It's hard for me to listen to Anais Mitchell's "Coming Down" without getting a lump in my throat. Mitchell's expressive voice takes cliched phrases like "nothing gonna stop me now" and turns them into something wholly personal and sorrow-filled. The nostalgic happiness that Mitchell first expresses meets the inevitable intrusion of loss to the point that the singer begs for that person/feeling not to leave — at least "not yet." By the end of the song Mitchell has gone full circle but has reached a new emotional place: she repeats the song's beginning stanza with a significant change in the lyrics — the sadness of "coming down" is gone and is replaced by a reluctant acceptance.
In the video for "Coming Down," director Jay Sansone went deep into his own family's history to make a piece that's just as personal as Mitchell's song. Filmed in Sansone's childhood home, Mitchell plays her guitar alone while watching the director's old family videos. This isn't faked footage with a computer-generated filter over it; this is actual reel-to-reel footage of men mugging to the camera, embarrassed women smiling nervously and babies playing on the beach. When mixed with these images, Mitchell's emotional request — "Please don't leave" — changes from an all-encompassing request to a sad remembrance of loved ones lost.
Jay Sansone talked to us about using his family's movies for "Coming Down:"
The video, as I see it, is a testament to the unpredictability of life's sudden moments. We married Anais' beautiful song with old 16 mm footage that I discovered in some rust spattered metal canisters between tattered boxes of LP records in my Grandmother's basement. It wasn't until years after she passed away that I discovered this incredible footage which spans from WWII to the '60s. Footage of a beautiful family. My family.
The films tell a story of youth and love and and they reveal timeless moments that I think will resonate with a lot of viewers. I found myself overwhelmed with joy upon seeing my grandparents as a young couple in New York, full of youthful curiosity, them acting so care-free.
As I continued to watch I became flushed with melancholy after slowly realizing that just about everyone I was seeing, had been long gone for some time, and these memories long forgotten. It was that same melancholy I feel Anais echoes in this song. The sorrow of loss, the pain of being unable to regain those lost cherished moments, but the wherewithal to keep on.
We asked Anais Mitchell about what it was like working with Sansone on such a personal project:
Jay told me he'd found some old footage taken by his granddad in the 1940s, that he had no idea what was in there, but he'd develop it and find out. I hadn't seen any of the old stuff when we shot the new footage of me and the spinning reels at his grandma's abandoned home in Jersey. It was freezing cold and we heated the whole place with space heaters. I wore an old white coat we found in a pile of clothes left by Jay's grandma. Jay's dad dropped by the session (it was his childhood house we were shooting in) and hung around tinkering with the reels. He seemed to really enjoy what we were doing and it felt right having this bridge between Jay and the spirits of his grandparents, who are featured in the footage. When I finally saw the old stuff I cried. They feel like people I know. There's so much love, warmth, humanness, wildness, family and some kind of implied tragedy in the footage. To see the joy and simple bravado of real people who have passed out of this world and to whom we owe everything really knocks you in the chest. I feel so lucky that Jay and his family were willing to connect this beautiful intimate imagery to the music.
Young Man in America is out now from Wilderland Records/Thirty Tigers.