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Lyrics and Graduation

Lyrics and Graduation

by William H. Benson

May 7, 2015

     Fifty years ago, on the night of May 7, 1965, in a Florida hotel room, Keith Richards strummed his guitar while a cassette recorder taped a phrase that he had dreamed, “I Can’t Get No Satisfaction.” The next day he asked Mick Jagger to listen, and days later the Rolling Stones recorded the song.

     Mick and Keith had no idea what they had done. That song catapulted their band into superstar status, laid down one of the greatest pop hooks of all time, and now The Rolling Stone Magazine ranks that song as number two of the greatest rock and roll songs ever.

     Lyrics to a popular song are often just filler, background noise, there to provide a human voice, but with little thought. Often the writers design the song to hook a listener. The amplified words, electronic guitars, keyboards, and drums jump into a human brain, and there they churn, vibrate, and sizzle. Because so few can resist the lure, many wire themselves to the music via ear buds.

     Often the word jumble makes little sense, and no listener believes the writer or takes action because of a song’s lyrics. Sting stated his intention in the eighty-fourth greatest song. “Every breath you take, Every move you make, Every bond you break, Every step you take, I’ll be watching you.” I say that is a stalker’s confession, and so watch out for Sting.

     And what was Mick Jagger trying to say? “When I’m drivin’ in my car, And that man comes on the radio, And he’s tellin’ me more and more, About some useless information, Supposed to fire my imagination, I can’t get no, oh no no no, Hey hey hey that’s what I say, I can’t get no satisfaction.” He stated that modern American life bores him, and that he finds the news on the radio unsatisfactory.

     In 1976, the rock band Boston recorded the last song on the list, number 500. “I looked out this morning, and the sun was gone, Turned on some music to start my day, I lost myself in a familiar song, I closed my eyes, and I slipped away. It’s more than a feeling.”

     Question: what is more than a feeling?

     Possible answers: an opinion; a recognition of a truth not perceived before; an intelligent or perceptive thought; a fact backed up with solid documentation and verifiable evidence that is more than assertion. In the areas of thought and discourse, popular lyrics fall short.

     In October of 1971, John Lennon wrote and recorded his signature song “Imagine,” and Rolling Stone ranks it third among the greatest songs. Lennon’s lyrics exhibit some thought though when he imagines a different world. “No heaven, no hell below us, no countries, nothing to kill or die for, no religion, all people living life in peace, no possessions, no greed, and no hunger.” Yes, you and I can imagine, but Lennon’s lyrics fail to offer suggestions to achieve his dream world.

      Rolling Stone ranks Bob Dylan’s song, “Like a Rolling Stone,” first among the greatest hits. Recorded in July of 1965, Dylan sings to a fictional character, Miss Lonely, whose life has changed. “Once upon a time, you dressed so fine, Threw the bums a dime in your prime, didn’t you? Now you don’t talk so loud, Now you don’t seem so proud, About having to be scrounging your next meal.”

     Then, in the song’s chorus, he chides Miss Lonely. “How does it feel? How does it feel? To be without a home, Like a complete unknown, Like a rolling stone?” One commentator said that the song suggests “a loss of innocence and the harshness of experience,” and that “the myths, props, and old beliefs fall away to reveal a very taxing reality.” In other words, Dylan sings of vengeance.

     He jeers at this former sorority sister whose life has now faltered and crashed. Life’s circumstances has broken a once proud and haughty girl, and he enjoys seeing her anguish. Why would Rolling Stone‘s editors consider this cruel song the greatest?

     Universities will conduct graduation exercises this Saturday. The pride that the graduates will feel may give way to frustration and inner turmoil. Will they too become Miss Lonely? Will someone, like Bob Dylan, ridicule them and call them a rolling stone? Will someone, like Sting, be watching them? Given today’s job market, can any graduate get immediate or eventual satisfaction?

     In the weeks ahead, they may feel like Jackson Brown, who sang about “Running on Empty,” but I say that Stevie Nicks and Fleetwood Mac offered the better advice, “You Can Go Your Own Way.”

     University graduation—a cap, a gown, and a diploma—is more than a feeling, and far more than a popular song’s lyrics. It is recognition of an accomplishment that astonishes both student and parent. What the student imagined four or more years before, she or he has now achieved. Best wishes and congratulations to all the university graduates. “We did it.”