Monday, August 29, 2011

A Guided Tour of Riot Act: Save You


As others have pointed out, there are multiple layers of meaning to many of the songs on Riot Act, and Save You, like Can’t Keep, has a political side even if that side is not necessarily driving the song. The general state of mind of the band, and particularly Eddie ‘s, given his role as lyricist and vocalist, greatly affects the performance of the band, and you can’t read politics out of that.

Save You, on the surface, is a pretty simple song. The music is driving and forceful (with a fairly simple, but still striking, main riff), and the lyrics are aggressive and demanding, focusing as much on the singers sense of agency (I’M going to save you, I’M feeling cocky and strong) as on the person he wants to save. In fact, most of the lyrics are about the person doing the saving, as opposed to the person being saved. This is a subtle distinction, but its an important one (compare this to Life Wasted, which is thematically similar, but focuses—outside of the chorus—on the person needing to be saved). It’s okay to fall because I’M going to save you, You have to save yourself because I (and later we) need you. I’m not leaving here until we’re done. I’m being selfish about my need to do this. The constant fucks only serve to emphasize the need to do something.

In the end you’re left with the impression that Save You is almost a selfish, rather than selfless song. The singer is more concerned with reasserting his own ability to act, to shape his destiny and the destiny of others. He’s trying to convince himself that he is a subject in the world capable of acting, rather than an object being acted on. And it isn’t clear that he believes himself, which is why there is such a disparity between the forceful nature of the lyrics and the subdued, almost hesitant way that they’re delivered, at least up until the end, when the singer musters the strength necessary for one final, explosive plea—but rather than being empowered, it leaves him exhausted, overtaken by the music and by events.

The ‘official’ story is that Save You is about Mike (and of course his picture is next to the lyrics in the booklet) but it is vague enough that it could be about anyone, or anything—the emotions involved lack a specific content or context. And I think, given the nature of the record, that it makes sense to read Save You as a political song—with Eddie speaking not to Mike, or even a specific person, but to a nation that’s lost its way, that in the process of suffering a great tragedy has surrendered its spirit, its principles, its values, and its identity as a way to avoid dealing with grief and reality. Save You in this respect is a call to arms, a demand that his fellow citizens not use the shock and trauma of 9-11 to abdicate their responsibilities, to not be drawn in by the seductive martial promises of the Bush administration to bomb our way to security and democracy, as long as we leave everything to them and retreat to our own narrow, private sphere where our only responsibility is to go to the mall and forget about the larger world we live in. And, of course, in 2002, while it was easy for the progressive to want to abdicate, there was a powerful sense of futility to the whole exercise—that for all the storm and stress, no one is listening.

Can't Keep
Save You
Love Boat Captain
I Am Mine
Thumbing My Way
You Are
Get Right
Green Disease
Help Help
1/2 Full
All Or None