reasons i am not a rock star

#437. A commercial during the Olympics has brought back that “I’ve Got Soul, But I’m Not A Soldier” song. If I were a musician and that lyric had come to come to me in a dream, when I awoke I would have thought, “That makes no sense,” and started checking my e-mail and foraging for Coke Zero.

Update: I didn’t express this well. The problem is not as much that the lyrics do not make sense per se but that they tautly flout a certain kind of sense. I wouldn’t have any problem if I had the lyric “The number four is a coffeemaker” in my head all day. It would give me a little bit of chronic mental squick, however, if the lyric was “The number four is my favorite prime number.” I’m not going to lose any sleep over it: I’ve got Ambien (but I’m not ambidextrous).

Author: jeremy

I am the Ethel and John Lindgren Professor of Sociology and a Faculty Fellow in the Institute for Policy Research at Northwestern University.

8 thoughts on “reasons i am not a rock star”

  1. Most lyrics don’t make sense (dude, try listening to the Of Montreal I gave you), and yet I am one of those people who really listens to lyrics to parse the meaning of a song, so that I know what emotional impression I’m supposed to have. Even though now most of my music is digital, I was one of those teenagers who read the liner notes and listened along (I was emo before emo existed). The melody makes the song, but the lyrics determine which mix CD I’ll put the song on. I make very specific mixes for my friends during happy/trying/boring times, from “Stella, Get Your Groove Back” to “Dude, I’m Sorry ____ Died” to “You Would Do Anything For Love But You Won’t Do THAT.”

    I will make you a mix CD of songs with clever/interesting/good lyrics.


  2. The plague of literalism is upon us!

    David Byrne sought to cure us of the urge to interpret lyrics in the 1980s, yet this sort of sensemaking endures.

    See: tone poem.


  3. The sense that these lyrics *tautly flout* [geesh] is acoustic, not semantic, in my view.

    Changing tack, this points to an interesting problem, under which we want the world, including its art, to yield to our clever interpretive efforts. This allows us a knowing, complicit wink with the artist, or fellow critics.

    It can be a stylish or maybe precious exercise, as a matter of taste.


  4. The only part of this exchange I feel I understand is your sentence after *Update* above.

    The song lyric at the very least is a kind of exemplary form of defamiliarization, a most excellent rhetorical strategy.


  5. I keep seeing this title in the recent comments sidebar and confusing it with olderwoman’s post on values. Clearly rock star brings up some other image for me than musician. The reason it’s all so confusing for me is that you, Jeremy, definitely fit my notion of rock star. ;)


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