Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Jagged Cross Explored

Before I go on, the new song for the late 2010/early 2011 record I couldn't remember yesterday is called Why Does Evil Rule? It's totally new, we haven't played it live. Don't know why I couldn't remember it while writing yesterday's post, I love the song.

I thought I'd jot down a few words about the song Jagged Cross, the first track on our LP we will release in April, Hammer Meets Fire. It's also the first song from the record we've posted on our MySpace page and on victorbravo.com. We usually play it these days as the opener to our live set - it seems to have a punishing sort of rhythm that sets the tone of our energy well live.

So I'm going to tell you about some of my process in coming up with the lyrics, but I think sometimes it's good for folks not to know much about what was going on for the songwriter. I think sometimes in that way, people can keep the song meaning whatever it means to them, without having to impose what they heard the songwriter was thinking/feeling on top of that.

So if you want to keep yourself from knowing, stop reading now! You've been warned. I'm writing this for the people who express interest in knowing more about a song than just what they hear on the record and read in the lyrics.

One thing about my lyric writing in general before I go on. I don't ever sit down and logically, intellectually produce words from my brain and slap them into a song. It may seem this way as I talk about them here, but this really is an almost after-the-fact exploration of where in my mind the words might have come from. Most times, lyrics are just sort of bubbling around in the back recesses without my conscious knowledge. Then at some time that is almost always a surprise to me, they seem to pour out like water from a faucet. They might come all at once or in pieces over time, but I never feel like I'm controlling them into existence.

The lyrics really began for me with some of my thoughts and feelings about Kurt Cobain and his suicide. And like most lyrics, I think these started with ideas about Cobain but then really became about a character who could be Cobain, or me, or lots of people. So I might reference Cobain a lot here but really it's bigger than that. I've read several books about Nirvana, Cobain's life and his death. His music affected me deeply while he was alive and continues to affect me deeply to this day. His suicide affected me very deeply when it happened and for quite some time afterward. And reading about his life and his suicide since his death has also had a big impact on me.

It seems that Cobain, like many of us, carried this feeling that his life was not good enough somehow, and he needed something - money, fame, awards, a fancy job title, better relationships - to feel like he was okay, valid as a person. But in Kurt Cobain - I'm paraphrasing and maybe oversimplifying here - I see someone who got everything he wanted, and yet that didn't satisfy this inner longing he had. Instead, he seemed less happy and drove himself deeper into addiction. I've observed several people over the years work hard for something, and when they finally get it, they sabotage it or somehow return it. I've even done this myself in certain instances at certain points in my life.

So in some people, there's this crazy idea, "I'd be happy if only I had [insert item]," but the reality is that honestly we aren't equipped to handle what we want. Anyone on earth would probably need years of working on themselves in order to accept the fame and attention Cobain began to get in overwhelming quantities so quickly in his musical career, and to handle that attention in an emotionally healthy way.

So the first verse is really about Cobain and his suicide:

A cold bullet/in the night
Venom in/ your veins

Cobain shot himself full of heroin and then shot himself in the head with a shotgun.

Those who/looked to you
Reviled by/your stain

This is really about me and people who looked to Cobain as a hero or anti-hero and felt so angered by his self-inflicted exit. Today I try my best not to judge others' life decisions too much. But at the time I felt pretty damn judgmental. I knew he had a lot of personal issues to deal with but really, here was someone who was saying so much as an artist that I identified with and that resonated with me. He became hugely successful, famous and wealthy. And his response was to check out, and in my view at the time, bail on the people who loved and supported his music. It left me with a dissonance - someone I looked up to had died, which filled me with sadness. But I was also angry at his decision. The two emotions seemed at odds with one another.

Awful screams/in the night

Cobain had a very troubled childhood.

Blood and fire/at first light

Another reference to Cobain's suicide, but playing off the possible similarity between the emotional violence he experienced as a child and the physical violence he wreaked on himself in ending his own life.

The second chorus is expanding on this theme of Cobain, as he found out the hard way that fame and fortune weren't the keys to solving his inner, personal problems:

So luscious/and so tempting

(as fame and fortune so often are)

The poison apple/is waiting

(I love it when I can combine two things like the Snow White tale and the Adam and Eve story from the Bible.)

Behind the skin lies/what's in store for us
Behind the skin lies/what's in store for us

You can read this either way depending if you're going the Snow White or the Adam and Eve route. The attractive lure can lead to unwanted consequences (Cobain's suicide, Snow White's induced sleep, Adam & Eve's exile from the garden) but can also lead to illumination (Adam & Eve being granted awareness and more self-direction over their lives).

All you had/you never earned

This was my interpretation of how Cobain might have felt and how others sometimes feel - if they harbor inner insecurity but then achieve great things. There's a feeling of "I don't deserve this" I've observed.

The sky is gone/the sea is burned

I think the world for Cobain, after the success of the Nevermind record, changed forever and would never have many of the comforts of his pre-fame life.

Desperate search/for liberty
Now you've found/your enemy

I think part of Cobain's striving for artistic success was motivated by a desire to escape the pain of his past. Ironically, once the Vanity Fair article appeared accusing his wife Courtney Love of using heroin while pregnant, in his mind he had a new enemy - the national media. But really, the "enemy" as it's mentioned here, I think, is again more his own internal strife. In my observation internal strife often looks for external actors to be projected on to. This notion that the enemy was really within himself carries over to the next line:

It came/to destroy
Found the heart/of a boy

This again references back to how most of Cobain's demons probably developed when he was a child.

Foolish war/eternal
The truth so/infernal

The foolish war is really his own war against himself, the infernal truth being many possibilities: that perhaps he had the keys to his own healing within him all along, that he had repressed the pain of his childhood with drugs and in order to heal would have had to face that pain again, that line's pretty open to interpretation, I think.

So that's the inside view on Jagged Cross. Was this interesting and/or worthwhile to you, our fans? Post a comment here if you'd like and let me know. I'm curious as to whether you want to see more of this sort of thing or not.