert sings, “I guess I remember every glance you shot me un-harmed, I’m losing weight and some body heat.” The speaker is going back through the memories of the person lost while they were alive, and remembering them and dealing with that grief is painful. The words “losing weight and body heat” signifies a person wasting away, another common side effect of depression (Boelen 2170); “losing weight” also suggest this happening over a long period of time, as grief and loss are not things that go away quickly. The video cuts back to the band with the person in the rabbit mascot suit walking behind the drummer. This is another metaphor for things in the back of the mind that momentarily come to the surface that do not make sense or give the impression that one is going mad, possibly an allusion to the March Hare, a “mad” character in Alice (Carroll). The next lyrics are “I squoze so hard I stopped your heard from beating” which is another metaphor that relates to the rabbit. The speaker is going mad, blaming himself for the person’s death, even if they had nothing to do with it, another common sign in grief (Boelen 2164). The speaker did not actually squeeze her heart, he was trying to hold on to her so bad, yet it ultimately came to an end. The rabbit also represents those thoughts that are in the deep recesses of the mind that one usually tries to repress that often come up in times of stress and anxiety, including after the loss of a loved one (Boelen 2168).
In the video, another man appears suddenly in front of the boy just as the Mustachioed Man hides back behind the curtain and as Bert sings, “So deep that I didn’t even scream —- me, I…” This man is dressed in a bowler hat similar to Bert and the boy’s, along with strange make-up around his eyes and mouth. As Bert repeats the chorus, “I’ll be just fine […] far from lonely, and it’s all that I’ve got,” the man advances on the boy. The boy falls on his back and the man, obviously angry literally hovers over him, appearing to defy gravity. This man represents the bouts of anger that loss often times brings up, especially in the “denial” and “anger” phases of grief (Boelen 2169). The man asks, “What are you looking for?” to which the boy replies, “I’m looking for the end…” The man points a finger at him with odd black strings hanging from his hand saying, “Be careful what you wish for… You may just find it.” The boy gets up and runs back the way he came.
The boy goes down a different hallway, seeming to get lost in a maze of doors. This is another metaphor for the sense of helplessness and feeling trapped within his own feelings; tt is also another allusion to Alice being trapped in a confusing Wonderland (Carroll). He turns into a room, finding a man gluttonously eating at an elegant dining table with the same type of bowler hat with the same color scheme as him. Very briefly, a cat sitting on the table is seen, another allusion to the Cheshire Cat in Alice (Carroll). These more and more frequent allusions signify the boy’s decent into madness the closer he comes to finding out the truth at The End. The man sitting at the table has strange lines on his face, asking “Can I help you?” after the boy greets him. He is similar in his demeanor and body language to the Mad Hatter at tea time. The boy replies “I’m looking for the end…” as Bert repeatedly sings “All that I’ve got.” The man points and shoos the boy away.
Bert sings “It’s all that I’ve got” louder and louder, reaching the musical climax of the song. In most stories, the climax is the decisive moment with the highest intensity of development of the plot, which is musically is timed perfectly just as the boy sees a new door he has not found before. As he walks up to it, there are signs and clocks all around it, seeing “Keep Out”; however, the boy does not listen, glancing at the signs and walking forward. The signs and the clocks are all splattered with ink, and the clocks are another allusion to Alice and the surrealism of time in Wonderland. As the boy walks through the door, the camera pans down to another sign reading very plainly, “Do Not Enter” splattered with ink. The unwelcoming signs symbolize the brain subconsciously attempting to repress memories the conscious mind might not be able to handle, something very common in grief (Boelen 2177). While this is happening, Bert sings, “So deep that it didn’t even bleed and catch me, so deep that I didn’t even scream — me.” As the drums kick back in, two-dimensional ink splatters start appearing as the band continues to sing, showing the descent into deeper and deeper madness. Bert sings, “I’ll be just fine, pretending I’m not,” his repetition enforcing the ideas of deeper feelings than simply “not fine,” as the boy finally catches up to The Man. He is sitting at a desk with the book from the beginning sitting closed on the desk.
As the boy approaches, The Man points to the book, gesturing that it has all the answers he has been searching for. As Bert sings the rest of the chorus, the boy looks at the book as the pages flip rapidly on their own to the last page—on it is the boy himself drawn in the eerie art style he was drawn when he first arrived, holding the book. He picks up the book, recreating the image, and turns his back to The Man, staring at the page as The Man holds up a hand in farewell and more 2D ink splatters around him. The boy walks out the door and is suddenly drawn in that art style, in a vast wasteland, walking towards the horizon just as Bert sings the last powerful “got.” The boy walks along, seeing barren trees hastily grow and sprout the hearts seen on the book cover and on The Man’s hat, each of them growing into new trees as a forest grows around him. As the trees grow, he stares at his hands which turn long, wrinkled and gnarled; his face grows longer and his clothes change. As Bert’s final soft, “And it’s all that I’ve got” is sung, the boy, now an old man, grows the iconic mustache. A crow flies at him and he blocks his face as the camera zooms out, creating the image first seen at the start of the video. The camera zooms out further and the pages of the book are flipped until it closes to the front cover, then the bookstore where we do not see the boy seeming to be in the store at all.
The entire book was a metaphor, as well as the man and the journey to read The End with the answers. Each character the boy came across was himself in different stages of grief and different time periods along the journey, shown by the clocks and the hourglass. The first one, Bert, was depression. Bert was sitting, slumped in his chair with a defeated look in his eyes. The second man was bargaining, looking through the empty book for answers he could not find. The third man was anger with almost a cynicism when he said “Be careful what you wish for… You may just find it.” He saw what The End was and hated what he saw. The last man eating was denial and isolation; a common trait in grief is eating a lot as a way of coping (Boelen 2177). The Mustachioed Man was acceptance, the final stage; this stage is associated with mourning and regret, aging the boy’s body under the weight and time it took to mend the grief. None of those characters, the book, nor the house was actually real—it all took place within his own mind in trying to deal with his grief and loss. In the final moments of the video where the boy is seen walking in a barren wasteland and the forest growing rapidly around him, that actually signified how much time went on. It took so long for him to deal with his intense emotional turmoil inside of his own mind, a forest was able to grow before he finally came to acceptance after years and years of coping, ultimately not accepting the loss until he was an old man. Similarly to Alice, all the events that happened in Wonderland were in her own mind, but in this situation, it was not a dream and time kept going while he dealt with his own surreal world inside his head. Reaching The End to find the answers was really his own mind trying to come to terms with the fact that a loved one was gone; The End was his own acceptance and the answers he was searching for was to find a way to combat the feelings of emptiness and depression left in the wake of a tragic loss. He was trapped for so long going through the stages of grief in his own mind, the only way to escape was to get to the last stage, The End, acceptance. At the end of the song, the lyrics continue to repeat “It’s all that I‘ve got,” because after that loss, the only thing the speaker has left is his feelings after that person is gone, and the grief and misery that follows them to old age. Bert McCracken perfectly recreates the intense emotions that go along with the pain of losing someone and the trapped helpless feelings a person gets when depressed through his lyrics’ diction, and the video’s allusions to Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland and the metaphors relating to it flawlessly demonstrates the confusion and inner turmoil a person experiences when a person they love has died.
Boelen PA, van den Bout J. Complicated Grief, Depression, and Anxiety as Distinct Post-loss Syndromes: A Confirmatory Factor Analysis Study. Am J Psychiatry. 2005;162:2150-2177.
Carroll, Lewis. Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland & Through the Looking Glass. London: Madmillan and Co., 1865. Print.
McCracken, Bert. “All That I’ve Got.” The Used. Foxy Studios, 2004. CD.
McCracken, Bert . “All That I’ve Got.” Prod. Foxy Studios. Perf. The Used. YouTube. YouTube. 19 Apr. 2010. Web. 25 Sept. 2014.