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Lyrics and songwriting

Crystal Castles – Alice Practice – Song lyrics analysis and meaning

Songwriting

Alice Practice by Crystal Castles is one of the song analyses presented in the PDF Songwriting.

Alice Practice was the first track ever released by Crystal Castles – it actually came from a casting of the singer/songwriter Alice Glass on the music of Ethan Kath (the two members of Crystal Castles), and the sound engineer secretly recorded her soundcheck. This lead to a first 4 tracks EP including Alice Practice, Dolls, Air War, and Love and Caring, released in 2006.

We chose Crystal Castles and this song in particular, to explore another side of songwriting – a radically non-conformist one.

Music video

Lyrics analysis and meaning

The track starts on layer of 8-bit glitches accompanied by some powerful, aggressive beats.

Hi

A nice woman’s voice saying hello… in strong contrast with the violent music. A setup, the beginning of a conversation? It soon becomes clear that this “Hi” goes with nothing else and is a kind of wrong track – just meant to establish a fake cordiality just before passing on the attack.

Scars will heal soon

The voice totally changed: it became aggressive like the music.

A medical-sounding line, after the “Hi”, creates a weird effect of contrast.

You shrug it off

The meaning jumps again for the third time in three lines. Nobody can tell who is the “you” and what is the “it” in “you shrug it off”; the “it” could mean the previous “scars”, but we can not be sure.

Except that you don’t

This line breaks the systematic jumps of meaning and keeps continuous with the previous line, but not for a better result, since it just contradicts and cancels it.

The lyrics stop, the music continues. But the structure of the track stays surprising, it does not sound like a classic Verse/Chorus/Verse.

Better, it surely
It don’t fall out

Same problem of meaning: the audience can not make sure about what is this “it”: the scars, or something else that remains unnamed?

Said I live low
I lisp, I die

The “I” is back, but just to assert 3 negative things on oneself, 2 about dying, 1 about a speech impediment – which for a singer/songwriter, sounds ironic, but very symbolic of Crystal Castles’ style. This narrator-character is no Hero.

Sugar shooting, bled with deadbeats

Surprisingly, the verbs of action are either deleted or weakened or turned indirect ways: a passive present continuous or a weird past time. It also contributes to an aesthetic that refuses order, narration and meaning.

Only crawl, so your eyes
Sad eyes

Again, the subject is missing and the verb sounds vague – infinitive, available for action but not currently involved (“only crawl” sounds abstract compared to “I only crawl”). Again, the verb carries a negative meaning: to crawl, the weak form of walking like lisping is the weak form of talking.

“your eyes, sad eyes”: again, we have no other element to identify this “you”: is it us, or who else? The reduction of this character to his/her/their eyes stays in the overall logic of destruction.

quite Christian
blood

Why, who has quite Christian blood? We have no element to understand.

Drop it, it’s dead

Mystery again about the identity of this “it”.

We dropped it

Finally we have a bit of action, with some people – this undefined “we” – who dropped a body. It is a narrative element without the appropriate context, a plot point without a plot.

And took the body home

For once, two lines make sense together… but the result of it sounds absurd: who would find a dead body, drop it and take it home? We can not find any rational motivation for anybody to do that.

Sad eyes

The repetition of those sad eyes helps structuring the lyrics a bit, but since it is not much connected to other elements of meaning, it sounds like a worrying, mad obsession.

Scars, I’m chopping dagger

A link is finally made between the previous “scars” and the act of an aggressor armed with a dagger. Surprisingly, the dagger-holder is now the singer,

See you’ll never walk, only stagger

Same process of transformation by reduction than before: crawl, lisp, stagger instead of walk and talk.

Sad eyes, quite Christian
blood

Last repetition.
Alice Practice is a representative example of anti-storytelling and anti-narration:

  • No proper plot
  • No actantial characters – no deep and wide goals, no consistent motivations
  • There are characters and agents, but their identities stay very blurry and their properties are very diminished, low
  • No coherent development of situations
  • No overall chronology

The song could be a discourse-based song, like many protest-songs, but it is not the case either:

  • No clear argumentation
  • No main topic
  • No clear message
  • We could say it’s a kind of protest-song against lyrics 😀

Is anti-storytelling legal?

Yes, it is perfectly legal 🙂

From a formal point of view: it is true that we can abstract rules and principles and tricks from artworks. But nobody is allowed to say that artworks HAVE TO be done a certain way. So, for sure we can get to know much about the rules, principles and tricks of storytelling, but that does not mean that we have to apply them systematically and always a standard way.

On the contrary: since a majority of works is done according to “the” rules (even when the rules were not applied a very relevant way…), it will necessarily make a strong effect of contrast if an artwork chooses to radically break the rules and contradict them all. So that there is obviously a big advantage – on an over-saturated music market – in not-following the rules – that makes this artist very original, unique.

Another advantage of breaking the rules: it is more appropriate to render what is broken in life. Artworks are often like mirrors, they are good because they reflect well.

Broken storytelling renders better broken lives, broken visions of the world, and rules-breaking aesthetic and ethics.

Crystal Castles went far on this way, on their album Crystal Castles I:

  • On Untrust us, the lyrics are made of only 2 lines repeated in loops, charged with distortion effects that make the lyrics nearly ununderstandable.
  • On Crimewave, the vocals are frequently short-looped which make understanding more difficult
  • On Love and Caring, the shouted vocals compete with the music and become nearly inaudible
  • Black Panther has long, developed, standard lyrics… but the way the song is mixed makes the voice a kind of high-pitched ghost whose words sound enigmatic

On their album Crystal Castles II:

  • Fainting Spells: same remark.
  • Doe Deer goes total crazy. The vocals are very important in it, but totally inaudible by over-saturation of the frequencies.
  • Baptism stays at the frontier. We can hear and follow part of the lyrics, while some very punk parts sound much less audible. Same with Empathy.
  • Year of Silence has audible lyrics… written in Icelandic from a Sigur Ros song!
  • On Violent Dreams, the vocals say a weird but coherent text about a car accident involving two policemen and a woman, the slowed-down lyrics are understandable if we pay attention. The vocals are then transformed into music via resampling and vocoding to become a kind of chorus in a fantasy language.
  • Vietnam seems to prolongate Violent Dreams, by using the same effect of vocals sampled to be used as instrumental. Here the lyrics are reduced to a fistful of inaudible syllables, whose meaning is discussed.
  • Birds and Pat Smear use very high-pitched vocals.
  • Same for Not In Love, but in the version sung by Robert Smith the lyrics sound like in a normal pop-rock song.
  • We hear there are lyrics in Intimate, but totally incomprehensible. We can read those lyrics, they’re about love…
  • I am made of chalk sounds like an extreme experiment on vocals. We hear it’s a high-pitched slowed-down female voice who sounds like mumbling, screaming, meaowing to death. We don’t clearly get the words, but we can hear it’s human or animal voice that transmits a very eerie emotion.

Conclusion: Crystal Castles made the unconventional lyrics and vocals an art, by a series of frequent processes:

  • Distort the voices (pitch it high or low, slow it down or accelerate it, reduce the frequencies, put a huge delay) to make them suggestive rather than discursive – words become noise, a whistle, a murmur, a background, a barking, a meaowing, a complaint, a scream…
  • Treat the voice as an instrument playing notes, not lyrics – the singer’s syllables are controlled by a sampler that breaks the meaning into pure sounds

Those lyrics and vocals are very original indeed since they refuse the classic position of the singer as an expression of the people, a poetic or political voice sharing a vision of the world.

Crystal Castles obtain a superior effect by blurring the meaning, to transmit more emotion than meaning, a non-intellectual state of mind – as scat-singing in jazz, or The Great Gig In The Sky by the Pink Floyd, had done before. A conventional story could not have transmitted that.

Categories
Lyrics and songwriting

Suzanne Vega – Luka – Lyrics, analysis, meaning

Songwriting

Luka by Suzanne Vega is one of the song analyses presented in the PDF Songwriting.

 Music video

Lyrics, story analysis, meaning

Verse 1

My name is Luka
I live on the second floor
I live upstairs from you
Yes I think you’ve seen me before

Bridge + Chorus 1

If you hear something late at night
Some kind of trouble, some kind of fight
Just don’t ask me what it was
Just don’t ask me what it was
Just don’t ask me what it was

Verse 2

I think it’s because I’m clumsy
I try not to talk too loud
Maybe it’s because I’m crazy
I try not to act too proud

Bridge + Chorus 2

They only hit until you cry
After that you don’t ask why
You just don’t argue anymore
You just don’t argue anymore
You just don’t argue anymore

Verse 3

Yes I think I’m okay
I walked into the door again
Well, if you ask that’s what I’ll say
And it’s not your business anyway

Bridge + Chorus 3

I guess I’d like to be alone
With nothing broken, nothing thrown
Just don’t ask me how I am
Just don’t ask me how I am
Just don’t ask me how I am

Verse 1 + Bridge + Chorus 1 + Bridge + Chorus 2

Suzanne Vega – Luka – Lyrics, analysis, meaning

Her name is Suzanne Vega and she sings:

“Luka”

The title puts the focus on a name, indicating the song will probably be centered on a character named Luka.

Verse 1

My name is Luka

This confirms our first guess and establishes the genre very clearly: a character-narrator named Luka is telling his own autobiography.

The situation naturally involves another character in the action, a yet invisible character that Luka addresses himself to. Suspense about the identity of this character.

I live on the second floor
I live upstairs from you

“You”: this is now clear, the person Luka is speaking to, is “you” – not us in the audience, but the neighbors of Luka. But since it says “you”, we are still much tempted to take it as said for us as potential neighbors of Luka.

Yes I think you’ve seen me before

This last line that does not add much information and sounds naive, finishes making the exposition of the plot: it’s about Luka who is presenting himself to one of his neighbors. Luka is nothing but a name and his relationship with the neighbor is only based on a space proximity.

Bridge + Chorus 1

If you hear something late at night
Some kind of trouble, some kind of fight
Just don’t ask me what it was
Just don’t ask me what it was
Just don’t ask me what it was

This gives us the catalyst of the plot: the Hero is Luka, his goal is to ask the neighbor not to ask in case there is ” some kind of trouble, some kind of fight” “late at night”.

This goal sounds very surprising. We do not see how not asking can help if there is a kind of trouble or fight at night. From there, we can start guessing that there is something wrong, something untold. Which makes us pay more attention!

Verse 2

I think it’s because I’m clumsy

Paradox: Luka just asked the neighbor not to ask for the reason, and then he gives by his own initiative a weak explanation in which he takes the fault and the guilt…

I try not to talk too loud

That sounds kind and humble, not like someone who would really be a source of discomfort for his neighbors.

Maybe it’s because I’m crazy
I try not to act too proud

This confirms the humility of the Hero. “Crazy”? This lets us understand the Hero does not estimate the situation an appropriate way, he sounds confused, or disturbed, not crazy.

Once we understand that this boy is beaten, then we can also suppose that he would judge that asking for help and denouncing the people who beat him would be “acting too proud”.

This Verse 2 was the beginning of an Act II – development of the plot. It describes the Hero as someone unusually self-critical for a child, but innocent.

Bridge + Chorus 2

They only hit until you cry
After that you don’t ask why

Now we necessarily understand what is going on: “they only hit until you cry”, that is to say: the boy is beaten at home.

And “After that you don’t ask why” makes a surprising connection with the previous “Just don’t ask me what it was”: at first the boy asked for confidentiality, and now he gives the reason why: when you are beaten because you asked questions or started to talk, you don’t want to talk or answer questions any more.

The way the boy expresses the situation is special: he says “you” instead of “I” – denying his own position as a victim – , and does not give any detail about “they” – probably to protect them and himself from revelations that could break their home balance.

You just don’t argue anymore
You just don’t argue anymore
You just don’t argue anymore

The simplicity and the despair involved in this repeated line sounds heart-breaking. Violence has lead to total resignation.

This chorus 2 can be seen as an included plot (a backstory) that intensifies the drama by presenting us some elements of the most dramatic content: the violence scenes, when the boy gets beaten.

Verse 3

Yes I think I’m okay

This “Yes I think” sounds like a reply in an on-going dialogue – to a line that is not told to us.

I walked into the door again
Well, if you ask that’s what I’ll say

We understand better now: the neighbor asked about a visible bruise and the boy replied that he’s OK, he just walked into the door – that is typically the kind of things beaten child and women pretend so as not to be seen as victims.

And it’s not your business anyway

A proof of ambivalence from the boy – he has a reflex of rejection when his secret is about to be discovered.

This can be interpreted as the crisis: the Hero rejects his only possible help and chooses to cancel his unconscious goals: talk with someone and be rescued.

Bridge + Chorus 3

I guess I’d like to be alone

Such a desire is not frequent in children, except when they feel bad.

With nothing broken, nothing thrown

This lets us imagine the violent domestic scenes the boy is involved in during the backstory: things get broken and thrown.

Just don’t ask me how I am
Just don’t ask me how I am
Just don’t ask me how I am

That makes the dialogue situation clear: the neighbor asked Luka “how are you?” and in reaction Luka feels in danger and asks the neighbor not to care about him.

So actually, the last line of the song confirms that the boy forbids his neighbor to ask questions about him: climax – from that point the goal is out of reach.

The song then repeats Verse 1 then Bridge + Chorus 1 then Bridge + Chorus 2.

Commentary

Luka is another strange case of storytelling, half-standard, half-atypical.

Some elements are conventional and make it a normal story:

  • It’s based on a central character.
  • It starts with an initial situation.

Some other elements are special and make it a non-conform story:

  • No meeting with the side of the Antagonist. We can not even tell the identity of the people who beat Luka: parents? family? adoptive family? step-family members? brothers and sisters?
  • The Hero has a negative goal: make the neighbors not to ask questions, or in other terms, not to be helped. This goal is upsetting and as such, it works very well. But it’s not a very narrative kind of goal – compared to more normal/standard goals like: obtain love, conquer something, win, save one’s life, etc – because it is not active, it rely on the behavior of someone else. Of course, all the sadness of the song is in the fact that the Hero has no other goal than imposing silence to himself and the others.

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Lyrics and songwriting

Nirvana Dumb Lyrics analysis and meaning

Songwriting

Dumb is one of the song analyses presented in the PDF Songwriting.

Dumb is the 6th track of Nirvana‘s third and last studio album In Utero (DGC Records, 1993).

The album production was funny enough to be told here: Nirvana worked with producer Steve Albini, known as a very opinionated guy in indie music industry. Nirvana and Albini agreed to stop DGC from interfering with the production: they paid the studio costs on their own money and Albini declared that the business people around the band were “the biggest pieces of shit I ever met” (read the wikipedia notice about this album), which is probably the rightest way to treat the people who make business with art 🙂 The album was recorded in only 6 days partly in overdub (separate tracks recordings) and Cobain recorded his vocals in the end, all of them in 6 hours. The only interruption was due to a visit by Courtney Love…

Let’s quote the wikipedia notice about the reception:

“After the recording sessions were completed, Nirvana sent unmastered tapes of the album to several individuals, including the president of DGC’s parent company Geffen Records Ed Rosenblatt and the group’s management company Gold Mountain. When asked about the feedback he received, Cobain told Michael Azerrad, “The grown-ups don’t like it.” He said he was told his songwriting was “not up to par”, the sound was “unlistenable”, and that there was uncertainty that mainstream radio would welcome the sound of Albini’s production.”

Funny, tasteful, intuitive people indeed (but actually, even the band and Cobain were skeptic about it…) The record company planned 50,000 sales for this album: it actually started number 1 on the Billboard chart in the U.S. and sold 180,000 copies the first week; it then sold at more than 12 millions copies worlwide, while Nirvana’s works sold in total more than 75 millions copies…

Kurt Cobain had thought of I Hate Myself And I Want To Die (a sentence he had written in his personal journals in 1992) as a title for In Utero. The 8th of April 1994, seven months after the release of the album, Cobain killed himself with a shotgun.

Music video

Lyrics

Nirvana – Dumb

Verse 1

I’m not like them
But I can pretend

The sun is gone
But I have a light

The day is done
But I’m having fun

I think I’m dumb
Or maybe just happy

Chorus 1

Think I’m just happy
Think I’m just happy
Think I’m just happy

Verse 2

My heart is broke
But I have some glue

Help me inhale
And mend it with you

We’ll float around
And hang out on clouds

Then we’ll come down
And have a hangover

Chorus 2

Have a hangover
Have a hangover
Have a hangover

Bridge

Skin the sun
Fall asleep
Wish away
The soul is cheap
Lesson learned
Wish me luck
Soothe the burn
Wake me up

Verse 1

I’m not like them
But I can pretend

The sun is gone
But I have a light

The day is done
But I’m having fun

I think I’m dumb
Or maybe just happy

Chorus 1

Think I’m just happy
Think I’m just happy
Think I’m just happy

I think I’m dumb [x12]

Lyrics analysis and meaning

Dumb

The title already transmits a depreciative adjective. Some bad feelings around?

Verse 1

I’m not like them

OK, we have a situation here: a guy is not like them. Who is “I”? Who is “them”? Suspense.

But I can pretend

This after that: it sounds like a problem/solution pattern. Will it be the case?

The sun is gone
But I have a light

Problem/solution pattern. Bingo?

The day is done
But I’m having fun

Problem/solution pattern again.

I think I’m dumb
Or maybe just happy

OK, that is a kind of synthesis, generalization of the feelings matching the 3 previous problem/solution couples. The Hero is stuck in situations between a feeling of not being able to solve the problems – feeling dumb – and the joy of finding fake, illusory or only partial solutions.

Chorus 1

Think I’m just happy
Think I’m just happy
Think I’m just happy

This sounds like a positive assertion after the dilemma – but the tone on which it is sung contradicts the feeling: he sings that he is happy a monotonous and unhappy way.

Verse 2

My heart is broke

This contrasts and contradicts the chorus “maybe just happy”.

But I have some glue

We are back to the pattern problem/(weak) solution

Help me inhale

In itself, it means help me breathe, = rescue me, but in the vicinity of “I have some glue”, it sounds like a teenager addicted to sniffing glue, asking a friend to help him… to continue.

And mend it with you

The “it” refers to the broken heart, but the intention to mend it with glue sounds far away because of the play on words that contributes destroying, hacking the poetry of the sentimental lyrics.

We’ll float around
And hang out on clouds

This is a clearer invitation to be stoned together – float and hang out with drugs.

Then we’ll come down
And have a hangover

And even in this drug trip scenario, the Hero can’t help thinking about the end of the trip, like it’s already over.

Chorus 2

Have a hangover
Have a hangover
Have a hangover

Surprisingly, the chorus lyrics repeat the same air and melody with opposite words: “think I’m just happy” has become “have a hangover”.

Bridge

Skin the sun
Fall asleep
Wish away
The soul is cheap
Lesson learned
Wish me luck
Soothe the burn
Wake me up

OK, those lyrics involve a very different style. Before, the verses were made of positive assertions and their contradictions. Now, it is a fast series of 6 short imperative verbs (skin / fall / wish / wish / soothe / wake), intertwined with 1 assertion (“the soul is cheap”) and 1 noun group with a verb conjugated in past time (“lesson learned”). Though ultra-minimal and possibly absurd-sounding, those lyrics might describe some underlying situations: it can be the character who skins the sun, asks to be wished luck, and then needs to soothe the burn; it can also be the same character that falls asleep and asks to be waken up. And it can be the same character who does everything. Then this disparate list can be understood as a mini-plot telling about a guy who falls asleep, skins the sun, soothe the burn, and wakes up. Once rebuilt, this mini-plot that sounds epic and poetic (to attack the sun in a dream) can now be interpreted as the crisis+climax structure meant to solve the problems of the Hero

Verses 1 comes back, exactly the same, from “I’m not like them” to “maybe just happy”.

The repetition of the same lines add more monotony, meaning boredom, and enhances the bipolarity of problems confronted to solutions.

Finally the chorus “Think I’m just happy [x3]” becomes “I think I’m dumb [x12]”.

Verses 1 has been repeated without changes, but surprisingly, they get now concluded an opposite way. Happy, positive, becomes dumb, negative. A poor form of harmony (through flat repetition) ends in paradoxical contrast (due to the unexplained change of appreciation of the singer about himself).

Commentary

Dumb is not a standard narrative song. It does not tell one or several continuous, developed plots. But still, the song contains much narrative content and is essentially dramatic. Let’s examine how it works from closer.

Plots?

Can we answer this question: is Dumb made of plots?

To prove that it is the case, we can show that:

  • It has a central character, the “I” who sings.
  • This character is in initial situations: “I’m not like them”, “The sun is gone”, “The day is done”, “I think I’m dumb”, “My heart is broke”…
  • He also has projects, intentions, goals: to pretend (that he is like them), to use a light (when the sun has gone), to fix his heart, to hang out on clouds, etc…

But many elements of narration are missing:

  • None of the goals and projects gets realized: the Hero tells about them, but does not begin them.
  • We do not meet any serious Antagonist, apart from the vague mention of “them”.
  • No plot gets developed. Each time they appear, the problems (possible setups of plots!) get solved, even if the solution does not stand well. It actually gives the impression that the Hero does not want to become the Hero, and refuses to engage in any adventure.
  • The 8 lines “Skin the sun” to “wake me up” sound, as we noticed, like fragments from an epic-poetic plot, but too fragmentary, destroyed.

Still, the song itself has a narrative profile:

It starts with the exposition of a guy who obviously feels bad, he tries to solve his problems in denial and drugs, but it doesn’t work – the Hero stays stuck in hesitation and ambivalence: short moments of happiness are overwhelmed by deep feelings of self-dissatisfaction.

Surprisingly, even if the plots elements are very fragmentary or missing or non-standard, we can still recognize not only one but two effects of plots structure (see Story&Drama 1 and 2):

  • 1/ Plots in series, with the 5 couples of problem/solution (4 in Verse 1, and 1 long one in Verse 2: problem: his heart is broke, solution: mend it with glue, consequences: sniff the glue, hang out on clouds, come down, and have a hangover)
  • 2/ Factorial plots: indeed, the 8 lines from “Skin the sun” to “wake me up” sound like they tell what happens during the previously described trip on clouds and thematically, they sound like a crisis+climax (the crisis is the fight with the sun, and the climax is the hero waking up from the dream).

Drama through themes

The narration is broken in Dumb, but it does not stop drama from working.

The events and facts mentioned in the lyrics contain by themselves important charges of dramatic energy: the sun is gone, the day is done, my heart is broke, hang out on clouds, skin the sun, soothe the burn… many elements involve a dose of softened violence, which helps rising tension through building a worried, unstable atmosphere.

Conclusion

Broken self, broken storytelling: this strategy also works well. It is possible to render a moment of someone’s life, not only by telling complete, standard plots, but also by showing through a non-conform storytelling the non-conformity of the main character.

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Lyrics and songwriting

Nirvana – Lithium – Lyrics analysis and meaning

Songwriting

This is one of the song analyses presented in the PDF Songwriting.

Lithium is the 5th track of Nirvana‘s second studio album Nevermind (DGC Records, 1993).

Music video

Song lyrics

Verse 1

I’m so happy ’cause today
I’ve found my friends…”
They’re in my head
I’m so ugly, but that’s okay, ’cause so are you…
We broke our mirrors
Sunday morning is everyday for all I care…
And I’m not scared
Light my candles, in a daze
‘Cause I’ve found God

Chorus

Yeah, yeah, yeah… [x6]

Verse 2

I’m so lonely, but that’s okay, I shaved my head…
And I’m not sad
And just maybe I’m to blame for all I’ve heard…
But I’m not sure
I’m so excited, I can’t wait to meet you there…
But I don’t care
I’m so horny, but that’s okay…
My will is good

Chorus 2

Yeah, yeah, yeah… [x6]

I like it – I’m not gonna crack
I miss you – I’m not gonna crack
I love you – I’m not gonna crack
I killed you – I’m not gonna crack

Lyrics analysis and meaning

“Lithium”

The song’s title already gives us a kind of program. Lithium is a medication used by western psychiatrists to cure manic-depressive psychosis, also called bipolar psychosis. Mental disease is a problem, and bipolarity, good and evil, top and down, variations in intensity, are in the core of storytelling and the art of drama. So already as a theme, lithium sounds dramatic.

Verse 1

I’m so happy ’cause today
I’ve found my friends…”

OK, so there’s an “I” singing. Thus: genre: autobiography; point of view/focus: subjective. (Does it sound obvious? Just think that autobiography is sometimes told with the autobiographer taking distance and speaking about himself as a “HE” – it is pseudo-objective then. That is the case in other Nirvana’s songs, like Tourette’s or Even in his youth.)

“I’m so happy”: first, that doesn’t sound like Nirvana or like Cobain – they do not usually sing happiness. We guess straight away there is irony here – especially because the tone on which it is sung does not sound happy – internal contradiction! Secondly, that is an expression of emotion and aims at finding empathy in the audience.

“Today I’ve found my friends”: that is an event, we might think it is the catalyst of a plot. If so, what will be the future of this new friendship, we wonder? That might be the dramatic question.

They’re in my head

That immediately contradicts the ironic statement about the happiness of the narrator: there is actually no friend, the Hero feels alone.

I’m so ugly, but that’s okay, ’cause so are you…

“I’m so ugly”: that makes the initial situation of the Hero even worse: he dislikes himself! This combined with the loneliness makes the real catalyst: the problem of the Hero is self-hatred, and the real dramatic question is: will the Hero be able to solve it? how will it evolve? The Antagonist becomes obvious: it is the Hero himself.

“but that’s okay ’cause so are you”: firstly, there is dark humor here, a way to seduce the audience, make them smile or laugh, have an emotional impact over them. “So are you”: who is this “you”? Is it an actantial character? A recipient? Is it a lover, a friend, the audience? We can not know – things stay open to interpretation, but those questions raise, at least implicitly.

We broke our mirrors

This probable metaphor (he does not mean it literally, does he?) expresses the problem another way: it is about self-reflection, about the image one has about oneself.

From now, we can consider that technically we are in the Act II, since the catalyst and dramatic question are already past.

Sunday morning is everyday for all I care…

Another metaphor: all days are the same, the Hero is totally bored and depressed.

And I’m not scared

This sounds like a psychological denial: someone who would not feel scared, would not think of being scared and would not deny it.

The permanent contradiction inside each couple of verses becomes systematic and imitates the feeling of the bipolar disorder.

Light my candles, in a daze
‘Cause I’ve found God

Candles and God belong to the same semantic field: religion. The author knows that the audience knows him, and that he is not a religious person. So here again, we can take it as irony.

The Hero is probably “in a daze” because of lithium – mental confusion is one of the many side-effects of this medication.

Chorus

Yeah, yeah, yeah… [x6]

For a chorus, that sounds speechless 🙂 Even if it is not words, it has a strong power of expression, and again: ironical. This repeated assertion only asserts the impossibility to assert anything. It sounds like another signal of distress.

Verse 2

I’m so lonely, but that’s okay, I shaved my head…

The absurd link between the problem and the pseudo-solution continues developing the theme of helplessness.

The lyrics have at the same time very autobiographical elements, and some others that are totally invented. This is the case with “I shaved my head”: we never saw Cobain with a shaved head, on the contrary, he often grew long hair. Shaving one’s head makes oneself a skin-head, and this contains some autobiography: as a young punk/grunge fragile person, Cobain was bullied by extreme-right racist and homophobic thugs who treated him as “gay”.

And I’m not sad

Denial again!

And just maybe I’m to blame for all I’ve heard…
But I’m not sure

Confusion, guilt… emotions calling for our empathy.

I’m so excited, I can’t wait to meet you there …
But I don’t care

Same dynamic of self-contradiction, top and down, mania and depression symptoms. It is thematically dramatic.

I’m so horny, but that’s okay …
My will is good

“So horny, but”: the Hero has not only a problem with self-care, but also with sex.

Chorus 2

Yeah, yeah, yeah… [x6]
I like it – I’m not gonna crack
I miss you – I’m not gonna crack
I love you – I’m not gonna crack
I killed you – I’m not gonna crack

This second, more developed chorus, sounds like an Act III with the crisis. The internal contradiction reaches several climaxes. Once again, the expression “I’m not gonna crack” means the contrary: from the way Cobain is singing those verses, it is clear that he IS currently cracking.

The crescendo in intensity – like, miss, love, killed – leads us to the real climax, a symbolic murder of the other, the friend or lover. We can probably understand that it is because the Hero could not feel understood and accepted and loved that he killed the “cause” of his disappointment. (Treating his emotions such a way would lead him straight away to suicide more surely than with any mental disease… Do not follow his great example!)

The song then continues repeating the Verse 1, the Chorus 2. No new element is added.

Commentary

As we saw, it was possible to analyze Lithium as a conventional plot, but we had to far-fetch it a bit, because actually Cobain’s lyrics belong to another kind of storytelling: a broken, disturbed, anticonformist kind – which sounds perfectly right for a punk-rock-grunge artist whose fundamental aesthetic goal is to call into question the rules of the society he lives in, among which the rules of art.

Problem of tension? problem of story?

Look at the table that sums up the plot: the prognostic along the song about the question whether the Hero will be able or not to feel better, stays constantly NO, NO, NO, NO, NO…

You know why many lyrics sound so stupid? It’s because they say things directly. They say for example: “because I am / disillusioned” – how flat is that! They use descriptive adjectives. Baaaad aesthetic, that leaves the audience careless.

Efficient lyrics do not flatly describe and do not directly qualify. Lyrics that captivate the audience SHOW properties without naming them.

The quality and efficiency of Lithium’s lyrics resides in their obvious disillusion: an absurd collection of tops and downs, the expression of ambivalent feelings encrypted in contradictory sentences.

They depict a psychic world where nothing stands together, where the meaning disappears in constant changes of mood while staying on a permanently negative tone.

Good lyrics prefer saying “I’m not scared, I’m not sad, I’m not sure” to express fear, sadness, skepticism, the double negativity of each simple assertion expressing the depth of the Hero’s uneasiness, contradicting two positive assertions: “I am!”, and the contraries of fear, sadness and skepticism, let’s say: safety, joy and confidence in the world, qualities Cobain lacked to feel happier.

So, to be back to our first question: the abnormality of the tension, assumed by no plot but through a monotone catalogue of negative mood variations, achieves perfectly its goal, which is to make the audience synchronize with the refined pain of the singer.

He touches what is broken and injured in many of us, intimately: our identity, our self-image, our self-confidence, our pride to be our gender, age, condition. The song refuses to tell a story, there is no story to tell, it just hurts. Broken story design reflects broken life.

Plot or situation?

Also, the song sounds fewly narrative – not many plot points, not many characters, not much movement or change – but still there is some drama going on – actually the situation of the Hero and his feelings are all dramatic, emotional.

We could say the song does not tell us a proper story, but it lets us share for a few minutes the condition of a young unhappy, depressed guy. We do not travel along a storyline, but we have the privilege to attend one of the intense, representative moments of a story that lead to a complex, ambiguous, ambivalent, internally tense feeling of the world.

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Categories
Lyrics and songwriting

The Doors – The End – Song lyrics analysis

Analysis of the lyrics of The End by Jim Morrison
Stories, characters, themes, genres

The End‘s lyrics shows great ways to tell stories through suggestion, association and poetry, playing on contrasts and echoes between alternate themes and situations.

This is one of the song analyses presented in the PDF Songwriting.

Songwriting

The End is the 11th and last track of The Doors‘ first album The Doors (Elektra Records, 1967) which lead them nearly immediately to rank number 1 in the U.S. charts, then in various countries of the world.

Morrison himself declared to the magazine The Rolling Stone : “Every time I hear that song, it means something else to me. It started out as a simple good-bye song…. Probably just to a girl, but I see how it could be a goodbye to a kind of childhood. I really don’t know. I think it’s sufficiently complex and universal in its imagery that it could be almost anything you want it to be.”

The band developed The End during the many shows they did before getting famous in a club of Los Angeles, the “Whisky a Go Go”, transforming the song again and again and progressively adding new lyrics and musical moments. They were used to play it in the end of their concerts, never the same way, giving much room to improvisation. The album version was recorded in august 1966, totally live (without overdub: without recording each instrument separately, which is more risky!)

Credits:

Let’s make it clear straight away: The End is not a standard narrative song. It does not tell one unique plot, and it does not even tell several plots. It tells bribes, bits, fragments, flashes of various situations and characters, without giving the audience the occasion to gather the scattered elements under a perfectly logical and rational form.

But, we are courageous people: we are going to face the difficulty and analyze this song despite of its non-conformity. Because, actually, who said that the rules of storytelling had to be applied always a standard way?

Art is free to follow the rules or not.

Learn the rules, mix the rules, break the rules. 🙂

OK, ready? Light hippie candles, sticks of fake Indian incense and – of course! – fat joints of pure californian grass, and let it rock’n’roll!

Video

Lyrics analysis and meaning

The song, which lasts 11:41, starts on a quiet, inspired, haunted instrumental made of drum rolls and lonely guitar that sets up a mystic atmosphere. At 0:32, it takes a regular rhythm. At 0:54, the lyrics start:

This is the end

No, Jim, you’re already stoned, this is the beginning!! 🙂

Announcing that “this is the end” sounds dramatic in itself. Actually, beginnings or ends have something dramatic.

Beautiful friend
This is the end
My only friend, the end

From the second line, we are already in presence of 2 characters: the singer, and his “friend”. It is just thematic, since for the moment there is no Hero. This friend might also be nothing else but a language effect, like in “you know, man…”

Of our elaborate plans, the end

This obviously comes from the version of the track as a good-bye love song from Jim Morrison to one of his girlfriends.

Of everything that stands, the end
No safety or surprise, the end

So, it is the end of everything. We said the end, as a theme, has something dramatic. But the emphasis over the end of everything sounds now apocalyptic, which is even more dramatic!

I’ll never look into your eyes…again

Romantic, classic. For the moment, those lyrics sound rather traditional. If it would continue like that, no chance it would have become an exceptional success.

The music rises crescendo and more dramatic. The singer continues:

Can you picture what we’ll be
So limitless and free

This might come from the California’s spirit, that is the theme of the American dream of freedom going west until it reaches a limit, the Frontier. It has been said that rock and cinema were ways to continue the conquest of the West, symbolically if not geographically.

Desperately in need…of some…stranger’s hand
In a…desperate land

The voice stops and leaves room to the drums and electric guitar that both rise in intensity during nearly one minute, then calm down. They give the impression to describe a trip in this “desperate land”.

The voice is back:

Lost in a Roman…wilderness of pain

OK, now it’s clear: we left the rather conformist love song and we are now exploring unknown psychic lands. Who is lost in a Roman wilderness of pain? We can not answer this question: the character in the love story seems to have swapped to another character, who stays mysterious. It is not a problem, but rather an opportunity: the lack of precision allows the listener to imagine that we are all lost in this desert.

And all the children are insane
All the children are insane
Waiting for the summer rain, yeah

New characters, that we can not link to any other previous element. The lyrics add more and more chaos, and make us escape the ordinary reality. We’re in a mystic trip, yeah!

Again, there is no dramatic plot, but the fragments in themselves are dramatic: the theme of “insane children” sounds so (normal children would not).

The summer rain, a quasi-oxymoron, also brings some drama, because it bears some internal conflict and emotional value (the rain brings life, feeds the plants, the summer rain can be erotic…)

On the last verse, the music starts to grow crescendo. From 3:34 to 3:54, there is only this instrumental.

Those speechless musical moments are not meaningless, on the contrary they extend the evocative power of the lyrics. The words and music closely collaborate together to create suggestion, seduction, emotion, imagination, dream.

The voice is back:

There’s danger on the edge of town

Same remark than before: danger is thematically dramatic, even if no plot gets developed.

The mention of the town changes our location: we crossed a desert, now we reached a town. There are ellipses in-between the steps of the trip.

Ride the King’s highway, baby

“Baby”: it seems the singer is still addressing a woman, like in the love-song-like beginning. The same woman, or another one? He previously said he would never see her again…

The allusion is not obvious, but the King’s highway exists: it was a trade route in the Middle East, which linked Egypt to the Euphrates through the Sinaï desert, Petra, Moab, Damascus… it is mentioned in the Old testament! Check wikipedia for more information. The use of this allusion by The Doors is very interesting, because of course a highway is a modern road where cars drive. The term “ride” itself has possibly two meanings: riding by car or by horse, which then leads us to an older America, precisely the one of the Far West. In a simple allusion, it is like the song mixes 2 geographies and 3 eras into one! Very suggestive!

Weird scenes inside the gold mine

This new indication of place relocates us in the mythic Far West geography.

Ride the highway west, baby

This time, it’s not the Middle East highway, it is the modern highway of – probably – California where the band and its audience lived when The End was created.

Ride the snake, ride the snake

Just before, the ride probably designated a car trip. Now, we are back to a horse trip… on a snake. Multiple meanings.

To the lake, the ancient lake, baby

Antique Middle East, then 20th century or 19th century. California/West, then ancient times again. Desert, then town, then gold mine, then lake. This music makes us travel much in space as well as in time!

The snake is long… seven miles…

That can not be any real snake. It is necessarily a mythic, fantasy snake.

Ride the snake…he’s old, and his skin is cold

We could nearly feel it…

The west is the best
The west is the best

No explanation for this, except the childish pleasure of the rhyme.

Get here, and we’ll do the rest

No way to determine who is the character addressed to and who is the “we”. But we’re high, who cares? ;-D

The blue bus is callin’ us
The blue bus is callin’ us
Driver, where you takin’ us

We change vehicle once again. Never tired! Again, we made a return journey from past to present, from archaic times (the old snake) to modernity (the blue bus).

The killer awoke before dawn, he put his boots on

Here, a new plot starts. The previous line tells us the Act I: exposition (there is a killer) and catalyst (he awoke, he put his boots on). The Hero is the killer, and we can probably deduce his goal from his name: to kill?

He took a face from the ancient gallery
And he… walked on down the hall

We are in the Act II, the development of this included plot.

The music plays crescendo and decrescendo, in a close harmony with the lyrics.

It leads us to several peaks in intensity. The whole scene is impregnated with suspense.

He went into the room where his sister lived, and…then he…
Paid a visit to his brother, and then he…
He walked on down the hall, and…

The unfinished sentences and the brief pauses between each line underline the suspense.

And he came to a door…and he looked inside…

There starts the Act III, with the crisis.

Father?… Yes son… I want to kill you
Mother?…I want to…WAAAAAA

The unintelligible shouting – very likely a oedipal “I want to fuck you all night long” (that is what Morrison sings on concert versions) – is the climax of this plot.

The dialogs, for the first time in this track, helps dramatizing the scene, which sounds as tragic theater (see Oedipus, by the antique Greek dramatist Sophocles…)

The music grows in intensity to accompany this climax, then gets back to quietness.

C’mon baby, take a chance with us

Still no way to know about the identity the “I”, the “baby” and the “us”.

C’mon baby, take a chance with us
C’mon baby, take a chance with us
And meet me at the back of the…
Blue bus doin’ a

Surprise, the blue bus is back! Though irrational and impressionistic, those lyrics have a strong sense of internal coherence.

The music tempo starts accelerating, as imitating a vehicle gaining speed. It imitates the story.

Blue rock on a
Blue bus doin’ a
Blue rock

The unfinished lines help rising the rhythm and imitating, mimicking the impression to ride in this bus.

C’mon, yeah!

The music grows again, more and more, and during 1:45 all of the instruments giving the impression to reach a collective orgasmic discharge, then they’re all back to peace again.

Though non-narrative, this wonderful, exciting instrumental is the equivalent of a crisis+climax, reaching a maximum of tension.

This is the end
Beautiful friend
This is the end
My only friend, the end

With those repeated lyrics, we are back to our departure point. End of the trip.

It hurts to set you free
But you’ll never follow me
The end of laughter and soft lies
The end of nights we tried to die
This is the end.

Those verses probably come from the first version, the good-bye love song.

And you’re still not right Jimmie, this is not the end of our analysis of The End!

Commentary

Non-narration?

As we saw, The End does not tell a proper story: it includes a mini-plot (“the killer awoke before down…”), but all the rest is made of floating narrative elements, linked thematically but not dramatically.
Like Ms. Dynamite’s It Takes More, The End mixes discourse and narration – the difference between the two songs is that The End does not refer to any political commitment, its discursive parts belong to other genres. Let’s examine them.

Genres

Though a long song – 11:41 -, The End counts rather few words: 334 in total. If we compare it to Eminem’s Stan for example, we observe that Stan counts 1186 words – nearly 4 times more! – for a duration of 6:46 – around half of The End. Still, those 334 words involve at least 4 different genres, which makes a rather high ratio and ensures a thrilling density of meaning to the song.

Those genres are:

The love letter: the 10 first verses + the 9 last verses

As we know, love stories are a common theme of songwriting, one of the most frequent, ancient and appreciated forms of lyrics, one of the main psychological and social functions of music: give words to the feelings of love, at any points of love stories:

  • before love stories (attraction, desire…),
  • during love stories (expressions of love, passion, wishes, jealousy…),
  • after love stories (regrets, hatred…)

In our case, it is an after-love song, a “good-bye song” as Morrison said. The use of such a universal theme guarantees a good reception from the audience.

Another element, yet in the instrumental and not in the lyrics, belongs to the genre of the love story: it is the orgasmic tension discharges, several times along the song, accompanied by the 6 direct addresses to “baby” and “come on, baby”.

The Travel Report: a kind of trip told through 9 different geographical and spatial indications:

  • a desperate land
  • a Roman wilderness of pain
  • the edge of town
  • the King’s Highway (in the Middle East)
  • the gold mine
  • the highway (probably the modern highway aimed for cars in the U.S. then)
  • the ancient lake
  • the blue bus
  • the ancient gallery and the rooms where the killer visits his family members

This collection of places plays a great role in the song that is musically structured as a trip with its tempo permanently imitating physical movement: we have the impression to take off, to fly, to ride, to drive, to accelerate and decelerate, to explode, and finally to be back to our departure point. For so few words, that makes really much movement.

Archeology

The song is no archaeological study, but it refers to archeology through various elements:

  • The King’s Highway in the Middle East: it subtly transports the band and its audience from their location in California to what is the other side of the Earth from their point of view. Culturally, it also bring a strong aspect of exoticism because this geographical area was the birth place of many religions: Egyptian, Hebrew, Pagan, Christian, Muslim, and else.
  • The “Roman wilderness of pain”. We can not assert for sure what or where is this desert supposed to be. The Roman Empire extended over a wide area. It included Arabia, Egypt, Lybia, all likely to be described as “Roman wilderness”.
  • The ancient lake. In prehistoric and proto-historic times, lakes were privileged locations for human populations because it guaranteed them some resources they needed: water to drink, wash and cook, fishes and shells to eat and make tools with, animal preys that came to drink and hunt, and of course plants growing around in abundance. Perhaps this evocation of the “ancient lake” also has another meaning. From Jim Morrison’s biography, we know he was fond of the Swiss psychoanalyst Carl-Gustav Jung, an heterodox disciple of Freud. Jung developed the concept of the “Universal Unconscious”, supposed to store and provide immemorial archetypes in the memory of mankind. Morrison was fascinated by this concept. The “ancient lake” could stand as a metaphor of this “Universal Unconscious” (Jung’s influence can also be felt in the track Universal Mind, that the Doors played only in live concerts). Another possible intellectual source for this beautiful image is the French philosopher Gaston Bachelard. He wrote a series of books studying the deep psychology of earth, air, fire and water. He compares the daydreams about water to mystic trips back to the original roots. A third possible source of reference is the Scottish anthropologist Sir James Frazier, whose book The Golden Bough, A Study in Magic and Religion was appreciated by our singer. We know that Jim Morrison was someone very educated who was used to read much in anthropology and psychology, so such references do not sound surprising in his lyrics, that are in general much more intelligent and refined than many other mainstream, ignorant songtexts (when you read the lyrics of Britney Spears or The Spice Girls, you can be sure they probably can not even read 🙂 Victoria Beckham declared once: “I’m using my brain for the first time and since long”, whereas Christina Aguilera once wondered “Where does the Festival de Cannes take place, this year?”)
  • The gold mine. It probably refers to the famous era of the Gold Rush, from around 1830 to 1900 in the U.S. This mention belongs to the mythology of the Far West.
  • The old snake. Here again, the snake appears as a mythical animal, venerated and feared in many early pagan religions of the world. The possible sources for this theme are innumerable.
  • The ancient gallery and the oedipal killer. It obviously refers to the Greeks.

Tragedy

The mini-plot telling about the oedipal killer who wants to kill his father and fuck his mother, clearly relates to the Greek dramatist of the Vth Century before Christ, Sophocles, in his famous tragic play Oedipus King. The play tells how Oedipus was abandoned by his royal parents because of a prophecy that said he would kill his father and marry his mother. To avoid that, the parents give him away to a servant in charge of killing him, but instead the servant give the baby to childless peasants. Oedipus grows anonymous and forgotten. Once adult, he is told the prophecy again and to avoid it, he escapes his adoptive family. He then meets his father, the king of Thebes Laius, by coincidence, and kill him not knowing who he is. He then solves the riddle of the Sphinx and as an award gains the right to marry Jocasta, the widow of the assassinated King, and… his own mother! The prophecy gets fulfilled!

This antique story inspired Freud, who named “the Oedipus complex” the young child’s libidinal psychodynamic towards his parents (a drive to the opposite sex parent, and a rejection of the same sex parent). The question of the existence or not of this Oedipus complex was widely debated all along the 20th Century. It fascinated Morrison who had a bad relationship with his parents, especially his father, a U.S. Navy Admiral. In interviews as the lead-singer of The Doors, Morrison was used to say that his parents had died in a car crash, which was false, but shows that he had symbolically killed them.

Apocalypse

To finish with, The End sounds clearly as a recall of the Old Testament’s Apocalypse, that describes how the world is supposed to end in chaos and destruction. The repetitions of the words “the end” from the beginning of the song to its end, its musically apocalyptic atmosphere with sudden chaotic explosions of energy, the way geography and history get scattered along the lyrics, all of that generate a climate of “end of time”.

The End is not the only songs of the Doors to stage death or the end of something. Several other lyrics, written by Morrison, do the same:

  • End of the night
  • When the music’s over
  • Summer’s almost gone

So, not many words in this song, but what a high power of suggestion, what a richness of references!

Intertextuality

The End takes parts into a wide network of intertextuality – links and connections between songs, through the 6 studio albums of The Doors and also some other side works. Several themes and topics will come back again and again in The Doors and in Morrison’s creative production:

Epic songs

Several other songs adopt the same long, complex format:

  • Light My Fire (especially the live versions)
  • The “Ceremony of the Lizard” made of a series of several songs on the album Waiting For The Sun
  • The Soft parade
  • When the music’s over
  • Roadhouse blues (the live versions)
  • L.A. Woman
  • Riders On The Storm

The killer

  • A hitchhiker killer is the Hero in Jim Morrison’s cinema student movie at the University of California (UCLA). The movie is called… “HwY“, which means “highway”… like in The End!
  • And Morrison is back to the exact same theme in the lyrics of Riders On The Storm: “There’s a killer on the road…”
  • Backdoor Man also tells about a dark character who may be a killer.

The Snake and other reptiles

  • The “Ceremony of the Lizard” (in the end of Not to touch the earth, Morrison declares: “I’m the Lizard King. I can do everything“.)
  • Crawling King Snake
  • In an interview, Jim said: “I’ve always liked reptiles. I used to see the universe as a mammoth snake, and I used to see all the people and objects, landscapes, as little pictures in the facets of their scales. I think peristaltic motion is the basic life movement.”

The Highway and cars

  • Roadhouse blues
  • Queen Of The Highway
  • Cars hiss by my window
  • Dawn’s Highway (in Morrison’s poetic recording whose The Doors made an albumAn American Prayer – after his death)

Mythology and religion

Morrison’s lyrics contain countless allusion to those themes. In particular:

  • Break On Through (mysticism, spirituality…)
  • Shaman’s blues
  • Wild Child (“wild child, full of grace, savior of the universe…“)
  • Various tracks on An American prayer, for example Angels and Sailors or Curses, invocations
  • Universal mind, a song only played in concerts

Literature, philosophy, anthropology, and other human sciences

  • End of the night (inspired by the French novel Travel to the end of the night by Louis-Ferdinand Céline, another possible source of inspiration for The End)
  • Horse latitudes (inspired by the sinking of a Spanish galleon)
  • Ship Of Fools (inspired by the medieval theme of the ship of fools, described by many writers and many painters including the Dutch Hieronymus Bosch)
  • Morrison also declared in an interview: “I’m kind of hooked to the game of art and literature; my heroes are artists and writers.”
  • The post-mortem album An American Prayer, and the poetic books he wrote (The Lords and the New Creatures, Wilderness, The American Night) are full of allusions and references.

No conclusion: continuation

All of that is so greatly inspiring that we can not conclude without quoting Jim:

I see myself as a huge fiery comet, a shooting star. Everyone stops, points up and gasps “Oh look at that!” Then- whoosh, and I’m gone…and they’ll never see anything like it ever again… and they won’t be able to forget me- ever.”

Sure Jimmie, you’re unforgettable.

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Categories
Lyrics and songwriting

Ms. Dynamite – It takes more – Lyrics analysis and meanings

Songwriting

This is one of the song analyses presented in the PDF Songwriting.

This song is Ms. Dynamite‘s debut single from her first studio album
A Little Deeper (Polydor, 2002).

Ms. Dynamite, born Niomi Arleen MacLean-Daley, is a rap/hip-hop/R&B singer from UK.

Two versions of the song were released, the album version and the radio edit, which censors some of the lyrics considered “inappropriate” and “vulgar”: the terms “shit” was replaced by “things”, “fuckin’ ” by “violence”, “pussy” by “fossey”, “do your hoe’s” by “lose control”. We believe that censorship is fundamentally wrong, and the artists as everybody else have the right to express themselves the way they want – only the audience have the right to decide whether they like (and support and finance) it or not. That is the reason why we will take the original lyrics as our reference, and not the, let’s say, fuckin’ censored version 😉

Music video

Lyrics

Verse 1

The shit that you promote
Fightin’, fuckin’
Like you don’t want to grow

Your talking so much sex
But you not tell the youth ’bout AIDS
You not tell them ’bout consequence, no

Your talking like you a G
But you are killer killing your own
You’re just a racist man’s pussy

Tell me who wants to know
What when who where
Or how you do your hoe’s?

Bridge

Certainly not me
Certainly not me
‘Cause baby personally
I like to be challenged mentally

I’ve heard it all before
Gangsta’s pimps and whores
Quality is poor
A girl like me needs more

Chorus

It takes more (takes more)
To amuse a girl like me
So much more (much more)
To confuse a girl like me
They’ve got you (got you)
‘Cause while you braggin’ ’bout your badness your just
Avoiding, adding
To the real shit thats happenin’ to us

Verse 2

Now who gives a damn
About the ice on your hands?

If its not too complex
Tell me how many Africans died
For the baguettes on your Rolex?

So what you pushing a nice car
Don’t you know there’s no such thing as superstars

We leave this world alone
So who gives a fuck about the things you own?

Bridge 2

Certainly not me
Certainly not me
‘Cause baby personally
I like to be challenged mentally
Your shit’s insignificant
And it don’t help to pay my rent
Its pure negativity
That you impose on me

Chorus

It takes more (takes more)
To amuse a girl like me
So much more (much more)
To confuse a girl like me
They’ve got you (got you)
‘Cause while you braggin’ ’bout your badness your just
Avoiding, adding
To the real shit thats happenin’ to us

Verse 3

Now I can sit
And chat shit about dicks and sex
But my business is my business I got self respect
I can talk ’bout how my press could pimp man’s dough
Get the keys to his ride and his home
But I looked it up and that would make me a hoe
Little sisters now I really gotta let you know
Real woman ain’t sexin’ for no mans dough
Real woman work hard to make the dough
And we can all chat ’bout gats and blacks
On blacks and force the hypes and all the stereotypes
We’re used to watching, but that ain’t what I’m here for
Show them to think higher and aspire for more

Chorus (bis)

It takes more (takes more)
To amuse a girl like me
So much more (much more)
To confuse a girl like me
They’ve got you (got you)
‘Cause while you braggin’ ’bout your badness your just
Avoiding, adding
To the real shit thats happenin’ to us

Lyrics analysis and meaning

After a brief instrumental:

Verse 1

The shit that you promote
Fightin’, fuckin’
Like you don’t want to grow

Ok, from the first line, we have a “you”. As soon as we have a “you”, an “I” is implied. So we already have two characters.

This launches the Act I. The exposition will be a continuous process, telling us who and what it is about. And those very first lines already stand as a catalyst, because they start the fight that will stay in the core of the song, the fight between the female singer, Hero, and her Antagonist. The real identity of this Antagonist can not be determined for sure. Rumors said the song was addressed to the American star rapper Lil’Kim, though Ms. Dynamite denied it, though she says in another song, Doing It Way Big: “Y’all get your diamonds from Jacob / I ain’t mad at ya / I get mine straight out of Kimberly gold mine in Africa”. So, we will not know, and if Ms. Dynamite would have liked to insult Lil’Kim in person she would have dared naming her; a sure thing is that this song addresses materialistic hip-hop/rap stars, males as well as females.

The goal of the Hero sounds clear: contradict the goal of the Antagonist, described as “promot[ing] fightin’, fuckin’ [and a refusal to grow]”. By the way: when Ms. Dynamite was awarded with the prestigious Mercury Music Prize for her album A Little Deeper, she donated the £20,000 to the National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children. Engaged, she does what she says!

Your talking so much sex
But you not tell the youth ’bout AIDS
You not tell them ’bout consequence, no

The fight is clearly launched and we already entered the development, Act II. What is particular in the plot of those lyrics is that it leaves no chance for the Antagonist to fight back. Contrarily to the Eminem’s songs built on (fictitious) dialogs, this song is a monologue, a one-way flow.

Your talking like you a G

A G is a slang term for gangster. The use of slang terms obviously helps defining the audience, and avoiding to be understood by inappropriate categories of people, for example the white middle-class or upper-class.

But you are killer killing your own
You’re just a racist man’s pussy

This line sounds ambiguous. It could allow us to identify the Antagonist as a woman. But since the insult “pussy” can also be used against a man, it is just impossible to know. Unwillingly, such a use of the term “pussy” plays against itself, since it identifies femininity with negativity…

Tell me who wants to know
What when who where
Or how you do your hoe’s?

The Hero challenges the Antagonist… without letting her/him speak back.

Bridge

Certainly not me
Certainly not me

Nice transition Verse/Bridge through the Question/Answer, that brings much fluidity to the flow.

‘Cause baby personally
I like to be challenged mentally

Implicitly, those lines accuse the Antagonist to not like to be “challenged mentally”, which is an equivalent of being stupid. A rather elegant insult!

I’ve heard it all before
Gangsta’s pimps and whores
Quality is poor
A girl like me needs more

One can hardly be clearer: committing herself personally, embodying the Hero, Ms. Dynamite dares rapping against rap’s sexism! Original!

Chorus

It takes more (takes more)
To amuse a girl like me
So much more (much more)
To confuse a girl like me
They’ve got you (got you)
‘Cause while you braggin’ ’bout your badness your just
Avoiding, adding
To the real shit thats happenin’ to us

This chorus widens the debate and the conflict: instead of “I” Vs “You”, it is now “They” Vs “Us”. Who is “They”? Who is “Us”? We can only guess without being sure: something like “They”, the oppressors, the exploiters, the riches, the white, the men, and “Us”, the oppressed, exploited, poor, black, women?

Verse 2

Now who gives a damn
About the ice on your hands?

The ice means the diamonds, in a poetic metaphor about eye-catching jewels, a usual accessory of male and female rappers. Another attack against materialistic stars.

If its not too complex
Tell me how many Africans died
For the baguettes on your Rolex?

The “If it’s not too complex” continues with a subtle irony to insult the Antagonist taken as someone stupid.

The reference to the Africans strongly hits the target, those afro-American (and other African descendants) musicians of hip-hop.

So what you pushing a nice car
Don’t you know there’s no such thing as superstars

This lets us think that she addresses someone who pretends being a superstar – not an ordinary person.

We leave this world alone
So who gives a fuck about the things you own?

“We leave this world alone” sounds particularly engaged, and contributes sorting the song in the minority genre of “conscious rap”, a more political and involved tendency in this style, opposed to mainstream commercial rap. It makes clear that the song is not about people, but about values and attitudes.

Bridge 2

Certainly not me
Certainly not me
‘Cause baby personally
I like to be challenged mentally
Your shit’s insignificant
And it don’t help to pay my rent
Its pure negativity
That you impose on me

The four last lines of this bridge change topic. The terms “pure negativity” have a philosophical connotation (for example, in the german philosopher Hegel, and his followers, among which a certain Karl Marx…), which confirms that the singer-Hero likes to be “challenged mentally”, which confirms that she is someone honest, contrarily to her Antagonist.

Chorus

This chorus stays unchanged compared to the previous occurrence. It underlines again that the conflict is between “They” and “Us” through “You” and “I”.

Verse 3

Now I can sit
And chat shit about dicks and sex
But my business is my business I got self respect

It the equivalent of an insult again, the immodesty attributed to the Antagonist consists in being a “hoe”.

I can talk ’bout how my press could pimp man’s dough
Get the keys to his ride and his home
But I looked it up and that would make me a hoe

Paraphrase over the same themes than before: materialistic people.

Little sisters now I really gotta let you know

Interesting: the singer now reveals who she is singing for, the recipient: her “little sisters”. It makes the song’s genre feminist, woman-to-women, in a kind of freestyle predication.

This line starts the Act III, with the Crisis.

Real woman ain’t sexin’ for no mans dough
Real woman work hard to make the dough
And we can all chat ’bout gats and blacks
On blacks and force the hypes and all the stereotypes

Same process: those lines complete the definition of the recipient: the real women, and the blacks, two categories that belong to the oppressed and discriminated. By the way: Ms. Dynamite is the daughter of Jamaican father and a Scottish mother, with Bajan, English, Irish, German and Grenadian ancestries.

We’re used to watching, but that ain’t what I’m here for

A probable allusion to the condition of women and blacks before political equality.

Show them to think higher and aspire for more

This can stand as a climax: the goal is not precisely reached here, but it is symbolically shared, put in common with the audience, and redefined more clearly than before. “To think higher and aspire for more” sounds as a credible political program, which is rather rare in rap/hip-hop, styles that are too often short-sighted, self-centered and lack ambition. In the Story&Drama tutorials, we assert that a story delivers a message, even under sometimes very subtle, implicit or unconscious forms. Here, the message can hardly be clearer, and sounds like a slogan.

Chorus (bis)

No new information.

Commentary

A mix of narration and discourse

It takes more is a good example of a work mixing narration and discourse.

Indeed, it has some elements of a story, since there are characters involved in a conflict, characters having goals, motivations and values. But some elements that make a standard story are here missing: there is no proper dramatic development from one situation to another, and there is no real crisis and climax telling about the result of actions performed so as to achieve the goals of the characters.

On the other side, it has elements of discourse, that is: a speaker developing ideas and arguments in a more or less logical order.

“Conscious rap”

The singer’s attitude and message are very original. In a testosterone-driven hip-hop world, she dares claiming her point of view as a black woman (we already saw that she can not really be described as a “black” woman, her black African origins being only one between many other ancestors: but she chose to present herself as a black person, so let’s deal with her chosen identity) and opposing the majority point of view of the dominant male and female Afro-American superstars (and here we can think about so many possible targets…) One by one, she destroys the main platitudes of the genre of music she is herself contributing to: the emphasis on sexually explicit and shocking lyrics, the taste for violence, murder, firearms and “cocky” attitudes, and the often ridiculous show-off mentality that characterizes this world. There is much courage in criticizing all of that: she risks not only being excluded by the white male minority, but also by her own reference milieu. She is the Hero of her song, and she deserves it.

The question of violent communication

One problem remains. If we follow her: she criticizes those who promote violence and sex. But paradoxically, her lyrics are full of slang insults, she uses aggressiveness, irony and contempt against her opponents. Does she think that evil is able to cure evil, that violence can solve the problem of violence, that hatred will bring love? That is a limit of this song.

For those who are interested in this important philosophical debate, those who want to, as Ms. Dynamite says, “think higher and aspire for more”, you can read the books of Marshall Rosenberg about the technique he invented, developed and promoted: the Non-Violent Communication. This man who grew up in one of the most horrible ghettos of the USA, made clear that it is possible – as Ms. Dynamite wishes it – to make one’s life outside of violence. Interested, search for it online!

Categories
Lyrics and songwriting

Nick Cave And The Bad Seeds – Mercy – Song lyrics analysis, meaning and interpretation

Songwriting

Story analysis of the lyrics of the song “Mercy” by Nick Cave And The Bad Seeds

This song analysis belongs to the PDF Songwriting.

“Mercy” is the 5th track on the 5th studio album Tender Prey (Muter Records, 1988) by the band Nick Cave And The Bad Seeds.

The credits of the song are:

  • Nick Cave – Vocals, Vibes, Harmonica
  • Blixa Bargeld – Slide Guitar, Backing Vocals
  • Mick Harvey – Bass, Backing Vocals
  • Kid Congo Powers – Guitar, Backing Vocals
  • Roland Wolf – Piano
  • Thomas Wydler – Drums
  • Hugo Race – Backing Vocals

Music video

Song lyrics by Nick Cave

I stood in the water
In the middle month of winter
My camel skin was torture
I was in a state of nature

The wind, sir, it was wicked
I was so alone
Just as I predicted
My followers were gone

Chorus 1

And I cried `Mercy’
Have mercy upon me
And I got down on my knees

Verse 2

Thrown into a dungeon
Bread and water was my portion
Faith – my only weapon
To rest the devil’s legion

The speak-hole would slide open
A viper’s voice would plead
A voice thick with innuendo
Syphilis and Greed

Chorus 2

And she cried `Mercy’
Have mercy upon me
And I told her to get down on her knees

Verse 3

In a garden full of roses
My hands were tied behind me
My cousin working miracles
I wondered if he’d find me

A moon had faced toward me
Like a platter made of gold
My death, it almost bored me
So often was it told

Chorus 3

And I cried, mercy
Have mercy on me
I dropped down to my knees
And I cried, mercy
Have mercy on me
And then it pushed me to my knees

Song lyrics analysis and meaning

The song, which lasts 6:22, starts on insisting drumrolls on dramatic piano chords. The guitars, vibes, harmonica, and backing vocals, will augment it later. The instrumental sets up a rather dark, powerful, haunted atmosphere.

Obviously, this launches the Act I of the plot: exposition of the world through the sound atmosphere.

Verse 1

At 0:24, Nick Cave’s voice takes the lead with the lyrics:

I stood in the water
In the middle month of winter

From this first line, we already get told about one “I” that will be the Hero of the song. We will not know much more about the name and identity of this character-narrator.

This completes the exposition. Even with so few information, we already face a strong situation: to stand in the water in the coldest moment of winter does not sound pleasant to anyone. So, from this very beginning, we, in the audience, are lead to empathize with the Hero’s drama, and to feel mercy towards him.

My camel skin was torture
I was in a state of nature

The mention of the camel skin plays as a geographical and cultural indication: where can the Hero be? We will not now, but such an element makes us wonder and imagine a far medieval world.

The term “torture” – and also the plaintive way Nick Cave sings the lyrics – deliver a strong emotional effect on the listener.

The expression “I was in a state of nature” lets us guess: what does it mean? We might think that the Hero is naked – so if we join this information to the fact that the Hero is standing in the freezing water, we feel that the situation is actually even more painful than what we previously thought.

For the moment, there is no expressed goal, but the situation is already tense: nobody would like to be in the position of the Hero, and if we would be, we would want to get out of it: will that be the goal?

The wind, sir, it was wicked
I was so alone
Just as I predicted
My followers were gone

The mention of the wind stimulates our imagination even more and reinforces the impression of physical torture: being naked in water with the winter wind blowing…

The elements “I was so alone” and “My followers were gone” might be interpretated as new indications about the identity of the Hero, and about his past. He was a leader and had followers. What kind of leader, what kind of followers? It is not said, so we can just wonder.

The word “sir” contradicts what we previously thought: no, the narrator does not adress us, but someone else, whose identity we do not know.

Chorus 1

And I cried `Mercy’
Have mercy upon me
And I got down on my knees

This chorus plays the role of the catalyst: from there, we know for sure what the Hero wants: to be… forgiven? released? pardoned? We wonder: for what fault, what crime? The uncertainty, once again, lets us imagine.

Verse 2

Thrown into a dungeon
Bread and water was my portion
Faith – my only weapon
To rest the devil’s legion

Genre: now the plot takes a clearly medieval, fantastic turn.

The Hero begged for mercy: those new lyrics tell us that he was not pardoned, whatever his fault or crime. Thus, it is the beginning of the development, Act II: the Hero’s situation becomes even worse.

The mentions of faith and the devil’s legion, probably confirm that the Hero was a religious leader, the reason why he had some followers?

The speak-hole would slide open
A viper’s voice would plead
A voice thick with innuendo
Syphilis and Greed

No element allows us to identify this new character, neither to tell why this voice addresses the Hero as he is in jail: because he is a religious leader, and the owner of “the voice” was one of his followers? Actually, it is not even possible to say whether this character is actantial or not: does he or she come to help the Hero, or to torture him, or anything else? No.

All those uncertainties build up a climate of dense mystery, that sounds rather fascinating and generate tension: we would like to know.

Chorus 2

And she cried `Mercy’
Have mercy upon me
And I told her to get down on her knees

It is nearly the same lyrics than in the first chorus, but the roles are inverted: the Hero now addresses this “she” – the owner of the viper’s voice? It is like he can now find back his authority of religious leader and give commands again. But anyway, we can not do better than formulate assumptions.

During around one minute speechless, the music develops crescendo and reaches a summit, after what it calms down and we are back to the lyrics.

The absence of words is not an absence of action or meaning: this purely instrumental moment gives us time to feel the drama that is going on, and perhaps to think about the elements of the story: who, where, why…? Furthermore, the intensity of the music frees the latent dramatic forces and the unresolved tension.

Verse 3

In a garden full of roses
My hands were tied behind me

Here, we have an effect of chronology: the time spent during the previous instrumental part allowed the songwriter to make a strong ellipsis from one moment of the plot to another, later.

The fact that the Hero’s hands are tied, lets us guess that it is probably the time for his execution. Yet, it is not possible to assert it for sure because the lyrics do not give us enough information. Again, this lack of information contributes to force us to pay attention to each detail, and to try and rebuild all that is missing. Our imagination is invited to fill the gaps.

My cousin working miracles
I wondered if he’d find me

This time it is clear: this new character – the cousin – is a Helper. It is not sure whether he will be able to deliver some help or not, but it is clear that he aims at it – at least, according to the narrator…

In case the hypothesis of an imminent execution is true, then we have here a frequent style figure in storytelling: a time lock, that is: a trick to rise tension up, by limiting the time available to perform an action. In other words: if the cousin does not find the Hero very, very soon, then it will be too late anyway.

A moon had faced toward me
Like a platter made of gold

This descriptive element, shows that the exposition can be a continuous process.

The stylistic effect “a moon” instead of “the moon”, confirms we are in a fantastic register, in a world that is likely to have several moons.

My death, it almost bored me
So often was it told

Those beautiful verses stand as an enigma that can not be solved: who was telling the Hero’s death so often? The people surrounding him perhaps? Some hostile crowd?

Chorus 3

And I cried, mercy
Have mercy on me
I dropped down to my knees
And I cried, mercy
Have mercy on me
And then it pushed me to my knees

Those last lyrics repeat the dramatic question, but in vain. Until the last seconds of the track, we are still expecting answers, that will finally never come:

Who is the Hero?

Who locks him in jail?

Who comes to visit him and speaks to him through the speak-hole?

Will the cousin find him on time?

Will the Hero be executed?

None of those questions can be answered with precision. Is it a problem? It seems not: all the pleasure of the song lays in its deep, fascinating, foggy mystery.

Commentary

Themes

A modern revival of older times through rock music, “Mercy” ‘s lyrics reminds us of medieval or medieval-inspired literature – with many elements connotated with a dark romanticism: the middle of winter, the camel skin, the devil’s legions, the dungeon, bread and water, the viper, the moon, the execution…

Apart from this aspect, we can wonder about the deep meaning of the song. Several elements can let us think the Hero has been partly inspired by the character of Jesus-Christ:

The Hero stood in the water. Jesus walked on water.

The camel skin necessarily comes from a region were camels can be found. It’s the case of Jesus’ Judea.

“As I predicted, my followers were gone”: that’s what Jesus says to his apostoles Johann in the New Testament, Jesus predicts that Johann will pretend not to know him. Jesus also knew that one of his disciples (Judas) would betray him. And when Jesus was arrested, his followers went away and stayed hidden until the Resurrection.

Faith seen as a weapon: that is what Jesus said, faith can move mountains. Jesus fought against the merchants of the Temple, using his faith as a weapon.

A garden full of roses: it could make us think of the garden of Gethsemane, where Jesus was used to gather with his disciples and where they prayed, the night before Jesus’ crucifixion. According to Luke 22:43–44, Jesus’ anguish in Gethsemane was so deep that “his sweat was as it were great drops of blood falling down to the ground.”
“My cousin was working miracles”: the mention of miracles also makes think of Jesus. His cousin the Baptist was doing miracles.

We do not mean to assert that Nick Cave makes christian propaganda, but that he probably took inspiration from christian culture to build a character impregnated with sacred, and whose story leads him from suffering to death, through betrayal (the viper). It is often a good idea to base one’s works on widely spread elements of culture. The fact that the song lays on those christian foundations, while anonymizing and blurring them, helps it have a deeper impact over the western audience who, christian or not, shares this culture at least as a reference.

Actantial roles

A few things are remarkable in this song when it is about actantial roles.

Firstly, the character makes a strange, rare kind of Hero. Usually, and by definition, a Hero is active: motivated, he tries to achieve a goal. Here, the Hero is passive nearly all along, and always a victim: he “stands”, he is alone, he is thrown into a dungeon, he is visited, he is tied up… The only active verbs attributed to him, are to command the mysterious visitor to beg for mercy, or to cry “mercy” himself.

And secondly, the Antagonist, here, stays totally anonymous, unknown, unrevealed. We will have absolutely no hint about who this enemy is, or about his motivations.

In general, it is not recommended to have a passive Hero and an unidentifyable Antagonist, but in the case of this song, it works, rather… miraculously.

Categories
Lyrics and songwriting

Nick Cave and the bad seeds – Where The Wild Roses Grow – song analysis

Songwriting

This is one of the song analyses presented in the PDF Songwriting.

Story analysis of the song “Where The Wild Roses Grow” by Nick Cave And The Bad Seeds ft Kylie Minogue

This song, a duo featuring Kylie Minogue for who Nick Cave wrote the lyrics, was released on Nick Cave And The Bad Seeds‘ 9th studio album Murder Ballads (Mute Records, 1996).

The song, that lasts 3:57, starts, after a brief violin-based instrumental, by the CHORUS:

“They call me The Wild Rose
But my name was Elisa Day
Why they call me it I do not know
For my name was Elisa Day”

This chorus sung by the sweet, feminine voice of Kylie Minogue, gives us straight away two major plot elements: 1/ the theme, it’s about a woman compared to a rose, and 2/ the Antagonist – even if we do not know yet that she will soon get such a status.

This chorus also stands as the beginning of Act I: exposition.

For the moment, she is the narrator of the story. This will change.

The fact this chorus is written both at present (“they call me”) and past times (“my name was”) plays as a discrete hint of what is going to happen to her.

VERSE 1

“From the first day I saw her I knew she was the one
She stared in my eyes and smiled”

The narrator changes and becomes a man, interpreted by Nick Cave.

This double point of view over the same events will characterize the whole song. It is obviously more interesting to tell the story from two sides rather than only one.

The contrast between Kylie Minogue’s soft, high-pitched voice, and Nick Cave’s deep, bassy, rocky voice, contributes to dramatize the situation and carries something erotic at the same time: female/male.

This first meeting is the catalyst of what will obviously be a love story. From there, we expect to know whether the love story will stand or not: implicitly, it gives us the goal: stay together, or not.

For the moment, the two characters share the same actantial role: they are both Hero, and there is no Antagonist yet.

We can easily recognize the old stereotype of love at first sight. It sounds old-fashioned and cliché, but the song is soon going to treat this theme a more original way.

“For her lips were the color of the roses
That grew down the river, all bloody and wild”

This romantic analogy between the color of her lips and a place down the river where wild roses grow, sounds as a hint of her near death next to such a place, in a rather magical logics.

On the contrary, the adjective “bloody” attributed to the roses, carries something scary, a potential threat that rises the tension up.

“When he knocked on my door and entered the room
My trembling subsided in his sure embrace”

This new change of narrator definitely confirms that the song is a duo in which the points of view are closely intertwined.

In terms of narration time, it is interesting to notice that this song doubles the chronology of actions: each event gets repeated twice, once per each of the characters involved. We could play rewriting two songs, one per character: we then would lose all the tension built by the confrontation and harmony between those points of view.

Even if this plot point was already told by the man, it was a different way. Thus, those lines make us enter the development – Act II – tensed by the implicit dramatic question: will they stay together and be happy?

The very literary, poetic style adds much to the quality of the song, especially in a verse like “My trembling subsided in his sure embrace” in which actions of the characters get somewhat distanciated, which adds to the beauty of the emotions involved.

“He would be my first man, and with a careful hand
He wiped at the tears that ran down my face”

The fact that she is crying will remain unexplained, but as long as we do not know it, it generates a suspense: will we get the explanation?

The mention of his “careful hand” and the tender gesture of wiping the tears, let us think that this man is tender and loving, and establishes a positive pronostic for their love story: since it starts good, it should continue good. As the following will show, this hides a contrary drive. So we can say those elements build up a wrong track: we are here lead to believe true something that will later prove false.

CHORUS

It is repeated without any modification of the lyrics or the music. But is it really the same? NO: each time this chorus comes back, its meaning is slightly different, updated according to the flow of new data.

“On the second day I brought her a flower
She was more beautiful than any woman I’d seen”

The alternance of voices underlines the parallelism of feelings, and mimics the phenomenon of reciprocal attraction.

I said, “Do you know where the wild roses grow
So sweet and scarlet and free?”

Though the intention stays implicit, the man suggests to bring her to this place “where the wild roses grow”. This idea leads us back to his comparison of her as a rose.

This time, the adjectives chosen by the man are not scary. It is another kind of wrong track, calming us down after having frightened us: he sounds normal, whereas very soon he will do something absolutely not normal.

“On the second day he came with a single red rose
Said: “Will you give me your loss and your sorrow?”
I nodded my head, as I lay on the bed
“If I show you the roses, will you follow?”

The fact she is quoting him on one line over two, adds even more to the impression of harmony. They are two voices that melt into one.

CHORUS

The repetition of “they call me The Wild Rose” makes the identification between her and the flower more and more flagrant and literal.

“On the third day he took me to the river
He showed me the roses and we kissed”

This is the crisis, that is the beginning of the Act III of their love story. They embraced first, then kissed. We are not surprised, since it is the usual development of love stories. This identity between this plot and the ideal, archetypal love plot, paradoxically prepares its total contradiction in the two next lines.

“And the last thing I heard was a muttered word
As he knelt above me with a rock in his fist”

This is a very surprising, unexpected continuation of the crisis! Instead of loving her, he gets ready to kill her! It confirms that the previous tender and romantic elements had built a wrong track.

Only now the actantial roles become clear: he is the Hero of a murder plot, and she is his Antagonist.

The fact that the murder is not told, but only subtly suggested, adds to the emotion. The suggestion works in two steps: 1/ the words “the last thing I heard” imply that there were no more words after them, and allow us to deduce that only death can cause such a result; 2/the quasi-cinematographic vision of the murderer stuck for a moment in a position of imminent agression “with a rock in his fist” above his victim.

“On the last day I took her where the wild roses grow
And she lay on the bank, the wind light as a thief
And I kissed her goodbye, said “All beauty must die”
And lent down and planted a rose between her teeth”

Climax: the murder that was only alluded to in the previous strophe told by her, becomes clear and direct in this strophe by him.

CHORUS

Now, we know why the people call her “The Wild Rose”, and why this chorus is written in both present and past times. The revelation of the previously untold key-elements gets completed.

Commentary

The art of lie and secret psychology

What is particularly remarkable in this song is the way it tells a murder story while romanticizing it all along.

A masterwork of euphemism, the lyrics succeed in hiding the truth of the incredible ending (that is obviously known from the storyteller and probably the male Hero since the very beginning) until the very last verses. This spectacular effect of distribution of information helps upsetting the audience in the conclusion, whereas we were expecting a very different one – marriage?

As we noticed in Story&Drama level 1 – Essentials, telling a story an efficient way often consists in lying to the audience rather than in informing the people honestly.

In the case of this song, when we re-read or re-hear it, we can notice that the end was potential since the very beginning, but could not be understood since the real personality of the murderer was not yet revealed: indeed, when he says “from the first day I saw her I knew she was the one”, this sentence is totally true, but not in the first meaning of it: we have to complete it, he knew she was the one HE WOULD LOVE TO KILL! Same process when he proposes her to go to the place “where the wild roses grow”: we are lead to believe, because it sounds normal in a poem or a love song, that he wants to lead her there to have a beautiful moment with her, whereas what he really plans is to kill her. When we finally discover his real intentions, we are very surprised, but the story stays consistant and logic, we just have to update it and re-interpret it by taking account of the fact that he is not a real lover, but a criminal dandy of love, an aesthete of romantic murder.

To make it even more obvious, imagine that we would rewrite all the song, not changing any of its plot points and structure, but just modifying one element: we would say, from the first verses, that the man is a murderer. Can you feel the effect? It would destroy all the suspense and beauty of the lyrics.

So let’s remember that as a fundamental, general lesson: if we want to have a strong impact over our audience, we have to learn lying to them, not to be honest, not to be too clear.

The rose-woman – a symbolic sexist murder

From the first chorus, repeated three other times, and from the many repetitions of the theme of the rose (the terms “rose(s)” and “flower” are used 9 times!), a very intense identification is created between the woman and the rose. This metaphor is a cliché of poetry since the beginning of literature, from antiquity to now.

But, what if we really do pay attention to this pseudo-innocent and pseudo-poetic metaphor, what if we try to analyze it and ask ourselves the question: is it so nice to women? We think that on the contrary, such an image carries much, far too much sexism, because: a rose is a flower, a flower is a plant, and a plant has no free will. In reality, human beings, whatever their gender, have very few in common with plants. Identifying a woman to a plant is symbolically the beginning of a murder, because we do not see how a flower could have the right to vote, or work and be financially independent, or rule countries, or be equal to men in general. Imagine that, since 2500 years, we would compare men to mushrooms, or treat men as bushes: would men like that? Would women respect men for being mushrooms or bushes? Certainly not!

Flowers have one poetical quality: their beauty. Even this is a cliché, because many flowers are just ugly, and some of them stink or behave as predators, – the carnivorous ones. Focusing on women’s beauty and comparing them to beautiful flowers contributes – unconsciously, secretly, but really! – to reduce them to a status of nice sexual object, not even having a sexual autonomy, as if women were made to be admired. And… what about ugly or not-so-beautiful women, are they not worthy women because they do not look as nice as roses? Do women demand to men to be handsome mushrooms, admirable bushes?

Actually, the insistence of culture to treat women as beautiful but passive objects, is rather ugly in itself.

And this song is a monument of pure sexism, the woman is just subjected to each action after the other, without never clearly be in position to express a free will:

  • she is a virgin (“he would be my first man”; whereas of course, the male character is supposed to be an experimented lover…)
  • she cries (the old cliché of the too-emotional, fragile, vulnerable women, which was very often used as an argument to stop women from being acknowledged as free citizens with the right to vote and to rule)
  • she is in need for tenderness (“My trembling subsided in his sure embrace”: what if we rewrite that “HIS trembling subsided in HER sure embrace”? )
  • she nods (which means she can just accept the man’s proposition, but not have her own projects)
  • she is taken to a place (“he took me to the river” / “I took her to the river”)
  • she is shown the roses (“he showed me the roses”: is she supposed to be unable to watch them just by herself? does she need to be showed the world as if she was a child?)
  • she is finally killed… (but did she really live a life of her own, independently from men’s watch?)
  • and decorated with a rose between her teeth – ah, the beautiful corpse floating on the river…

So, to conclude this analysis: please, do not misinterpret our intentions here, we do NOT mean that because the song is sexist, it is a bad song.

We enjoy it and find it very beautiful: emotionally, aesthetically and technically, it works very well. We think that Nick Cave is a master songwriter, worth being studied.

But, as we stated it in the fundamental Story&Drama tutorials, storytelling is NOT an innocent tool to make interesting artworks, it is an ideological weapon, and the pretendedly most innocent poem written by an idealistic teenager also stands as a virtual bomb, to confirm, support, enhance, valorize, challenge, contradict, fight (etc…) some ideas, themes, attitudes, values, pieces of knowledge.
Never pretend being neutral, innocent or objective, because it is absolutely impossible: as soon as you tell (or teach 🙂 ) something, you get committed for or against all of the aspects of life on earth, – for or against violence towards women, for example. In Where The Wild Roses Grow, Nick Cave, the Bad Seeds, and Kylie Minogue, take position in favor of sexism.

Categories
Lyrics and songwriting

La Ballade of Lady And Bird – Keren Ann & Bardi Johannsson – lyrics, analysis and meaning

Songwriting

This is one of the song analyses presented in the PDF Songwriting.

La Ballade of Lady & Bird, written in English although its title is partly in French (La Ballade means the ballad, obviously), is the fruit of a collaboration between Keren Ann and Bardi Johannson and was released on Keren Ann’s album Lady and Bird (2005, EMI). You can listen to it for free on Keren Ann’s personal website.

La Ballade of Lady & Bird – Music video

Lyrics by Keren Ann and Bardi Johannsson

BIRD – Lady?
LADY – Yes, Bird?
BIRD – It’s cold.
LADY – I know.
LADY – Bird… I cannot see a thing.
BIRD – It’s all in your mind.
LADY – I’m worried.
BIRD – No one will come to see us.
LADY – Maybe they come but we just don’t see them.
LADY – What do you see?
BIRD – I see what’s outside.
LADY – And what exactly is outside?
BIRD – It’s grown-ups.
LADY – Well, maybe if we scream they can hear us.
BIRD – Yeah, maybe we should try to scream.
LADY – Ok, Bird.
BIRD – Yeah.
BOTH – Heeeeeelp, heeeeeelp, heeeeeelp, can you hear us now? Hello, help… Hello, it’s me! Heyyy, can you see, can you see me? I’m here! Nana come and take us! Hellooooooooo? Are you there? Hello?
LADY – I don’t think they can hear us.
BIRD – I can hear you, Lady. Do you want to come with me maybe?
LADY – Will you be nice to me, Bird? You’re always nice to me because you are my friend.
BIRD – I try, but sometimes I make mistakes.
LADY – Nana says that we all make mistakes.
BIRD – Maybe we should scream more?
LADY – Yes, Bird let’s scream more!
BOTH – Heeeeeelp!!? Help us, come on, help!!! Helloooooooo…? Help… Hello? We’re lost…
LADY – I think they cannot see us.
BIRD – Nobody likes us.
LADY – But they all seem so big!
BIRD – Maybe we should just jump.
LADY – What if we fall from the bridge and then nobody can catch us?
BIRD – I don’t know; let’s just see what happens. Come with me.
LADY – Shall we do it together?
BIRD – Yeah.
BOTH – 1… 2… 3! AAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAaaaaaaaaaaaaahhhhhhhhhhhhh……….
BIRD – Lady?
LADY – Yes, Bird?
BIRD – It’s cold.
LADY – I know. Bird, I cannot see a thing.
BIRD – It’s all in your mind.

Analysis of the story and characters in La Ballade of Lady & Bird by Keren Ann

The song lasts 4:40.

It starts with 38 seconds of a very simple yet beautiful instrumental mainly made of an acoustic guitar, augmented by nice ambient sounds a kind of lunar, shiny bell, a kind of melancholic organ.

Dramatically, this instrumental is the exposition of the plot: before any lyrics, before any characters with goals and motivations, it sets up a sad, quiet, melancholic, meditative atmosphere that lets us leave reality and enter a dreamy world.

The music goes silent for a short instant at second 37. Just after, the voices come into play.

This moment of silence contributes dramatizing the situation: as we will see later, it’s like a quick, elegant metaphor of the death that will threaten the characters.

A soft, raspy, childlike voice asks: “Lady?” Another slightly different, more feminine voice answers: “Yes, Bird?”

BIRD – Lady?
LADY – Yes, Bird?

In only 3 words, we already get to meet 2 characters. Their dialogue will structure the song all along. The way they call themselves, “Lady” or “Bird”, as well as the tones and textures of their voices, enter in a perfect harmony with the previous instrumental and confirm that the song is set in another world – a fantasy world where ladies have no personal names and can converse with birds.

BIRD – It’s cold.
LADY – I know.
LADY – Bird… I cannot see a thing
BIRD – It’s all in your mind.

The previous first two lines “I’m cold”/”I know” strike us with their simplicity. They tell us about a situation that everybody knows, making empathy and identification easy; since it’s told by childlike voices, even this minimal evocation of discomfort has the power to move the listener.

Contrarily, the two next lines “I cannot see a thing”/”It’s all in your mind”, strike us with their abstraction: we have to reconfigure the knowledge we just established about the situation, and admit that the reality of the coldness described in the previous line, isn’t actually real. The instrumental introduced us to a light, melancholic, dreamy world: now, it gets confirmed that this world is purely imaginary.

We might also be moved by a feeling of harmony between the two characters, who sound like they support each other with friendship in an unpleasant situation. It probably would not have the same emotional effect on the listener if the characters were grown-ups.

For the moment, there is not much drama going on – we still are in the exposition. The fact that they feel cold is not enough to launch a plot with a goal.

LADY – I’m worried.
BIRD – No one will come to see us.

Here again, the simple expression of feelings makes the identification of the audience to the characters easy. We start to have the elements of a plot: some characters who are in a situation they dislike; we start to guess that they might want to find a way to get out of there. Will this be confirmed?

LADY – Maybe they come but we just don’t see them.
LADY – What do you see?
BIRD – I see what’s outside.
LADY – And what exactly is outside?
BIRD – It’s grown-ups.

The mention of “they” lets us discover that our two characters are not alone in their fantasy world.

The questions of the Lady raise suspense, thus dramatic tension: the fact she’s curious makes us want to know too. This way, a feeling of participation in the audience is created.

The revelation of the presence of grown-ups “outside” (outside of what?) sounds slightly weird: since the beginning, everything is not normal, not real, so what are those normal adults coming to do here? we wonder. This too generates a bit of mystery, thus tension.

LADY – Well, maybe if we scream they can hear us.
BIRD – Yeah, maybe we should try to scream.
LADY – Ok, Bird.
BIRD – Yeah.

This is the catalyst. From now, things take shape and we know that the main characters have a goal: to be heard. This goal doesn’t sound so satisfying in itself, so we guess that perhaps they want to be heard so as to get out of their sad, cold, worrysome, and lonely world.

BOTH – Heeeeeelp, heeeeeelp, heeeeeelp, can you hear us now? Hello, help… Hello, it’s me! Heyyy, can you see, can you see me? I’m here! Nana come and take us! Hellooooooooo? Are you there? Hello?

It’s the beginning of Act II; the main characters have a goal, and they try to reach it.

The mention of “Nana” adds another actantial character to the list.

The desperate way they scream has something heart-breaking, touching. It has a powerful emotional impact on the listener: who could stay indifferent at children’s voices screaming in distress?

But the try fails – nobody answers. So Lady & Bird address each other.

LADY – I don’t think they can hear us.
BIRD – I can hear you, Lady. Do you want to come with me maybe?
LADY – Will you be nice to me, Bird? You’re always nice to me because you are my friend.

This confirms the plot is thematically about friendship – supporting each other in hard times.

BIRD – I try, but sometimes I make mistakes.
LADY – Nana says that we all make mistakes.

Those lines sound surprisingly relevant. Those Heroes locked in another world show some unexpected wisdom that stays true in our normal world.

BIRD – Maybe we should scream more?
LADY – Yes, Bird let’s scream more!
BOTH – Heeeeeelp!!? Help us, come on, help!!! Helloooooooo…? Help… Hello? We’re lost…

But again, nobody replies.

LADY – I think they cannot see us.
BIRD – Nobody likes us.

Same effect of emotion by empathy. The line “Nobody likes us” sounds so sad… The audience here might feel like helping them, but it’s not possible since it’s a fiction. This drive to answer the despair of those innocent creatures combined with the impossibility of helping them, leaves the audience with a painful sense of powerlessness.

LADY – But they all seem so big!
BIRD – Maybe we should just jump.
LADY – What if we fall from the bridge and then nobody can catch us?
BIRD – I don’t know; let’s just see what happens. Come with me.

Act III starts here. We enter the Crisis – the decisive moment when the audience is able to check whether the goal of the Heroes is reached or failed.

The dramatic tension rises one level higher. Now, the situation becomes scary. They want to take the risk to kill themselves! For us in the audience, that sounds unacceptable, tragic, pathetic… Nobody can deal with the suicide of a child! The poetic way this suicide is alluded to, adds to the tension.

LADY – Shall we do it together?
BIRD – Yeah.
BOTH – 1… 2… 3! AAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAaaaaaaaaaaaaahhhhhhhhhhhhh……….

The music goes on, but for a few seconds their voices have disappeared.

The tension reaches its peak. The silence of the characters after they jumped and screamed leads us to believe that they fell and died – which would be a scandal, something terribly violent. But this is a wrong track. Happily, after a few seconds, their voices re-appear…

BIRD – Lady?

Climax, part 1: Bird is alive!

LADY – Yes, Bird?

Climax, part 2! Lady is alive too! The audience feels relieved.

BIRD – It’s cold.
LADY – I know.

We have no difficulty remembering that it’s the same dialogue we heard in the beginning. It was cold, it is still cold, so we can conclude: they jumped, they fell, not knowing where or whether they would land, and they actually landed at the exact same place. This outcome sounds better than death, but still worse than the freedom they expected to find. They’re still alone, unable to establish contact with “what’s outside”, unable to solve the problem of their discomfort.

LADY – I know. Bird, I cannot see a thing.
BIRD – It’s all in your mind.

This conclusion does not help us to feel better about them.

The song ends, the Heroes failed to get out of their world, and the paradoxical fact that “it’s all in [their] mind” does not make their situation easier to live: even if they are just a mental phenomenon, they are meant to stay in their despair forever. How sad!

 

Commentary

Genres

We can wonder about the genre of this song: is it a song for children?

Some elements, like the fact that the characters are childlike, that they live in a fantasy world, that they speak with much simplicity and innocence, might make us think of a kind of a song made for children.

But on the other side, some other elements lead us far away from childhood the horrible, eerie atmosphere; the theme of suicide that’s inappropriate in a song for children; the feelings of loneliness and despair.

Actually, the song appears more complex than it seems. It’s not meant for children, but rather for children in pain within grown-ups; can we hear our inner child screaming for help inside us?

The song is also a dialogue – a rather rare form of lyrics. This form helps create a dynamics through the cyclic process of Assertion/Question/Answer/Assertion.

That’s a lesson for us songwriters: to move the action forward, just create interaction between characters! It will generate suspense and tension – on the condition that the things at stake seem important enough.

Actantial roles

We can find only 3 actantial roles in this song: Lady & Bird are Heroes together, and they are locked in a world that is inescapable, this world being their Antagonist.

Lady & Bird mention one collective character (the grown-ups) and one named character (Nana, whose identity will not be detailed). The fact that those characters are mentioned is not enough to make them actantial, since they actually do not play any active role in the plot they do not encourage or oppose the goals of the Heroes, they do not give important informations, they do not provide any help. Thus, they are only thematic characters.

Contrarily, the Antagonist of our Heroes – the cold lonely world they are locked in. Even if this is no human character, it plays an active role in their story: it stops them from getting what they want and need, it contradicts their goal and make their effort vain. Actually, this Antagonist is rather an Antagonism, but the fact it is an abstraction is not at all a problem. As such, it can not have any intentional goal or human-like motivation, but that does not stop it from being powerful and dramatically active; inescapable, this world condemns the Heroes to eternal loneliness.

 


Note : this song analysis has been very carefully edited by Suzanne Uchytil.

I definitely recommend her proofreading and copyediting services! Check her website.

Thank you Suzanne!

Categories
Lyrics and songwriting

Eminem – Stan – Song lyrics analysis, interpretation & meanings

Eminem – Stan – Song lyrics analysis, interpretation & meanings

Songwriting

“Stan” is one of the song analyses presented in the PDF Songwriting.

Stan – the music video

Commented analysis of the lyrics, story and characters in Stan

Chorus – Dido

My tea’s gone cold I’m wondering why
I got out of bed at all
The morning rain clouds up my window
and I can’t see at all
And even if I could it’ll all be gray,
but your picture on my wall
It reminds me
that it’s not so bad, it’s not so bad.

The song starts with the chorus. During the first seconds, we can hear a sound of rain, and the singer Dido performing the attenuated chorus which is about a feeling of sadness and despair in the morning, only contradicted by “your picture on the wall” that reminds her that “it’s not so bad”. A sound of storm can be heard, and the chorus gets repeated more clearly, its frequencies, more widely spread, overcome the sound of rain.

A sound of storm can be heard, and the chorus gets repeated more clearly, its frequencies, more widely spread, overcome the sound of rain.

This opening sounds sad and romantic and seems to introduce a love story. It will not be the case.

Verse 1 – ‘Stan’

Dear Slim, I wrote you but you still ain’t calling
I left my cell, my pager, and my home phone at the bottom
I sent two letters back in autumn, you must not-a got ’em
There probably was a problem at the post office or something
Sometimes I scribble addresses too sloppy when I jot ’em
but anyways; fuck it, what’s been up? Man how’s your daughter?
My girlfriend’s pregnant, too, I’m bout to be a father
If I have a daughter, guess what I’ma call her?
I’ma name her Bonnie
I read about your Uncle Ronnie, too, I’m sorry
I had a friend kill himself over some bitch who didn’t want him
I know you probably hear this everyday, but I’m your biggest fan
I even got the underground shit that you did with Skam
I got a room full of your posters and your pictures man
I like the shit you did with Rawkus, too, that shit was phat
Anyways, I hope you get this man, hit me back,
just to chat, truly yours, your biggest fan
This is Stan

It starts with “Dear Slim”, so we can understand it’s a letter. Its author complains that his destinator, Slim Shady a.k.a. Eminem, didn’t reply to his last two letters. He underlines the fact that he leaves his contact at the end of the letter.

Beginning of Act I. So, we understand it’s a letter written by a fan to the singer. The structure is very interesting because once again, it’s a role-playing for Eminem: in “Kim”, he played at the same time his own role and the one of Kim. In “97′ Bonnie and Clyde”, he makes voice effects to sound childish like Hailie. Now, he’s inverting the roles between himself and his audience. And whereas the 3 messages of Stan complain about a lack of empathy from Eminem, the structure of the song on the contrary reveals a big, generous capacity of empathy from Eminem to Stan.

The insistence to get a reply is the catalyst. The Goal of the Hero (= the fan) is to get a reply. The Antagonist will be Eminem, if he doesn’t reply. If he does, then Eminem will stand as a Helper of the Hero.
The fan asks Eminem for some news about his family, and announces that his girlfriend is pregnant. If he has a daughter, he says, he will name her Bonnie.

This name makes the connection with “97′ Bonnie & Clyde”.

It’s also the beginning of the development, Act II of this plot.

The fan expresses his sorrow towards Eminem’s uncle, named Ronnie, who killed himself because the woman he loved didn’t love him.

The story is true and particularly tragic. This uncle Ronnie was only 6 weeks older than Eminem and they grew up together. He killed himself in 1991. Another uncle of Eminem killed himself in 2004. There is modesty in the fact that Eminem speaks about his most painful autobiographic experiences indirectly through the fictitious voice of one of his fans…

The fan then compliments Eminem about some underground collaborations he did, tells him about how close he feels to him (“I got a room full of your posters and your pictures man”…), concludes his letter by asking again for a reply, and signs it: “This is Stan”.

This gives us the explanation for the song’s title.

It confirms that the Goal of the Hero is to get in touch with Eminem, to get a message from him.

Chorus – Dido

My tea’s gone cold I’m wondering why I got out of bed at all
The morning rain clouds up my window and I can’t see at all
And even if I could it’ll all be gray, but your picture on my wall
It reminds me, that it’s not so bad, it’s not so bad.

Nothing to be noticed, apart from the fact that the line “it’s not so bad” sounds ironic: a fan who does not get answers from the star he loves, the story of a suicide, that may start to sound “so bad”. It will get worse.

Verse 2 – ‘Stan’

Dear Slim, you still ain’t called or wrote, I hope you have a chance
I ain’t mad – I just think it’s FUCKED UP you don’t answer fans
If you didn’t wanna talk to me outside your concert
you didn’t have to, but you coulda signed an autograph for Matthew
That’s my little brother man, he’s only six years old
We waited in the blistering cold for you,
four hours and you just said, “No.”
That’s pretty shitty man – you’re like his fucking idol
He wants to be just like you man, he likes you more than I do
I ain’t that mad though, I just don’t like being lied to
Remember when we met in Denver – you said if I’d write you
you would write back – see I’m just like you in a way
I never knew my father neither;
he used to always cheat on my mom and beat her
I can relate to what you’re saying in your songs
so when I have a shitty day, I drift away and put ’em on
‘Cause I don’t really got shit else so that shit helps when I’m depressed
I even got a tattoo with your name across the chest
Sometimes I even cut myself to see how much it bleeds
It’s like adrenaline, the pain is such a sudden rush for me
See everything you say is real, and I respect you ’cause you tell it
My girlfriend’s jealous ’cause I talk about you 24/7
But she don’t know you like I know you Slim, no one does
She don’t know what it was like for people like us growing up
You gotta call me man, I’ll be the biggest fan you’ll ever lose
Sincerely yours, Stan
— P.S.
We should be together, too

Stan starts his next letter by complaining that he did not receive any message back, and that Eminem refused to sign an autograph to his younger brother, aged 6yo, in the end of a concert. Stan finds it rude, because he and his brother waited for Eminem for 4h in the cold, and because at another occasion, in Denver, Eminem promised to Stan that he would answer back if Stan would write to him, and did not. Stan blames Eminem to be a liar.

Here, Eminem pushes things forward, and dare criticizing himself through the voice of a fictitious fan! That’s very original and audacious.

Stan compares his family situation to the one of Eminem: like him, he didn’t know his father who beated his mother. That’s why Stan can identify easily, he says, with the songs of Eminem, that he listens to when he’s depressed. He then confesses that he tatooed the name of Eminem on his chest and that, like Eminem, he scarifies himself. His girlfriend is even jealous “cause I talk about you 24/7”.

He feels indeed very close to his beloved star, because they share the same difficult childhood, he says.

The intense identification of Stan to Eminem sounds a bit scary, as if this man had no personal identity. It possibly reflects the feeling of Eminem himself about not having a stable, normal identity. And it makes easier our own identification to Stan and, through Stan, to Eminem.

Stan concludes: “You gotta call me man, I’ll be the biggest fan you’ll ever lose”.

This is the first hint of the suicidary intentions of Stan. The threat isn’t very clear yet, since the word “lose” is ambiguous. But the suspense gets a bit higher, since from now, we would like to know whether Eminem will reply to Stan or not, and if not, we wonder what Stan is able to do.

Chorus – Dido

My tea’s gone cold I’m wondering why I got out of bed at all
The morning rain clouds up my window and I can’t see at all
And even if I could it’ll all be gray, but your picture on my wall
It reminds me, that it’s not so bad, it’s not so bad.

Verse 3 – ‘Stan’

Dear Mister I’m-Too-Good-To-Call-Or-Write-My-Fans,
this’ll be the last package I ever send your ass
It’s been six months and still no word – I don’t deserve it?
I know you got my last two letters;
I wrote the addresses on ’em perfect
So this is my cassette I’m sending you, I hope you hear it
I’m in the car right now, I’m doing 90 on the freeway
Hey Slim, I drank a fifth of vodka, you dare me to drive?
You know the song by Phil Collins, “In the Air Tonight”
about that guy who coulda saved that other guy from drowning
but didn’t, then Phil saw it all, then at a show he found him?
That’s kinda how this is, you coulda rescued me from drowning
Now it’s too late – I’m on a 1000 downers now, I’m drowsy
and all I wanted was a lousy letter or a call
I hope you know I ripped all of your pictures off the wall
I love you Slim, we coulda been together, think about it
You ruined it now, I hope you can’t sleep and you dream about it
And when you dream I hope you can’t sleep and you SCREAM about it
I hope your conscience EATS AT YOU and you can’t BREATHE without me
See Slim; [*screaming*] Shut up bitch! I’m trying to talk!
Hey Slim, that’s my girlfriend screaming in the trunk,
But I didn’t slit her throat, I just tied her up, see I ain’t like you
‘Cause if she suffocates she’ll suffer more, and then she’ll die, too
Well, gotta go, I’m almost at the bridge now
Oh shit, I forgot, how’m I supposed to send this shit out?
[car tires squeal] [CRASH]
.. [brief silence] .. [LOUD splash]

Stan sends a third message, and his tone has turned agressive: “Dear Mister I’m Too Good To Call Or Write My Fans”… Stan didn’t get any answer during the last 6 months and he is now very angry.

It’s the beginning of the Crisis: since Eminem didn’t reply to Stan, the Goal of Stan is impossible to reach and Stan needs to take his revenge. Eminem, who was his Goal, becomes his Antagonist.

Stan is sure that Eminem received his two previous letters. Now, that’s a recorded cassette he’s sending to Eminem.

This narrative element changes the genre of what we’re hearing. It’s not a written letter that’s read now, it’s a recording of the original voice of a guy who will die within a few seconds, which adds much to the emotional and dramatic tension.

Stan says he’s driving at 90 miles an hour on the freeway after having drunk a fifth of vodka. He evokes a song by Phil Collins, “About that guy who could have saved that other guy from drowning / But didn’t”, and says that him and Eminem are in the same situation: Eminem could have rescued him, and didn’t.

The situation gets very tense after this comparison. The fate of Stan becomes clear for himself: he is going to get drowned. Literally!

Stan expresses his bitterness, he says he took tranquilizers and feels drowsy…

From the general knowledge of the audience, we know that tranquilizers and vodka are not a good mix at the wheel. This increases danger, thus tension.

Then Stan declares he “ripped all of your pictures off the wall” and wishes that Eminem will suffer from not having paid attention to him. At this moment, Stan gets interrupted – we can hear a woman’s voice screaming in the background – and Stan explains: it’s his girlfriend locked in the trunk, “But I didn’t slit her throat, I just tied her up, see I ain’t like you”…

The rest of Stan’s messages was underlining his strong identification to Eminem. Now, he denies it.

We are entering the Act III and the crisis begins.

Yet, the parallel between this element and the situation of “97′ Bonnie and Clyde” and “Kim” is obvious.

The woman’s screamings continue, Stan states he almost reached the bridge, and at the last moment, he realizes that he will not be able to send the recording of his message to Eminem…

He’s right: it’s actually impossible that Eminem could hear Stan’s message and re-use it in his song. Dramatic irony… This impossibility cancels the effect of realism and reminds the audience that it is only a song…

We can then hear Stan’s car braking heavily, then car breaking a barrier, the woman screams even more, then two seconds later, the car makes a big splash into the water and the voice and screamings stop.

That’s the climax, the moment when the audience knows about the result of all the action. In this case, the result is extremely negative for the Hero: not only he didn’t get the reply he expected from Eminem, but also his despair led him to suicide: it could not be worse.

Like in the 2 other songs, the background sounds make a very realistic effect. We feel like in a cinema theater.

Chorus – Dido

My tea’s gone cold I’m wondering why I got out of bed at all
The morning rain clouds up my window and I can’t see at all
And even if I could it’ll all be gray, but your picture on my wall
It reminds me, that it’s not so bad, it’s not so bad.

Now, the line “It’s not so bad” sounds very ironic, because the situation reached a very tragic point: Stan, his girlfriend, and their baby, just died. It’s actually very bad on the contrary!!

Verse 4 – Eminem

Dear Stan, I meant to write you sooner but I’ve just been busy
You said your girlfriend’s pregnant now, how far along is she?
Look, I’m really flattered you would call your daughter that
and here’s an autograph for your brother,
I wrote it on the Starter cap
I’m sorry I didn’t see you at the show, I musta missed you
Don’t think I did that shit intentionally just to diss you
But what’s this shit you said about you like to cut your wrists, too?
I say that shit just clowning dogg,
c’mon – how fucked up is you?
You got some issues Stan, I think you need some counseling
to help your ass from bouncing off the walls when you get down some
And what’s this shit about us meant to be together?
That type of shit’ll make me not want us to meet each other
I really think you and your girlfriend need each other
or maybe you just need to treat her better
I hope you get to read this letter, I just hope it reaches you in time
before you hurt yourself, I think that you’ll be doing just fine
if you relax a little, I’m glad I inspire you but Stan
why are you so mad? Try to understand, that I do want you as a fan
I just don’t want you to do some crazy shit
I seen this one shit on the news a couple weeks ago that made me sick
Some dude was drunk and drove his car over a bridge
and had his girlfriend in the trunk, and she was pregnant with his kid
and in the car they found a tape, but they didn’t say who it was to
Come to think about it, his name was… it was you
Damn!

We hear a new letter, this time it’s Eminem, who finally answers: “Dear Stan…”

Eminem apologizes for his late reply and asks for some news about the pregnancy of Stan’s girlfriend.

This sounds even more tragic. We may think that if Eminem had replied earlier, Stan wouldn’t have killed himself and his girlfriend and baby… This “too late” situation is a classic element of tragedy.
Since the climax already took place, we could have thought the story – and the song – was over. But no – wrong track – so this reply from Eminem sounds like a big surprise.

Eminem sends an autograph for Stan’s younger brother.

Same remark: it’s too late now, as Stan previously noticed… Tragic irony!

Then Eminem says he’s worried about Stan’s balance, he suggests Stan would need some counseling and to have a better relationship with his girlfriend and to stop having crazy behaviors.

Same remark. The whole letter by Eminem is written to underline the “it’s too late” aspect of the situation.

Between the lines, we can be touched here by the sincerity of Eminem, who is actually speaking to himself with much modesty through the character of Stan. It’s actually Eminem who has a problem with his girlfriend, who is suicidal, who would need counseling, who has crazy behaviors.

Eminem compares the case of Stan to a very similar story he saw in the news, the story of a guy who drove over a bridge with his pregnant girlfriend in the trunk, and Eminem finally concludes: “his name was… it was you”.

This last piece of information contradicts all of the Eminem letter: it was a wrong track, Eminem knew from the very beginning that when he replied to him, Stan was already dead. This second element of absurdity, of impossibility, surprisingly does not change anything to the emotional impact of the song, on the contrary it shocks us even more by being simultaneously a very realistic and very impossible story.

Dramatic synthesis

How many plots in this song?

There is one main plot made of 3 messages that tell the story of Stan, a fan of Eminem, who writes to his idol in vain until he’s despaired enough to commit suicide and kill his pregnant girlfriend. Each message is a verse. Between verses we find back the same chorus that started the song.

When Eminem finally replies to Stan, it’s too late (see the outline next page). We can say this part is like a comment between brackets after the main plot, or that it is another plot put in a factorial/embedded structure within the end of the main plot.

Eminem’s reply is like a comment on the story from outside the story. When he starts replying, he knows that the plot of Stan is over already. He can just put the final point on Stan’s last unfinished words.

How many actantial characters in this plot?

There are only 2 actantial characters:

  • The Hero: Stan, a fan of Eminem. Stan wants a reply from Eminem.
  • The Antagonist: Eminem, as he does not give Stan the reply he was seeking for – or gives it when it’s already too late.

13 other characters are mentioned in the song:

  • Stan’s father and mother. Stan tells about them, but they can not do anything to stop or encourage Stan in his goals.
  • Eminem’s father and mother. Same remark.
  • Eminem’s uncle, Ronnie. Stan evokes him. But Ronnie is dead and does not know anything about Stan. He’s not actantial.
  • Eminem’s girlfriend and daughter. Stan asks his idol for some news about them, but that doesn’t change anything to his storyline.
  • Eminem’s collaborators in rap – Skam and Rawkus. Stan says he likes what Eminem did with them. They don’t play any active role.
  • Stan’s younger brother, Matthew. Stan asks Eminem an autograph for Matthew, that Eminem refused to give at the end of a concert. Matthew is not an actantial character, because he doesn’t play an active role to encourage, help, or contradict Stan.
  • Stan’s pregnant girlfriend, locked in the trunk of the car. She doesn’t play an actantial role, since she cannot do anything to stop Stan from killing himself and her. Her presence, her screams, and her death, play an emotional role.
  • The 2 characters of the song by Phil Collins. They are used as comparison points.

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