Eat the Gun

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, strong ‘n’ rough, not a sissy” 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.


No One I Think Is In My Tree (Strawberry Fields Forever)

My earliest and perhaps most significant artistic inspiration did not come from film, radio or any of the other scriptwriting mediums, but from music. Specifically, that of The Beatles. As a child, I had heard the likes of ‘She Loves You’ and ‘I Want to Hold Your Hand’ on the radio and enjoyed singing along with glee to the rapturous lyrics, with their simple romantic content. However, it was not until entering high school that I discovered my mother’s old vinyl records and heard for the first time a song that not only perfectly related to me but opened my eyes to the broader possibilities of music and all art. In fact, the song in question formed my conception of art. After first listening, I no longer viewed music or films as merely mindless entertainment, but mediums to express meaningful themes and issues. No longer a distraction from life, but a contemplation on it. The song, track one on ‘The Beatles 1967-1970’, was ‘Strawberry Fields Forever’, written predominantly by John Lennon.

Even though the song was thirty years old when I discovered it, compared to the banality of the late-nineties pop charts, it seemed utterly groundbreaking and rebellious. Its shifting tonal sound and melee of bizarre, exotic instruments, produced a transcendent, hallucinatory experience that made it noticeably stand out from the manufactured, sterile sounds of the synthetic pop-groups that dominated the airwaves. This experimentation exuded a desire for change and development, and a need to stand out and be different. Although the meaning carried in the instrumentation alone had a profound effect on me, and inspired themes that have become a significant part of my work, the lyrical content reached even higher levels of depth and inspiration.

The opening chorus, which is repeated intermittently throughout the song, offers a reassuring invitation to join Lennon in the liberating world of the creative imagination.

” Let me take you down, ’cause I’m going to, Strawberry Fields. Nothing is real. And nothing to get hung about. Strawberry Fields Forever.”

An encouraging proposal to an isolated daydreamer such as I was. During the verses, anxiety and uncertainty begin to creep in. The tone of the instrumentation constantly shifts, allowing the landscape of the song to reflect the indecisiveness of the lyrics. A valuable lesson for my writing, as I have always endeavoured to create settings that are in tune with the themes and tone of my work. Lennon bemoans the loneliness of the solitary rebel, “No one I think is in my tree”, and the struggle to define his identity.

“Always, no sometimes, think it’s me. But you know I know when it’s a dream. I think, I know, I mean, a ‘yes’, but it’s all wrong. That is I think I disagree.”  

To a disaffected teenager, struggling with his identity and disillusioned with the conformity offered by his peers, these words seemed to be speaking directly to me. For the first time, I was not alone in my thinking. This song birthed a thirst for knowledge inside me that my teachers never offered. After devouring The Beatles’ discography, I moved on to The Rolling Stones, The Who, David Bowie, and haven’t looked back. Later, I developed the same insatiable desire to explore film, literature and other art. As well as an intellectual yearning, this song and the countercultural world it opened to me, provided me with a pride in my difference that gave me the confidence to stand out from my peers. Lennon had the ability to channel his discontent and isolation into works of imaginative creativity that offered hope and inspiration to all like-minded individuals. This is the invaluable gift he’s given me, and through my work, I can only endeavour to do the same.