The Lumineers Speak Up About Addiction

The Lumineers, an American folk rock band, are well-known for hit songs, such as “Ho Hey,” “Ophelia,” and “Cleopatra.” On September 13, 2019, they released their album III—which tells the fictitious story of the Sparks family—along with music videos for each song that help tell the story.¹ “Gloria,” one track from the album, describes the heart-wrenching love between an alcoholic woman and her family.

Take a look at the official music video that conveys so much about Gloria Sparks, her husband, and her child. [Warning: this music video contains some scenes of trauma, substance abuse, and violence].

A Raw Portrayal of Addiction
Right away, the first lines of the song talk about alcohol and addiction:

Gloria, I smell it on your breath
Gloria, booze and peppermint

Along with that, the bottle of alcohol plays a formidable symbol in the music video. Gloria is constantly holding it, drinking hard liquor straight from a bottle—even while holding her baby son.

Despite repeating her name over and over again, the lyrics (and video) don’t focus as much on Gloria as they do on her husband and child—the loved ones affected by her actions.

My hand was tied to yours

Gloria, you crawled up on your cross
Gloria, you made us sit and watch

Wesley Schultz, guitarist and lead vocalist, and Jeremiah Fraites, drummer, explained that “Gloria” was based on what they’ve been through and been around in their own lives: how it’s painful to love someone dealing with an alcohol addiction, how it’s tragic but also a picture of love, and how “families tend to stick together.”²

Addiction’s Effect on a Spouse
Once in the video, Gloria’s husband comes through the front door to see her collapse on the floor. Another time, her husband enters and she’s already on the floor, convulsing and foaming at the mouth. His concern for her is obvious as he calls paramedics to rush her to the hospital. He stays with her, even when she won’t (or can’t) shake the addiction. He keeps coming home to her and loving her. At the hospital he’s looking through the window of the ER door, concerned for her well-being. He’s holding her in another scene. Clearly his love for her is motivating him, despite her addiction.

The lyrics talk about his concern for her:

I would lie awake and pray you don’t lie awake for me

Through it all, he loves her. But we see that it only causes him more pain.

Toward the end, we see Gloria and her husband arguing. Their argument is presumably about the bottle of alcohol in her hand. In that scene, she throws the bottle and it shatters against his face. She drives him to the hospital, but—distracted with lighting a cigarette and presumably driving under alcohol’s influence—she crashes into a truck, causing even greater injury, possibly death, to her husband.

The thrown liquor bottle also seems to represent her attempts to kick the addiction—but to no avail—and her attempts to stop her addiction seem to only cause her husband further pain and injury.

Addiction’s Effect on a Child
The video also reveals Gloria’s neglect of her child. While she’s trying to care for her baby son—and does seem to love him—she can’t do it well while struggling with her addiction. The child is neglected—when Gloria is taken to the hospital, we see the baby alone on the floor in the home, crying.

The video also shows the child’s exposure to alcohol, suggesting he even began abusing it himself. When Gloria takes her husband to the hospital, the child is again left on the floor—this time next to the bottle of liquor, which he grabs and starts to drink from. Perhaps he literally drank it then. Or perhaps—since Gloria runs away from the car in the last scene—this scene implies that her son started drinking at a young age, becoming addicted because his mother was absent.

If we look beyond “Gloria” to the other songs on the album, we find lyrics and videos describing Gloria’s adult son and teenage grandson. Both struggle with addiction and the pain of childhood neglect, pointing to the greater generational effect that alcohol can have on loved ones.

The Gospel and Addiction
In III, The Lumineers paint a tragic, seemingly hopeless picture of the Sparks family. Sadly, that has been the band members’ own experience, and it is an experience that many in our culture can relate to, either as the one addicted or the loved one of an addict. But thankfully, the Gospel preaches hope, even in the most hopeless situations. God can work miracles, put an end to generations of addiction, and change hearts to follow him instead of the idol of one’s addiction.

For the friends and family showing love to a person facing addiction, sometimes boundaries need to be put in place to keep them (the family/friends) from being hurt and to stop enabling their loved one. That being said, for those of you loving a person facing addiction, even while it causes you pain and injury, know that you’re a picture of Jesus Christ’s selfless love, a living example of dying to yourself for another person.

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Abby Debenedittis

Abby DeBenedittis is a freelance writer and the owner of Quandary Peak Editing. She likes to write about how faith in Jesus Christ influences ordinary life. She’s a fan of adventures in the Rocky Mountains, complicated board games, and lattes from local coffee shops.