by Xerxes Praetorius Horde
It is every songwriter’s secret desire that adoring fans listen carefully to their music, memorize their song lyrics and ponder their meaning. Bands spend extra cash to include extensive lyric booklets in their CD’s in hopes that appreciative listeners will sit and read along with the lyrics while they take in the album, marveling at the ingenuity of the wordplay. Songwriters want you to discover the secret intent of their song.
I know many music fans that are very keen on analyzing the lyrics of their favourite songs. They research the background of the subject matter so they can better understand the music, and feel more connected to the artist. They then enjoy sharing with others what they know about the song’s meaning. They correct others as to what the song is actually about in case someone else misinterprets it.
These fans are not necessarily wrong about their convictions, but I believe now after all these years that the interpretation of a song, much like the appreciation of any art form, is a unique and personal experience. The listener enjoys this experience not with the songwriter, but with the song itself. And just what the hell does that mean?
It means that the fantastic and wondrous message or emotional response you get from your favourite song is sometimes an artistic device of your own mind’s creation. It may or may not even agree with the songwriter’s original intent. In effect, YOU become co-songwriter during the moments you experience and savour the music.
Not following me? Ok, here’s a great example from my own personal experience –
In 1989 I listened to Appetite for Destruction by Guns ‘N Roses from beginning to end in its’ entirety for the first time. I began to listen to it from beginning to end almost every night, lying on my bed staring blankly at the ceiling wearing the crappy foam covered headphones that came with my $20 walkman. I was completely lost in the story.
I know what you’re thinking – ummm….the story?
Yes, the story. The incredible trashy rockstar soap opera of a tale that unfolds starting with the album’s fiery opening cut, “Welcome to the Jungle,” and ending with the complex final scene in “Rocket Queen” combining unabashed sexuality with a pledge of commitment. It was a tale of urban adventure, a coming of age story set in the days of true rock ‘n roll excess. It was Catcher in the Rye set to music. It was decadent and gripping…and I wanted to follow in the footsteps of this character that went through the transformation from innocent newcomer to gritty seasoned rock veteran. A good soul corrupted by his surroundings only to become a scoundrel, but ultimately finding redemption and peace by the story’s end.
Question for all the Guns ‘n Roses fans (and haters) out there – do you think I completely missed the point of this album?
Did Axle Rose really write such an emotionally gripping story?
Is Appetite For Destruction even a concept album?
To summarize – did I miss the songwriter’s original inent? Yes. Did my misinterpretation of the content on this album diminish my love of it? Not one bit. In fact, when I found out that Appetite for Destruction was NOT supposed to be one continuous story, I was a little dismayed. I still preferred my own fantasy analysis of the album far better than it’s reality.
Years passed. I wrote a lot of songs. Most of them about really nasty things. Many of them about nasty people, some of them real, some of them imagined. Some of them are even people I knew. When I feel self indulgent I use fantasy to mask the true reality of the song’s purpose. But for the most part the artistic intent of the New Jacobin Club is worn as publicly and plainly as our appearance. The first time someone asked me if “Hallowed Halls” was about the Columbine shootings, I was almost speechless. Who was paying attention that closely to the lyrics? They weren’t printed in the album, and nowhere in the song do I actually verbalize Columbine, schools, bullies, killing or suicide. And yet my intent was clear to this person. I would find out later that if I chose too, I had a lot of control over when my intent was clear and when it wasn’t.
Not long after that same album was released, we were on tour and I encountered the exact opposite. After a particularly succesful show in front of a large audience consisting of mostly young-male-heavy-metal fan types, an angry long haired fellow wearing a t-shirt splashed with a band name that was impossible to read and wearing a charming pendant that was a combination of a dragon and pentagram approached me shaking his finger – “I know what you are. Guess what? I was listening to your lyrics. I know you are a Christian metal guy who is trying to preach at us using your fake satanic front. ”
This actually happened.
Deep breath. Light a smoke. Where’s my drink? Oh right….sorry. Getting back to my secret christian rock agenda…
I must have looked at the guy like he was trying to convince me he was the goddamn Easter Bunny. Then he started to pick on a specific song – a song that I would preface live with a very vicious and angry preacher-type rant while the opening riff hummed until my guitar lead signalled the beginning of the first verse. Guess what? The song’s lyrical content was about how much I HATE religious bigotry with every fibre of my being. The song was about THIS guy. He was making a connection between my habit of taunting would-be-satanist-badasses and being a Christian metal band. This listener’s unique experience with my song was powerful, so powerful that it angered him.
Would Axle Rose be upset with ME if he knew what sort of little imaginary world I had constructed with his album?
After poking around online recently (while writing this blog article), I found out that I was not entirely alone – although AFD was never intended to be a concept album, many fans do make a thematic connection between the songs. Many fans participated in that special communion with the art itself, making the experience something unique and private. And, as I pointed out at the beginning of this blog post – a lot of superfans are going to be quick to correct us all – Appetite For Destruction is not a concept album.
RoTT ‘N RoLL
and if you’d like to check out the New Jacobin Club’s concept album – “This Treason” – you can get it here.
Feel free to send me your interpretations of New Jacobin Club’s lyrical content and if it’s interesting, I’ll post it on this blogsite.
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