The poetry of music lyrics

My recent fascination with Hozier’s haunting “Take Me to Church” got me thinking about the power of music lyrics.

When Hozier laments that he will “tell you my sins so you can sharpen your knife,” among other obvious religion-themed verses, the song takes on a new meaning to some.

To others, it’s just a song.

Of course, the messaging of music is nothing new in pop culture. For as long as music has been around, there are those that feel compelled to break down and understand the true meanings behind our favorite songs.

The theologians had a heyday with R.E.M.’s “Losing My Religion,” probably due to as much of the visual images of that video as the lyrics itself. My theology-minded brother, Dr. Thomas More, even weighed in on that topic during a VH1 special.

And like R.E.M., Hozier encourages the religious discussion and our natural tendency to break down the music. With lines like “I’ll worship like a dog at the shrine of your lies,” how can we not wonder aloud?

It does diminish the music or dampen the integrity of the art to discuss lyrics. Still, we sometimes go a little overboard.

Bell Biv Devoe didn’t literally mean that girl was “Poison,” did they?

Women, love and heartache-filled-angst has made the best music over the years. And some of that we can take quite literally.

Jefferson Starship told us all about “Sarah.” KISS introduced us to “Beth.” The Police filled us in on “Roxanne.” Toto’s famous ode to Rosanna Arquette was popular in the 80s. And Prince told us way more than we may have needed to know about a good friend named “Nikki.”

Hozier offers an explanation of “Take Me to Church” on a YouTube video. My initial take was you can’t riddle you song with faith-related phrases and then tell us the song isn’t about that at all. I’ve changed my tune a bit now, though, as I think back to many great songs.

The Band had us believing they “pulled into Nazareth, was feelin’ about half past dead…” Really? Either way, can’t argue with the song. That tune is still killer after all these years.

Songs that dare to dip into religion will always draw the ire of some. Others, like Elton John’s “Tiny Dancer” (no, he’s not singing “hold me close my Tony Danza…”) will live in interpretive infamy forever. Deliberate or implied symbolism makes for great discussion points, especially when we look at some of the great songs of Pink Floyd or The Doors.

As one of my friends put it recently on a Facebook discussion, in his mind, the song is just the song. It’s good music. Maybe that’s all we need say.

That a topic, a woman, a loss or a love can inspire deep and meaningful music is still what drives me to listen.

If music moves you, allow it to happen.

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