The first time I heard Wire was on a mix tape my brother had made. It was the live version of "12XU" which, in my mind, is one of the strongest live songs ever recorded. (I can't find the specific version to which I'm referring, but the studio version is also great.) Wire is great for many reasons - that's a different blog entry for a different time - but as a general rule, I can't make heads or tails of their lyrics. Granted, I'm not the sharpest knife in the drawer, but what the hell do the following lines mean?
Maybe the meaning of the words is irrelevant, kind of like any given Cocteau Twins song. I'm not sure with Wire - something seems too put together about their lyrics. They seem to serve a purpose though I have no clue what it might be. Generally, I'm happy to ignore lyrics anyway if the rest of the song is hitting me just right. But something compels me to try and figure out Wire lyrics, at least from time to time.
My first - and most adventurous - attempt happened around my freshman year of high school. I had forgotten all about this until about three summers ago. I was snooping around in the attic of our cottage in Michigan when I found, hidden in a drawer of a dresser up there, some sheets of folded up legal paper. They were slightly crispy with age, and it looked like they had been singed by a flame. I opened it up, and there it was: a story I had written years ago. As I read what I had written, it all rushed back to me what I was trying to do: I thought it would be fun to try and make sense of "A Serious Of Snakes". Again - there was this thought that there was something quite deliberate in those words which seemed so randomly selected. I treated it like a riddle. I wanted to incorporate as much as I could, creating the story by searching and slaving over each line of the lyrics, trying to extract some sort of meaning.
The story I came up with is pretty twisted for a high school freshman. It's something like this: it's World War II in a parallel universe. On a rainy night, a couple (named Mary and Joseph) who are performers in a travelling circus meet with a mysterious man to arrange to sell their child to him. They're desperate for money and cannot have a child in their lives at this moment. They are tired and resentful, and they abuse their infant.
The mysterious man, it turns out, is a gifted American scientist of German heritage (volksdeutchse) who heeds Hitler's call to return to Germany to assist in the war effort. Deciding that the child would be a good candidate for his research, he proceeds to experiment on the child, using surgeries, electric shock, and relentless physical training. The child is not allowed to attend school, though he learns to read and write at a very basic level. The goal is to create a super soldier, adept at killing in large numbers and unable to feel remorse or regret.
He is sent to war for the Nazis in his early teens. The child proves to be a relentless killer, following orders without fail. In battle after battle, he leaves a trail of corpses and smoking, ruined machinery. But the attempts to shock out emotion and memory are incomplete. During a debriefing after a mission, the boy super soldier tells his handler he has something personal he wants to take care of. The handler/scientist agrees to let the boy indulge in his hatred, and they boy finds Mary and Joseph (who are still travelling with the circus) and kills them slowly with his bare hands. Unknown to the boy, another boy witnesses the carnage from a boxcar on the circus train. The boy hiding in the box car is an avid journaller who spends time creating puzzles and codes. Stunned and scared by what he sees, he begins to compose a letter asking for help (from who, I don't know because I hadn't figured out that detail yet) in a code of his devising.
. . . and in classic Matt Zink fashion, that's all the further I got on the story. I never made it any further. It's pretty dark for sure, but it also reflects (for better or worse) that I was an overly serious child with interests in things like true crime stories, history, and comics. Let's face it: for most adolescent boys steeped in comic and crime lore, dystopian, alternate history stories are easy to write. (I actually still have one or two other "dystopian future" stories from my junior high days.) I remember seeing the 1984 adaptation of, uh, "1984" and I thought it was brilliant. I'm sure that influenced the story pretty heavily as well. I must admit it was fun to indulge my darker nature in this story - it seems like one of the healthier ways to explore such feelings. I don't think there's any permanent damage, I'll put it that way.
At this point I know what you're thinking: how the hell did he get that story from those lyrics? Well, you take a crack at 'em and let's see what you come up with.