Wednesday, May 8, 2013

Creative Prose in Song Lyrics: A Critique

The word ‘incubus’ is defined as “a male demon believed to have sexual intercourse with sleeping women.” The origin of the word dates all the way back to 2400 BC in Mesopotamia. It is also the name of an American rock band. When asked why they chose the name, lead singer Brandon Boyd responded, “we were 15 and the name had ‘sex’ in it.”
The band has come a long way since those adolescent days. Incubus has reached multi-platinum sales and released several successful singles. They first became mainstream in 2001 with their hit single “Drive,” which some may be fairly familiar with.
            Their influences include Red Hot Chili Peppers and Rage Against the Machine, among others. Their musical genre has always been hard to pinpoint. It has been described as “alternative rock,” “alternative metal,” “art rock,” “heavy metal,” “electro,” “funk,” “funk metal,” “jazz,” “hip hop,” “pop,” “rap metal,” “techno,” “thrash metal,” “post grunge,” and “trip hop.” Throughout the course of the band’s success, all eight of their albums have songs that have at least one of these genres. I would say that they are very experimental as well, but one common thread rings true for almost all of their songs: they are about love. This concept is what drew me to the band in the first place, back in 2002. I was very drawn to their poetic prose that was produced in a non-conventional way.
I wanted to look more in depth at a song called “Oil and Water” from one of Incubus’ more recent albums, titled “Light Grenades,” released in 2006. This song has always had very personal meaning to me and I felt I needed to explore its’ contexts.
I first looked at the album title itself. I thought of it as an oxymoron. Grenades are explosive and heavy, physically and metaphorically. They cause heavy damage. After a bit more research, I found that lead singer Boyd indicated in an interview that the title came from his concept of wanting “change” and the “redefining of weaponry,” the ‘going against the grain’ mentality that is the band. I believe his intention with the album title was to blast grenades of light in order to make change. Of course, this is all interpretive. What do you think?
“Oil and Water” was released as the third single off “Light Grenades.” It was not as successful as the other two previously released singles from the album, “Anna Molly,” and “Dig.” However, it reached number eight on the Billboard Alternative Rock chart and number 28 on the Mainstream Rock chart.
Here are the lyrics from AZ lyrics (online):
"Oil And Water"

You and I are like oil and water
And we've been trying, trying trying
Ohhhh, to mix it up.
We've been dancing on a volcano
And we've been crying, crying, crying
Over blackened souls.
Babe, this wouldn't be the first time,
it will not be the last time.
There is no parasol that would shelter this weather.
I been smiling with anchors on my shoulders
But I've been dying, dying, dying
Ohh, Ohh, Oh to let them go.
Babe, this wouldn't be the first time,
it will not be the last time.
There is no parasol that would shelter this weather.
Babe, this wouldn't be the first time,
it will not be the last time.
We were trying to believe that everything would get better.
We've been lying to each other
Hey! Babe! Let's just call it what it is!
Oil and Water!
Oil and Water!
Oil and Water!

          There are a lot of creative devices in this song. Please click this link for specific names and rhetorical devices. I want to further explain these devices in-depth. Upon hearing the song title, it brings to mind two substances that do not mix, literally. The first line in the song compares ‘you and I’ to oil and water, somewhat of a strange metaphor considering that when you listen to it, it does sound like a love song. The song continues on and is relatively straightforward. The language is such that most people would be able to understand it. The difference is how it is interpreted. Like many songs, there is an abundance of repetition (‘epezeuxis’ in technical terms). The words ‘trying’ and ‘crying’ are emphasized, as they are most likely emphasized as a big part in the relationship being articulated in the song. The phrase ‘dancing on a volcano,’ also intrigued me. It is a metaphor with unusual grammar and syntax, technically called ‘catachresis.’ Dancing is typically a fun way to let lose. It can be sensual, serious, light-hearted, or a mix of all three. When it is put in the context of ‘on a volcano,’  the imagery I picture is a couple that is carefully and purposefully stepping around erupting fire. This is up for interpretation in various ways. ‘Crying over blackened souls’ also interested me. It is a perfect example of syllepsis, linking a phrase with a word that has different meanings. If a person has a black soul, it is typically referring to someone who is evil, or has no heart. It could also be referring to blackened soles, as in the soles of your feet are burned to a blackened crisp from dancing on the volcano.
            The use of ‘babe’ in the song is what makes the song sound endearing and purposeful. It is directed towards a lover. When ‘it wouldn’t be the first time, it will not be the last time’ is heard, it sounds like they are still holding on to an unstable relationship. Another line in the song that interests me is ‘there is no parasol that would shelter this weather.’ A parasol is usually a very pretty, delicately made umbrella that provides shade from the sun. A parasol is not a protective instrument and contradictory to the bad weather that is implied in the song. The next line is ‘I’ve been smiling with anchors on my shoulders… dying to let them go.’ These conflicting ideas are the root of the song, the singer being held down by an anchor (possibly against his will?) to the ‘ship’ that could signify a relationship. This is one example of how I interpreted the song. Some may agree with it, while others may interpret it completely differently.
I chose this song specifically because a previous boyfriend of mine showed me this song when we were together. He put it on CD and gave it to me. When I heard it, I listened to it repeatedly and thought that he wanted to break up. I knew that oil and water do not mix (no matter how hard you try it) because of their physical properties. I thought he implied this when he gave me the CD with the song on it. I was uneasy when he called me the next night. He asked me what I thought of the songs. He said, “Maddie, we’re like oil and water! We go together.” I told him water and oil don’t mix, literally, but he interpreted the song in a different way than I did. It is common knowledge to most that oil and water do not mix. He did not know that and because of the contexts, saw it as sticking together, regardless of the fact that we didn’t go together. He identified more with the line ‘Let’s just call it what it is!’ I think he wanted to accept our differences but keep seeing each other. If gone unanalyzed, the song has a face-value that is one-dimensional: a love song. However, when looked at more critically, the possibility of different interpretations are countless. This idea is the crux of creative styles.
            Exigency plays a big part when interpreting rhetorical devices and creative styles. Exigence refers to what is required in a particular situation. This may seem vague, but it is a concept that is hard to define. Exigency differs for each person in each situation because of our particular, distinct backgrounds that motivate actions taken in a given situation. For example, my now ex-boyfriend’s exigency came from the history of our relationship which is different to him than it was to me. He had never cooked before either, so he did not know oil and water don’t mix. I cooked a bit and knew that oil and water could not mix. We both acted on exigency, but it was different for both of us because of our backgrounds and interpretations of our relationship situation.
This creative piece utilized rhetorical devices that spoke to my ex and me in completely different ways. Regardless of how we both interpreted the song, the writer, Brandon Boyd, might have had different intentions. I think that the song is creatively written so that it can be interpreted in different ways and apply to a broad audience, which is what the band may have been trying to do, since it was released as a single.
The purpose of this critique is to get readers to think about what the song means to them, and also how other creative styles could be interpreted to other people in other places. The implications can be drastic, as I described with my ex and I, which eventually led to our breakup (for the best), but more importantly it shows how creative styles can affect our lives, in ways we never would have thought about.
 Madeleine G.

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