Monday, December 24, 2007

Lyrical Interpretation

Maybe there's a God above
And all I ever learned from love
Was how to shoot somebody who outdrew you
It's not a cry that you hear at night
It's not somebody who's seen the light
It's a cold and it's a broken hallelujah

Hallelujah, hallelujah, hallelujah.

What do you think it's saying? The first three lines present an image of a person trapped. When somebody outdraws you, they're quicker than you are. They have their gun pointed at your heart, and you're vulnerable. He's saying that all love ever taught him was how to get out of that vulnerable situation -- how to get his gun and hurt the other person before they've hurt him, even when they have the upper hand.

He moderates that image in the last three lines. "It's not a cry that you hear at night," so love isn't desperation. It's also not blind faith, which he makes clear by invoking, then dismissing, the image of seeing "the light." That's a religious image, and he's saying that love isn't like religion. I understand that -- it's not a panacea, it's not something that will save the world. Don't put all your hope in love, because it will not, in the end, impart ultimate meaning to life.

But then he invokes another religious word, hallelujah, so he is comparing love to religion. He's saying that, although love isn't going to save the world, it is something to hold onto. Love is essentially human: it's imperfect and painful, it doesn't always respond to your preferences, but that doesn't detract from its beauty. Maybe there is a God above, but I'm experiencing life and love from this vulnerable, fragile human perspective. And it is still beautiful.

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