Friday, April 4, 2008

Confused by Stones lyrics

I realize this might be a trivial topic, but I was driving home from work yesterday flipping through the radio for something to listen to and I came across "(I Can't Get No) Satisfaction" by the Rolling Stones (107.7 the Bone FTW!).

I'm quite familiar with the song, but there's always this one line that bugs me because I don't understand what it has to do with Mick not getting satisfied. Specifically I'm talking about:

"When I'm watchin' my TV/ And that man comes on to tell me/ How white my shirts can be/ But he can't be a man 'cause he doesn't smoke/ The same cigarrettes as me"

The first three lines sound like Mick might be about to rail on the commercialization of daily life, or maybe he's annoyed at the pointless ads on the radio (like the 'useless information' line from the previous verse).

But instead Mick goes off about how the guy doesn't smoke the same brand as he does, and somehow this translates into the man on the TV not being a 'real man'. Say what again? How does this leave Mick unsatisfied? What does it have to do with cleaning shirts? Why is the man cleaning the shirts smoking, and why do the cigarrettes make him less masculine?

Complete overanalyzation - yes. Looking to Little Earl for a response - check.


yoggoth said...

I think it's a great lyric. The best rock lyrics adopt a lesson from French poetry-leaving in some ambiguity makes you sound more profound.

Mick is detailing the psychological conflicts bred by marketing. He watches an ad and worries that his shirts aren't white enough. Thankfully his masculinity is saved by the security engendered by Marlboro cowboy advertising. Of course, we know that one doesn't relate to the other-but bringing us through that line of thinking exposes the bankruptcy of the whole ethos.

Mick's just critiquing modern capitalism and psychological methods to sell.

Little Earl said...

Yeah, I think it's just Mick's way of saying "I'm fed up with our whole cultural value system." It's actually a bit of a profound line considering the song is ostensibly about not getting laid. Instead of detailing Mick's lack of sexual satisfaction, it's almost detailing his lack of spiritual satisfaction.

I actually used to find that line confusing for a very different reason. When I first started listening to the song around age 11, I'd hear the first part of the line, which, given the way Mick sings it, comes off as "But he - can't be a man 'cause he doesn't smoke..." and since I was 11 and I had been taught my whole life that smoking was bad, I remember thinking, "What, so he's saying that you're not a man unless you smoke? Well that's stupid, Mick doesn't know what he's talking about." And then I'd hear the rest of the line, where he adds "the same cigarettes as me," and it made me realize just how prevalent smoking must have been in 1965, because the issue wasn't whether or not you smoked, but what kind of cigarettes you smoked.

Herr Zrbo said...

It feels like a bit of a disconnect between the cleaning-man and what kind of cigarrettes he smokes, but I think Yoggoth put it into perspective for me.

Kevin Lucas said...

The song is ostensibly about not getting laid.