One of my favourite songs from this past year is Spirits by the Strumbellas. Newly nominated for a Song of the Year at the JUNOs!

The lyrics to the chorus of this song go like this:

I’ve got guns in my head and they won’t go
Spirits in my head and they won’t go
I’ve got guns in my head and they won’t go
Spirits in my head and they won’t go
But the gun still rattles, the gun still rattles, oooh”

Yesterday I heard this same song on the radio with the word “guns” removed. As if it were a swear word – you know how sometimes artists make “radio friendly” versions of their songs with swear words blanked out, or maybe replaced? Classic example: Forget You, by Cee Lo Green, in which the original version does not use the word “forget”:

Still totally rockin’, either way, I think.

But for Spirits, I’m weirded out and kind of disappointed. Are we really at a stage where the word “guns” is a dirty word? It’s actually a pretty positive song about overcoming your personal demons, so maybe the band is worried that the use of the word “guns” gives the whole song a different connotation. But I like it – it captures the gritty danger of being on the emotional edge much better than the replacement lyrics, which are these:

I’ve got dreams in my head and they won’t go
Spirits in my head and they won’t go
I’ve got dreams in my head and they won’t go
Spirits in my head and they won’t go
But the heart still rattles, the heart still rattles, oooh”

In general I am adverse to change and I think that causes me to become too attached to things, and unable to see where things can be improved or ideas can be developed. Lord knows I absolutely despise the revamped Star Wars Episode IV. LEAVE IT ALONE, GEORGE LUCAS. On the other hand, the updated version of Are You There God, It’s Me Margaret by Judy Blume, featuring the use of more modern feminine hygiene products, was most welcome.

What do you think of this one? Better, or worse? Should an artist leave well enough alone when they’ve put something out into the world, or are they free to tinker?

And should “guns” be a word that’s used more carefully in song, especially pop songs aimed at teens? Were they right to be concerned?

If so, maybe someone should tell Foster The People.

7 thoughts on “Spirits

  1. Well … so, as you know, Lynn, I just got the rights back to my first novel. It was published in 2013 which, six (or seven? Can’t keep track …) books later seems like a lifetime. I read through it before beginning to format my version of the eBook and I – perhaps surprisingly – changed very little. I changed all the American spelling back to Canadian (it had always bothered me that my Canadian publisher used US spelling) but other than that – hardly anything.

    If I wrote that book today, it would be different than it is. And I’m working on a sequel, which will be different. But that book is what it is and I’m (mostly) leaving it alone.

  2. Good question! I love that spirits song, but had to really consider the lyrics first. It’s like ‘guns’ is an alarm – but really it represents much more and I personally think it shouldn’t be cut. As for the pumped up kicks – that song is plain disturbing, unfortunately. But again, it’s art and I’m sure meant to disturb. At least both the songs have meaning. I’m getting a bit tired of music that’s too much pop and not enough substance. I have a feeling we’ll be seeing a post-millennial version of the seventies protest music coming out in force soon enough.

  3. Mark Davis

    I’m definitely against censorship of this form. We are way too hung up on protecting people from the profanity that honest artistic expression sometimes requires, and yet the insane violence that permeates movies and television is all A-OK. As for Star Wars – I’m with you – when you are so fluent with the intimate details, every tweak hurts. The original was already totally magical – why mess with that.

    I frequently see something similar to the Star Wars thing in music – many artists are re-recording their own big hits because (I think?) either the copyright has expired on the original recordings, or just to renew interest. And the radio stations play along and play the new versions. But I have yet to hear a band cover their own song and do it better than the original. I’m like you – the tiny details are frequently what makes me love a particular piece of art, and messing with that destroys that completely.

  4. I hadn’t really heard the song until B.G. asked me to buy it on iTunes, and I admit that I was caught a bit off guard by the use of the word “guns” when I listened to it. It caused me to pay more attention to the lyrics to understand the context, wondering if it was an appropriate song for the kids. Once I understood the gist of the song I didn’t mind letting the kids listen to it, and I really like the song as well. I think it’s unfortunate that they’ve censored it. Even if the context had been different, I don’t think they should have censored it, though if they were talking about something violent I might have taken it off the kids’ playlist for the time being. (Not that keeping it off the playlist would’ve kept the kids from hearing it, as evidenced by the fact that it was B.G. who introduced it to me in the first place, but that’s a whole other blog post…)

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