Bands and Balalaikas

If there was ever a song to represent the euphoric hope which existed near the end of the Soviet Union and Cold War, “Wind of Change” by the Scorpions from the album Crazy World would be that song. Written shortly after and based upon a music festival where the Scorpions performed in Moscow, Russia, “Wind of Change” is a power ballad expressing the experiences of connection and societal shifts occurring at the time.

The central theme present throughout “Wind of Change” is that changing circumstances and situations over time will inevitably result in larger societal changes, as the dreams and expectations of individuals shift inexorably. These changes, although sometimes drastic and wide-ranging, will generally tend towards being beneficial to those populations by allowing greater interpersonal connection. The song seems to deepen the experience of optimism and hope which permeated throughout Eastern Europe and the Soviet Union near the end of the Cold War, taken from an outsider’s perspective. Although the audience for the song seems to be music audiences from the West, and especially English-speaking audiences, the song’s more primary purpose seems to be in communicating its themes of change and experiences of hope to populations in the Soviet sphere of influence.

In the first verse of the song, the Scorpions use symbolism of the “wind of change” and vivid imagery to convey the sense of how societal changes have made their way through every aspect of life in Moscow and which are visible to even outside observers. The speaker sings,

I follow the Moskva

Down to Gorky Park

Listening to the wind of change

An August summer night

Soldiers passing by

Listening to the wind of change

The usage of “Moskva”, “Gorky Park”, and “Soldiers passing by” specifically create an image of a traveller going down the Moskva River through a controlled Moscow. This relatively calm setting is disrupted by an intermittent “Listening to the wind of change”, emphasizing how far that “wind of change” has seeped into the surrounding setting that it can not be ignored any longer. This idea is also reinforced by the usage of “wind” as the purveyor of change in the whole song – unless an individual lives underground or underwater, there is no way to escape the wind or what it brings. Therefore, everyone will take notice of changes occurring in the fundamental relationships of society, from visitors to soldiers.

The song directly addresses the audience with two rhetorical questions in the second verse to emphasize how the situation that the speaker and audience find each other in is entirely novel, and was essentially unthinkable until recently. This seems to parallel the dynamics between the West and East near the end of the Cold War, especially as the nations began to form more open and frequent connections. The speaker sings in the second verse,

The world is closing in

And did you ever think?

That we could be so close?

Like brothers

The two rhetorical questions quite literally emphasize how the societal changes occurring were inconceivable until recently and the new connections that outsiders are making with the population of Moscow. They also serve a dual purpose in making clear the intended audience of populations behind the Iron Curtain, as well as making it even clearer that the speaker is generally based upon the Scorpions themselves. Another notable line within this verse is, “Like brothers”, which also emphasizes the connection made between the speaker and the audience to the extent that they seem like siblings.

Though not directly related to the language, one other thing I would like to point out about this verse is how Klaus Meine sings it. His inflections and pitch of the rhetorical questions are nearly identical to the corresponding matter-of-fact lines from the first verse, which might seem to somewhat imply that the current situation would have been simultaneously inconceivable in the past and inevitable.

The ideas present in the second and third verses are tied fairly close together, with personification used to emphasize the idea that it would be inconceivable to stay stuck or beholden to the memories of the past, the inverse of the idea emphasized in the second verse. The speaker sings,

Walking down the street

And distant memories

Are buried in the past forever

Here, the lines “distant memories” being “buried in the past” emphasize how even though the current connections being made seemed inconceivable before, the memories of the past are now being stripped of their influence for better or worse. With changes in society come changes in how the past is viewed and interpreted and sometimes even remembered. Another notable device in the verse is the diction used for the words to describe the memories, being “distant”, “buried”, and “forever”, further emphasizing the large gulf between the past and present even if it was not necessarily too long ago.

“Wind of Change” by the Scorpions is simply powerful and powerfully simple. Through careful multilayered usage of symbolism, metaphor, and diction, the song conveys the indescribable atmosphere of joy and hope present near the end of the Cold War with large structural societal changes imminent. It emphasizes the seeming inconceivability and inevitability of such shifts and the interpersonal connections formed as a result. It has touched generations and will continue to connect with people in the future as a power ballad of hope, optimism, and change.

Facing Problems In LIFE

Saba’s 2018 album CARE FOR ME was all about his process of coping with the deaths of family members and other issues in his life. “LIFE” encapsulates all of these ideas into one song. The standout aspect of “LIFE” and CARE FOR ME is Saba’s ability to paint a vivid and personal account of his state of mind in this time so listeners can empathize with him. The biggest theme on “LIFE” is the unpredictable and transient nature of life and what the people’s lives mean to other people.

Saba opens the song with a commentary on the prison system in America and it’s unfair treatment of black people.

They want a barcode on my wrist (barcode on my wrist)
To auction off the kids
That don’t fit their description of a utopia (black)

Saba uses allusion to fit multiple meanings into these 3 lines. First, the “barcodes on my wrist” most predominantly reminded me of the treatment of Jewish people in Nazi concentration camps but the later inclusion of “to auction of the kids” made me think of slave auctions. The mini theme within these lines is about the prison system and mass incarceration of black people in the US and racial tension in general. While these don’t specifically relate to losing loved ones, it does give some backstory as to why there is so much turmoil in his life as well as others with these same experiences. Giving listeners the ability to experience what Saba goes through and how he views the treatment of black people in America is one example of how “LIFE” is poetic.

The chorus in “LIFE” repeats the names of people Saba has lost that had significant influence on his life,

They killed my cousin with a pocket knife
While my uncle on the phone
He was gone for more than half my life
He got out a year and then he died
I was honor roll, talking to my father on the phone
Left the city when I was just four

These few lines relate to the main theme of loss being unexpected and life being temporary, but in order to really experience his emotions you need to listen to the music. One of the aspects of poetry we talked about in class is how delivery of lines affects the meaning of the words. Whenever the chorus comes up, Saba’s voice becomes very deep, distorted, and sped up with a booming bass line setting the tone for the few seconds of the chorus. I believe he chose to rap the chorus this way because it adds to the impact of his losses and the dark/deep places that he ended up in because of them.

Something a lot of people struggle with is expressing their true feelings. It is common in people who feel depressed or are just struggling to be happy with their lives and Saba illustrates this feeling in these following three lines,

Tell me it’ll be okay, tell me happier days
Tell me that she my bae, that I won’t be alone
Tell ’em I’ll be okay when he ask, “How’s my day?”

Saba uses the repetition of “tell me” to show he’s asking other people for validation in what he’s doing and to give him hope for the future. The last line is the most impactful in showing how people hide their true emotions. Almost everyone can relate to saying “I’m okay” when they’re really not but either don’t want to trouble other people or don’t want to face their feelings. Saba shows how the combination of wanting the help and validation of other people while simultaneously feeling unable to seek help creates a vicious cycle of self-loathing and depression.

While this song focuses on the sad feelings of loss, other songs on CARE FOR ME address how he overcame his sadness by facing his problems head on instead of continuing to run away and stay in denial. It’s only 40 minutes long so I highly recommend listening all the way through if you feel you’re trapped and need some music to relate with and potentially learn from.

Dickens Walks The Streets of London

Perhaps the greatest ballad singer of the last century, Liam Clancy’s rendition of The Streets of London remains his most popular song. Originally written by Ralph McTell, the song has been covered by many different artists. Each are echoes of the same universal sorrows every person fears to wade through. The Streets of London, like any great poetry, brings this fundamentally human experience to life. How then does it yield a sort of transcendence? Simply spoken, it warns of the dangers and pitfalls of life in a way as powerful as any literature. It highlights our privileges, exposes our fears, and knocks us back into reality with a greater understanding of ourselves. It’s a bit like the old saying, “I cried because I had no shoes until I met a man who had no feet.” Mirroring this, the chorus goes as follows:

And then how can you tell me you’re lonely

Or say that for you the sun won’t shine?

Let me take you by the hand and

Lead you through the streets of London

I will show you something to make you change your mind.

The chorus welcomes the reader into the story, and figuratively taken by the hand, we are led through portraits of people embodying the many dimensions of sadness. In a way, the speaker feels like a gentler version of Dickens’ Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come, guiding us through a gloomy vision, foreshadowing what we fear to eventually be.

Following this comparison, it’s fitting that each portrait tells the story of someone weathered into age. McTell’s first image poignantly portrays an old man who has lost his purpose in life; a man who has become as valued as the outdated newspaper he holds. His second is of an old woman, “Carrying her home in two carrier bags,” too long adrift to engage with the world around her. His third portrait plays like a still life image.

In the all night cafe at quarter past eleven

Same old man sitting there on his own.

Looking at the world over the rim of his teacup.

Each tea lasts an hour and he wanders home alone.

McTell’s language describes a life lived over and over again, each day the same as the last, and each ending just as lonely. His final portrait hints at the end these people will meet.

Have you seen the old man outside the seaman’s mission,

his memory fading like the ribbons that he wears?

And in this winter city the rain cries a little pity

for one more forgotten hero in a world that doesn’t care.

Tragically, this last old man forgets himself in a world that has already forgotten him.

By this point, our Dickens ghost has shown us who we may fear to become, but also who we are not yet. Like Scrooge’s grave, a grim future where we find ourselves purposeless, impoverished, forgotten and alone is possible, and like Tiny Tim’s grave, it may also happen to others. This may be frightening, but it is also comforting. We, like Scrooge, are still endowed with the time and power to make our own decisions, shape the course of our lives, and ultimately lead it somewhere better. Likewise, we must also feel pity for Tiny Tim. The broken people around us are really not much different from ourselves, and we could easily become them. Consider, is it not a triumph of literature that Dickens could reveal these truths to us? It is the same with this song. It’s The Streets of London‘s ability to convey this message in much fewer words that earns it its distinction as poetry. Yes, McTell’s lines rhyme with rhythm. His stanzas realize themselves in repetition. But it is his ability to resonate so soundly with something profoundly human, to uplift and restore fragile spirits, that makes this song a timeless masterpiece.

“My Heart is Buried in Venice…” ok Ricky, I’m on my way to get it

(contains mentions of suicide)

I believe that every single song off of Ricky Montgomery’s album Montgomery Ricky is poetic in its own way, but I am going to focus on the song “My Heart is Buried in Venice,” which is a very sad song full of deep and profound emotion. At first glance, this song seems to simply be about a broken heart that needs to be fixed. I believe this is what the song is about, but that there is a deeper and sadder specific story that becomes apparent to me when I analyze it further.

I think this song is about someone who has lost their lover to suicide. This might seem like a stretch, but let me take you through why I think this. First of all, the tone becomes increasingly more desperate as the song goes on, and it seems like he is begging his lover to come back, even though they are definitely gone. At the beginning, he makes it clear that his lover has issues/ past trauma and he wants to help them heal. He is asking them to come back so that he can fix them and stop what really happened from happening. He is in definite denial.

Come rest your bones next to me
And toss all your thoughts to the sea
I’ll pull up each of our anchors
So we can get lost you and me

The 3rd line of this stanza is my favorite in the whole song because it shows very clear imagery of what it feels like to try to pull someone out of the hole they are in while also trying to do the same for yourself. This shows that he was struggling too, and he feels like he didn’t do enough to help them, but he wants to now. It’s clear the person he is talking to has issues and he wants to escape the sadness of reality with them.

In the chorus, which is repeated multiple times, he changes from speaking to this person directly to speaking to no one in particular. He says:

My heart is buried in Venice
Waiting for someone to take it home

This is a major change from the first part of the song, which seemed rather hopeful and loving. Here, he seems alone and is saying he has no one to fix his broken heart, and he is either waiting for his lover to come back or he is just waiting for the help of anyone at all. The chorus of the song shows acceptance of the terrible event rather than denial and hope.

In the middle of the song, he says:

I never thought that I would have to say I’m sorry
For anyone but me

This line tells me that he had to apologize for his lover, and what I picture is him having to apologize to other people because he feels responsible for what they did. This is a very heartbreaking scene that I picture in my mind.

In the next verse is where the tone is very desperate and he is pleading for them to come back to him.

Don’t leave me to breathe

Don’t leave me to bleed

For someone who chose to leave me

This is what solidifies the story for me. When he says “don’t leave me to breathe” this implies that they themselves are not breathing, while he is. And when he says “don’t leave me to bleed” I believe it is his heart that is bleeding because they “chose to leave” him. There is another tone shift here where he switches the blame from himself to his lover and he changes stages of grief from denial into anger that they left him alone.

Finally, he ends with the chorus, showing acceptance for what has happened, rather than ending with a verse full of denial. The song also gets softer and slower at this point, which shows that he has no hope left and he can’t change what happened.

In conclusion, I love Ricky Montgomery very much and this song always makes me cry. Go stream his whole album, it’s not all depressing I promise!

Best Part

In his album Freudian, which is full of love songs, Daniel Caesar’s “Best Part” featuring H.E.R. was by far one of my favorites. It’s so good, even Barack Obama added it to his 2019 summer playlist.

This song is a love story between two people, where both people are speaking in the song about their feelings towards one another. The message they are trying to convey is that it’s extremely important to let others know how you feel about them and express these feelings of appreciation. No matter how much of a struggle you are going through there is always someone to support you and stay with you.

The song is filled with metaphors describing the way these people feel about each other and how without each other, essentially both speakers would be lost:

“You’re the coffee that I need in the morning

You’re my sunshine in the rain when it’s pouring”

In this line, H.E.R. refers to her lover being the boost of energy helping her function everyday, and without them, her day is never the same.

“You’re my water when I’m stuck in the desert

You’re the Tylenol I take when my head hurts”

Here, Daniel Caesar refers to his lover as someone who he cannot live without and the moment he is away he needs more, they can easily take his pain away and make him feel better in an instant.

Both of these examples enhance the feeling of love throughout the song as all of the things described are things most people need in their lives and can’t live without, or things that help ease the pain in our everyday lives. Comparing someone to these things sends the message to that person that they bring so much happiness to someone else.

Not only do those quotes show metaphors, but also imagery as well. When describing his lover as being the water in the desert, and the sunshine during the rain, the reader/listener can really feel the pouring rain and dryness being described and understand how it feels to have those feeling taken away by something so powerful.

Another device used in this song is symbolism. Throughout the song, both singers explain how they feel about each other and how they are the best things in each others lives. Their love is a symbol for the necessities of life and how without each other, their lives wouldn’t be the same.

Every Breath You Take: Sting and Beloved

It’s been commonly inferred by the public that The Police’s 1983 smash hit ‘Every Breath You Take’ is about a man a stalking a woman, in this case the band’s front-man Sting and his recently divorced wife Frances Tomelty.

While Sting has even backed the claim that the song is about a mans’ obsession with a lost lover, it’s possible that when he finished reading the book Beloved by Toni Morrison, he wanted to write a song from the perspective of one of the book’s most important figures: Beloved.

Sethe, the novel’s protagonist, killed Beloved, her child, when she was a baby to save her from going into slavery. Since her death, Beloved has haunted her family’s house, throwing dogs and having temper tantrums.

However, one day Beloved comes back to life, showing up at the house, tired and confused. Although some initial confusion, Sethe, her other daughter Denver, and her boyfriend Paul D let Beloved stay at the house for as long as she would like.

Although it is not discovered until later in the book that Beloved is in fact Sethe’s late daughter, Beloved gives major hints when talking about Sethe to Denver and Paul D.

In one instance, Beloved tells Denver that Sethe ” is the one. She is the one I need. You can go but she is the one I have to have.”

Later telling Paul D that Sethe “don’t love me like I love her. I don’t love nobody but her.”

These quotes alone resemble the lyrics of ‘Every Breath You Take.’

“Every breath you take and every move you make
Every bond you break, every step you take, I’ll be watching you
Every single day and every word you say
Every game you play, every night you stay, I’ll be watching you.”

“Since you’ve gone I’ve been lost without a trace
I dream at night, I can only see your face
I look around but it’s you I can’t replace
I feel so cold and I long for your embrace
I keep crying, “Baby, baby, please”.”

After her death Beloved shows her love by haunting Sethe and her family, watching every move they make and every breath they take.

When Beloved comes to life she is obsessed with Sethe and says she can love nothing else.

While it’s still likely that the song is about Sting’s dangerous stalking habit, there is still a chance that he had just finished reading Beloved and wanted to write a song about 124’s ghost, Beloved.