September 15, 2008

Lost in the supermarket of poor song interpretations

I've used SongMeanings.net ever since the days when the RIAA was sending cease-and-desist letters for copyright infringement as fast as lyrics search sites could spring up. In my experience, it's the best resource for song lyrics on the Internet. Rarely does the comment section reveal much insight or meaning beyond what one could gather from listening to the song itself, but it's not short on entertainment.

Less popular songs typically have two or three comments saying "I can't believe no one has commented on this great song!" or "No comments? Come on guys!"

But once the ball gets rolling, a few common forms emerge:

The painfully obvious interpretation, obviously, points out a fact that is obvious. Sometimes, the commenter will without shame admit that what he or she is pointing out is, in fact, obvious.
Does anyone else find this song depressing? Maybe I'm just being weird, hmm. The supermarket is obviously some sort of metaphor for something, but I can't think of what.

The literal interpretation. The irritating thing about this type of response is that it can counter anything even the best interpretations of any song. It heaves historical, cultural, and biographical insights aside, no matter how grounded, because maybe, just maybe, it's not metaphorical in the slightest and it's just a simple song about something that happened to the author.
Maybe he really got lost in a supermarket. I did, and I couldn't find my parents, and it scared the crap outta me. But I don't think he did. Maybe you guys are onto something. This was pretty pointless, then, huh?

In a twist on the literal interpretation, some comments relate the lyrics to one's own personal experience. The profound lack of elaboration implies shared nostalgia conjured by the song.
I've gotten lost in the supermarket before.

Some people miss the point completely.
The supermarket is his happy place, like where he used to go get high or something. His life led him there, but it's lost his effect, and he doesn't know what to do anymore.

For others, every song is an existential narrative about relationship strife and loneliness.
The whole part with the getting lost in a supermarket is kind of a metaphor for the writer's life. If you're lost in a supermarket, you're trying to find someone, you know, the person you came in with. In this song, the writer kind of is saying how he's lost in the world and he's just trying to find someone he can relate to or someone who will give him attention.

Eventually, someone will pipe up with biographical or anecdotal details straight from the source, which can clear up much doubt as to the song's inspiration, assuming the stories are factual.
Mick Jones wrote this song while living when he was broke and had to live with his grandmother. I believe in a recent Rolling Stone that he talks about this. Anyway, here he is, this hipster punk musician in a popular band, and he has to share a flat in the suburbs and just wallow in the lameness.

Peacemakers are common. The peacemaker puts in his or her two cents, yet not without the disclaimer "but hey, what do I know?"
I think this song was commenting on commercialism. with the lines "I've got my giant hit discoteque album" and "I can no longer shop happily" he seems to be unhappy with how commercial everything seems. But then it also has a strong theme of loneliness. Great song no matter how you look at it!

Unadulterated nostalgia is something everyone can have, but only a few bother to share.
I find this song depressing because my uncle loved this song and he's no longer with me.

Every so often, there's a serious, plausible, and coherent interpretation.
He lived his life like the commercials told him to, as in he followed all the trends thinking they had the answers ("I save coupons from packets of tea / I've got my giant hit discoteque album"). But when he wanted something substantial, personality, although modern culture promised it, it isn't there, hence is lost in the supermarket of modern culture.

Link: Lyrics for "Lost in the Supermarket" by the Clash

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5 Comments:

Blogger Chase Purdy said...

When I saw this post I was so glad.

September 16, 2008 at 1:11 AM 
Anonymous daniel silliman said...

Oh man. Reading those inane comments makes me hate this song.

And supermarkets.

September 16, 2008 at 9:40 AM 
Blogger StewieChris said...

Speaking of lameness, don't forget, there's the kids-movie interpretation:

"We had a hedge back home in the suburbs / Over which I never could see." It's all about getting over the hedge, right?

Ben Folds covered the song and it was added to the "Over the Hedge" soundtrack. Because those animals can no longer shop happily.

For the movie, Folds also revamped "Rockin' the Suburbs," striking all the swears and hedging out lyrics like, "You better watch out, because I'm gonna say 'fuck.'"

September 16, 2008 at 6:22 PM 
Blogger K. Jan Harvey said...

I always thought it was about the war in Iraq...

September 16, 2008 at 10:08 PM 
Blogger Porter Perkins said...

I'm glad Tony just called attention to this post again. I think about it regularly when I end up at Song Meanings looking up lyrics.

May 5, 2012 at 11:29 AM 

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