When Good Metaphors Go Bad
Ok, let's talk about lyrics.
I am a fan of words. Pound for pound, words are the most powerful thing in the universe -- that's called hyperbole, kids. Words are at their most potent when teamed with other words. We call that a sentence. There are many famous sentences out there.
We hold these truths to be self evident...
Let there be light.
Life is a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury...signifying nothing (meow).
Sometimes we really want to describe something profound -- to give it more depth and meaning. In such a case, we often turn to metaphor. That's one of those words that you vaguely recall from high school English. A metaphor is when you describe something by, essentially, describing something else. This is a device often used in poetry and song writing. A metaphor is useful for portraying ideas, by wrapping them in a physical object.
One of my favorite song metaphors is from the Peter Gabriel song "Biko." Without getting too extensive, the song is about Steven Biko, an African man killed by the white authorities of South Africa, in 1977. It happened during the dreadful apartheid era. The death of Steven Biko helped to bring on a revolution in thought and action.
The line from the song is "You can blow out a candle, but you can't blow out a fire. Once the flame begins to catch, the wind will blow higher."
That line is so full of meaning. and it needs no explanation -- unless you have no understanding of the way fire works.
And then there is my favorite stupid metaphor (in a song). No, it's not "Pour some sugar on me in the name of love," though that does get an honorable mention. No, the award goes to...
Jon Bon Jovi, for the song "Bed of Roses." Let me preface my comments by saying, musically, this is a pretty cool sounding song. You have to hand it to Jon Bon Jovi, the man sings PASSIONATELY. One might even say it's melodramatic. I desperately want to like this song. The problem is, I can't help myself. I listen to the words.
Most of the words to this song are easy to understand. He longs to be with the woman that he loves, but he's stuck being who he is -- a fabulously famous, and filthy rich rock singer, adored by millions, with apparently no control over his life. Hey, we've all been there. So, he's writing this love letter at the piano. He's hung over (a bottle of vodka lodged in his head -- I hope that's a metaphor), and there's a scary blonde in his bed. Apparently this is not the woman he is writing the song for. Again, we understand him. We too have scary blondes in our bed.
But then he lays this line on us..."With an iron clad fist, I wake up and french kiss the morning."
(Sound of needle scratching across record. Sound of train derailing, Sound of stunned silence -- my apologies to Simon and Garfunkel).
Excuse me? You did what? And how?!?
Actually, to give Bon Jovi credit, he sings this line with such conviction, that at first we buy it. Yes! I too have awoken in the pre-dawn hours, my forearm completely encased in metal, and bestowed a lusty smooch upon the...at this point the mental image kicks in...and I begin to scratch my head (with the non-metallic hand). I understand what he is saying. He's hung over. But I get that from the context of the line, not from the line itself. I cannot find meaning for the iron clad fist, and I cannot get the image of him making out, passionately I suppose, with the ethereal morning, out of my head.
So, there you have it. The dumbest, intentionally serious, metaphor I have ever heard.
Oh, there is one other dumb line in the song -- "I want to be just as close as, the Holy Ghost is." This is not hard to understand, it's just hard to believe that after the scary blonde, the bottle of vodka lodged in his head, and whatever it was he did to the morning, that he would be anywhere near where the Holy Ghost was.