January 16, 2013 by NowhereButPop
“Woke up this morning, don’t believe what I saw, a hundred billion bottles washed up on the shore”. This is how the third verse of “Message in a Bottle” by The Police starts. Maybe it’s just me, but I think that very few lyrics sum up such an intangible feeling as potently as “Message in a Bottle” does. Just imagine waking up one day to see the shoreline littered with seven billion bottles, each containing someone’s personal S.O.S.
Everyone at one point or another feels alone or isolated from everyone, hence the motif of being stranded on a deserted island in the song. But something about the song makes it universal and relatable for everyone. Even though this is my favorite song by The Police, I never really understood the kick to the song. Having listened to the song on a loop for the past hour, I’ve realized what it is, and it’s the line that I quoted above.
The titular message is someone’s personal distress call; a personal problem that they want to be solved. While the idea of waking up to find one hundred billion bottles filled with everyone’s biggest baggage doesn’t seem like it would be very comforting for the cast away protagonist of the song, in truth it really is. It means that he’s not alone, or at least not as alone as he initially thought he was. There’s a sense of relief that he’s “not alone at being alone”. You can’t be alone if you know of like company. Everyone has their own baggage that they’re sending out an S.O.S. for; it’s ok to want to do that. The only problem though is that since everyone is busy sending out an S.O.S., no one is around to answer this distress signal. Now he knows that there are others like him, but the fact remains that they are on their own deserted island with no way of doing anything about their distress.
The metaphor of physical isolation in lieu of emotional isolation goes back to the Paul Simon song “I am a Rock” with the notion being that the feeling of loneliness is akin to being stranded on a deserted island. The more I write about this, the more it reminds me of junior high. The whole idea that no one would understand what you’re going through is a feeling that first manifests itself during the “Awkward Years”. They just don’t realize that they’re not the only ones who feel isolated.
“Message in a Bottle” is universal because it reflects a desire that everyone has: an answer to their own personal distress call. Sometimes they aren’t answered the way we want them to be, and other times they aren’t answered at all; but to know that you’re one of seven billion people sending out an S.O.S. makes it easier to get by. Even if all you ever see are messages in a bottle just remember that someone had to send them out to sea. If we ever come across one, the least we could do is let the sender know that someone received their message, because in the end that’s all we really want, to know that someone picked up our own message in a bottle.