Prayer and contemplation: Hozier’s “Moment’s Silence (Common Tongue)”

“Moment’s Silence (Common Tongue)” is an unabashedly raunchy song. (Do people still use the word “raunchy”? It’s the word that comes to mind when I think about these lyrics.) In case anyone missed it, Hozier himself has kindly informed us that it is, indeed, a song about oral sex (and you can watch this and treat yourselves to the sight and sound of Hozier saying “oral sex”). It is, specifically, a song sung by a man about receiving oral sex–to put it bluntly, it’s about getting a blowjob. It’s also an elaborately worded, punning plea to consider the possibility of equality in sexual dynamics.

Hozier begins with an oblique evocation of a world in turmoil:

When stunted hand earns place with man by mere monstrosity

Alarms are struck and shore is shook by sheer atrocity

(Is it stretching a point to think that the “stunted hand” refers to a certain American President and the mockery of his small and pudgy hands?) The next two lines detail the singer’s response to a world of monstrosity and atrocity:

A cure I know that soothes the soul, does so impossibly

A moment’s silence when my baby puts the mouth on

Hozier teasingly trails off here, letting his voice slide immediately into the next line, but the meaning is clear enough: When the world is too much with us, oral intimacy is the cure. Note that, yes, “the mouth” is what the official lyrics say (although he has clearly sung it as “their mouth” in concerts), and that the soothing of the soul comes through something that happens *to the body*.

So “my baby puts the mouth” on segues into:

Me and my babe relax and catch the manic rhapsody

All reason flown, as God looks on in abject apathy

“Manic rhapsody” is a delightful phrase just because of the internal rhyme; I am reminded of the line “electing strange perfections in any stranger I choose” from “Someone New” on his debut album. More important, however, is the declaration that “God looks on in abject apathy”. The singer and his baby are having sex, specifically non-reproductive sex, and God simply doesn’t care. In a Catholic culture like Ireland’s, sex that doesn’t lead to babies, even or perhaps especially between a man and a woman, is a definite no. Hozier carefully doesn’t specify his lover’s gender, but either way, they are defying churchly rules and God doesn’t care.

A squall, and all of me is a prayer in perfect piety

A moment’s silence when my baby puts the mouth on me

Hozier follows this utterly blasphemous statement with an unabashed blues wail that, heard live, will make your hair stand on end. (My hair remembers vividly.) His nonverbal outcry in response to receiving oral sex is called “a prayer in perfect piety”, which is also a “moment’s silence”. The silence, one supposes, is mutual: He’s nonverbal with “manic rhapsody”, and his baby can’t talk because their mouth is full. The lyrics hint that, as in his signature tune “Take Me to Church”, it is his lover he worships, no more, no less.

Internal rhymes and end-rhymes both veil the explicitness of these lyrics. The chorus offers us a deadpan pun:

When the meaning is gone

There is clarity

And the reason comes on the common tongue of your loving me

I am entirely certain that “common tongue” is a deliberate pun on “come on tongue”. Hozier did say the song was about oral sex, and I did warn my readers that it is raunchy. But it also evokes the act of oral sex as an act that all gender/sexuality combinations have in common. That brazen pun is coupled with a description of the act as love. Here’s where things begin to get really interesting. In a moment of silence that transcends meaning with clarity–which might be a description of contemplative prayer–the singer understands “the reason” through an act of sex that’s also an act of love. If “Take Me to Church” borrowed the imagery of formal worship for its lovers’ intimacy, “Moment’s Silence” is riffing on the idea of contemplation, of a silent kind of prayer motivated by adoration and love.

The second verse of the song is Hozier’s call out of people with a quite different approach to giving and receiving oral sex:

What yields the need for those who lead us oh so morally

Those that would view the same we do through their deformity

The moral leaders no doubt include politicians and other authority figures as well as authorities within the Church. What is the deformity to which he refers?

Who view the deed as power’s creed, as pure authority

This moment’s silence when my baby puts the mouth on me

Pardon me for being blunt here. Andrew Hozier-Byrne is a 29-year-old man living in the age of free porn on the Internet. It hardly seems possible to me that he has not seen oral sex scenes in porn, that he is not referring here to the kneeling woman servicing with her mouth the man looming over her, often gripping her hair or holding her head between his hands. And it hardly seems possible to conclude that the pleasure of receiving such sexual services is less in the physical sensations than in the emotional charge of using, even forcing another person to provide them, in a humiliating way.

These lyrics seem to me to be looking at that dynamic and rejecting it as a deformity, a distortion of what is a potentially loving and even contemplative act. The remainder of the lyrics reiterate the possibility of sex as an expression of love rather than power, while the music, a simple but powerful blues riff, increases in intensity. Hozier sings four couplets over the frenzied accompaniment:

Since it all begun

To its reckoning

There the reason comes on the common tongue of your loving me

First, he links reason to love: reason meaning the motivation or justification for the act of love.

Be thankful some know it lovingly

There the reason comes in the common tongue of your loving me

Here he insists the most forcefully and unambiguously that for some people, the act of oral sex is not about power but about love.

Like a heathen clung to the homily

Let the reason come on the common tongue of your loving me

At that point he shifts from the indicative “there” to the imperative “let”. In the simplest terms, he’s asking permission to orgasm, but I think there’s also a hint of “reason” as a synonym for “knowledge”. In Biblical Hebrew, “knowledge” is a synonym for sexual experience, and in Catholic theology, the fullness of knowledge can only be experienced through love.

So summon on the pearl rosary

Let the reason come on the common tongue of your loving me

Hozier ends with an image that is at once explicitly religious and explicitly erotic, even pornographic, as the pearls of the rosary are slang for drops of semen splashed on skin.

“Moment’s Silence (Common Tongue)” is a fusion of the erotic, the religious, and the blasphemous even more explicit and potent than “Take Me to Church”, with an irresistible blues melody that can make the tiredest feet get up and dance (if those feet are mine, at any rate). If he keeps writing music like this, I will assuredly keep listening, dancing, singing along when I’m alone, and writing elaborate analyses like this one.

Author: Merri-Todd

Writer, musician, polytheist, and friend of birds. I groove on transformative works.

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