When I wrote the lyrics for the song Lay Down Your Arms, I thought I'd hit gold. So compelling was the story I wanted to tell, that I thought I just couldn't fail. But I could, and I did, and as far as I know, the story remains untold. Why? Imagine the story as a finished painting. The different lyrical bits are small pieces of the canvas, making up something like 9 % of the total area. Presented with the pieces, it's impossible to see the whole painting. Now, this wouldn't be all that bad if the small pieces themselves are intriguing and thoughtful enough. But when their sole purpose is being part of the canvas, the end result is simply bad. I think this is the case with Lay Down Your Arms.
I think I've seen enough evidence to conclude that Lay Down Your Arms can't be understood just be reading the lyrics. I should have taken my mother's word for it – she read it and when I told her what it was about, she said she couldn't have understood it from the text alone.
It is also clear that it doesn't read like a great mystical text, which can be intensely felt, but not really understood, at least not in the normal sense of the word.
So, I now admit that the lyrics requires an explanation, which for me equals admitting a failure. I want to give that explanation. Now, I know this goes against the unwritten rules – by explaining your songs, you are likely to reduce someone's personal experience of it, so don't do it. But, I don't think the song has been treasured by anyone in that sense, and this is why I think the explanation route is both safe and better than leaving it altogether. I want to show my intent, so that people may know that I had one.
I once thought I should make a short story of it instead, but I think I'll just present it in a straight, concise fashion.
The person singing is a failed writer. He once left his home village for the city to pursue his dreams. Simple as that. He got to write a novel called Lay Down Your Arms, in which he ridiculed the folks back home, thinking he had left the place for good and that he could safely use them as a springboard to launch his own career. But no one bought the book, and the critics were uninterested. He never recovered from that initial shock, and the publishers soon turned their back on him.
His emotionally unstable disposition, which he thought had served him well when he was writing, was now making life hard for him. Having no money left, he began to feel desperate. His following move may seem a bit drastic, but it was also clear that he was now rather ill. He decided he would never write another word, that he'd commit artistic suicide, and not just any artistic suicide, but a rather painful one. His career would be ended in the following fashion: He would return to his old village and do what it takes to regain the trust of the ones he had smeared in his first and only novel (because naturally, the local paper had both reported on the contents of the book and hinted at its poor sales figures). If successful, he would ask them for the smallest piece of land available, where he could build a cottage of some sort. There, he would just sit and do nothing, rot away. He knew very well he would could never be one of them, because he felt irreversibly damaged after witnessing his dreams wither away – all he asked for was peace and forgiveness.
The song finds him on the bus, trying to find his long-lost friend (in the book crudely and distastefully described as, if I remember correctly, someone who'd probably end up locking up his daughter in the basement). Obviously, he would have to lie. He'd say it wasn't him, because after all, he hadn't mentioned them by their real names. But that was also the only modification he had made – every other detail had been carefully attended to.
Now, the motive behind writing this song is clear. I have now foreseen, and thus preempted, my own failure. Actually, now it's all very clear to me how it's going to end.
If equal affection cannot be
Then let the more loving one be me
I can't remember how I stumbled upon that line from a poem by W.H. Auden. But I do remember why I butchered it – I was deeply affected by it, and I thought that if I just use the same structure, but with different words, I can transfer some of the emotion in those two lines into my song. I failed, of course. "...silly hermit one", what was I thinking?
written by Mattias