Friday, November 18, 2005

the dead flag blues

one of the essays mentioned below. i'm soooo proud of it - it was concocted on a bus between brighton and london during the great national stalking debacle. and i think it's the best thing i've ever written (even though it's got a total bias)

The Dead Flag Blues - Godspeed You! Black Emperor

the car's on fire and there's no driver at the wheel.
and the sewers are all muddied with a thousand lonely suicides.
and a dark wind blows.
the government is corrupt.
and we're on so many drugs
with the radio on and the curtains drawn.
we're trapped in the belly of this horrible machine,
and the machine is bleeding to death.
the sun has fallen down
and the billboards are all leering
and the flags are all dead at the top of their poles.
it went like this:
the buildings tumbled in on themselves.
mothers clutching babies picked through the rubble
and pulled out their hair.
the skyline was beautiful on fire.
all twisted metal stretching upwards.
everything washed in a thin orange haze.
i said: "kiss me, you're beautiful -- these are truly the last days."
you grabbed my hand and we fell into it like a daydream or a fever.
we woke up one morning and fell a little further down --
for sure it's the valley of death.
i open up my wallet and it's full of blood.


The opening line provides us with the metaphor of society as a burning car, headed for disaster. The problems of living in a mass society are highlighted, ‘a thousand lonely suicides’ lining the sewers. The contradiction of the isolation of suicide with it’s high incidence shows that people are alienated en masse. The fact that corpses are in the sewers suggest that these people were the effluent of society, a form of waste.

The assertion that ‘we’re on so many drugs’ could refer to the (sometimes unwitting) dependence that many have on substances - from additives in food, through to caffeine, nicotine, alcohol, illicit drugs and medication. That we are doing this with ‘the radio on and the curtains drawn’ shows our isolation, and our willingness to shut out interaction with the outside world.

‘This horrible machine’ may refer to society at large and the culture of capitalism we subscribe to. Being ‘trapped in the belly’ suggests that we are being eaten alive by consumerism, that it is ‘bleeding to death’ shows a society in trouble. The falling of the sun gives an apocalyptic edge to the song.

Further references to capitalism and consumerism include ‘the billboards are all leering’ - advertisers work on the premise that you are less ‘acceptable’ unless you buy their product - the advert(iser) is superior to the consumer. The ‘death’ of the flags lends impotence to the notions of nationalism and allegiance - globalisation reduces national identity. They are limp, despite the fact that ‘a dark wind blows’.

Switching from the present to the past tense, the lyrics recount what will happen. The narration shifts from the present to the future, describing the consequences of our actions. ‘The buildings tumbled in on themselves’ may be a metaphor for the unsustainability of capitalism. Perpetual self-growth inevitably leads to collapse. ‘Picking through the rubble’, trying to salvage what they can, mothers carry the next generation and tear their hair, an activity which relates to madness, grief and anxiety.

‘The skyline was beautiful on fire’ illustrates the beauty that can be found in horror. That ‘everything was washed in a thin orange haze’ suggests visual effects of global warming, and that everything is being cleansed and purified. Apocalyptic reference continues with ‘I said kiss me, you’re beautiful, these are truly the last days’…..’we fell a little further down’ …. ‘for sure it’s the valley of death’.

The concluding line draws the parallel between blood and money. We often say we ‘draw’ both of these things. Metaphorically, money is the life-blood of capitalism. We give ‘blood, sweat and tears’ when we work hard, and paid work is a form of exploitation. We can give ‘blood money’. Large corporations are often guilty of literally killing for profit, meaning that they profit from blood. When you use money, you cannot help but cause damage - money aids (over)consumption, which in turn damages our planet and people.


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