Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Don't Fear The Reaper: Dissection

Since I was in my teens, my favorite song has been (Don't Fear) The Reaper by Blue Oyster Cult.


When it came on the radio, I'd crank it up to full tilt and blow my eardrums out like I was hearing it for the first time - even though I had the album (yes folks, the vinyl 'Agents of Fortune') and heard it all the time at home as well. The otherworldly-sounding middle section with the guitar solo bringing up the rear of the song just can't be beat. I much prefer the long version with this part in it. There was also a studio/radio version that was shorter but cuts out the heart of the song.

No doubt I heard it on the radio first (the still righteous WDVE 102.5 in Pittsburgh, PA.) but my sheer love of the song came from hearing it perfectly placed in John Carpenter's Halloween (1978). For those that might not know, it comes at the moment in the film where Laurie and Annie are heading to their respective babysitting jobs in Annie's car. A moment of prophecy?

It has been used in sooo many movies (18 mentioned on Wikipedia alone), tv shows (20), books, video games, and modern pop culture in general. There are 22 cover versions listed but no doubt there are more. I am partial to Gus's version used in the movie Scream. Nice and subtle. It is listed on multiple "greatest rock songs" lists - too many to count.
(Don't Fear) The Reaper is iconic.

But the song has long been controversial - I've read so much negative crap about it that it's almost become a sore spot for me. The general consensus is that the song is about suicide. I'm not one of those short-sighted people who read horror into every last lyric put down. And I was absolutely pro-Ozzy when the long-ago lawsuit tried to blame his lyrics for Suicide Solution for a teen's suicide.

America provides the right to freedom of speech and I stand by that.
Of course I don't have a child that committed suicide while listening to heavy metal records - nor do I have a bratty teen that does nothing but play violent video games that cause him to eventually murder a classmate, either.
I am not trying to be political here, I am simply liberal enough to believe that people are pre-disposed to certain feelings and emotions - and how they deal with them can certainly be a problem. However, I don't completely buy into the thought that a certain book, song, or speech can utterly buffalo someone. Then again, maybe I'm kidding myself (look at Jim Jones for instance...) Could be I'm just stronger willed emotionally than some.

Anyway- I'm totally digressing.

Regarding the song: I can totally see where thoughts of suicide could be construed from the lyrics. Let's take a look at them, shall we?


All our times have come
Here but now they're gone
Seasons don't fear the reaper
Nor do the wind, the sun or the rain..we can be like they are
Come on baby...don't fear the reaper
Baby take my hand...don't fear the reaper
We'll be able to fly...don't fear the reaper
Baby I'm your man...

Valentine is done
Here but now they're gone
Romeo and Juliet
Are together in eternity...Romeo and Juliet
40,000 men and women everyday...Like Romeo and Juliet
40,000 men and women everyday...Redefine happiness
Another 40,000 coming everyday...We can be like they are
Come on baby...don't fear the reaper
Baby take my hand...don't fear the reaper
We'll be able to fly...don't fear the reaper
Baby I'm your man...

Love of two is one
Here but now they're gone
Came the last night of sadness
And it was clear she couldn't go on
Then the door was open and the wind appeared
The candles blew then disappeared
The curtains flew then he appeared...saying don't be afraid
Come on baby...and she had no fear
And she ran to him...then they started to fly
They looked backward and said goodbye...she had become like they are
She had taken his hand...she had become like they are
Come on baby...don't fear the reaper


I believe the first set of lyrics is explaining that death is inevitable. That we need not fear it, because it comes for us all in the end. The seasons, the four elements - nothing can stop the forward progress of life and death.

The second verse is what gives most the notion of suicide. Statistical facts such as '40,000 men and women every day' - do they mean deaths or specifically suicides? The fact that they mention those figures directly after referencing Romeo and Juliet was bound to make people associate the two. But I have read that the B.O.C. lead guitarist and writer of this song, Donald ('Buck Dharma') Roeser, didn't mean to imply the lyrics were about suicide - he was only thinking of a scenario where when someone dies they would be reunited with loved ones after death. Mentioning Romeo and Juliet was simply a way to relate eternal love. In his words: "It's basically a love song where the love transcends the actual physical existence of the partners."
So there, haters.

The third verse is by far the most compelling. It's obvious in these lyrics, someone is dying.
How it is happening is never said, and this is what gives people the assumption that someone is already dead, and that the other person is taking their own life to be with their loved one.
It could also be interpreted that a dead loved one (a spirit, perhaps) is coming back to ease their dying loved one's death and help them into the afterlife.

When I was younger, I always thought of it as the bogeyman coming to take someone's soul away. The candles blowing, the curtain flowing - pretty much got me thinking about spooky shit. And the whole 'and she became like they are' - you could go anywhere with that. Death, vampires, ghouls, or just a plain ole corpse. I liked thinking that was what it was about.

And let us not forget the song's title. We're not to fear the Reaper. He's coming, regardless of the way he does it. So there.

Nowadays, to me, those last several lyrics remind me of a young man who has died and is coming back to take his girlfriend with him. She's completely distraught and sad over his death. He appears at the window, telling her there's nothing to be afraid of. Perhaps he's killing her - maybe she's not truly taking her own life. Maybe she is.
Either way, she wants to spend eternity with him. And I can't blame her.

And either way, I still love the song.

HorrorBlips: vote it up!

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