Sunday, August 3, 2008

Viva la Huh?

Someone explain the new Coldplay song to me, because I don't get it. "Viva La Vida," Coldplay says, comes from the words Frida Kahlo once painted, approximately "Long live life." While the speaker-king may want to live a long life, I'm not sure if that has any relationship to Frida Kahlo.

I watched the official music video for any clues. Were there any? Not really. Just the band standing around playing instruments, with the drummer hitting a bell instead of a drum sometimes, and a red rose or flag behind. The only possibility: on Chris Martin's shirt, there's a red V almost hidden under his jacket and two red bands on his right arm--meant to represent Christ's wounds? There's also a red rose opening at the beginning of the video, and the musicians seem to dissolve into rose petals or blood drops at the end of the video.

Lyrics here.

Apparently the meaning of the song hinges entirely upon who the speaker of the song is, which I cannot for the life of me figure out. Presumably it's not Chris Martin. My questions:
1. Most obviously, did the Roman cavalry have a choir, much less choirs plural? Why would they be singing? Coldplay is British, so they probably grew up visiting the British Museum like all British schoolchildren and would know from an early age lots about the early Romans, having examined Roman relics and filled out worksheets on them during field trips. Or maybe the teachers forgot, while demonstrating different kinds of Roman coins, to talk about the music of the Roman cavalry.
2. "I used to rule the world / Seas would rise when I gave the word" (or is it "seeds" rather than "seas?"):
Who are we talking about? Poseidon? Moses? God?
3. "Now in the morning I sleep alone / Sweep the streets I used to own":
Now the song takes a Blakean twist, Songs of Innocence versus Songs of Experience ("The Chimney Sweep" and its counterpart, thank you Mrs. C.). This little character goes to heaven, having met an early demise. And this doesn't sound much like Poseidon/Moses/God.
4. "I used to roll the dice / Feel the fear in my enemy's eyes / Listen as the crowd would sing: / 'Now the old king is dead! Long live the king!'":
Kenny Rogers and the Gambler? King Arthur? The fisher king myth? Pharaoh is overthrown and Moses is a gambler?
5. "And I discovered that my castles stand / Upon pillars of salt, and pillars of sand":
Pillar of salt, I get--Lot's wife. And the Biblical caveat not to build your house upon the sand. So God or Christ, who are lost to this contemporary world, are the speakers? But how does this explain the street sweeping? Or the relationship to Frida Kahlo.
6. "I hear Jerusalem bells are ringing / Roman cavalry choirs are singing / Be my mirror my sword and shield / My missionaries in a foreign field"
Okay, maybe Christ or the Holy Ghost. But wait!
7. "For some reason I can not explain / I know Saint Peter won't call my name / Never an honest word":
Christ isn't going to be welcomed into Heaven? We've got to go to Kenny Rogers or King Arthur or the fisher king instead, but I can't reconcile cavalry choirs with them.
8. "Shattered windows and the sound of drums / People could not believe what I'd become": ???? Crusades?
9. "Revolutionaries wait / For my head on a silver plate":
Oh, John the Baptist. But did he sweep streets and get the Roman cavalry choirs asinging? And Saint Peter would have snubbed John the Baptist?
10. "Just a puppet on a lonely string / Oh who would ever want to be king?"
I don't think "puppet" would describe Christ, Kenny Rogers, King Arthur, or John the Baptist. God's a puppet? Don't think so. Fictional persona? All the anachronisms still don't make sense. And I maintain that the Roman cavalry did not have choirs.
11. Why is Frida Kahlo invoked? One would have expected something more about this since the band keeps overexplaining this allusion.
12. And the rose? Connected to chivalry and courtly love, the British crown, knighthood, Adonis, the blood of Christ. But not the Chimney Sweep.
13. Maybe this is a past lives issue? Sounds like some of these lives would have to have been simultaneous then. The chimney sweep as king? Weep, weep, weep, can't figure it out.

Is this song supposed to make sense, did the songwriter think about it enough, or is it some kind of language experiment? Maybe I'm missing something very obvious and it will all make sense soon. Comments welcome.

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