This is a fun one. Or, I should say it's a slow, sad song, but it was fun to create. This is the first song written intentionally to be led by piano. I usually write songs on guitar and then have the band take it and make it what it is. But this was written on piano. And, like I've mentioned on songs like "Broken Watch" and "O'Brien," this is another one of those songs that I immediately knew the arrangement once I started writing it.
"When Atlas Shrugged" is kind of referencing both the mythical figure of Atlas, as well as the book "Atlas Shrugged," by Ayn Rand, if only in a round about way. It's actually the story of Judas, the betrayer of Christ. I'll explain the story, and then explain where the title came from.
For those unfamiliar, Jesus Christ was betrayed by one of his followers, Judas Iscariot. In scripture he's know as one of the original twelve disciples, but mostly as the one who betrayed Jesus to the people that would end up crucifying him. Afterwards, he hangs himself due to the guilt of what he'd done. In the Christian world he's a pretty one dimensional character. Not much thought is given to why he might betray his supposed savior, or if he would be considered a true follower of Christ. For me, though, I wanted to take a different approach to him as a character in one of the most told stories across the world. Growing up in the Bible Belt, a common exercise was to compare ourselves to a particular disciple, most commonly Peter or John. I always found that the twelve disciples seemed to embody a particular part of humanity really well, and that we could easily compare ourselves to any of them, perhaps especially Judas. So I tried to write him as, if not a tragic hero, then maybe as an unwitting, but necessary device for the development of Christ's story.
Essentially, the lyrics of the song start with Judas waking up in Heaven after killing himself. He begins to realize where he is, and sees himself surrounded by those that know him, and he notes that everyone seems surprised at his presence there, in Heaven. After all, he did betray Jesus. It ends with him feeling the weight of what he's done, and where he is.
The second verse finds Judas meeting eyes with Jesus. We see the immediate forgiveness and embrace between Jesus and Judas. But Judas doesn't really understand why he'd be forgiven. We hear him questioning if Jesus knew what he would do eventually upon meeting Judas, and if so, how could Jesus truly love Judas in spite of all this.
The song ends with Judas saying, "You tell me I'm forgiven. I want to believe it's true. And maybe given time, I can forgive myself, too."
I wanted to write a song that discussed forgiveness, not from the perspective of forgiving others, but of being forgiven. And, how sometimes it's harder to forgive ourselves for what we've done.
Now, back to the title. Atlas is the character tasked with holding up the world on his shoulders. I remember watching the movie "Atlas Shrugged," and while the book is certainly a huge endeavor that discusses a lot of things, I was fascinated by the title alone. If we take Atlas holding up the world on his shoulders as a metaphor for us, then, should we give up on holding whatever we have in our lives, I wouldn't see a violent throwing off the weight. Instead, I see this broken shrugging off of our problems. I saw this as utter hopelessness. Giving up is never a huge, explosive action. It's more of a weak and subtle surrender.
As always, though, I didn't want this song to end so hopelessly. I don't like the idea that healing will never happen. So I wanted to leave a little ray of sunshine at the very end. You've been forgiven. Now you just need to learn how to forgive yourself.