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View Full Version : What's behind the lyrics to the Rolling Stones' 'Sympathy for the Devil'?


racinchikki
09-21-2002, 10:05 PM
Ok, so I understand most of the lyrics. You have mention of Jesus on the cross, and of the execution of the Russian czar and family, and the deaths of the Kennedies. But then you have a line that goes: I lay traps for troubadours who get killed before they reach Bombay What does that refer to?

partly_warmer
09-21-2002, 10:26 PM
Did they say that? I must say I had almost given up on them by that point. If so then this: The Beatles, and company, going to India to receive enlightenment from the Maharishi. Just a guess. Jagger and company weren't the most educated, literate, or clever people in the intellectual world. Bombay was probably seen as being the "capital" of India, and therefore spiritualism. I.e., a shrewd commentary on how the Beatles (and others) fell away from a spiritual path.

I'm curious that you have an idea what they meant by "who killed the Kennedys". That has always seemed like one of the Stones' most deadly truthful arrows. What do you think that means?

WSLer
09-21-2002, 10:36 PM
Obviously it's about Satan laying traps for troubadors so that they are killed before they reach their vacation destination, which happens to be Bombay.

What else could it refer to, the Vietnam War?

yabob
09-21-2002, 10:37 PM
We've been here before:

http://boards.straightdope.com/sdmb/showthread.php?s=&threadid=82385
and
http://boards.straightdope.com/sdmb/showthread.php?threadid=63168
and
http://boards.straightdope.com/sdmb/showthread.php?threadid=21449

The best guess would seem to be the "hippie trail", but the explanation seems unsatisfactory to me, though it would have been contemporary with the song. And an allegorical thing concerning the Beatles doesn't seem likely, given that the rest of the references are so concretely historical.

Lockfist
09-22-2002, 03:19 AM
Sorry I don't have anything new to add, but this is an intriguing question I must admit.

I can't imagine that somewhere along the line no one has asked the band about this. Anyone have access to the Stones to get this thing resolved once and for all ?

Coriolanus
09-22-2002, 03:47 AM
Googol turns up nothing.

Troubadours are musicians, right? Yet that's gotta be a french term.

I doubt Mick or Keith would reveal anything of these long-ago lyrics, any more than Don McLean ever did about his 'American Pie'

But what's puzzling you
is the nature of my game

Horatio Hellpop
09-22-2002, 01:07 PM
Partly Warmer wrote:
Jagger and company weren't the most educated, literate, or clever people in the intellectual world.

Mick Jagger started his music career while he was a student at the London School of Economics. By rock star standards, this guy is MENSA material.

Coriolanus
09-22-2002, 02:09 PM
Now, a very great man once said
That some people rob you with a fountain pen.
It didn't take too long to find out
Just what he was talkin' about.
A lot of people don't have much food on their table,
But they got a lot of forks Ôn' knives,
And they gotta cut somethin'.
- Bob Dylan 'Talking New York Blues'

Thanks Krokodil

WSLer
09-22-2002, 02:19 PM
Originally posted by Corbomite
Googol turns up nothing.

Troubadours are musicians, right? Yet that's gotta be a french term.

I doubt Mick or Keith would reveal anything of these long-ago lyrics, any more than Don McLean ever did about his 'American Pie'



Don McLean has made it at least kind sorta clear that American Pie was an homage of sorts to Buddy Holly, and he decided to toss in as much about the 60's as he could.

As far as Mick telling what they lyrics are about, keep in mind that when asked what the actual lyrics to Brown Sugar are, he said, "God knows what I'm about on that one."

:confused: :confused: :confused: Whaaaaaaaa?

You wrote the fucking lyrics, and you've been singing the fucking song in concert for 30 fucking years, so how the fuck could you not know what the fuck the lyrics are?!!?





Fuck.

Coriolanus
09-22-2002, 02:32 PM
*LOL*

Don McLean won't even say that much! One of his songs -- was it called 'Vincent'? -- was about an artist who knew nobody 'got' him.

If Mick wants to go on VH-1 Storytellers - then maybe he'll tell the story.

Bob Dylan isn't gonna explain his songs.

Don McLean isn't going to say this lyric:

in a coat he borrowed from James Dean
and a voice that came from you and me

is about Bob Dylan. Look at the cover of Bob Dylan's first album - he's wearing that rust colored jacket that James Dean wears in _Rebel Without a Cause_

yabob
09-22-2002, 02:41 PM
Sounds like he interpreted the question as a request to EXPLAIN what he's been singing for 30 years, whatever the interviewer's intent was.

Which puts me in mind of a quote attributed to Robert Browning when asked to explain a line in a poem he had written many years earlier - "Madam, when I wrote that line, God and Browning knew what it meant. Now only God knows.". Of course, I don't know if Browning was in the habit of giving recitations of that particular poem having forgotten exactly what he was on about.

yabob
09-22-2002, 02:58 PM
BTW, the "James Dean" jacket was worn by Dylan on the cover of "The Freewheelin' Bob Dylan", which was his second album. His first album, published a year earlier, was simply titled "Bob Dylan", and shows him wearing a pile-lined winter coat:

http://www.eartothesound.fsnet.co.uk/bob/bobdylan.html

Freewheeling:

http://www.cduniverse.com/productinfo.asp?style=music&PID=1085214

Doesn't change the relevence to the McLean lyric, of course.

Coriolanus
09-22-2002, 03:08 PM
What is a troubadour? I know it's a musician of a sort. The lyric of the song makes it sound like they're storming the beach and Mick/Beelzebub is stopping them.

Or is it just something that sounded good? And somewhat anti-british?

One song I know and is about a Motel on Long Island is Memory Motel. It's a Keith song. It's pretty damn straightforward and features a nice duet between Keith and the other guy.

The Memory Motel is still out there on Montauk, Long Island.

yabob
09-22-2002, 03:12 PM
" ... and shows him wearing a pile-lined winter coat ..."

At least that's what it appears to be. I can't find anything better than a thumbnail of the cover. Anyway, it's "Freewheelin'" that evokes the James Dean image.

yabob
09-22-2002, 03:18 PM
" ... and shows him wearing a pile-lined winter coat ..."

At least that's what it appears to be. I can't find anything better than a thumbnail of the cover. Anyway, it's "Freewheelin'" that evokes the James Dean image.

Coriolanus
09-22-2002, 03:36 PM
Argh. It's his second album 'The Freewheelin' Bob Dylan' and ATM I can only provide a link with a smallish image.

http://www.discographynet.com/dylan/bdtfbd.html

That is a cool album cover.

detop
09-22-2002, 03:37 PM
Originally posted by Corbomite
What is a troubadour? I know it's a musician of a sort. The lyric of the song makes it sound like they're storming the beach and Mick/Beelzebub is stopping them.

From dictionary.com :
trou·ba·dour Pronunciation Key (trb-dôr, -dr, -dr)
n.
One of a class of 12th-century and 13th-century lyric poets in Southern France, northern Italy, and northern Spain, who composed songs in langue d'oc often about courtly love.
A strolling minstrel.


--------------------------------------------------------------------------------
[French, from Provençal trobador, from Old Provençal, from trobar, to compose, perhaps from Vulgar Latin *tropre, from Late Latin tropus, trope, song, from Latin, trope. See trope.]


As far as the meaning goes, it is about European hippies that decided that a trip to India was so cool, man, packed everything they had in the VW van or hitchhiked there, only to be imprisoned for drug use/trafficking, die from overdose, killed by bandits/diseases, joined a cult, etc. on the way there.

Coriolanus
09-22-2002, 03:44 PM
I was at least right about the French origins.

That Microbus encountered traps before it reached Bombay.

Coriolanus
09-22-2002, 03:51 PM
Duh. Missed your post yabob

I want that "pile-lined winter coat"

Sam Stone
09-22-2002, 04:46 PM
The song 'Vincent' isn't about 'some artist the people didn't get' - it's about Vincent Van Gogh. "Starry Starry Night" is a reference to "Starry Night", one of Van Gogh's more well-known paintings.

I think "Vincent" might be a superior song to "American Pie", although both of them are great.

And Don McLean should have had a much more popular career than he has. The man has a gift.

As for Jagger, I believe he has an undergrad degree in economics, and studied at the London School of Economics, as someone else pointed out. He is NOT a stupid man.

Cholo
09-22-2002, 05:43 PM
Getting Mick Jagger to nail down anything is impossible. He wouldn't tell you the truth no matter what the stakes are. He's purposely mercurial...it's one of his traits that drives Keith nuts.

Regarding the song...according to Steve Appleford's book: The Rolling Stones, It's Only Rock and Roll: Song by Song" it states that "Jagger was inspired to write "Sympathy for the Devil" after (Marianne) Faithfull gave him a copy of Mikhail Bulgakov's The Master and the Margarita. the book features the Devil as its debonair central character, the host of a fabulous ball in Moscow, and a master of high society. Jagger's reaction was a challenge to mainstream vaules, depicting Satan in the song not as a beast, but as a sophisticated "man of wealth and taste", a role the singer embraced."

Regardless of the origin, I would state that it was irresponsibly written in if you were to ask me.
Just my .02

Wendell Wagner
09-23-2002, 01:58 AM
Here's an interesting article on the song:

http://www.salon.com/ent/masterpiece/2002/01/14/sympathy/

Cardinal
11-07-2004, 06:41 PM
From the depths it comes...

What I've always wondered is if Jaggar had a definite point of view on the whole thing. Is the point that:

1. The devil isn't as bad as reported, and could be slightly misunderstood? Unlikely, if Mick's willing to link him with Nazis and killing Kennedy.

2. The devil presents himself as sophisticated and an ok guy, but that's just the continuing lie? After all, he admits to all sorts of atrocitities and the pleads for sympathy for his cause.

3. The devil sees himself as misunderstood but is really mad? He believes somehow in what he's doing, but can't see out of his delusion?

Miller
11-07-2004, 06:56 PM
4. The devil does what he does because he's the devil. He was created by God to be the agent of evil in the world, and was never given any choice in the matter. It's unfair to blame him for the evil he causes, because he's merely fulfiling his role in God's Creation.

RealityChuck
11-07-2004, 08:21 PM
Why does his have to have a literal meaning? It could easily be a line the Jagger liked and which rhymed. There is such a thing as poetry, you know. :rolleyes:

Next you'll be saying Jagger admitted to the murder of JFK: "You shouted out who killed the Kennedys, when after all, it was . . . me."

Ellis Dee
11-07-2004, 09:55 PM
4. The devil does what he does because he's the devil. He was created by God to be the agent of evil in the world, and was never given any choice in the matter. It's unfair to blame him for the evil he causes, because he's merely fulfiling his role in God's Creation.I'm no authority on Christianity, but wasn't Lucifer originally the, uh, top archangel? Then he fell from grace by his defiance of god's will? As in, he was a fallen angel because he chose to act in a way that displeased He-Of-The-Thinnest-Skin, who of course cast Lucifer from heaven. Thus, you can't really blame god for the devil's actions, as Lucifer is a banished angel messing with humans out of spite, and god long ago washed his hands of him?

Miller
11-07-2004, 10:04 PM
I'm no authority on Christianity, but wasn't Lucifer originally the, uh, top archangel? Then he fell from grace by his defiance of god's will? As in, he was a fallen angel because he chose to act in a way that displeased He-Of-The-Thinnest-Skin, who of course cast Lucifer from heaven. Thus, you can't really blame god for the devil's actions, as Lucifer is a banished angel messing with humans out of spite, and god long ago washed his hands of him?

I'm no authority, either, but I don't think that "arch-angel fallen from grace" stuff has any scriptural basis. I don't know how much of it fits into official Christian dogma, and for which denominations. AFAIK, most of it comes from Milton.

Hopefully someone who knows more than me (which is a pretty broad field) can correct me if I'm wrong.

C K Dexter Haven
11-07-2004, 10:23 PM
This thread was over two years old, Cardinal. Most of the people who posted in this thread haven't been around in a lonnnng time, and so can't participate any more in this thread. That's why we don't like resurrecting old threads. OK?