Rock Commentaries IX Selections: U2 and White Stripes

   Here are three rock songs, two especially Christian, from Chapter IX of my Rock Commentaries. (These are difficult to access on the Menu, but if one tries they will come up, and you can print them out to read more easily.) But these songs keep coming up, for reasons that will become apparent if one is following the logos. I wish Jack White could see my reading of the last two. He would be glad, I am sure, that someone has read the lyric.

Pride (In the Name of Love) U2

   This song is a reflection upon those who have laid down their lives for mankind, fulfilling the teaching of the Lord, “greater love has no man than this, that he lay down his life for his friends” (John 15:13). It is foremost a monument to Martin Luther King Jr., as a minister of the word and a sacrifice for liberty. The last line explains the title: “They could not take your pride/ In the name of Love.”

One man come in the name of Love

One man come and go

One man come he to Justify

One man to overthrow

In the name of love

What more in the name of love?

In the name of love

What more in the name of love?

One man come on a barbed wire fence

One man he resist

One man washed on an empty beach

One man betrayed with a kiss

In the name of love

What more in the name of love?

In the name of love

What more in the name of love?

Early morning, April 4th

Shots rang out in the Western sky

Free at last, they took your life

They could not take your pride

In the name of Love

   For the first two, he who came to justify and he who came to overthrow, he may have someone in particular in mind, though it is not clear who: Some two like Luther and Martin Luther King Jr, who is the primary object. To justify and to overthrow are the actions of political conservatives and revolutionaries, and the song is especially moving because it is about the love of mankind that inspires these in political action. Justification by faith is of course the teaching of Martin Luther, at the start of Lutheranism. But the meaning is also to make more just. The one who comes on a barbed wire fence reminds of those who fought the Nazis in Europe, and those washed up on a beach conjures images of Normandy or the Pacific Islands. The one betrayed by a Kiss is the only line directly Christian, but it sets the human actors in the pattern of the image of the martyrdom of Jesus. His abandonment, betrayal, rejection and crucifixion by mankind whom he came to save is the betrayal in the name of love. Finally there is the assassination in Memphis of Martin Luther King Jr., against the background of his statement recently in the mountaintop speech that they, the American blacks, were to be “free at last.”

   All of these are under the teaching “Greater love has no man than this: That he lay down his life for his friend” (John 15:13). Christian political teaching is more difficult than Christian rock music, but this is an example of a Christian political teaching. It has often been said, at least since Machiavelli, that Christianity makes men effeminate and more willing to bear injuries than to inflict them in grabbing at the goods of the world, wealth and power. The truth in practice, as indicated by Mr. Skinner, is that a vast majority of U. S. Army Rangers, for example, are Christian, and very religious. There is also the saying that there are no atheists in the foxholes, as the nearness of death makes men serious. My old friend Bud, though, was in the battle of the Bulge under Patton, and he is a natural philosopher. “One man on a barbed wire fence” refers to a famous picture of an anonymous U.S. soldier caught in barbed wire, shot and left there, in World War II. And public servants, in domestic affairs as well, sometimes are inspired in their dedication by the example of the greatest love. Average police men, blue collar par excellence, can be understood at best to risk and lay down their lives daily. It is sometimes necessary and right to prevent evil from doing harm by force. But this is especially true of those who, like the demonstrators trained in nonviolence, are prepared to take blows and return none, like Mr. Zweig among the Freedom Riders. They show how Christianity can be active politically while remaining what it is. It is fullness in one place, the spiritual, and emptiness in another, the worldly assertion.

   The title of the song is Pride, because the one who killed King could not take his pride in the name of Love, the name by which he did these things and died.

White Stripes

   The inspired guitar riffs make us glad to find lyrics to justify the intense energy. Jack White shows that the rock strain continues to develop into the Twenty-First Century. We have not studied the band much yet, but are quite taken up whenever “Blue Orchid” or “Seven Nation Army ” come on the radio. We are very proud that the Whites come from Detroit, and join our Michigan Rock Hall of Fame. Jack is, of course, on his own now, and we are glad to see him playing with the Muppets and Garrison Keillor.

2003 Seven Nation Army

The guitar riff became famous when played at sports events, though no one much gets the meaning. It is a rare example of a marching beat, like martial rather than religious music, though it is in fact uniquely both at once. I sang parts of this song this morning when I woke up. Some songs one has to live in order to understand. All fibs are told to protect the innocents.

   It is said on Songmeanings.com that the title comes from the way Jack heard the word “Salvation Army” when he was a child. But that is opposite the meaning. Meg White, the drummer, has said that “Jack basically wrote the song around the idea of this guy who comes into town and all his friends are gossiping about him. It gets to him so bad that he wants to leave town, and then he decides not to. Jack eventually did leave Detroit.” These things will give us a place to start in understanding the song, which even grows in intensity from studying the lyrics.

I’m gonna fight ’em off.

A seven nation army couldn’t hold me back.

They ‘re gonna rip it off.

Taking their time right behind my back.

And I been talk’in to myself at night because I can’t forget

Back and forth through my mind behind a lit cigarette.

And the message runnin’ through my eyes says leave it alone.

 

Don’t want to hear about it:

Every single one’s got a story to tell.

Everyone knows about it.

From the Queen of England to the Hounds of Hell.

And if I catch you comin’ back my way, I’m gonna sell it to you.

And that ain’t what you want to hear, but that’s what I’ll do.

And the feelin’ comin’ from my bones says find a home.

 

I’m goin to Witchita.

Far from this opera for ever more.

I’m gonna work the straw

Make the sweat drip out of every pore.

And I’m bleedin’ and I’m bleedin’ and I’m bleedin’ right before the Lord.

All the words are gonna bleed from me and I will think no more.

And the stains comin’ from my blood tell me go back home.

   “Leave it alone,” “find a home,” and “go back home” may be the lines where the lyric structure again provides a clue to a coherent reading. When the line is compared with that which occurred in the same place but a different stanza, the meaning becomes clear. One sees a development, where the song teaches him how to deal with it.

   This is, like “Blue Orchid,” a response to infidelity in love. This is “white” blues at its best, like Zeppelin, rarer, perhaps, in “black blues, like “Heard it through the Grapevine.” And like the Zeppelin song, “everybody ‘s gonna know” is an embarrassment, here the embarrassment of the fooled lover, as when these things appear in the tabloid press. “From the Queen… to the hounds” is an interesting way of describing the expanse of the public, considered “Everyone.” “No time for spreading rumors / Time has come to be gone.” “Their gonna rip it off. Taking their time right behind my back” is then obvious. “Leave it alone” is, then the same as “Get behind me,” as will appear momentarily. “Don’t want to hear about it / Every single one ‘s got a story to tell:” Ones own romantic suffering is incomprehensible and nothing, like dust in the wind, to others, who cannot hear or comprehend the cries of the agony of the true lover. But it may be the writer who no longer wants to hear the tale that many have to tell him. “Sell it to you” might just be gangster talk for murder, the kind found in the ballads, or in Hendrix’ “Hey Joe.” The pain of the cuckolded lover turns to outward rage. (The line could also mean he is going to lie to her, or him, the third party, but this is the lesser possibility. One lyric prints “serve it to you,” like divorce papers, but that is not the word on the video). His rage is the temptation. But the message comming through his eyes says leave it alone. Instead, He wants to go to Wichita, far away from the soap opera things of his Detroit love world, as he shows the mitten of Michigan in the video. “Work the straw” might refer to cocaine, as one suggests on Songmeanings, but it is more likely literally straw, as in, lose oneself in hard farm work in the straw fields of Kansas or Nebraska. Or maybe it was the fields around Nashville.

   When he sings “bleed’in” on the video, he wipes tears. Now the poetry gets real: Bloodsweat occurs in the scripture, and is known to occur literally, to humans in times of great strain. It may be at the edge of his humanity, and again, the agony of the lover is not understood, or is beyond communication, as the agony in the garden was for that one, in analogy. He is bleeding “right before” or into the presence of the Lord. This is the imago Dei, and the lovers death in soul is like the crucifixion by analogy. Simon’s words trickle down from a wound he has “no intention to heal.” “All the words are gonna bleed from me, and I will think no more.” The blood is his thought and poetry. As the message from his eyes said “leave it alone,” his poetry, the stains from his blood, tells him to go back home, since now he has none. The root of the rage of infidelity is related to this goal of love, for which one does not need the particular one loved. The “Salvation Army” has indeed prevailed over the rage that opens the song. But that is not the “Seven Nation Army” at all. One might consider Revelation.

  Blue Orchid is about the corruption of innocence, probably in love, though the song has been read as being about molestation, and may carry this meaning as an undercurrent. Commentators, as on Songmeanings, note that a Russian child sex ring was named “Blue Orchid.” But that is not the meaning here. The reason that it seems the song must be about love and infidelity is the line “Your lips taste sour / But you think its just me teasing you.” The lyrics are these:

You got a reaction.

You got a reaction, didn’t you?

You took a white orchid,

You took a white orchid, turned it blue.

 

Somethings better than nothing

Somethings better than nothing, its giving up.

We all need to do something.

Try to keep the truth from showing up.

 

How dare you.

How old are you now anyway?

How dare you.

How old are you now anyway?

 

You’re given a flower

But I guess there’s just no pleasing you

Your lips tastes sour.

But you think its just me teasing you.

 

You got a reaction

You got a reaction, didn’t you

You took a white orchid

You took a white orchid, turned it blue.

 

Get behind me

Get behind me now anyway.

You got a reaction.

You got a reaction, didn’t you

You took a white orchid.

You took a white orchid, turned it blue.

   “Get behind me” is of course what the Christians say when the Devil is near. It probably comes from Matthew 4:10, after the temptation, when Jesus says “Be gone (hyp-age).” The snake enters the Video right at “Get behind me.”“Your lips taste sour” does not fit a molestation. It is rather a broken love, though the lines “How old are you now anyway,” and “How dare you” make the rock anger fit a molestation. “Turned it blue” would then be as in the blues, a love turned from innocence to sorrow by infidelity. We will try to read the song this way, and see if it remains coherent.

   “You got a reaction” would be like a response to the excuse that she was just trying to get some reaction from him, an aloof lover. “We all need to do something” and “How old are you now anyway” then fit with something like that she did some other guy while he was away. “It’s giving up” is to give up on the love, to choose the appetites over love. This is the failure of the love in one of the tests that show true love. Is she so immature that she must have something for the appetites even at the cost of love? “You got a reaction” is then that she destroyed their love, his innocent love, turned it blue, and now he does not want her anymore. The reaction is “get behind me,” “anyway” repeated from the question “How old are you now, anyway.” From the song “Red Roses for a Blue Lady,” the white orchid is the lapel used at weddings.

   As Allan Bloom teaches, jealousy assumes that the beloved owes the lover love for being loved, though that is false. Marriage is a bit different, and lovers exchange promises of fidelity as a safeguard against these emotions, so difficult for humans to deal with. In love, though, the passions and appetites of the true lover are wholly attached to the beloved, and he does not desire the hottest hottei naked right in front of him, believe it or not, but rather, only the beloved. Infidelity then demonstrates the failure of the lover to inspire that “ant-eros, the love in return that is the goal of the lover, according to Plato;s Phaedrus. It is indeed giving up, and there is no recovery, though marriages might limp along for practical reasons.

   The video for this song is an artistic masterpiece. The clothing of Jack, as well as the conclusion with the white horse, are disturbing, but the interpretation shows the meaning. The dancer woman is the anima, or an “anima figure,” and it said that Jack took up with her after the video. Indeed, she is sneaking in, so if it were not for other lines, it might be a woman who snuck in and made the singer corrupt his marriage, and he may intentionally make this ambiguous from magnanimity.  It is also possible that infidelity led to infidelity in the lover, the one speaking. “You” could be the one who snuck in, a seducer, but that does not fit with all the lines. The apple has this meaning, though, the destruction of the innocence of his marriage. The white horse is again the pure heart or spirit, as in “ride a white mare in the footsteps of dawn,” the vehicle of the pure passions that carry the true lover. The horse is masculine. The perversion of one brief scene is the corruption of innocence that is the theme of the song. The appetites adhering to the white horse show that in the lover, as human, allows for the rage in projection, against his own anima or soul. Anger is always due to the projection of that in the soul of the one enraged which is like what was acted upon by the perpetrator. Hence, we will stick to our first reading that it is the same event as Seven Nation Army,” as the only coherent reading of all the lines. Otherwise, one would approach these matters with all the concern of a Lao Tzu, and there would be nothing for the song to work through. But it arrives, again, in “leave it alone,” find a home, and “get back home.”

   Jack White is a master.

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