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Topic: Let It Bleed - The Senior AP English Essay on Theme Return to archive
10-21-02 01:53 AM
Child of the Moon Steve Jo Jo Gunne Richards Cronen
Ms. Norton
English 8 AP
February 11, 2002

It’s Just a Shot Away

Music has the power to bring us to life. Be it Beethoven’s 5th Symphony or Led Zeppelin’s 5th album, the music we listen to may inspire us and allow us to set our souls free. The words that may come attached to this music, however, are often not as spirit lifting. Where one song may preach that love is the answer to life’s problems, another might deal with the issue of hatred toward all of life’s creatures. In their 40-year career, the Rolling Stones have dealt with issues in their music and lyrics that span the entire spectrum of human life. On very few occasions, they have placed sets of thematically related songs on to single records. The songs on 1969’s Let It Bleed, for example, are chilling reminders that the human mind and soul are almost never free from corruption or decay.
At the time of Let It Bleed’s recording, challenges that the normal human being should never have to face surrounded the Rolling Stones. Their lead singer and chief lyricist, Mick Jagger, was entrenched in a world of sex, black magic, drugs, and diabolism. Guitarist Keith Richards was in the same boat, particularly concerning the latter two. Former leader and multi-instrumentalist Brian Jones was kicked out of the band for his rampant drug use and paranoia. He was found dead a month later, drowned in his own backyard pool. The people and hangers-on associated with the Stones at the time were unsavory characters, to say the least. All of these factors contributed to what would become their musical look at the decay of the human soul.
The album starts off with what could be the most frightening moment of all – the sound of an echo-drenched guitar pouring out musical notes like drops of fallout rain. The song intensifies measure by measure, as drums, bass, another guitar, haunting voices, and dramatic piano stabs build upon each other. Jagger begins singing a harrowing story, that of the aftermath of the Apocalypse. He denounces mankind itself for the evils it has unleashed on the world, crying, “War, children, it’s just a shot away!” (Rolling Stones 1.1) The man is surrounded by hell itself, full of rape, murder, storms, floods, and the fire that is, “Sweepin’/Our very street today/Burns like a red coal carpet/Mad bull lost his way.” This song, “Gimme Shelter,” sets the precedent for the rest of the album.
This is one of the many parallels on the album to the Rolling Stones’ own lives. As legend has it, Keith Richards wrote the song alone before the rest of the band added their respective contributions. At the time Let It Bleed was being recorded, Mick Jagger was starring in a film called “Performance,” a sinister look at two corrupted souls who meet at a crossroads in their lives. Keith’s girlfriend Anita Pallenberg played Jagger’s main love interest, and when the two actors enjoyed their steamy love scenes more than was necessary, Keith stormed out of the film studio and began composing a hellish melody in his car. Richards was very affected by his friend and lover betraying him, and the rift between all three consequently grew. It is a perfect backdrop for a terrifying song.
But after the apocalyptic, hair-raising finale of “Gimme Shelter,” the next few sounds on Let It Bleed prove to be almost disarming. “Love in Vain,” Robert Johnson’s sad breakup blues, is reworked by Keith Richards into an acoustic quasi-country lament all the way from the Mississippi Delta. The words, however, still bear the same message that Johnson had in mind back in 1936, when he recorded the song. It is a heartbreaking look at loss and regret, and a cautionary example of the fragility of one’s soul. “Country Honk,” on the other hand, is a peephole-eye view of bordello dreams and gin-soaked barrooms. This is what the human soul can stoop to if given the chance: A lust-driven life with no happy end in sight. “There’s many a barroom queen I’ve had in Jackson/But I just can’t seem to drink you off my mind/It’s the honky tonk women/Gimme, gimme, gimme the honky tonk blues.” (1.3) This song (and its hit single counterpart, “Honky Tonk Women”) could have easily been inspired by the life of Brian Jones, who had boozed, drugged, and “flirted” his best years away long ago. The album could easily be dedicated to him.
A rumbling bass guitar groove sets the tone for “Live with Me,” a perfect counterpart to “Country Honk.” This time, Jagger sings as a lonely millionaire, begging a woman to spend her life with him just so he can get her “in between the sheets.” (1.4) He flaunts his wealth and fortune – “I got nasty habits, I take tea at three/Yes, and the meat I eat for dinner must be/Hung up for a week” – but expresses his sorrow at not having anyone to share it with, like when he pleads, “Doncha think we need a woman’s touch to/Make it come alive?” Despite any real love he may feel for this woman, Jagger’s man of wealth and taste (who shows suspicious parallels with the actual singer himself, as shown by the Keith Richards-like best friend who “shoots water rats and/Feeds ‘em to his geese”) clearly has underhanded motives, and demonstrates the depths to which a human being can sink. With “Let It Bleed,” however, the singer takes a kinder stance. He speaks as a personal friend and as a friend in need. His life has been rough; he’s seen the depths, and he’s lived to tell the tale: “But you knifed me in my dirty, filthy basement/With that jaded, faded junkie nurse/Oh, what pleasant company… ha!” (1.5) He offers his shoulder to you (or whomever he is singing to) as one you can lean on and bleed on in times of need. This is a man rejuvenated and reborn, just like Rodion Raskolnikov in Crime and Punishment.
The second side of the LP opens with sounds as ominous as “Gimme Shelter” before it: Amplifiers warming up, various studio murmurs and rumbles… then a vicious, grimy guitar riff that sounds as if it originated from a septic tank. This is “Midnight Rambler,” a lumbering Jagger/Richards collaboration focusing on a human soul gone completely bad. The protagonist of this story is the Midnight Rambler, a half-crazed serial killer/rapist who stalks his prey only at night, self-aggrandizing and brandishing various deadly weapons. The hazy narrative is told from two perspectives – first and third person. It is not clear who the omniscient storyteller is, but the first person account comes from the Midnight Rambler himself. Perhaps both perspectives are the Rambler’s, as he mutters gibberish to himself at the bus station: “Well don’t you listen for the midnight rambler/Play it easy as you go/I’m gonna smash down all your plate-glass windows/Put a fist, put a fist through your steel-plated door.” (1.6) At the end of the seven-minute long epic, the Rambler strikes, screaming and foaming at the mouth, proclaiming, “And if you ever catch the midnight rambler/I’ll steal your mistress from under your nose/I’ll go easy with your cold-fanged anger/I’ll stick my knife right down your throat, baby./And it hurts!” Only the brave listen to this song alone at night.
Skipping ahead one song (which will be discussed later), we are presented with “Monkey Man,” a semi-humorous saga of survival against all odds. The “monkey man” in question seems to have clawed his way up from the abyss of “Country Honk” and “Gimme Shelter.” “I’m a fleabit peanut monkey/All my friends are junkies/That’s not really true,” he boldly cries (1.8). Here is a soul that has decayed to the point where remorse for all past actions has since passed. The monkey man is almost proud of his hellish life, speaking for all of the primates that crawled out of the gutter: “I hope we’re not too messianic/Or a trifle too satanic/We love to play the blues/Well, I am just a monkey man/And I’m glad you are a monkey woman, too!”
Let It Bleed closes with another epic story, this time told from the perspective of a jaded youth who sees his once-normal life crumbling around him. The love of his life has succumbed to the drug culture (“I saw her today at the reception… I knew she was gonna meet her connection/At her feet was a footloose man” [1.9]), his friends have wasted their lives (“I was standing in line with Mr. Jimmy/And man, did he look pretty ill”), and the very foundations of his society are shattered (“And I went down to the demonstration/To get my fair share of abuse”). But even after all of this has transpired, he can only remind himself, “You can’t always get what you want/But if you try sometimes/You find you get what you need.” As the last, chorus-driven notes of “You Can’t Always Get What You Want” fade into the sands of time, listeners are left with a sour taste in their mouths. After all, hasn’t this entire album dealt with the darkness and decay of our own souls? Only if you skipped track number seven.
Between “Midnight Rambler” and “Monkey Man” comes Let It Bleed’s one free agent, the clearing in the forest, and the suggestion that maybe the corruption of our souls is not set in stone. Keith Richards sings “You Got the Silver,” the album’s tender declaration of love. Here is a man who is devoted to his love, and remains in awe of her perfections: “You got the silver, you got the gold/You got the diamonds from the mine.” (1.7) He ventures a guess at life without her, tearfully whispering, “Tell me honey, what will I do/When I’m hungry and thirsty, too/Feeling foolish (and that’s for sure)/Just waiting here at your kitchen door?” The song erupts from a plaintive acoustic whisper to a soul-freeing chorus of love and devotion. This is a man with a positive purpose in life, and therefore needs not worry about the decay of his soul.
Perhaps this could be the greatest and truest connection the album has to real life. The human soul can become corrupt, yes – but it is just as capable of retaining love and decency as it is renouncing it. “You Got the Silver” is the “proof of life,” as it were. After all of the things a person could go through in his or her lifetime, there is still hope of remaining an uncorrupted soul. It is ironic, though, that Keith Richards sings this song, since he is often viewed as rock and roll’s demoralized and desensitized “public enemy number one.”
With the exception of “You Got the Silver,” Let It Bleed weaves stories of death, loss, fear, hatred, and, above all, decay. If not for the amazing virtuosity and originality of the music attached to these stories, this album may come off like one, big downer. But as I said before, music has the ability to inspire and bring us to life. Countless musicians have drawn inspiration from the Rolling Stones’ masterpiece of 1969, and ten times as many fans have been rejuvenated by the musical documents held within the black vinyl grooves of the record. The songs on Let It Bleed, no matter how thematically depressing, can still restore life to their listeners… although it helps to have a copy of the Stones’ hilarious Some Girls album nearby, just in case you hear the Midnight Rambler “coming down your marble hall.”

Works Cited
Rolling Stones, The, Let It Bleed, The Rolling Stones, ABKCO 80042 [1986, reissue], CD.

Some of the words on here were originally italicized, but don't show up like that. My apologies. Hope you enjoyed.
10-21-02 03:48 AM
Staffan Ahh. lovely read, thank you!
I just finished an essay about the phoniness in Catcher in the Rye. Last year I did an analyze of "Breathe" by Pink Floyd, other then that I haven't written any music-assignments (Except for a few "listening guides" in the music class).
10-21-02 05:52 AM
Child of the Moon A whole lot of my assignments in school (since the 7th grade, actually) have somehow focused on music. By late-high school, you couldn't avoid it. It was "my thing." Still is.
10-21-02 09:41 AM
Boomhauer In my senior English class we did film studies. Some papers, but they had to do with the movies (symbolism, hero's quest, etc.)


10-21-02 09:52 AM
Stonesprofessor 8th grade??? Wow....Just a couple of things-if you don't mind! you might have added to the 'drugs,sex,black magic',etc;the fact that,at the time, that the Stones were [Incredible as it seems] FLAT BROKE...Allen Klein having ripped them off big time! Nothing motivates evil feelings like the lack of money! I disagree with you about 'Country Honk"..it is quite the POSITIVE song,drawing on the the GIVE ME the honky tonk blues...being a positve memory of the various ladies the singer is talking about! Also a minor quibble [and hopefully your teacher corrected you on this!], but album titles are ALWAYS all capitals...In English, complete works are totally capitalized-book titles, movie titles, and record albums..whereas chapters within the complete work are either in quotation marks or just the first letters of main words are capitals-with conjunctions [and,or,the] SOMETIMES capitalized**....ask your teacher about this! Otherwise really thouightful-the Gimme Shelter analysis being particularly good! How old ARE you???

** Example : LET IT BLEED...You Got the Silver
10-21-02 09:53 AM
Stonesprofessor And oh yeah...the title capitalization of complete works only happens when you cant do it in Boldface!
10-21-02 09:55 AM
Stonesprofessor OOPS..didnt see the note about certain things being in italics originally..my apologies!
10-21-02 11:45 AM
TheSavageYoungXyzzy Wow! Great paper!

What'd you get on it?

Damn, that's a nice topic - I touched on the Stones only for one paragraph of my US History paper... it was the socio-artistic impact of The Beatles on American culture, and The Stones were mentioned in regard to Andrew Loog Oldham's presentation of them as rock's "bad boys" to the clean-cut Beatles.

I think I'll put on "Gimme Shelter" from Ft. Worth, 1972 to celebrate.

"War, children!"

-tSYX --- It's just a shot away...
10-21-02 12:50 PM
steel driving hammer Nice work Child of the Moon.

Maybe you could of added in this tour on how they're Still Rolling...

Still, I'll give you an A-.
10-21-02 01:49 PM
Joey I just love your new Avatar Steelie !!!!!

Joe .........................Fly !!!!

JoeFly
10-21-02 03:26 PM
Child of the Moon
quote:
Stonesprofessor wrote:
8th grade??? Wow....



Ah, I see what you mean. That "English 8" header is confusing, I suppose. It's senior year AP english, the title of which was English 8, as in, 1-2, 3-4, 5-6, and 7-8, for freshman, sophomore, junior, and senior years, respectively.

I would've killed to write like this back in 8th grade. Thanks for your praise, though.
10-21-02 04:23 PM
Mickjagger1963 Hey, thanks for that. I absolutley love it!
10-23-02 08:28 AM
corgi37 Ahh, to think like an 18 year old again. the world is falling apart, but instead of studying history, politics or the social/humanity issues of the world, a review of an album is required. Fair enough. I thought the same way about Star wars. Actually, i did a whole report on Midnight Rambler when i was 15. Not just the lyrics, but the relation between the music and the lyrics. Listen to that song (and Stray Cat Blues) for an example on how to stop a song, then pick it up again. But, 1 thing i must pick on. In the 1st line or 2, you refer to Led Zeppelin 5. Well, there is no LZ5. The 5th album is Houses of the Holy. And, it is their worst album, bar their last, In through the out door. Which, i might add, it my vote for worst album ever released by a major act, just pipping the who's "Face Dances" and our own boys "Dirty Work". Surely "Led Zepp 5" is not considered a life changing album? Cause if so, my man, then i suppose any Cheap Trick album is akin to any Bob Dylan classic? B- (but good subject matter, now try Exile!).
10-23-02 01:46 PM
Child of the Moon Yes, I know that the 5th album was Houses of the Holy. I just used that terminology to draw a kind of comparison - 5th Symphony, 5th album. I know everyone's entitled to an opinion, and I know that some folks really do dig on that album.

And I kind of like Face Dances. And really like Dirty Work. But that's another story. Thanks for the comments and all.
10-23-02 10:44 PM
Dandelion* Nice work Steven. The artist as a young man. Are you going to pursue writing?
10-25-02 08:35 AM
Mickjagger1963 In school, and I never saved this essay to my computer Im just keeping it on top for when I get home so i can easily find it.