Lyric Interpretation: Chain Gang

Here is an example of lyric interpretation, really just a note that I would try to work into the Rock Commentaries book, if it even fits. Chrissie Hynde of the Pretenders wrote this, called “Chain Gang,” back in the Sixties. It is about getting back to work after a period of mourning for a love or friendship. In the book, we have said that the lyric is “apocalyptic,” (as an adjective, not a noun) without saying much about why. Here is the key section:

The powers that be

And force us to live like we do

Brings me to my knees

When I see what they’ve done to you

But I’ll die as I stand here today

Knowing that deep in my heart

The’ll fall to ruin one day

For making us part.

The “powers that be” can destroy love and things superior to anything these powers know. As in the Revelation, evil may glory in the conquest of the good, or the saints, though this reign of terror on the earth is very brief, “seven years” or maybe shorter. These think they have defeated God by striking down the innocent and noble. But they fall quickly to ruin, and for their very malice to the good. The good, meantime, the lovers or friends, are briefly defeated, and everyone then questions divine justice so deeply that faith dissolves. The Jews after the Holocaust lost faith in great numbers, as the intellectuals turned to science, since a just God could not possibly allow what they have seen.  This is called the problem of evil, and includes the question of divine justice. But the truth is, like the yin yang symbol with the spot of light in darkness, that the good have lived, and even brought the evil down by being present for their malice. So the evil may briefly ascend, even as the good may briefly be subjected. And the moments that touch on the life of the soul may be eternal.

Providence does not work the way we want it to, when we are trying to get God to serve us. This willful puppeteer of the universe is not what scripture teaches. The name “Almighty” may be the only scriptural teaching on Providence.  Jesus, in the parable of the sower and the teaching in Luke about the tower at Siloam, has a different teaching. The problem of evil does not go away, but it is a little less severe. Accident and malice are better accounted for by recognizing that the mythic picture which says that God made a world of real accidents and liberty because he wanted to see what we would do, and to have other things that move themselves in every sense, and really cause and choose. Why be the only one, alone? The free will and determinism question always seemed to me a bit illusory, like both are true and neither mean what we think. We take up the whole question forgetting that we cause, and not just like animals cause: we have eaten from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.

To have a soul with the highest faculties and capacities, the perversion of these must be possible. So in the world, the possibility of good does not require evil, but opens that possibility for a bad third of mankind to fall into.

The continual harassment of the workday world, the prison “chain gang,” which she tersely accepts, brings her to her knees, though, when she sees how this has destroyed one that she loves. Here she is like Cordelia in Shakespeare’s King Lear, who for herself could “out frown false fortune’s frown,” but for her father Lear, seeing what has happened to him, she is “cast down,” downcast or sad. James Taylor says the same thing in “Fire and Rain,” when he says, “Suzanne, the plans they made put an end to you.” She, Chrissie, will die as she stands now, in the permanent conviction that they, the powers that be, will fall one day for destroying the fragile mortal plant of love.

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