Thursday, April 03, 2008

Lyrical Interpretations: "Skull and Crossbones"

Have you ever had that feeling that makes you want to scrutinize lyrics ridiculously beyond the realm of believability? The following email correspondence is for you.

* * * * *

[For reference, here are the full lyrics from the song,
as printed in the band's liner notes]

skull and crossbones by Fine China

somebody said I'm "nice"
it tweaked me cause they're right
kept me up all night
then I thought about that word
and all the things I've heard
I can't help but be hurt

in the morning I wake up with the sun
and my hands toil until the day is done

I can't keep up with Jones
can't skull and crossbones
I ain't Andy Warhol
I'm not thunderstruck

my baby thinks I'm tired
but I feel like I'm wired
let's go out, spin our tires
play records that we love
see countrysides because
that's what I'm thinking of

From: Sharkdog

Ok, can you help me analyze this?

I can't keep up with Jones
can't skull and crossbones
I ain't Andy Warhol
I'm not thunderstruck

The first line makes sense to me, I like the reduction of syllables, like he's too exhausted to even say the cliche properly. I don't get the second line. I thought it was "I got a skull and crossbones", which makes sense. The third line, ok, and the fourth line is obviously either a straight or ironic reference to AC/DC. Maybe both.

From: Me

I didn't really understand it either. You might want to listen to it again, because there were a few obvious typos in the [printed] lyrics that I corrected along the way [when I was typing them up from the booklet] and this might be one.

Otherwise, I think you're spot on with the first (Jones) line. That interpretation is consistent with the previous line about "hands toil[ing] until the day is done".

For the second line, if it's not a typo, I looked into alternative meanings of the skull and crossbones:

In addition to the "poison" meaning, there is a Masonry association about "transience of the material world". This would sort of fit into the general feel of the lyrics -- he works all day, but for nothing since he can't even keep up with "the Jones" and later in the song he wants to "spin our tires". This transience feel might also tie in with Andy Warhol, who pushed mundane, everyday life (e.g., the Campbell's soup can) into pop culture. This is the interpretation I think fits best, is the strongest, and the one I would pick.

Alternatively, there's also a hint that it might have something to do with pirates, or at least vicious-type people in general (another strong association for the phrase "skull and crossbones"). This might be supported with a comparison of this verse to the first verse. In the first verse, he is just complaining about how people think he's nice and how he really is nice and doesn't want that demeaning label.

But in the second verse, he "can't keep up with the Jones" despite all his hard work ("hands toil"), and he "can't skull and crossbones", or be mean to people because he's labeled as being "nice". I don't really know how this would tie into Warhol.

The fourth line may indeed be an AC/DC reference, and if it is, it might tie in with the transience interpretation. If SING365 is to be trusted, here are sample lyrics from "Thunderstruck":

"Went through to Texas, yeah Texas
And we had some fun
We met some gals,
Some dancers who gave us good times
Broke all the rules, played all the fools"

Hedonistic debauchery. While the narrator in "Skull and Crossbones" may be aware of the "transience of the material world", the narrator of "Thunderstruck" may be reveling in it without a clue.

Who is better off?

I'm going to blog most of this email conversation, BTW.

P.S., I was going to say -- if it is in fact the interpretation dealing with pirates, I would have made a play on the words "Jolly Roger" because of the content of the first verse (being labeled "nice").

From: Sharkdog

That's a good one. I prefer the idea that he is reinforcing the image of being nice, which he also tackles in "My Worst Nightmare". Although whether "skull and crossbones" refers to piracy, the act of poisoning/killing someone, or just plain nastiness, I can't tell.

The lyrics are correct as far as I can tell.

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