I’ve taken a number of classes interpreting various works (mostly poetry) and I think we all have that song or poem whose meaning we constantly try to discern. I figured dissecting a few of my favorites would make for a fun series. However, because a work, when released, inevitably becomes owned in part by the consumer, it doesn’t necessarily have to mean only one thing. Thus the following should not be taken with any rigidity.
I can think of no better place to start than the song that has become synonymous with me. How Soon is Now, by The Smiths. I first came across the t.A.T.u. version of this song, a style that, I think, makes it completely different from the original so that is the one i always imagine. The song has been redone numerous times by t.A.T.u., Snake River Conspiracy, Love Spit Love, The Crying Spell, and probably others so pick your favorite.
I am the son
And the heir
Of a shyness that is criminally vulgar
I am the son and heir
Of nothing in particular
A literalist probably sees this as the lament of an introverted or shy individual that cannot overcome the aspects of their own personality that are holding them back. How Soon is Now was released in 1985 making the ideal consumer probably a twenty or thirty-something product of parents born in the 30s and 40s. Their birth, in the early 1960s, would come at the beginning of the sexual revolution. This is traditionally thought of an American phenomenon, but it was actually prevalent across most of the Western World. Much like us, our British counterparts were rebelling against the traditional values of their parents.
Thus I interpret the singer as inheriting a certain kind of self-repression. The shyness that is criminally vulgar is the taboo-ification of anything that fits outside previous cultural conventions. The implicit and crushing suggestion that it’s better to conform than be yourself. As the world moves forward this thought gradually disappears.
You shut your mouth
How can you say
I go about things the wrong way?
I am human and I need to be loved
Just like everybody else does
The following stanza details the struggle between youthful progressiveness and the cold gray of the older generation. It’s easy to see why How Soon is Now has become a sort of Gay anthem.
There’s a club if you’d like to go
You could meet somebody who really loves you
So you go and you stand on your own
And you leave on your own
And you go home and you cry
And you want to die
When you say it’s gonna happen “now”
Well when exactly do you mean?
See I’ve already waited too long
And all my hope is gone
The singer is stuck in limbo, maintaining ties to the old world that rejects him and afraid that where things are headed is more fantasy than reality. He has taken the chance of going to this club, whether it’s a gay club, a BDSM club, or whatever, but he can’t seem to leave behind the world he’s inherited. With many gay people who live in states that aren’t receptive to them, there is a growing impatience for their home to catch up to the rest of the country. I can imagine the final stanza describing very closely the thoughts of an LGBT individual who lives in the deep South. There is this wave of cultural tolerance, and it’s there…yet, it’s not.