Conor Oberst, formerly known as Bright Eyes, has been the de facto king of music's sad white dudes since his 1998 album Letting Off the Happiness. Sixteen years later, he's released "Common Knowledge," his latest video from his recent solo album Upside Down Mountain. Set 10 years in the future, the clip is a follow-up to Mountain's first video, for "Zigzagging Toward the Light," which ends with a massive nuclear explosion devastating present-day Manhattan. Things seem to have gotten worse since the apocalypse, and the new clip follows Oberst as he wanders his label's abandoned office, engaging in various acts of torturedness — smoking, drinking, smashing glass things and so on.
Like Oberst's early work as Bright Eyes, "Common Knowledge" is a near-parodical bummer, and it serves as a reminder that, despite his recent penchant for the new-agey, Oberst's white-dude sadness is not to be questioned. On that note, here are all the video's biggest bummer moments, ranked from sad to saddest.
Oberst first tours the abandoned Nonesuch records offices and finds a box of his albums in storage. This, of course, is sad because his records should be out in the world inspiring love and understanding.
That's impossible for two reasons — first, because of the nuclear apocalypse and, second, because Nonesuch records is a subsidiary of Warner Music Group, and Oberst has been pretty adamantly #DIY throughout his career. Which might explain why ...
Immediately after finding his records, the video's frame-rate turns down and Oberst blurs at the edges of his figure. This likely indicates the obscuring of his soul.
About halfway through the video, we meet a younger Oberst (as evidenced by his early-aughts emo swoop and sleeveless hoodie). In this sad moment, past-Oberst French-inhales a joint with his pals the So So Glos — a happy moment in itself, but sad because the So So Glos have presumably all died in the last video's Massive Nuclear Event.
In this frame we find Oberst kicking it on a park bench, probably working through some existential doubtfulness. The moment is still pre-Massive Nuclear Event though (short hair!), and is therefore quantifiably less sad than, say, Oberst reading the Bible post-apocalypse.
Here, present-day post-apocalypse Oberst thumbs through one of the two unlikely Holy Bibles in Nonesuch records' offices, probably noting the irony of what he perceives to be a man-made God outliving the human race. Or not.
Oberst also tears a page out of the Bible and puts it in his pocket, probably to tape up on the wall of his apartment, or something.
In this sequence, some anonymous old codger walks out of a bar with a bottle of booze. The bartender follows him outside, clearly miffed, takes the bottle back, and smashes it over his head. This pretty-sad vignette turns into a very-sad vignette when past-Oberst walks by the kerfuffle and into the bar with the So So Glos. Foreshadowing!
This moment, like the So-So-Glos moments, is happy in itself but sad because the girl is likely dead (see: Massive Nuclear Event). But because Past-Oberst and the girl are extra in love in this frame, it's a few units sadder than the So So Glos moment itself.
This is where things truly derail. Back in his label's offices, still smoking, Oberst chucks an ashtray at the wall, maybe because they put his albums into storage, or maybe just to be a brat. Glass flies everywhere. The ash from his infinite cigarette will now get all over Nonesuch's rug.
As Oberst spins further into utter hopelessness, he chugs down the rest of his liquor, losing his cowboy hat in the process. Then he smashes the bottle. Again with the mess!
In the final moments of "Common Knowledge," Oberst gets down with some symbolism and cuts his hair, i.e. everything he perceives to be evil and unsexy about himself, including (but not exclusive to) solitude, wealth and a striking resemblance to Jack White. This cleanse initially seems like a happy ending, until ...
Apparently realizing the (now non-existent) Warner Music Group's custodial staff will be none too pleased with a bunch of hair and glass and ash all over the floor, Oberst drops some Andrew Jacksons on the mess. Or is that part of the metaphor too? Only Oberst can know.