Next to Normal is a tense and chilling musical. That’s right, a creepy musical. And it is amazing. This is by far my favorite show that I have ever seen or heard of. I’ll give a quick overview of what the show is about, then go into the lyrics of the song I’m Alive.
So the entire show consists of 6 people. Mother, father, son, daughter, boyfriend, psycho-pharmacologist are those 6! But there is a catch, the son actually died when he was a baby.
The mother never got over him, so in her mind he kept growing, kept again. So he is present throughout the show as a figment of her imagination… Or is he?
This is Aaron Tveit… The amazing, sexy, wonderful man that is the son. You might recognize him from Les Miserables, Enjolras, or from Graceland.. Where he is one of the leads! Well, this guy can also sing… Like a flippen angel. And in this role he is absolutely breath-takingly creepy.
He plays the son that is constantly trying to convince his mother that he isn’t just a figment of her imagination, but that he is really alive. Trying to convince her that he is alive isn’t the only thing that he is trying to convince to to do though, he also wants her to join him. But that is a whole other song! So throughout the show you get to see her struggle between her husband who lovingly stays by her side, and her son that has aged into a handsome man.
All the son wants is for her to actually grieve him. Not pretend he was never alive, but really grieve him. For his dad, he wants him to acknowledge him. But what makes this show absolutely amazing is the acting. The way the characters pour themselves into the parts is gut wrenching at times.
I cannot tell you enough about how amazing this show is. If you like characters with depth this is the show for you. I wont go into detail about how much the sister struggles with dealing with a mentally ill mother, but I will tell you that it is amazing. I think I have described enough to go into the analysis of the song. Keep in mind that he is jumping all over the amazingly well built stage!
“I am what you want me to be,
And I’m your worst fear”
This line is incredibly accurate. There are a couple ways, based on staging, that you can interpret this. I’m going to try and base everything on what the lyricist was thinking when this song was written. Basing it more upon the thought process of the character. Directors will have the actors doing different things. THAT being said here are the two ways. 1) The son is singing the first part of the song to his mother, and the second part to his father. This is based on the mother’s constant struggle between believing her husband that her son isn’t really there, and believing that her son really is there. 2) The first part is fulfilling the hope that their son hadn’t really died. It was all a nightmare, he isn’t gone, he’s okay. That’s what they want. The second part of the lyric would be the reality of why the son is there. He wants them all to join him. He isn’t there to provide peaceful thoughts, he wants to stir up trouble and get them to join him on the other side. This would all depend on the staging done by the director. If he directs the son to indicate to each parent on the specific line, then the first interpretation is being used. However, if that is not the case, and he is singing to one than the second one is being used.
“You’ll find it in me.
He is singing to his mother throughout this song. She is in a therapy session as he is singing. So I think that this line is being used to try and convince her further that she needed to leave her therapist and go to him.
“I am more than memory”
A simple memory, such as last week when you “cheated” on your diet isn’t something that makes you loose sleep. A traumatic event, such as loosing someone close to you is something so much more. So when he says that he is more than a memory, he’s referring to being more tangible than a fleeting thought.
“I am what might be,”
Clearly, he is embodying the person that he could have been if he hadn’t died. the life they could have had, if he were there.
“I am mystery.”
Since she isn’t sure, within her mind, if he is there or not. Even if he is, why is he there? Why is he doing this? It’s all a mystery.
“You know me
So show me.”
With this line, once again, he is singing to his mother while she is in a therapy session. I feel like he is trying to remind her, “You know me” remember? “So show me” So prove it. He is trying to get her to choose him.
“When I appear it’s
Not so clear if
I’m a simple spirit
Or I’m flesh and blood…”
When the son isn’t around, it might be easy for her to believe that he really isn’t there. It really is in her head. That’s why he points out the fact that it is when he appears it’s hard to tell whether or not he is there.
“But I’m alive,
I am so alive,”
Leading off the previous line, he is telling her that he isn’t that simple spirit every says he is he really is alive.
“And I feed on the fear
That’s behind your eyes.”
May I just start with how much I love this line? It’s hard to know exactly what was meant by this line. Is it merely a metaphor? He loves the fear that radiates from the family that he compares it to something he can’t live without: food? Or is it literal? The more they fear him, the stronger he gets? I’m going to go with the second one because of the next line.
“And I need you
To need me”
And this is why I think that it is an actually craving. He needs to be wanted. If not, he’d fade away. So the more she believes he is there the stronger he will get.
“It’s no surprise
I’ve thought about his line for hours. I know that sounds strange, but why does he say this particularly? Rhyme? No, they could have had him say “I tell no lies” or something like that. But I think that I finally figure it out. If he feeds on the fear, than it’s no surprise that he is alive. Going along with the whole idea that he gets stronger the more people fear/accept him, than he is saying that it really is not a surprise that he is “alive”.
“I am flame and I am fire,
I am destruction,
Decay and desire”
All of these, including desire, could be interpreting dark things. Such as sins, desire – lust. I like how the writers used flame and fire. A flame isn’t necessarily dangerous. But a fire is. the flame is the beautiful, yet dangerous part of the fire. Sort of like the thorn on a rose. To combine destruction and decay with desire was probably convenient for the alliteration. However, destruction and decay are words that could relate to other things. Destruction, the ruining of the mind and body. Decay – withering away in both the mind and body. Desire- the powerful feeling of need and want for something. Could he be saying that what she is craving of him is actually what will bring her mind to completely wiped?
“I’ll hurt you…
I’ll heal you…”
As talked about at the beginning of this song, there are two ways to look at this based on staging. It could be that the first part of the line could be directed towards the father or therapist, and the second part to the mother. If not directed like that, it could just be the son saying that he will hurt you, but then softens to reassure that he would also heal. It could also stand to mean that in healing you, he is actually hurting you.
“I’m your wish,
Your dream come true,”
If you have ever lost someone close to you, you know what he is saying. The mother completely lost her mind when she lost her son. All she wants is for him to be back, so he is.
“And I am your darkest
Considering how much he want her to join him, there is no denying the accuracy of this line.
This is another one that is a little confusing unless you know the show well. The concept of him owning his mother is very strange and could be difficult to wrap your head around. Until you realize the whole joining thing. Or even when he tell her that he would be there, not her husband. Then when they fight, the son is always there. and even when she leaves for a while, he knows that she will be back. This picture above is from the song “There’s a World” which is where is finally has her attempt to join him. Such an wonderful song when performed correctly.
“And though you made me,
You can’t change me”
He is their son, but he is so much more than that now. He might have been created by them in life, but in death something darker seems to have control over their “son”. I feel like he is sort of rubbing it in her face. You might have been able to control me, if you didn’t let me die.
“I’m the perfect stranger
Who knows you too well.”
This tags along with the previous line. She might think of him as her son, but he is really something darker. A complete stranger who bares the face of her baby boy. Something that no mother would be able to ignore.
And I’m alive,
I am so alive,
“And I’ll tell you the truth
If you let me try.”
She has been told countless times that he isn’t there. A figment of her imagination that confuses her. So I feel like at this part he is trying to tease her to draw her closer. As if there were a deeper reality that others can’t sense and he was finally going to let her in on the secret.
Trying to compare himself to his mother, if you’re alive I must be alive too, right?
“And I’ll show why
Again with the same feeling that he is teasing her with some piece of the puzzle that she’s been looking for for years.
I’m right behind you.”
For this line it is the staging. For the production I saw, as well as the image above, he was coaxing his sister. He pushed their mothers purse out so that she would feel inclined to go through it and take her medication. He just wants to have a big family reunion when they all join him, huh?
“You say forget,
But I remind you.”
The whole notion that he doesn’t want to be forgotten is hidden throughout the show. The docs try to give her so many meds she doesn’t even know why she needs them anymore. Later in this song he mentions, until you grieve me, as in until you remember. So every time she moves on a little bit past, she isn’t actually grieving. She’s either forgetting about it, or pretending it never happened. So he is there to remind her every time she thinks she can take a shortcut through the grief.
“You can try to hide,
You know that I will find you.”
He thinks of himself as a God, and with enough conviction people will see him as one too. She has never been able to escape him, so when he says this he is reiterating to her that she will never be cleansed from him.
“‘Cause if you won’t grieve me
You won’t leave me behind…”
And here is that line I was talking about previously. She has never just dealt with what happened. The event was so traumatic that her brain thought is would be easier to forget, or pretend, that is ever happened. So until she confronts what happened, he isn’t going anywhere.
“Ah, ah, ah,
Whoa, oh, oh,
Whoa, oh, oh…
No, no, no
I am so alive,”
“If you climb on my back,
Then we both can fly.”
Once more I feel like he is trying to get her to join him. Come with me and I’ll make you feel wonderful.
“If you try to deny me
I’ll never die”
Until she confronts what happened, he ain’t going anywhere!
And this is how the song ends. The mother on the bottom floor reaching up to the son her is on the top floor who is reaching down. Father and daughter, respectfully, on the second floor facing opposite directions. Finally the therapist on the same level as the mother, simply looking at her. I think the mother and son reaching thing is easily explained. But something about the father and daughter sat strangely with me. why have them face different ways? Why have them on the second level? Yes, it probably was because it was pretty. But it would also stand to reason that they were standing in the was of the son and mother being together. As for them facing different directions, could show disinterest. They aren’t facing each other, which would be interpreted as something familiar to a family. They are facing opposite, which stands to reason that they have opposing standpoints.