Of Jam Jars and Vengeance

The unique depiction of anxiety in “The Bug Collector” by Haley Heynderickx

This is my individual interpretation of the song, based on nothing but the accompanying lyrics.

Sometimes philosophical, sometimes humorous, a little on the cryptic side, always beautifully surprising in their imagery. Haley Heynderickx’ lyrics combine all the elements that make up truly original poetry. Hers are the kinds of texts one could enjoy reading on their own, as well as listening to her sing them. What each line means precisely, whom it is addressed to (or who is really narrating), and whether knowing all that is even important is up to us listeners to decide. Her songs have that rare quality that allows them to be understood by being felt rather than heard.
It is the combination of what could be described as an optimistic, if not easy-listening sound and those colourful lyrics that let Haley Heynderickx stand apart from other singer-songwriters. There is no sense of self-importance, no prevailing urge to convey a specific message to us within the music, but that doesn’t mean it’s not there upon closer listening.
It is Haley Heynderickx’ unique skill to let anything she creates appear simple and light-hearted, while actually gently leading us down into a deeply complex and thought-provoking world of her own. Her songs often address someone directly, they deal with past and lost loves, making amends, the importance of accepting and loving others and oneself, and not letting life slip through one’s (olive-thumped) fingers. One underlying theme within all that seems to be the ebb and flow of self-doubt and an anxiousness over what the future might hold. It takes a second look and listen to get to that level of meaning beyond what seems otherwise like just a whimsical take at life around us.

“The Bug Collector” could easily work as an instrumental piece with just its deceptively simple sounding guitar riffs (written in a tuning I haven’t come across elsewhere yet), a wonderfully loose-swinging A as the bass note and repeated little melodies that feel like the musical version of a warm summer breeze whose scent of hay carries a certain nostalgia with it.
Yet it is the text that makes this song the truly unique composition that it is. The simplest images are often the most effective ones in describing states of mind, and of course they are also the hardest ones to come up with without veering into clichéd territory.
The theme of “The Bug Collector” is already given in the title, and the lyrics stay true to that. The text tells a story of cyclic happenings. A specific bug appears, someone (addressed directly as “you”) reacts in an anxious way, the narrator gets rid of the bug. They do so in an attempt to provide a safe space for the other person, more specifically to make them “the perfect morning”, “the perfect evening”. This is essentially all the information we get.
It is all the information we need. The song basically depicts the dynamic of a relationship in which one person struggles with some form of anxiety, turning everyday things, like simple bugs into something menacing, while the other person does their best to calm them. It is notable that each line about the narrator dealing with the bugs is preceded by “And I digress”, indicating the strain this puts on both people’s lives.
Still there is no blame expressed here, no bitterness, no over-rationalisation, the situation is simply shown for what it is. A depiction of two differently experienced realities and the consequences this brings with it in an already well-practised routine.

There is something very powerful in exactly that simplicity. Issues surrounding anxiety tend to be depicted in overly dramatised or grand ways. Based on personal experiences, I can confirm the reality of it lies in exactly that inexplicable and irrational feeling of threat within things, places and faces that from someone else’s point of view are ordinary, if not insignificant.
The important point here, as well as in the song, is that neither is simply right or wrong. It is rather about the way the world can be experienced in different, yet equally real ways.
The narrator in the song has not only understood but accepted this in the way they don’t explain the situation away, but try to consider the other person’s viewpoint. That this is no easy process and leaves its marks is being implied in a very subtle and quiet, but immensely important way. Is the removal of the bugs helping in the desire to make the other person feel safe or actually enabling their anxiety?
This is not a sustainable situation, something that seems clear to possibly all involved. Yet it is the last lines that drive the issue home in a both heart-warming and -breaking way:
“And I try my best / To prove that nothing’s out to get you.”

The combination with the breezy, if somewhat melancholic sound of the song, is what makes it an easily ingestible take on anxiety, but one that lingers on for some time after.
Not least because a praying (preying?) mantis on a bathtub is an image to behold in itself.

“The Bug Collector” is part of Haley Heynderickx’ album “I Need to Start a Garden” (2018)

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