Monday, June 15, 2009

Songs I Can’t Sing Anymore – Part 4

I grew up listening to rock and roll from the 60’s, 70’s and 80’s. I have always maintained that there is no era of music that I prefer to listen to more, and I listened to a lot of it in college and during the years before my wife and I had children. I amassed over two-hundred albums on vinyl over the years, before compact discs took over. I have spent a great deal of time over the last couple of years transferring this music to my iPod. As I’ve recently begun listening to this music again, I have been struck by the lyrics of many of the songs – seen anew from a refreshed Christian perspective. I believe that I listened only to the music back in my younger days, but today I actually pay attention to the lyrics. This is a continuation of a series of articles discussing the possible hidden (or overt) meaning in many songs I used to sing out loud -- without actually listening to what the words were saying.

It might surprise those of you who know me well that I like listening to the music of The Doors. As I have explained before, when I listen only to the music, I really like this band. But when I sort out the meaning of the words that they wrote, I fear that I am no longer a fan.

Like so many bands of this era, The Doors quite often wrote lyrics that make no sense. Oh, they want you to believe that they make sense, and books have been written purporting the genius of the lyrics – but the fact is that most of these words likely came out of a drunken haze, written by someone who was very likely demon-possessed. One look at lead singer Jim Morrison’s life is enough to convince me that his tirades, depression, drug use, and bitterness were the result of much more than a heavy tour schedule. Morrison was known for his extremely heavy alcohol abuse, and he eventually died of a likely heroin overdose in Paris. If you read the history of this man, there is a sense of lurking evil about him.

A good example of nonsense lyrics is from the song Stoned Immaculate. Here you go:

I'll tell you this...

No eternal reward will forgive us now
For wasting the dawn.

Back in those days everything was simpler and more confused
One summer night, going to the pierI ran into two young girls
The blonde one was called Freedom
The dark one, Enterprise
We talked and they told me this story

Now listen to this...

I'll tell you about Texas radio and the big beat
Soft driven, slow and mad
Like some new language
Reaching your head with the cold, sudden fury of a divine messenger
Let me tell you about heartache and the loss of god
Wandering, wandering in hopeless night
Out here in the perimeter there are no stars

Out here we is stoned

Okay – can you tell me what it means? I mean what it really means – not just trying to fit your ideas to lyrics that are almost forty years old. Even the very title of the song is just two words smashed together that don’t belong. On reflection, these words echo as if from a soul bound for eternity in hell. “Heartache and the loss of god” is a perfect description of how I picture hell to be – a never-ending state for those who find their way there.

My wife and I had the good fortune to visit Paris on vacation twice in the last ten years. On one of those trips, we visited Père Lachaise Cemetery, where Morrison is buried. Many famous people are buried in this 118-acre cemetery, including Oscar Wilde and Frederic Chopin. The place is absolutely packed with tombs and graves and is really a wonder to behold. While I was there, I was determined to find the burial place of Jim Morrison.

It was not easy to find – walking this cemetery with the goal of finding a particular name is a lot like walking through the world’s largest junkyard in search of a specific radio knob – it’s that imposing. After a couple of hours, we finally found the spot. Imagine my surprise to find that it was a simple, unattractive plot crammed behind a much larger tomb. There was nothing special about it. See our photo of Morrison’s burial place at the right.

My greater surprise was to find so many others – mostly young people – gathered around the gravesite, mourning their loss. Most of them were not even alive at the time of Morrison’s death. And most of them were consuming alcohol. Jars of various alcoholic beverages had been left at his tomb as a sort of token or gift. My wife and I looked at each other in confusion – was this the legacy that Jim Morrison intended to leave? If he could look over the site today, would he be pleased, or would he beg these people to see something greater in life?

Like many of the lyrics of The Doors, this scene left me confused. These young people were worshiping a dead, drunken rock star. And these words fill my head - “wandering, wandering in hopeless night”.
Next in the series - The Beatles

Back to the first entry in the "Songs I Can't Sing Anymore" series...

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