Five Songs Whose Lyrics Are Zany

Posted: September 2, 2009 in Braak
Tags: , ,

grand illusionI dunno, I don’t have much to do today, and I’ve been thinking about this post for a while.  If you’re anything like me, you can listen to a song over and over without really hearing what it’s about.  It  can even be one of your favorite songs to listen to, but it’s not until you actually sit down and really listen to it that you realize the song is insane.  So, I will make a list of some of the ones that I flipped out over.

1. “Ramble On”–Led Zeppelin

Most Led Zeppelin songs don’t really make any sense; “Ramble On” has the distinction of making some sense, but being about Gollum:

When magic filled the air,
Twas in the darkest depths of mordor
I met a girl so fair,
But gollum, and the evil one crept up
And slipped away with her.

Zeppelin actually did a couple of Lord of the Rings songs, but this is the one that surprised me the most when I heard it–get this–driving on Ridge Avenue in October of 1998.  That’s how weird it was for me to learn this; I still remember what road I was driving on eleven years after the fact.

2.  “Crazy Train”–Ozzy Osbourne

I don’t know, I guess I just assumed that all of Ozzy Osbourne’s songs would be about eating bats or drinking the blood of the devil or something.  I was hugely surprised to discover this:

Crazy, but thats how it goes
Millions of people living as foes
Maybe its not to late
To learn how to love
And forget how to hate

The song is actually about how Ozzy Osbourne is a peace-and-free-love hippie who is depressed about how angry everyone is all the time.  That’s what’s driving him crazy!  I didn’t realize this.

3.  “Orange Crush”–REM

Okay, practically any REM song would qualify for this.  One of the things that I like about them is that their name is REM, and their songs are all these dreamy, surrealistic agglomerations of words and images.  But “Orange Crush” is especially weird to me.

Follow me, don’t follow me
I’ve got my spine, I’ve got my orange crush
Collar me, don’t collar me
I’ve got my spine, I’ve got my orange crush
We are agents of the free
I’ve had my fun and now its time to
Serve your conscience overseas (over me, not over me)
Coming in fast, over me

It may help to know that when I first heard this song, I thought he was saying “I’ve got my SPRITE, I’ve got my Orange Crush,” and I concluded that this was a man with two delicious citrus-flavored sodas between which he could not decide.  This made a deal of sense to me.  When I actually found out the lyrics…I don’t know.  What the hell does this mean?  Is it about going to war?  Why does he have his spine?  Why WOULDN’T he have his spine?  DO YOU WANT ME TO FOLLOW YOU OR NOT!?!?

4. “Iron Man”–Black Sabbath

It’s kind of cheating to put two Ozzy Osbourne songs on here, but I’m going to, anyway.  Initially, I’d just assumed that “Iron Man” was a song about a killer robot–subject matter I could get behind.  A closer read of the lyrics:

He was turned to steel
In the great magnetic field
Where he traveled time
For the future of mankind

Nobody wants him
He just stares at the world
Planning his vengeance
That he will soon unfold

reveals that the song is actually a critique about an insufficient veterans’ benefits administration.  Taken in concert with “War Pigs,” also off of Paranoid, and “Crazy Train,” the guy known for peeing on the Alamo and biting the head off a bat is revealed as a liberal social critic, and not an insane satanist at all.  Who knew?  You guys did, probably.

5.  “Come Sail Away”–Styx

This song is about space aliens.  He is being invited to sail away into outer space.

I thought that they were angels, but much to my surprise
They climbed aboard their starship and headed for the skies
Singing come sail away, come sail away
Come sail away with me
Come sail away, come sail away
Come sail away with me

  1. Moff says:

    I believe “Orange Crush” is a statement on the use of Agent Orange, delivered in R.E.M.’s typically oblique fashion.

  2. Jeff Holland says:

    Okay, now go do some Beck songs!

  3. braak says:

    @Moff: Hmmm. I guess that could be. “We are agents of the free,” &c. But what about the second verse, where he’s talking about how he knows where all the truck stops are?

    Also, what does that have to do with his spine?

    @Holland: I’m not sure it’s fair to do things that are intentionally nonsense. It’s like, I’ve never assumed that there was anything sensible about the lyrics to “Loser,” so I’ve never been surprised to discover that they just don’t make any sense.

  4. Moff says:

    @braak: I’ve done some in-depth research since my last comment (I Googled “orange crush meaning”) and have concluded that:

    (1) The song is probably about Vietnam.

    (2) But the band isn’t entirely sure themselves.

    The bulk of Michael Stipe’s lyrics are kind of famously nonsensical, especially everything pre–Out of Time. There’s a reason he needs a lyric sheet to remember them when they play live. I think he has a long habit of putting together words that “create an atmosphere” rather than present a coherent narrative.

    (Interestingly, though, Beck Hansen is quite insistent that his lyrics are not intentionally nonsense — that he puts a lot of thought into them and that they do mean something. Even knowing this, however, I’ve never been able to make much sense of them.)

  5. braak says:

    In the time of chimpanzees I was a monkey
    Butane in my veins and I’m out to cut the junkie
    With the plastic eyeballs, spray-paint the vegetables
    Dog food stalls with the beefcake pantyhose
    Kill the headlights and put it in neutral
    Stock car flamin’ with a loser and the cruise control
    Baby’s in reno with the vitamin d
    Got a couple of couches, sleep on the love-seat
    Someone came sayin’ I’m insane to complain
    About a shotgun wedding and a stain on my shirt
    Don’t believe everything that you breathe
    You get a parking violation and a maggot on your sleeve
    So shave your face with some mace in the dark
    Savin’ all your food stamps and burnin’ down the trailer park

    Yeah, I don’t even really know where to start with this one.

  6. Jeff Holland says:

    I don’t think you’re even trying, Chris. Here, I’ll get you started. “Beefcake pantyhose” is clearly an allusion to Lyndon Johnson.

    I think the rest spells itself out after that.

  7. braak says:

    Well, okay. “Butane in my veins and out to cut the junkie” is probably a reference to William Burroughs, which means that “plastic eyeballs” is a euphemism for pederasty.

    Interestingly, I think this whole thing is a neat statement about the nature of art, and solipsistic stream-of-consciousness works. Haruki Murakami, in Hard-Boiled Wonderland and the End of the World has a character that’s a kind of cryptographic black box: he’s got a copy of a particular brain state in his own brain, and information can be run through and encoded in such a way as to be essentially undecipherable except by the same box. Every mind is its own, infinitely-complex coding system.

    And so authors [cough]jamesjoyce[/cough] that simply make maps of their own consciousness end up creating works of limited appeal–because all the sense is according to the internal movement’s of the author’s soul, the product is indecipherable except to that author.

  8. V.I.P. Referee says:

    “Orange Crush” was an ode to the Hamiltons and Meg Swans (“Best in Show”) of the 90’s. Yuppie angst, e.g.; “I’m an individual and I’m going to save the world! But my individualism is sold to me by CORPORATIONS. And I feed my conscious by joining The Peace Corps, or something, helping people outside of the US and then returning home in time for my morning latte!” Biting the hand that fed you, R.E.M. Oh, the 90’s. America is so much nicer now that it’s “poor”. Hypocritical downers haven’t been chattering so much.

    Braak on Beck: Isn’t that the same as not effectively communicating? Or is it a kind of “Choose Your Own Adventure” concept?

  9. Moff says:

    @V.I.P.: As the site’s unofficial copy editor, I am compelled to point out that “Orange Crush” was released in 1988.

  10. braak says:

    @VIP: Well, I think it’s the same thing as not effectively communicating it. It’s why Joyce is interesting as a unique artifact of the history of literature, leaving behind a copy of his own brain for later literary theorists to try and puzzle over, but why he didn’t precipitate a robust genre of self-absorbed stream-of-consciousness writing. The style is interesting compared to other styles, but in and of itself is counter-productive to the nature of the art.

  11. Moff says:

    @braak: I dunno. You know how you can learn a language by osmosis if you’re exposed to it long enough? Like, French makes no sense to you, but then you spend long enough in France struggling with it, hearing it, trying to make yourself understood — and viola! You speak French. (This, at least, is how I understand it to work based on that episode of The Simpsons.)

    I haven’t spent a lot of time with Joyce, and maybe you’ve spent hours and hours and hours with him and can tell me I’m wrong, but don’t you kind of think if you immersed yourself in Joyce for days and weeks on end, you’d start to get it? Like, a brain is a black box, but given (1) enough insight into the inputs and outputs of a particular such box and (2) that most brains work in a fundamentally similar way, it’s not so indecipherable after all?

    I guess this is not so much an argument against your comment as perhaps an expansion of what you are saying. Anyway.

  12. Jeff Holland says:

    Don’t be dismayed, VIP – I kind of lumped “Orange Crush” in my memory with all the other vaguely-angry-but-mostly-baffling songs of the band during the “Monster” period.


  13. braak says:

    @Moff: Yes, I think that probably is true, but what you’d then end up with is a large number of vastly inaccessible books. Sure, if you spend years in France, you’ll be able to speak French, and then you’d be able to communicate with however many million people.

    If you spend years and years immersed in Joyce, then you’d eventually get it and be able to communicate with 1) Joyce, who’s dead, and 2) the fifteen guys who’ve also immerse themselves in Joyce. Moreover, you can spend your life immersed in The Sun Also Rises, and kind of get a lot of other Hemmingway, and get a lot of the other stuff that’s been inspired by or draws on Hemmingway.

    But since the omphaloskeptical stuff is purely individuated, learning Joyce doesn’t help you understand anything except Joyce. And, in practice, I’m not even a hundred percent sure that learning Ulysses actually helps you understand Finnegan’s Wake. So, you know, depending on what your perspective on the point of literature is, I think there’s a strong argument that something like Ulysses is kind of counter-productive.

  14. Moff says:

    I’m not so sure. First of all, there are a lot more people than 15 who’ve immersed themselves in Joyce. I mean, not millions, but many, many more than 15.

    But that’s a nitpick. Consider Joyce an outlier. Grant, if you will, that maybe his is a once-in-a-lifetime (or several lifetimes) intellect and ability, and that that’s why he interests us despite his notorious inscrutability. Then grant that because of said intellect and ability, his observations and articulations — cloaked as they are in tricksy language, and in fact because they are so cloaked — are more inherently valuable than most other artists’ observations and articulations. Such that familiarizing oneself with Joyce is worthwhile not because of some immediately universal property but simply because there’s something there we’d like but can’t get anywhere else.

    I mean, some people say Pindar was one of the straight-up greatest poets in history, but that you can’t really appreciate him unless you understand ancient Greek. And although there’s not a lot of utility to learning ancient Greek, the hype I’ve heard makes me think it’d be fun to know it just so I could see exactly what was the big deal with Pindar.

  15. Moff says:

    P.S. I realize Pindar is in no way an exact analogy. But in terms of practice, I think the comparison makes sense.

  16. V.I.P. Referee says:

    Well, uh, that whole capitalisitic explosion of anger and people and stuff began around that time, okay, so I was just imagining hearing that song in ’88 and being cognizant of the maudlin grunge that was to be. Dammit, Moff! And everything I needed to know about James Joyce I learned from “Saturday Night Live’s” Sean Connery as a guest on “Jeopardy” rotuines. Submerge yourself in a vat of that, Moffie!


  17. Moff says:

    “I’ll take ‘The Penis Mightier’ for $200.”

  18. braak says:

    cloaked as they are in tricksy language, and in fact because they are so cloaked — are more inherently valuable than most other artists’ observations and articulations.

    This is the part that I’m not willing to grant. I’m not sure that the inherent obscurity of his observations makes them intrinsically more valuable. I think that the difficulty in interpretation is a result of presentation, not necessarily principle.

    In a way, understanding Joyce is more satisfying than understanding other things because the process is harder, but I’m not sure that this equates to a stronger understanding of anything except Joyce, and is therefore limited in its application.

    Also, though, I am way drunk to try and talk about this.

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