This is the second part in my in-depth review of the songs of “Black Ribbons” (click here to read part one of my review). These songs provide quite a few clues as to what has led to the final broadcast of Will-O-The-Wisp and the establishment of the American Union.
Black Ribbons (The Well Wishers, 2010)
This is the title track from the album, and one of my favorites. It was one of the first songs written for the album, and is easily the most accessible for fans of Shooter’s earlier work. With its sweeping, mournful feel, the simple arrangement of Shooter’s voice, acoustic guitar, dobro, Hammond organ, piano, and backing vocals all combine to create a song bigger than the sum of its parts.
This is a lament for the end of freedom. It talks of the despair and numbness that comes from losing your way and feeling overwhelmed by events in the world around you:
Man down, tie a ribbon round my soul.
I’m in the Black and I’m outta control.
Like a ship that’s lost in the night,
with no direction or guiding light.
Man down, and I’m drowning in the pain.
Facedown like a needle in the vein.
You’re the only thing that keeps me sane,
but somehow I can’t keep you out of my rain.
I see you standing in the rain.
There is an aura of fatalism that’s hard to escape here, in fact the song ends with the staccato march of boots – a none too subtle allegory for the progression of thought control and censorship. But, if you listen closely, you will find the antidote to that despair – “you’re that only thing that keeps me sane”. That one line speaks to the power of family, the power of the love you share with those in your life – a recurring theme throughout the album. Here, it’s just a glimmer of light in an otherwise dark song – but sometimes a glimmer is all it takes.
Last Light Radio 11:41 PM
In this interlude, Will-O-The-Wisp talks about his journey over the past 10 years on the radio. Reminiscing a bit, it’s at this point that you get the first real inclination that perhaps he is not ready to go quietly into the night. He says that there is still hope for the country but – “it’s going to take time, and it’s going to cost lives”. There are also a few hints at the origins of the government takeover of the airwaves, and the true cost of freedom lost:
This next song is pure nostalgia at this point, harking back to time when the world economy was going down the shitter and we really believed things couldn’t get any worse. But what did we know. The costs turned out to be higher than all the government bailouts and stimulus packages combined.
Sure sounds like they started out in a familiar place.
Summer of Rage (Bohemian Grove, 2009)
Before I dive in to my analysis of “Summer of Rage” take a moment to watch the video for the song below. Full of imagery and subtext, it will round out your understanding of the entire “Black Ribbons” album.
Much like the song “Black Ribbons”, this song contains a message of hope, albeit one wrapped in a warning. The chorus intones:
Hush, hush little child, your world is going wild.
Can’t trust nothing but the love in your momma’s eyes.
Hush, hush little child, salvation’s in your smile.
Just wish I could be alive to see the whole thing in her eyes.
Our only weapon’s total defiance.
Let our love for our neighbors guide us.
Speak loud when they try to silence.
Withhold when they try to fight us.
Shooter has said that this song was meant to be a message to his daughter – a warning about the world he fears she is going to inherit and a marker he can leave on the road ahead for her, pointing in the right direction. You can see that warning in the video, and hear it in the song. A warning that the overarching nanny-state, the cradle-to-grave government society, is the path to ruin. There is no substitute for family – for the love that a parent feels for a child. Until you have felt that bond, it’s far too easy to live for yourself and yourself alone (much like “the animals” he talks about earlier on the album). Instilling self reliance and a love of family in our children is the only path towards a better future.
This song was written during the financial meltdown of 2008. It reflects the anxiety that comes from seeing the very foundations of your freedom threatened by forces outside of your control. As the song ends, you can hear what sounds like a radio broadcast, warning against the ruling class and their desire to control “the truth” as well as the dangers of losing the ability to think for yourself and question what you hear:
The question of how and why the United Nations is the crux of the great conspiracy to destroy the sovereignty of the United States, and the enslavement of the American People within a UN One World Dictatorship, is a complete and unknown mystery to the vast majority of the American People. The reason for this unawareness, of the frightening danger to our country, and to the entire free world is simple. The masterminds behind this great conspiracy have absolute control of all of our mass communications media; especially television, the radio, the press, and Hollywood. We all know that our State Department, The Pentagon, The White House have brazenly proclaimed that they have the right and the power to manage the media; to tell us not the truth, but what they want us to believe. They have seized that power on orders from their masters in the conspiracy, and the objective is to brainwash the people into accepting the phony peace bait to transform the United States into an enslaved unit of the United Nations One World Government.
California via Tennessee (The Well Wishers, 2010)
This song is a more down the middle rock song, with a distinct California vibe (fittingly enough). Shooter has said this is a “loose concept” album – so this song may or may not be tied directly into the more overt narrative. I have to be honest – it’s the song that I struggle with the most, as far as fitting it in to the message and story of “Black Ribbons”. It’s a great song – maybe that’s all it’s meant to be.
My best guess is that it touches on a theme that Will-O-The-Wisp puts forth earlier in the album – the transition from childhood to adulthood (seen here as moving from Tennessee to California). Taken as a follow-up to “Summer of Rage”, it again reinforces the importance of family. As we all grown up, leave one life behind (Tennessee), and make a new life on our own (California), we take the lessons from our childhood with us.
I sleep in California,
But I dream in Tennessee
We all try, at some point, to rebel against what our parents taught us. But, what we all learn in our own time is – how you are raised is as much a part of you as your fingerprints. No matter where you go, you take home with you. As another famous song says – “teach your children well”.
The Illuminated (The Illuminated, 2011)
“The Illuminated” is one of the more powerful songs on the album – much in the same vein as “Wake Up”. More that any other track on the record, this song gives you an almost complete picture of the future envisioned in “Black Ribbons” – both the good and the bad.
The title itself is a reference to members of the Illuminati – a secret order thought to be part of the conspiracy to bring about a New World Order. By following the breadcrumbs dropped in this song, it’s possible to get a far clearer picture of the future Hierophant inhabits.
Reptiles with red shields on their doors
That hide from the eyes and wage world wars.
Can’t hold a candle to the power that I’ve got for you.
All the things that will die
All the dreams I’ve buried deep inside
Can’t compare to what will live
Because of you – because of you.
The reptiles here are a passing reference to the theories of David Icke. The “red shield” is a reference to the Rothschild family – also a staple of the New World Order along with the Illuminati. It’s clear that Hierophant’s future holds the realization of most New World Order theories – with centralized control of the masses by the ruling class.
Far more important than these, however, is the second part of the lyrics. Shooter again comes back to the theme of love and family as an answer to tyranny. For all of the pain and oppression that he has felt, he has still left something valuable for his daughter – the love of family – not the government. Teaching his daughter the true meaning of love and freedom is the greatest gift he can give her.
Sonically, “The Illuminated” gives more than a slight nod to the atmosphere of “In The Flesh” by Pink Floyd. It’s a large, menacing, and visceral sound. As it settles into the verse, Shooter’s vocals provide a steady presence to the song – but climb to a frenzied peak during the bridge and chorus. As it ends and you hear the wail of air raid sirens – signaling the arrival of the New World Order.
Last Light Radio 11:57 PM
In his next to last talk with the audience, Will-O-The-Wisp mourns the coming of “the witching hour”. Looking back over his career, he recalls victories against the ruling class, but faces the coming change head on. He gives one final bit of advice before playing the last song -
This time, they’ve divided us so that they could conquer us. Remember one thing though, they can muzzle me but they can’t muzzle the love and truth in your heart. Lies will still be exposed and injustice can still be overturned. It’s not too late. The truth can still set you free. Guard the love in your heart. Guard the truth.
When the Radio Goes Dead (Bohemian Grove, 2009)
This is another of my favorite tracks on the album. The Spanish flavored guitar at the start of the song is hauntingly beautiful in it’s simplicity. As the song picks up steam, a driving rhythm supports the guitar and adds an urgency to the sound, much like the driving rhythms found in “Wake Up” and “Summer of Rage”. You can feel yourself rushing headlong through this song – carried forward by both the vocals and the music. The chorus and the break both provide an anthem like feel – a current sound, but one that also owes its spirit to protest songs of an earlier time.
This song speaks very clearly of the dangers of government control and censorship of speech. One of the biggest enemies of a dictatorship is the truth. When those on either side of the aisle have their voices silenced – we all lose. On one hand, the truth always needs to be spoken and heard. On the other hand, lies also need to be aired in public – open to scrutiny and discussion – not whispered in private. As the saying goes – the best disinfectant in public discourse is the light of day. Once you silence speech and expression – once the radio goes dead – freedom cannot survive. It’s a powerful message, and one that everyone should take to heart.
Is anyone out there,
Is anyone listening,
Will anyone remember what’s been said?
All Of This Could Have Been Yours (Reprise)
As the song begins, we hear Will-O-The-Wisp’s final words. From the studio, he sees agents arrive to shut down the broadcast. In a final act of defiance he flips them off and vows to go out on his own terms. We then hear a hail of gunfire, broken glass, and sirens. In a very real sense, the radio is dead.
The reprise of “All of this Could Have Been Yours” swirls around you with a frantic energy. The guitar work is sharp and biting, a perfect requiem to mark the passing of the last free voice on the airwaves. Still – it’s no accident that this song was chosen as the reprise. It’s a song both of defiance and mourning: defiance in the face of rejection, and mourning for those lost to hatred and ignorance.
As I’ve said before, I think “Black Ribbons” is a masterpiece. The more I listen to it, the more my perception of it shifts. It’s taken me a long time to complete this song-by-song review because I keep revising my thoughts as I continue to discover new layers. I still view it though a conservative lens – but I’m beginning to appreciate it more through the lens of the ruling class versus the country class.
When I first started listening, I heard “Black Ribbons” as a very dark record – a pessimistic view of a world that we could very much be moving towards; a fatalistic portrait of the end of freedom as we know it. It is a dark record, but something I recently heard Shooter say changed my initial perception:
You’ve got to paint a black wall, then paint a rainbow on it for the rainbow to stand out.
After hearing that, I really went back and listened to the album again. I was surprised at what I found there. Yes – the darkness is upfront and unmistakable in the music – but there is also a thread of hope and encouragement running through the album as well. No matter what lens you choose to view it through, the central message remains essentially the same – Government is not the answer, family is. It’s just that simple.
If you look to the Government (no matter who’s in power) to fulfill your needs and take care of you, you will never be happy or free. It’s only the family and friends that surround you who can truly provide those things. Taking care of your family, relying on yourself, speaking the truth – those are the things that secure a better future for your children. Tyranny can’t survive in a world filled with independent thinkers, self reliant families, and an informed electorate. All of those things are within our power. No one can control the thoughts in your head or the love in your heart. Never forget that. If you do – they win.
Thanks for joining me on my long winded exposition and exploration of “Black Ribbons”. Shooter – if you are reading this, send me an e-mail sometime. I would love to interview you for the site and see just how close my interpretation comes to the reality of the record. Thanks again for the great music!
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