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October 23, 2012

Manly Songs: Highway to Hell

Wow.  Been a while since I’ve done one of these.

In my defense, I have a good reason why.  I’m coming up on the final chapters of the current I Hraet You story arc and while I’m glad to have made the progress that I have (in the sense that I’m starting to feel like this is a project with some real potential), I know it’s about time to put it up on the shelf and work on something else for a little while.  So I’m motoring towards the arc’s climax, and between that and other themed posts -- the Looper post, the Tales of the Abyss posts, and the Spirit Showdown posts, all of which are a bare minimum of four thousand words -- I’m firing on all the cylinders I can.  You would think that I’d rather work on shorter posts and save the longer stuff for later, but…well, I can’t say I’m always the most logical person.

But enough chatter about internal affairs.  You’re here to listen to some manly songs, and use the lyrics to drone out the incessant rabble of a thousand-word post trying to rationalize it and subsequently take out all the magical elements.  Or if you’re from Bizarro World, you’re here to studiously imbibe every word I offer in my analysis and digest it, in the hopes that you’ll be able to offer your own thoughts and deductions, and hope that the stream of words flowing from your brain is enough to blanket the harsh sounds of soul-enflaming music and reality itself.  But then again, if you’re from Bizarro World, I wonder if you can even read in the first place.

So with all that said, let’s talk about a little-known, under-appreciated Australian band that has long since faded into obscurity and will never ever be referenced again after this post.

Highway to Hell
Band: AC/DC
Artists: Bon Scott, Angus Young, Malcolm Young, Cliff Williams, Phil Rudd
Year: 1979

Song Recommended By: Mrs. Jones of Keepin’ up with the Joneses…in the Book World

All right, confession time: I don’t know AC/DC all that well.

Well, actually I could say that about a lot of bands.  I didn’t get my first mp3 player (or iPod, or whatever) until a couple of years ago.  Same goes for my first -- and currently only -- laptop, and I had a very jaded belief that MTV was garbage to be avoided at all costs.  So I hope you’ll forgive me for my ignorance when it comes to music; I’m what you’d call “melodically stunted”.

That said, I’ve gotten better in recent years thanks to a bit of slow but steady exposure -- and even if I wasn’t, I think that I’d be able to handle myself if it came down to dissecting a song by virtue of its lyrics.  Whatever the case, after listening to this song, I have two points to keep in mind from this day on.

1) I owe it to myself to listen to more AC/DC.

2) This song is almost surprisingly simple.

I almost feel like I’m being redundant trying to analyze and explain this thing.  I mean, it should be pretty obvious what the intent is, right?  Is there anything that I can say that can possibly add to the effect?  Can’t I just say “that’s so manly” and be done with it?

Well, I guess I might as well give it a shot.  Just in case there’s anyone reading this that wants to have someone else connect the manly dots.

At the shallowest level -- at the above-sea chunk of the iceberg -- this is a song about going to hell.  There’s at least one person who’s planning a one-way trip, and he almost seems proud to.  If people are natural-born sinners, then it’s only natural that we each accept our inevitable journey to the land of fire and brimstone.  The speaker has not only accepted it, but sounds outright excited to go -- and with that acceptance, with that excitement, comes the ultimate release.

I’m a bit rusty on my theology, but even so I’d assume that most of the sins (or standard no-nos of any religion) are about doing things that offer pleasure or satisfaction.  Sin and refuse to repent for them, and you’re going to hell.  The obvious counter would be to live a life without sin, but wouldn’t that mean living a life without some of the more extreme pleasures?  Wouldn’t that mean denying basic, instinctual desires that men and women experience?  I’m not saying that the only way to achieve happiness is through sin (just in case there are any kids planning to try out a vice-filled lifestyle), but it seems like a sacrifice that some people aren’t willing to make.  Some do out of fear or loyalty to their god(s) of choice, or just because they’re pillars of morality, but others…others choose not to.

Like the speaker -- or singer, as it were.  If living a life of noble sacrifice and virtue limits his current lifestyle, he’d prefer not to.  He’d rather willingly sin, willingly live by vice, and willingly pave his way toward hell in order to experience the life he wants.  He wants freedom.  He wants to go all out in experiencing life’s pleasures, corruptive and extreme as they may be.  And really, what greater freedom is there than choosing to travel to hell by way of one’s own actions?  At least you can say you lived life to its fullest -- a life without regrets, without restraint.  A life that transforms every moment into a wild storm is worth every second of eternal damnation.

And yet…I feel like there’s still more to this song.  It’s thanks to lines like these:

Hey Satan, paid my dues
Playing in a rocking band
Hey Momma, look at me
I'm on my way to the promised land

Judging by the melody -- the guitars, the drums, everything -- it would be almost silly to call “Highway to Hell” melancholy.  It’s a great song for getting its listeners amped up and ready to go on a wild ride, a credit to the song, the band, and the power of a few good guitar riffs.  But I can’t shake the feeling that that’s an intended effect; maybe AC/DC wanted to juxtapose that hype-instilling sound with some deeply-affecting and borderline-remorseful lyrics.  And given the real-life context...well, let's call it "foreshadowing" and leave it at that.

It feels like there’s a level of resignation to it.  For example, I don’t think there’s anything inherently wrong with playing in a rock band -- not a sentiment shared by some, but different strokes for different folks.  But here, it’s almost as if the group recognizes and accepts that even if they’re doing something that makes people happy, they’re still indefensible sinners destined for the inferno.  In the next two lines, the speaker brings up his mother, telling her that he’s on his way out.  As manly as it is to pay respect to one’s mother, it still feels like a grim thought -- he’s not just telling her to look at him, but more or less telling her goodbye.  He’s off to a place that she can’t (or at least shouldn’t) follow; he is quite literally departing on this highway, leaving behind all the pleasures and vices and rock music and fanfare he’s known in order to receive the blessing of perdition.  Given that, is it so farfetched to assume that this song -- his last song -- is one that gives him one more laugh before the upcoming torment?

There is one alternative.  Maybe the façade of this song isn’t a façade at all; maybe he’s actually happy to be heading off to hell.  Think about it: he’s lived his life the way he wants to, rules be damned.  He knows instinctively that he won’t be alone down there.  Even if he’s not directly on the road, he’ll continue living his life the way he wants to, and nothing on earth will slow him down.  The lyrics could just as easily be a bold declaration as well as a spirited lament; the song itself could be a primer on living without regret, and keeping a smile on your face and a song in your heart even if -- especially if you’re destined to face some severe consequences.  But what’s important isn’t about fearing what’s going to happen to you tomorrow as a result of yesterday.  It’s all about living for today.   Living a life without regrets, and laughing off disasters you may very well be destined to face.

Freedom, no matter what the cost.  It’s something that’s undeniably admirable.  And to that end, I must declare…

And that’ll wrap things up here.  See you guys around -- but do try and stay out of trouble, yes?  I imagine hell’s a bit crowded as it is.  And be sure to check out Keepin’ up with the Joneses for plenty of book reviews, publishing tips, and no shortage of book analyses that’ll help you feel the love -- which I imagine is a great way to keep your name of the devil’s dinner party invitations.

Do you have a manly song to recommend?  Then you, too, can have your suggestion turned into a full-fledged post!  Just leave a comment naming a song (limit one song per comment), and your song will be analyzed -- and if you have a blog or other net-haven, you’ll be suitably honored.  So get to it; feel the rush of testosterone, and help make THE MANLIEST PLAYLIST IN THE UNIVERSE!


  1. YAY!!! ACDC is So under-appreciated these days!!
    Im so glad you did this!
    Awesome post, AS always!!!

  2. Hey, I should be thanking you for recommending the song. You certainly weren't lying -- it's a manly song, if there ever was one.