Last night I wrote a song called ‘doin crimes’ which is about chloroforming your kids so you can go out and hit the clubs and break into drug dealers houses and steal their stash/money. At least that’s what it’s about on the surface. Traditionally, when people have asked me about what my songs mean, I’m pretty reluctant to give anything specific away for a simple reason: nothing sucks more than finding out that your perceived meaning of a song that you hold dear is not the meaning that the songwriter intended (and if you’re out there asking a stranger what a song is about, it’s safe to say that the song is at least a song you like, if not something important and personal).
There are a lot of songs out there where the meaning is completely unmistakable. Filler by Minor Threat comes to mind instantly. That song is amazing and there’s no doubt about what Ian is conveying in that song. Similarly, Pull My Strings by DK is not ever gonna be mistaken as a love song, a party song or a sad song about a dead friend or an ode to big, juicy asses. It’s straightforward and that’s great. These are just two examples of zillions of amazing songs where there’s really not a lot of room for lyrical interpretation. Being dense doesn’t automatically make lyrics good and often, it’s a bad thing. The only thing that can truly dictate if lyrics are good or not is if they sound good with the song and don’t detract from the song by being so overtly stupid that the listener has to go “what the fuck did they just say?” That’s really it.
However, that being said, I have a story. I was 18 and on tour with Slapstick. We were in College Station Texas and we were playing in some weird cafeteria. I remember that it was a 21+ show, which was weird since none of us were technically old enough to be there. Our record had just come out not long before the show. I don’t remember if it was weeks or months, but to give you an idea of how long ago this was, it had only come out on cassette. That meant that no lyric sheets were included. You had to write to the label to get one.
ANYWAY, so this guy shows up and he’s, at the time, the oldest fan of any of my music that I’d ever met. He was really old, like 25, and I couldn’t get over that there was a GROWN MAN that liked the music that me and my dumb buddies made in Matt’s basement. He was there with his girlfriend or wife and he was nervous to talk to me. This was mind boggling. I just remember being astounded to hear this dude stammer nervously when he asked me if he could talk to me about a song that really meant a lot to him. The song was called Not Tonight.
Now, I wrote the words to the song Not Tonight when I was sixteen. The words are not great. The emotional resonance of the themes is not high. However, at 18 I’d never had to answer for anything I’d ever created before and I wasn’t thinking in terms of standards or touching someone’s soul with music or anything like that. Honestly, I was just surprised to be having a conversation like this with a person that I perceived as an adult.
So I said, ‘yeah, that song is about being too drunk to drive home from a party and having to call your parents. Ha ha. Pretty fun.’ And the dude’s face just fell.
‘Oh, really? Is that what it’s about?” he asked. He was visibly bummed. “I thought it was about taking off, throwing off the shackles of your shitty town and making your own way, saying goodbye to the bullshit that holds you down and never looking back and seizing the opportunity to make something of your life.”
And, well, yeah. That would have been a better route to go. That’s a good idea for a song. I felt like a complete dipshit and a fraud. The dude’s day was ruined and I learned a few things that day. 1) if I was gonna make something, I should have a purpose behind making it. Not every song has to be profound, but it’s simply not enough to toss off some lyrics because they rhyme and/or kind of relate to the chorus. 2) I’m much better off keeping my mouth shut and letting people hold onto their ideas about what songs that I write are about. I’m not doing anyone any favors by reinterpreting what some piece of music means to someone from on high like a shitty professor. Fuck, I don’t have any authority on this besides what the songs mean to ME, which is totally different than what they would mean to anyone else (much in the same way that my kid means one thing to me, but that doesn’t mean that he should mean the same thing to you, or even that he possibly COULD mean the same thing to you. It’s different perspective vectors. It’s IMPOSSIBLE that you and I have the same idea about any song, especially one that I’m so myopically close to as one that I wrote, and that’s fine. That’s the way it’s gotta be.)
That was the last day I ever told anyone straight up what a song was about. That was also marked the moment where I began taking lyrics extremely seriously. That hasn’t always worked out for me, and of course that doesn’t mean that I haven’t written songs that aren’t ‘serious’ since then. It means, however, that I’ve never since then just tossed off lyrics without really thinking about them.
However, when it’s a song no one has ever heard, and therefore don’t give a fuck about, it’s a whole different thing. So, to get back to my new tune, “Doin Crimes,” it’s inspired by the Casey Anthony trial, some recent break ins at my friend’s weed farm, some of the looting and rioting that’s become so popular around the world this spring and so forth. It’s crimes. Doing crimes.
The song is also about my own crazy paranoia and fear of the world at large. It’s kind of about the way that people self-medicate using things that can destroy them in order to feel safe and invincible. It’s kind of nuts that in a real way something like driving a porche 130 mph down windy roads when you’re piss drunk is a way to armor yourself against a scary world that could kill you at any minute (and for the record, I don’t know that dude at all and I’m not trying to speak for, or ill of the dead). Taking risks is a way of rationalizing the irrational nature of senseless destruction that exists all around us. “If I can jump out of an airplane and live, then cancer doesn’t stand a chance against me.” “if I can drive drunk every night and get away with it, then fuck man…I can do anything. I can live through anything.” These are stupid notions, but anyone who takes risks operates at least a little bit on this level, if not consciously. At least that’s my amateur psychiatric evaluation.
Yeah, so that’s what this song is about. You all can hear it in a few months. Try to forget this by then. It’s better, lyrically at least, than Not Tonight. I can promise that much.