In America today, hunger is a very real problem suffered by a large part of the population. According to the USDA, more than 34 million people (including 9 million children) are food insecure, a problem exacerbated by the pandemic and affecting both urban and rural communities alike1. But hunger can also refer to things such as career aspirations, personal ambitions, and even spiritual longing. The song “Hungersite” from Goose’s latest album Dripfield, written by guitarist/vocalist Rick Mitarotonda, personifies these different aspects of hunger - of longing for an ideal or sustenance in both the physical and emotional sense. It speaks both to and beyond this human condition, and is immensely relatable - especially when coupled with the song’s funny and iconic music video. The title, “Hungersite”, seems to refer to both a place (“site”) and a human sense (“sight” in the song’s chorus) in describing the condition. The song starts off in a place of exhaustion:
Hope, it’s bent like rope
But I’m getting tired
Of hauling on yesterday
In this opening, the protagonist establishes his constant struggle. Hope is his tool, his means of carrying the burden of yesterday’s longings and hardships that weigh him down, leaving him understandably “tired”.
Closed, is that how it goes
Well I might be rusted
But brother, I’m here to stay
Here, the tone of the protagonist changes from resignation to resilience. “Closed” could refer to any number of things when in a state of hunger: a closed store, a missed deadline for applying for assistance, an unwilling source of help. “Rusted” implies someone who has been out in the elements, the evidence of oxidation apparent on the surface. “But brother, I’m here to stay” – no matter what happens as far as the fate of the singer, their intention is to never give up; to remain.
Chorus: Is it time to shed our weapons yet my friend?
Is it love we’ve drawn away in our (trembling/desperate/groundless) low
Can we step out of the wreckage yet my friend?
Running all against their hungry sight
Hanging on, they’ve taken all
But we won’t lay that down
One thing that immediately comes to mind when reading this is the scene in the first Hunger Games movie where the contestants from the different Districts are all waiting for the signal to take off running across the field and select their weapons among the different available caches to use on their fellow players. Hunger can certainly drive us to do desperate things, including taking up arms against our brothers and sisters. Just look at the sociopolitical state of the world, exacerbated by the changing climate and accompanying extreme weather. The narrator is seemingly reflecting on this sorry state of affairs as he implores, “Is it time to shed our weapons yet my friend?” He inquires further: “Is it love we’ve drawn away from our (1. trembling/2. desperate/3. groundless) low?” Love is recognized as the universal source of beauty, creation and strength. Certainly it is in its absence where the presence of base tendencies (i.e. a “low” state) can be allowed to fester and take root. In these times, it might be perceived to be desirable or necessary to hide from an adverse, chaotic world even in the most ramshackle of shelters, like in the wreckage of an airplane fuselage or beached ship run aground on a deserted island. Only after such time as the storm has passed, or when we feel elevated enough to go back out in it, can it be felt as time to “step out” of said wreckage.
“Running all against their hungry sight” again brings back the Hunger Games visual I referenced earlier. But now the point of view is switched to their hungry sight, implying that even in our “desperate low”, it is the view of antagonists or agents without, affected by their hungry state, that we find ourselves up against as we run to either confront – or avoid – it. “Hanging on, they’ve taken all” means that these agents have gotten the better of us and taken what we’ve sought (akin to being robbed or accosted by street thieves), or present themselves as an obstacle to those means. But that resilience returns in the final line: “but we won’t lay that down”. Either we won’t lay down our physical shields and/or weapons against these elements or enemies, or just the will to get back up and fight another day against The Man.
Don’t it let
Just a little closer
I know it’s now nearing view
Our progress every day can be measured in breaths, as that is the primary effort our bodies undertake in being alive, and therefore a lifetime can be partitioned by each breath’s duration. Unique syntax aside, this is how I interpret this line as it would make sense in context of the underlying theme of resilience. Each breath we take brings our goal “a little closer” to our attainment, enough to have faith that our efforts are coming to fruition.
It’s only air
Nothing tethered to the garment
We’re climbing through
But these breaths are, after all, only air, air that we share with the rest of humanity, despite being a yardstick for our individual progress. We don’t live in a vacuum; we are all in this life together. And it’s only air, maybe a ladder for some but otherwise insignificant other than it allows us life, but in terms of the vastness of the universe maybe not so monumental. “The garment” could mean the clothes we dress in for work each day (such as with the music video’s protagonist), getting us closer to our goal, or the fabric that constructs a finish line, something that also could be a metaphor for our achievement. “Nothing tethered” to it could refer to the fact that these accounts are kept internally and not by a Universal Being (or maybe they are, depending on your belief system).
In the music video, our protagonist is seen doing his daily grind in the office, sharing a line of cubicles with his coworkers (played by the members of Goose) and generally just trying to get through a menial existence. He does the bare minimum, hardly interacting with others, and he spends his lunch hour crying watching music videos. In a sense he is getting tired of “hauling on yesterday” with his “hope…bent like rope”. His boss calls him to his office and basically chews him out for not being or doing more, and he feels deep down like he has failed himself and given up on personal dreams. A discovery of an exercise tape from the 1980s sets him off on the course of self-improvement, and as his life condition improves, so does his view of the world around him and his overall attitude. At the end of the video he is seen commiserating with his office mates, handing out donuts and exuding good vibes. It is a perfect companion piece for the song’s metaphors of longing and struggling for something more, even channeling such memorable pop culture references as scenes from “Rocky” and “Office Space”.
In Buddhism, we use the term “life condition” to describe the overall state of our lives and how it affects our perception of the world around us. The world of Hunger is one of Ten Worlds our lives can manifest at any given moment, which can drive our actions and result in how we affect our environment and the people around us. I think one of the things “Hungersite” addresses is how the life condition of Hunger drives our intentions, in terms of both our personal ambitions to achieve something, and also for providing for ourselves and our families and meeting our basic needs, which Maslow observed in his Hierarchy of Needs as beginning with physical needs and the need for safety, and ending with self-actualization and transcendence2. Interestingly enough, the Ten Worlds in Buddhism mirror this, with the lower worlds being Hell, Hunger, Anger and Animality, the middle being tranquility and joy, and the higher ones learning, realization, Bodhisattva and Buddhahood3. Now Rick has spent time with the Hare Krishnas and studied writings such as the Bhagavad Gita (see Deepak Sarma’s excellent piece on “Madhuvan”4 for a more in-depth analysis of these topics), so I know his views on spirituality are of the Eastern bent, and it certainly shows in his lyrics. Not just in what he says, but what he doesn’t say. The esoteric method of communication relies on what’s implied, and if you can employ just the right balance of meaning and poetic license (as Rick certainly does here) you can stir your audience to draw their own similar conclusions. Rick has, however, spoken to the more socially conscious themes of the song directly:
“Whenever broaching global commentary territory, even if discreet and non-invasive in nature, it seems important to simultaneously challenge awareness of the self and how we may or may not be living up to the ideals to which we speak.”5
It appears, then, that the sparseness and oblique nature of the lyrics, in addition to being open to interpretation, also serve as a self-check on humility, so as not to come off as being overly preachy or sanctimonious. Here, I would say that Rick succeeds. There is a yearning and weary tone, but the words never cross the line into commentary on what man or society “ought” to be doing, or what better actions we could take. Like great social rock poets Dylan and Springsteen, he lets the characters in the song speak for themselves, and lets us draw our own conclusions and choose our own courses of action.
2022 was the year I discovered Goose, and when I first heard “Hungersite” I was between jobs, my car was in a bad accident from my last job and we were all struggling on my wife’s income, still catching up from the debts we had amassed from our move from Illinois to here in Central Florida in 2020 (right before the COVID-19 pandemic). I finally got a job in a local government office (with cubicles not dissimilar to the ones in the video) and it seemed that our financial outlook was finally improving. Unfortunately, the salary I was earning meant we were still just keeping afloat, and also it was a temp job through a staffing agency, meaning there were no benefits, including paid time off. This especially hurt going into the holiday season with a couple severe storm events on top of that (Hurricanes Ian and Nicole, respectively). So, in my hungry state I was inspired to apply for a permanent position in the office, and, lo and behold a couple opened up and I immediately applied for them. I interviewed for one and, although I was told right away that they had gone with someone else, I decided to “let the Universe be the one to tell me” and kicked up my Buddhist practice and my human revolution up a few notches. Like the protagonist in the video, I started approaching more people and striking up conversation, helping out with things above and beyond my normal job description, and overall being approachable and friendly. I chanted my Buddhist practice’s mantra (Nam-Myoho-Renge-Kyo) for several hours a day for weeks, and gleaned deep wisdom about myself and the nature of my struggles. I also received great encouragement from others in faith, to keep going and never give up. Among that encouragement, including from my wife (who also practices), was to ask myself what I really wanted, and would pursuit of this really bring me the satisfaction I desired. Although I am still waiting on those plus a few other possibilities, despite my “hungry sight” I am cognizant that there are other avenues and means to both a stable income and a fulfilling profession. But I am still not giving up.
“Hungersite”, I believe, will be one of those classic songs, not just in terms of catchiness but also in the way it speaks to the human condition and inspires by instilling hope in those struggling. I know for me, my discovery of Goose during some of the most trying times for me and my family was no accident, and this song really spoke to me and kept me going during some of the darkest periods. I am honored to offer my song interpretation here (alongside some who even have Ph. D.s!), and I hope that what I have gleaned from this song and my related experience encourages others to draw their own conclusions and find the strength to make it, even if just one more day.