Today was a long day. I got up at 8:30, and I’m just now sitting down at my computer, 15 hours later. In the spirit of blogging something, I’m going to partly reproduce here an essay I wrote for my Peace and Conflict class. This is an analysis of the TV on the Radio song Dry Drunk Emperor. They’re one of my favorites, the song kicks ass, and my analysis ain’t half bad. enjoy!
(I couldn’t find the video on youtube, but the band released the song free over the internet. You can find it here. Personally i put it on repeat while I was writing this thing so the repetition would motivate me to finish. I don’t recommend that, but hey, the song is free, might as well listen once while you read.)
I’ve chosen the 2005 song Dry, Drunk Emperor by TV on the Radio (TVotR) as a song that expresses the desire for peace. The song does this by showing a disdain for the American political system; portraying it, and president Bush specifically, as a roadblock to a utopian peace. In addition to a direct challenge to the government, the song is highly critical of how that government exploits people with both religion and war.
With regards to how the song portrays peace, TV on the Radio takes a relatively complex set of three outlooks towards peace and aggression within the range of the song, and the tone of the lyrics shifts according to which outlook is being expressed at a given point.
First view: Compassionate outlook, ill-defined peace
baby boy/dieing under hot desert sun/watch your colours run.
did you believe the lie they told you/that Christ would lead the way/and in a matter of days/hand us victory?
did you buy the bull they sold you/that the bullets and the bombs/and all the strong arms/would bring home security?
The song opens with “baby boy/dieing under hot desert sun/watch your colours run.” Here the lyrics are compassionate and empathetic towards the soldier. The soldier is characterized as childlike, almost as a family member (“baby boy”), and as a victim of war, abandoned by his nation.
The next two lines accuse a “they,” the unnamed United States government that used religion and the promise of an easy victory to lead the nation into war. More importantly however, the lines are addressed at “you,” in this case the soldier who was tricked into war. Since the war was a matter of deceit, the song implies that peace would be possible if only people were as informed as the lyricist; although what kind of peace isn’t specified. Certainly it involves peace as the absence of war, but the family-like tone taken here could possibly suggest some form of mutual support.
Second view: Sarcastic/angry outlook, call for legitimate aggression
all eyes upon/dry drunk emperor/gold cross jock skull and bones/mocking smile/he’s been/standing naked for a while!/get him gone, get him gone, get him gone!!/and bring all the thieves to trial.
end their false promise/end their dream/watch it turn to steam/rising to the nose of some cross legged god/gog of magog/end times sort of thing./oh unmentionable disgrace/shield the children’s faces/as all the moneyed apes/display unimaginably poor taste/in a scramble for mastery.
atta’ boy get em with your gun/till Mr. mega ton/tells us when we’ve won/or/what we’re gonna leave undone.
This is the first appearance of the chorus, and the song’s title (“all eyes upon/dry drunk emperor”). As to the title, Dry Drunk Emperor sarcastically refers to president Bush, and the disconnect between his insular reaction to hurricane Katrina, and the horror and devastation of that storm. Bush was “dry” while people drowned in New Orleans. The word “Drunk” is used in two ways: first to negatively associate the president with his ‘frat-boy’ past, and secondly to imply that he is drunk on power to the point that he is indifferent to American citizens. Calling him an “emperor” is to further this idea of indifference, as the song’s chorus alludes to the story “The Emperor’s New Clothes,” (“he’s been/standing naked for a while!”). The government response to hurricane Katrina is not explicitly mentioned. Rather, the phrase serves to tie Bush to an uncaring government, and to make him the face of a system (“all the thieves”) that thrives off of such an attitude.
The line “gold cross jock skull and bones” deserves special mention, because it attempts to define bush with one verb-free phrase. “Gold,” meaning rich, “cross” referring to religion, “skull and bones,” referring to the secretive fraternity that Bush belonged to when he was at Yale.
The next segment is more angry than sarcastic. Someone (presumably the rich elite, based on what follows) is accused of furthering the “dream” of Satan (“gog of magog”) for an “end times sort of thing,” in other words, ruination of the world. This dream is what must be “ended” in the song. Then things get a little more specific, as “children’s faces” must be protected from the “unimaginably poor taste” of the “moneyed apes.” The rich are thus accused as the someone trying to deliver on Satan’s “false promise.”
The final segment of this middle section of the song returns to sarcasm with phrases like “atta’ boy get em with your gun.” If it is not clear that the lyricist is not actually enthusiastic about warfare, he adds, “tell us…what we’re gonna leave undone.” In other words, the question is what will be left after we’ve exhausted our war-lust?
This is the most complex section of the song, and where aggression is first explored. Both the repeated line, “get him gone!” and the lines “end their false promise/end their dream/watch it turn to steam,” express a desire for action on the parts of society at large, presumably. I think this is calling for legitimate, democratic action for two reasons: first “get [bush] gone!” could be accomplished either with impeachment or with the election of democrats, as could “end [the Bush-supporting wealthy’s] dream.” The second reason is the line “bring all the thieves to trial,” as opposed to killing or mobbing the thieves.
Third view: revolutionary outlook, call for direct aggression and utopian peace
what if all the fathers and the sons/went marching with their guns/drawn on Washington./that would seal the deal/show if it was real/this supposed freedom.
what if all the bleeding hearts/took it on themselves/to make a brand new start./organs pumpin on their sleeves,/paint murals on the white house/feed the leaders L.S.D/grab your fife and drum/grab your gold baton/and let’s meet on the lawn/shut down this hypocrisy.
This final section is where aggression and peace are placed in a relationship, the call for aggression turns from legitimate to violent, and peace is defined in a utopian, counterculture fashion.
The first “what if” deals with aggression—it supposes that the men of the nation (“fathers and the sons”) could embody American freedom by violently (“marching with their guns”) overthrowing the American government. The second “what if” deals with the peace following a revolution—placing responsibility on society’s compassionate (“all the bleeding hearts,”) to use art (“paint murals on the white house”) and psychedelic drugs (“feed the leaders L.S.D”) to radically transform the destructive mindset of Washington into one focused on creativity.
The two concepts meet with the final lines; “grab your fife and drum/grab your gold baton/and let’s meet on the lawn/shut down this hypocrisy.” A fife and drum leads people to war, a gold baton leads a marching band. When the two meet, they’re capable of changing America into something more sincere, and less hypocritical.
I’m leaving off the part that discusses my personal views on the song, peace, war, and the peace movement at large. I figure this post can be about the song exclusively.