Impractical lyrics

Apr 12th, 2011 | By | Category: Pop thinking

Trout Records, the stall selling vinyl and CDs, in Dublin’s George’s Street Arcade, are selling CDs at knockdown prices – seven for €30 yesterday.  Sorting through the racks, I found Crosby, Stills and Nash, The Doors, The Band, T Rex, Joe Cocker, Sam and Dave (because there was no CD go into the plastic case for Blondie’s ‘Plastic Letters’ and a quick selection was necessary) and The Beach Boys (because when you are 50 you can stop worrying that some people might think you have dodgy taste).  Playing and re-playing CDs while driving the lanes of Laois and Offaly leads to a subconscious dissecting of the lyrics, so it was that while driving northwards through Ballinakill, Joe Cocker’s ‘Unchain my heart’ was called into doubt.

The lyrics begin something like:

Unchain my heart, baby, let me be
cause you don’t care, please set me free.
Unchain my heart, baby let me go.
Unchain my heart cause you don’t love me no more.
Every time I call you on the phone,
some fella tells me you’re not at home.

and continue in a similar vein.

The lyrics are, of course, wrong.  It is not possible to disengage emotions through an effort of will; it is certainly not possible for a decision by a third party to bring changes in how one feels inside.

The very fact that the song speaks of unchaining the heart rather than unchaining the mind is a recognition that the emotions felt are nor rational, they are not amenable to intellectual persuasion; we feel things simply because we feel them.  The ‘baby’ in Joe Cocker’s song has probably told her former lover on repeated occasions that their relationship is over, but such dismissals do not dispel his feelings.  His plea to be ‘unchained’ is a declaration of his continuing love.

Were it a simple matter to be ‘unchained’ the sum of happiness  in the world might be considerably greater; people would not carry for years memories of hurt over the end of relationships.  Were it possible to disengage from emotions and behave in a wholly rational and intellectually balanced manner, then the world itself might be an altogether different place.  Nationalism, and other political philosophies that appeal to sentiment rather than to reason, would lose  their hold over people.

Such unchaining is a very unlikely eventuality, anyone who has experienced thoughts too difficult to articulate as a national anthem or particular piece of music are played will know that whatever thoughts we may consciously express, there are feelings too deep for words, and too deep for logical persuasion.  There is more chance of escaping the hold of an old girlfriend than there is from being unchained from the loyalties that govern our world.


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  1. Ah go on. Tell the truth. You’re really Father Trendy, aren’t you?

  2. We didn’t get television from ‘the Free State’. so Fr Trendy passed us by, but my selection of music would have been like Fr Trendy liking Louis Armstrong or Glenn Miller, when Fr Trendy today would be a great fan of the X Factor and the All Ireland Talent Show!

  3. You can’t unchain your heart, you have to push it all to a dark corner and ignore it – but that’s not very poetic (tho there is undoubtedly a lyric or two there).

  4. Surely if we were able to unchain our loyalties, it would make us both more humanistic and less at the same time… ?

  5. Sounds a bit like you’re saying it’s well nigh impossible to move on emotionally from very strong bonds. Bit discouraging that, though you could be right.

  6. The notion that emotion could be somehow ‘managed’ is the product of Enlightenment thought, where rational thinking was considered natural. With post-modernism, our feelings have captured the high ground.

  7. Ahh – enlightened, post modern and on the high ground – who could ask for anything more…

  8. Not sure one can be enlightened and post-modern – if all authority is subject to question, then claims to superior knowledge are dismissed.

  9. it was a joke… hence the song lyrics : )

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