Born To Be Wild

Steppenwolf

A bad trip?

We’re all feeling a bit cooped-up at the moment, with the Covid-19 lockdown in place, so time to get out on the open road with this riff rock classic, credited with the introduction of the term ‘heavy metal’.

I’m focusing on the song, really, but the context in the video is the 1969 film ‘Easy Rider’. In it, the characters are escaping with the proceeds of a drug smuggling enterprise. Just a bit of a spoiler – it doesn’t end well. So despite its countercultural portrayal of sex, drugs and er… some other drugs, the film is a kind of morality tale.

The song wasn’t written for the film however and I’m interested in the way it speaks to me about life and how to live it. The 60s were a time when people were trying to find new ways of living and ‘head out on the highway’ is obviously a metaphor for that. I’m involved with Christian friends who are trying to pioneer new ways of following Jesus and so the message of the song is relevant to that calling.

Get your motor runnin’

Head out on the highway

Lookin’ for adventure

And whatever comes our way

Yeah Darlin’ go make it happen

Take the world in a love embrace

AZ Lyrics

Among many religions, there is tradition of journey as a picture of life and that is the meaning behind the act of pilgrimage – deliberately going somewhere with other people for a spiritual purpose. The destination is not really the point of it, so much as the travelling together and the adventures on the way.

“I like smoke and lightning, heavy metal thunder”. If that’s for you, I hope you enjoy this Bible reading about the prophet Elijah.

Here’s your homework!
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Born_to_Be_Wild
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Easy_Rider

Dancing

Kylie Minogue

When I go out, I want to go out dancing

Well, what a star – literally glittering! Kylie Minogue OBE – singer, songwriter and actress also known as ‘the Princess of Pop’ has won every music award there is. She started her career acting in the Australian soap opera Neighbours and since the 1980s has performed around the globe and sold over 70 million records worldwide, becoming the highest-selling Australian artist of all time.

Over the years she has kept audiences excited as she developed her image from girl-next-door through Japanese geisha and disco diva to an all round performer whose elaborate stage shows incorporate vivid burlesque fashion styles. The joyous escapism and camp humour has also attracted an appreciative gay following.

In terms of artistic and commercial success she had it all. Then a personal tragedy struck. In 2005 she was diagnosed with breast cancer and had to have surgery and chemotherapy. She survived and went on to work again after a break, although she is reported to have described the treatment as “like experiencing a nuclear bomb.”

This is why this song means so much to me. My dear late wife went through similar trauma. She had breast cancer, the full treatment, recovered and lived normally for years, but then there was a final recurrence. The illness made us both realise that we are all living on borrowed time and how we need to make the most of life while we can.

Everybody’s got a story

Let it be your blaze of glory

Burning bright, never fade away

And when the final curtain falls, we could say we did it all

The never ending of a perfect day

The lyrics of the hook line can be read in two ways. “When I go out, I want to go out dancing” can just mean “when I leave the house for entertainment, I like to go dancing”. But I think there is a much more poignant way to understand it. “When I die, I want to know that I have lived my life as fully as I could, until the very end.”

But what does it really mean, to have lived life to the full? Is it to get rich and to have been a successful consumer of life’s pleasures? Perhaps these words will help us find an answer.

99 Red Balloons

Nena

there’s something here from somewhere else …

Here is a stand-out song from 1984, remarkable because of its unusual style that manages to treat some serious subject matter in a pop genre. This was five years before the fall of the Berlin wall and the cold war was still a reality, with soviet and western nuclear arsenals opposing each other on a posture of mutually assured destruction.

The song was originally sung in Nena’s native German language (Neunundneunzig Luftballons), and re-recorded in English. That accounts for the pronunciation and my mishearing the lyrics for years … Just to clarify:

Back at base, bugs in the software

Flash the message, something’s out there

There are lots of themes to explore – fear of the unknown, fear of the ‘other’, aggressive posturing, poor communications, unintended consequences, over-reliance on technology with a belief that ‘there is no other way’. It’s a bit of a downer – the song ends with destruction and a lone survivor looking for hope in happy memories.

The Bible story that comes to my mind is the Tower of Babel in Genesis 11.1-9. It’s a myth, of course, about how the world got many languages because God intervened upon seeing that humankind could soon ‘do anything they want’. The tower did not fall down, but the work was abandoned. We are still building towers to the sky, metaphorically and literally, as the human race is still trying to prove that we can do anything we want. What would have to happen to us to make it stop? Fire and flood? – they might be coming. All over the world, despite our modern technology, we are still scattered and confused.

There seems to be some assertive copyright enforcement on videos of this song.  I originally included the band's appearance on Top Of The Pops, but it got withdrawn; so I replaced it with a collector's item - the official promo video - which has likewise been withdrawn.  The official Sony BMG 'video' above just shows the sleeve cover image, but I kept it in because it is the best English-language audio version.  So here to compensate is a live version in German.  How long before they take this down too?