Thursday, August 16, 2012

Man on Fire, A Philosophical Interpretation

Over murder and pain
Come set you free
Over heartache and shame

These tragic lyrics follow the opening chorus of Man on Fire by Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros, a song off their most recent album called Here.  Indeed, tragedy is one of the main themes of the song with the latter half containing a similar refrain:

Over heartache and rage
Come set us free
Over panic and strange

What does Edward Sharpe want freedom from?  Apparently the tyrant which has stolen the freedom causes murder, pain, heartache, shame, rage, panic and strange... stuff.  This is a serious foe and something to be dealt with immediately of course.  But what could it be?  The song does contain statements which can help narrow the search now that we have a conceptual view of the song.

Everybody want safety (safety love)
Everybody want comfort (comfort love)
Everybody want certain (certain love)
Everybody but me
Everybody want romance (romance love)
Everybody want safety (safety love)
Everybody want comfort (comfort love)
Everybody but me

If we break these statements down as propositions then we can logically infer some facts about Edward.  "Safety" is not something that they love for.  Neither is comfort, or certainty.  According to Edward, the vast majority of the world is loving for the wrong reasons.  Many, if not most people persist in unhappy relationships because of the comfort or safety attained in them. Whether it's the status achieved with a beautiful woman on the arm or the comfort a woman gets by knowing her man will have enough money to satisfy her every consumer whim, safety and comfort are two main motivators for many engaged in such relationships.

Certain "love" is achieved by those who place a moral obligation upon those within their grasp by defining the truth as "immoral".  The certain "love" obligation is normally found within dysfunctional families which evade psychological therapy and yet remain together as a unit, continuously growing in dysfunction.  Another noteworthy group implementing the certain love false obligation is religion.  In the Muslim faith, apostasy, or the removal of oneself from the group, is punishable by death.

And finally, the most pervasive cultural group demanding certain love is the State.  Patriotism, or a "love" for the group of people calling themselves the Government, is a mythology that is constantly and overwhelmingly pounded into the heads of most children within indoctrination centers called Public Schools.  Unlike religious groups, which have lost their bite since the Age of Enlightenment, States are still granted permission by the vast majority of people to commit the most heinous of moral crimes.  States are funded through theft and counterfeit, enforce their will with violence, and murder millions of innocents every year.  Thankfully, this is not the "love" Edward Sharpe is looking for.

The love I think is being implied, possibly the only sort of "love" left, is true and rational love.  The love that is drawn by the virtues of the person in question.  A love that isn't demanded but rather, discovered.  This sort of love draws like a magnet by emanating like a bright and wonderful light in the darkness.  Prometheus of the ancient Greek myths brought fire to human beings, Jedi's are on the "Light" side, ideas are sometimes represented as "lightbulbs going off", ect. ect. Even the old "all loving" Christian deity was often described as "The Truth and the Light".  Clearly, light and fire is often used as a metaphor for wisdom and virtue, which perfectly wraps the song in a neat package.

I'm a man on fire
Walking through your street
With one guitar
And two dancing feet
Only one desire
That's left in me
I want the whole damn world
To come dance with me

This is precisely what Edward Sharpe is doing when you listen to this song.  He's walking through the street of your mind and shining the light of truth through music.  And finally, to wrap the whole song up:

I wanna see our bodies burning like the old big sun
I wanna know what we've been learning and learning from

I think this imagery is so much more potent with the context above.  If all of Edward Sharpe's listeners were truly burning bright with true and rational virtue then the world would be on it's way to becoming an amazing place.  However, the final statement here is one that is quite important to everybody, whether experts or amateurs.  To ask one's self what they've "been learning" and "learning from" are two of the most essential questions for anybody in search of self-knowledge and the happiness thereafter.  Socrates himself, the ancient father of self-knowledge, with great humility and honesty once proclaimed, "I know that I know nothing."  Which sent him down a rabbit hole that eventually led him to his death.

Thankfully we don't have to worry about death by curiosity any longer, so the question is all the more important.  If you're going to burn with the light of the truth then you must bow to the supremacy of logic and evidence.  "Learn from" the facts of reality, not just the constant and subtle propaganda spread in the bitchy notes of high-school or the prime-time reality shows on MTV.

Overall, Man on Fire was a great song and definitely a work of art to admire.  I have no idea whether or not the band would agree with my interpretation but I think the logic is valid.  But I could be wrong, tell me what you think in the comments below!


  1. I feel like you projected a lot of what you already think onto a song with multitudes of possible interpretations, thus narrowing the song's meaning. From watching the video and reading the lyrics (before I read your post), I concluded that the song was probably getting at the value in indulging one's passions (in "Edward's" case, for dancing) by forgoing other paths to happiness and instead doing what he is passionate about/sharing it with others. Passion and fire are often figuratively connected so it fits with the actual diction of the song. The virtue of indulging one's passions is that it can overcome difficult mental circumstances and bring hope and feelings of liberation to the downtrodden (in the lyrics, "over ___ and ___/come set us free"). However, since your interpretation highlights your passions about your ideas of truth and social justice, your post came across as that which is written by a man on fire.

  2. I think art is sometimes meant for just that, Anonymous. If you can construct a logically valid interpretation of something that is clearly compelling then that art can greatly strengthen your position.

    In my opinion this is because tying the emotions of the song with a philosophical argument can give a living description of abstract concepts, despite the original purposes or intent of the artist.

  3. That is really interesting, You're an excessively skilled blogger. I've joined your rss feed and sit up for
    in search of more of your excellent post. Also, I have shared your website in my social
    My weblog Smith Mountain Lake Rentals