Lindsay Buckingham, Go Insane: “Two kinds of trouble in this world. Living, dying.”
Taken at face value, these lyrics seem extremely reductive and dismissive. Yet, they underscore the meaninglessness of life and, therefore, the artist’s emotional distress as he compares one lover to another and goes “insane” at her departure. His (ex)lover was one of the few things he had in life that gave his life meaning. But the “trouble” he is experiencing is the thought of living without her. The other trouble, “dying”, concerns suicide (whether he means it literally or figuratively) and how it could potentially end the trouble of living without her. He lost his “faith in this world” after her departure, thus signifying an abrupt rupture of belief as to the worthiness of life in a world so given to capriciousness. He later states that he lost his “power in this world”, thus admitting his difficulties in living in a world where he is subjugated to its unfeeling whims. In order to come to a catharsis, or symbolic death, so as to not be pushed toward a literal death by suicide, he goes “insane” intentionally in order to allow himself the release that Unreason offers. Sometimes we have to go insane to find our sanity. Sometimes we have to contemplate suicide in order to find value in life once again. Bataille and Derrida might have more to say on this.
As a side note, I think the acoustic live version of this song is far superior to the studio recording. Not only is it raw and live, demonstrating Buckingham’s talents as a performer, but it better captures the private, personal meaning of the song. It is much more confessional in its nature.
David Tyson and Christopher Ward, Black Velvet: “The sun is settin’ like molasses in the sky” and “Up in Memphis the music’s like a heatwave.”
These two lines come from two different verses in a song made famous by the exquisite Alannah Myles. It is a crooning hymn to Elvis Presley and aptly invokes images that are both sweltering and provocative, reflecting the King of Rock N Roll’s sexual appeal to women. After all, Elvis was like a force of Nature as irresistible as the sun setting into night, or a heatwave. There isn’t much more to say except that the killer hook “a new religion that’ll bring you to your knees” also encapsulates the power that the Elvis phenomenon had. He is still, to some degree, the central figure in a cult of personality nowadays.
Steven Wilson, Piano Lessons: “I remember piano lessons/ the hours in freezing rooms/ cruel ears and tiny hands destroying timeless tunes/ she said there’s too much out there/ too much already said/ you’d better give up hoping/ you’re better off in bed.
Admittedly a large chunk of verse, the lines emphasize the overall message of not only the song, but the “Stupid Dream” album upon which the song is featured. It is a song juxtaposing hope and despair in terms of realizing a creative dream in life. It concerns a little boy taking piano lessons and proving to not be of a natural aptitude. Instead of encouraging him to overcome his deficiencies, however, the teacher snuffs his dreams with a merciless boot by telling him he would be better off dreaming “in bed” of being a musician than actually working at it and “hoping”. Later, Wilson refers to “sleepwalking in the rain”, which is an excellent image for someone who is still trying to live a dream despite the adverse elements around him battering him with the insistence of futility in his endeavors. The delightful paradox of this depressing song is the upbeat musicality of the song itself. This oxymoronic pairing of despondent lyrics and gleeful instruments further underscores the contradictory nature of Wilson’s dreams as a musician.
Don Henley, Dirty Laundry: “We got the bubble-headed-bleach-blonde who comes on at Five. She can tell you ‘bout the plane crash with a gleam in her eye. It’s interesting when people die, give us dirty laundry.”
I have a whole blog post concerning the imagist-rich and meaningful lyricism in Don Henley’s music. This excerpt is just an indulgence on my part to hearken to the modern age and our obsession with not only scandal, but tragedy in our collective consciousness. And while this song is separated by more than two decades from Tool’s song “Vicarious”, I am struck by the lyrical parallels between the two songs. Speaking of which…
James Maynard Keenan, Vicarious: “Part vampire/ part warrior/ carnivore and voyeur/ stare at the transmittal/ sing to the death rattle.”
A bleak summation of humanity’s darker id-like inclinations, Keenan’s lyrics dissect the need in humanity for limbic release at the expense of human life while in a modern world where violence is both prohibited and, paradoxically, can be indulged through “vicarious” means. This sentiment ranges in its implications, not only from our Media consumption (tragic news, real life crime documentaries, biopics, etc.), but to our myriad forms of entertainment. Certain pundits have been scapegoating comics, cartoons, movies, music and video games for decades as being propagators of violence, all the while ignoring the fact that violence existed before the creation of any of these outlets, and indeed violence was much worse and more rampant in centuries past. If anything, such venues of vicarious violence curtail actual violence by providing alternative virtual realms of interaction without real-world consequences. (This excludes multiplayer online games which encompass broad consequences insomuch as the individuals within a matrix may indeed affect one another through verbal assaults and online bullying). At worst, comics and cartoons and games and the like are merely symptoms of the beast within humanity, but nothing more. As Maynard later states, “We all feed on tragedy. It’s like blood to a vampire.” Why not, then, create synthetic blood if it satisfies the desires at no consequence to another individual? Bloodletting is crucial to our psychological well-being, or so it would seem.
Weird Al Yankovic, It’s All About The Pentiums: “I’m down with Bill Gates/ I call him ‘Money’ for short/ I phone him up at home and I make him do my tech support.”
I am always amazed by how Weird Al can take a vacuous Rap song about materialistic self-aggrandizement and make social commentary subverting that vein of cultural decay while also managing to retain integrity to himself and to his modus operandi as a parody musician. While the original song, “It’s All About The Benjamins” is a vacuous testament to status-seeking and braggadocious behavior, “It’s All About The Pentiums” subverts its own overt boastfulness with its own outlandish taunts. The irony of the song’s self-deprecation is that the future really is “all about the Pentiums” more so than about the Benjamins. Considering that the majority of the financial dynamics are enabled, sustained, monitored, enhanced, supplemented, and finely tuned by computers, then it follows that computers are the catalysts of wealth. And monetary bills simply cannot compete with the transactions and acquisitions that computers (via the internet and other electronic wiring) enable. This is a juxtaposition of real power against symbolic power. Literally, a Benjamin has no inherent value besides what humans believe it possesses, whereas a computer is functional and, in many cases, dispossesses symbolic monetary currencies of any real value via electronic financial exchanges and operations. Granted, Weird Al is making a mockery of the one-upmanship in computer geekdom (and the P.C. Master Race in gaming circles), but the point stands that computers are the things that rule the world. Money is at technology’s mercy. In fact, technology is the new money. It is the arbiter of much of our existence in the modern world. Just think of how our day-to-day lives would be affected by a technological blackout. It would almost be as bad as a drought or an epidemic. People could literally die.
Perfectly encompassing this point is the fact that the computer braggart singing the song calls Bill Gates “Money” for short, which is a diminutive name meant to belittle him as “money” while requesting him to do his tech support. In other words, the fact that Bill Gates has so much money means nothing to the braggart. What he values is Gates’s ability to help fix his computer. The braggart could not care less about Gates’ “money”. The optimization of his computer is the sole concern in his life. And while it is certainly ironic, since “money” is what buys and optimizes his computer, it doesn’t make it untrue as our society, as a whole, integrates technology into our most crucial systems, operations, and institutions. Sooner or later “money” will be obsolete, leaving only numbers and data pulsing along electronic systems to process value and purchasing power.