Somehow, I’ve never once made an attempt at covering this song previously, which is kind’ve shocking considering I spent my teenage years obsessed with it. Hell, I was even reminded over on the niallon Facebook page that it was one of the songs I performed for my Leaving Cert practical in school. Maybe it’s just because it’s been covered to death I subconsciously blocked it out. I do remember having a very specific jumping off point with this song though, and it all came down to interpretation.
“Good Riddance (Time Of Your Life)” falls into that famous bracket of songs that are routinely misinterpreted. Green Day frontman Billy Joe Armstrong wrote it about a previous relationship that had broken down and the “time of your life” sentiment was somewhat ironic and with a hint of bitterness. It then went on to become an anthem for parting friends and ending school years and so all of the original sentiment was lost in time. Armstrong himself has commented that he can see where that interpretation came from and hasn’t expressed any disdain for it, but he’s an exception in that sense.
Many songs through the years have been subject to famous misinterpretations. “American Pie” is considered by many to be an anthem and a coming of age type tune where in reality it is morbidly depressing. “Angel” is about heroin addiction but regularly gets wheeled out for weddings. Hell, don’t even get me started on “Build Me Up Buttercup”. Yet what does any of it matter when the whole point of music is that once it is composed and published it is out there for your enjoyment and yours alone as far as interpretations go? Well, it’s a funny one. I’ve written about this before, even a few weeks back when discussing artist’s connection to songs, but my go-to here is always Springsteen’s “Born In The U.S.A”. Not only is this song constantly misinterpreted but the misinterpretation serves to diminish a very smart and extremely poignant intention on his part when writing it.
For those that don’t know, “Born In The U.S.A” was written about returning war veterans, namely Vietnam veterans and the misery that awaited them once home. Yet millions, particularly proud Americans, heard it as a patriotic anthem revelling in the greatness of the USA. Springsteen himself was not amused, choosing to perform the song in a stripped down acoustic version for years as if to force the audience’s understanding. I’ve debated back and forth as to whether the author or the audience get final say on what a song is “about” and it certainly depends on the song for the most part. For example something like “Born In The USA” for me carries a very important and relevant message that I hate to see go unnoticed.
On the other hand, we’re all allowed have our own interpretations of songs right? For me it depends on what the subject matter is. Armstrong wrote “Good Riddance” about a breakup and even though no two breakups are the same, many could probably relate to the bitterness exhibited in the sentiment. That said, it’s a breakup. To the individual(s) involved they feel like cataclysmic world altering events. In the grand scale of things, they’re not. On the other hand, the sentiment Springsteen wants to convey in “Born In The USA” affects millions.
It’s a division my mind places in music that some might find odd but I find it extremely relevant. You can write extremely personal songs and you can write totally detached songs based around a hypothesis that appeals. You can also write globally reaching songs that may or may not have a personal connection to you as the songwriter. Another classic example is “Russians” by Sting.
Given when it was written and the references to Reagan, Khrushchev and Oppenheimer it should be pretty obvious what it is about. On the other hand there absolutely could be some people, particularly nowadays so far out from that period in time, who might not recognise a single one of those names. There’s a good chance that if someone listened to “Russians” and told me they reckon it was written about a Russian couple who don’t look after their kids while they’re playing in the garden that I would explode into a wild rant and wish to never speak to them again. For that person though, the song could be as relevant and impactful as it is for me though and is that not what’s most important?
Asking me straight up I’d say no. Asking me in the grander scheme of how important music is to me I’d say yes. It’s a peculiar one and one which, brace yourselves, I don’t have a solid answer for. One to ponder nonetheless. As always hope you enjoy, watch, like and subscribe.