While attending a social gathering this weekend, I was treated to a taste of, so-called, ‘progressive rock’. A song I had to be told dealt with the subject of war, as by the time the eleven minutes of tedious, interminable lyrics ended, the subject was hard to discern due to the mind-numbing boredom it had inflicted on me. The experience led to me explaining the importance of ‘concise’ writing to my fellow party-goers (I was the life and soul, I can tell you). I explained that if you wish your point to be understood by all, it’s better to be simple and concise, using as few words as possible, rather than rambling on and causing confusion with needless verbiage.
I offered Motorhead’s ‘Eat the Gun’ as an example of concise writing. Also a song about war, but one that clocks in at just over two minutes, uses three to four words per verse and doesn’t utilise a chorus. Despite its brevity and minimal lyrics, it works on multiple levels, having much to say about its subject, with the lyrics offering various connotations. It’s presented in the style of the military’s advertising campaigns; familiar to the poor, uneducated youths the military seeks to enrol. This method provides the audience Motorhead’s message is aimed at with a relatable context, allowing them to immediately recognise the subject matter. It mocks the military’s ‘join the army’ advertising slogan, incorporating it into the opening lyrics, in conjunction with its title, to infer that freely joining the army is tantamount to committing suicide. The harshness of the lyric “Die in awful pain” makes it clear the suicide will not be painless.
The lyrics “Shoot them all. Everything that moves” cut straight to the point about the indiscriminate slaughter of war and its dehumanising effect, as soldiers become inhuman killing machines and their enemies merely targets. The visceral severity of the lyric “Cut their heads off” informs the audience that although soldiers are expected to act like machines, their emotions cannot be turned off and the primitive brutality of killing is inescapable. The lyrics “Big ‘n’ tough. Not a sissy. Strong ‘n’ rough” ridicule the macho nature of the armed forces and the implication that fighting and killing makes one more masculine. The final verse, “Your gun is so big. Oh wow”, uses the phallic nature of guns to further this point.
Motorhead’s gritty and concise writing style lacks any pomposity or pretension, allowing them to easily communicate their message and relate to the common man. These are attributes I always consider and endeavour to incorporate into my own work.