A Conversation for The Subtext of '39' by Queen
PaulBateman Started conversation May 7, 2002
Picky, picky me... That should be light speed in a vacuum - though this may depend on if you have a Hoover or Dyson.
I'll never be able to think of this song in the same way again! I tend not to listen to lyrics too closely - other than Monty Python, of course. And tend to think that inconsistencies are more to do with poetic licence. Are then others gems to be gleaned from other songs like this?
FABT - new venture A815654 Angel spoiler page Posted May 7, 2002
only on h2g2.......
on a more mundane note it could be a referance to 1939 when there was a rathe big war on and how those who went away to fight came back to find both themselves and their loved ones changed beyond recognition by their experiences.
but then that would be boring......
Queex Quimwrangler (Not Egon) Posted May 7, 2002
I came to exactly the same conclusion when trying to decipher those lyrics, and on explaining them everyone thought I was nuts.
I even considered writing a short story based around the song, but didn't think I could add anything to the existing version.
I now feel fully vindicated, !
Steve K. Posted May 7, 2002
" ... inconsistencies are more to do with poetic licence."
That reminds me of a great comment by Todd Snider (a songwriter whose lyrics ARE worth listening to, unlike most). Introducing a song onstage, he said something like "This was supposed to be a song about a guy's and a girl's first date, but by the time I got it all to rhyme, it wasn't about that anymore."
I also generally ignore lyrics, agreeing with Dave Barry's "Book of Bad Songs" that they are mostly gibberish anyway. Like "A Horse With No Name", which inspired one comedian to say, "You're in the DESERT. You got nothin' else to DO. NAME THE FREAKIN' HORSE."
But this lyric is really interesting, now that it's been explained. I don't remember the song, but I'll probably go listen now. Good entry.
Geoff Taylor - Gullible Chump Posted May 7, 2002
One of my favourite Queen songs. I came to the same conclusion when I first listened to it, in 1978. I was 9, and I watched a lot of Star Trek. Still do.
Guran Posted May 8, 2002
"Speed of light [in a vaccuum]" ... yeah, it's okay to be picky - that's how people learn stuff! Actually, I do have a Dyson - I must make a point of looking at the television through the transparent cylindrical bit, to see if the vision and sound get out of synch ... or maybe not.
Despite my best efforts I completely failed to discover Brian May's actual take on the lyrics - I'd be interested to know if anyone has done so. I think the WWII explanation is also possible, but a lot less sexy.
Queen is a pretty good band to get strange lyrics from, particularly their first couple of albums. But most are merely absurd or whimsical, while '39 stands out as a bit mystifying without some explanation. Anyway, I like it, and that's why I wrote about it. I'm glad other people like it too!
FABT - new venture A815654 Angel spoiler page Posted May 8, 2002
my favourite lyrics are the 'going slightly mad' ones.
Not Shakespeare Posted May 9, 2002
This is the best deconstruction of a song since I read the commentaries on Marillion's "Garden Party."
The funny thing is that while I was reading the lyrics, I assumed he was talking time dilation before I got to the explanation.
Steve K. Posted May 9, 2002
I am not familiar with Marillion's "Garden Party", but some of the USA folks may recall Ricky Nelson's "Garden Party". RN was a teen star in a 50's TV show, then became a singer/heartthrob in the 60's (I think). "Garden Party" was a late career song and, for him, a protest against being stuck in a single role. Unfortunately, Ricky Nelson was killed in a plane crash.
Is there any connection between these stories?
Not Shakespeare Posted May 13, 2002
I don't think there is a connection between the songs. Marillion's garden party is more of a social satire with lots of little reference bits that could be taken two ways.
"Edgy eggs and queuing cumbers
Rudely wakened from their slumbers
Time has come again for slaughter
On the lawns by still Cam waters"
Steve K. Posted May 13, 2002
" ... queuing cumbers ...", great phrase
Yup, sounds like much more of a satire than Nelson's, which had lines like "If memories were all I had, I'd rather drive a truck." A straight complaint against the attitude toward out of vogue performers who are expected to do their handful of hits and then sit down. The rule for oldies concerts is "NO NEW SONGS!"
Geoff Taylor - Gullible Chump Posted May 13, 2002
"Champagne corks are firing at the sun...again.
Swooping swallows chased by violins...again.
Strafed by Strauss, they sulk in crumbling eaves... again.
Oh God, not again!"
"Smiles polluted with false charm
Locking onto Royal arm.
Society columns now ensured
Return to mingle with the crowd."
- Garden Party.
Say whatever you want about Marillion, but Fish didn't half write some wonderful lyrics.
DaveMcL Posted Jul 23, 2002
Great dissection of a brilliant song.
I remember hearing an explanation a few years ago that the song had been inspired by the book "Forever War"by Joe Haldeman. In which the hero is conscripted to go fight a war I a distant part of the galaxy. Since they don't have faster than light travel the ships move at near light speed resulting in time dilation. When he eventually returns from the war it's thousands of years in the future.
TeaKay Posted Aug 5, 2004
On Brian's actual take on the lyrics:
He studied Physics & Astronomy at university and can quite often be seen taking part in televised Astronomy events with Patrick Moore (such as the recent transit of Venus, and he's even co- hosted an edition of The Sky At Night), so that would add strength to the idea that it's science-themed.
Also, I'd like to add that from my personal opinions of Brian gained from watching and reading interviews etc, he'd be more than happy for you to see whatever you like in the lyrics, as long as you enjoy the song!
It's one of my favourites- I've even written a short story based around it.
intelligent moose (the one true H2G2 Moose) Posted Jan 13, 2005
Gosh, I'd always assumed it was about people going off to war too! But your explanation does explain most of the points I'd put down to "poetic license"
roadio Posted Nov 12, 2005
I never knew the name of the song about "the land our grandchildren knew" but it always haunted me so I decided to track it down. This is the first time I've ever read the lyric. The scientific explanation makes perfect sense and I was aware of the concept of time dilation, yet I didn't need it to understand the story on a poetic level. I assumed he was saying that although only a year has passed chronologically, so much has happened that the world is much older than that would indicate. As for the line about the "mother's eyes", his child could have been born and his lover died during his long journey. His true love's spirit would have remained with him into his grandchildren's era.
On a completely different note, didn't we eventually learn that Major Tom was only a junkie whose voyage was only in his head? ("My Mama said, "To get things done, you better not mess with Major Tom""). That just popped into my head.
TeaKay Posted Nov 13, 2005
If you listen to Brian's intro speech to '39 on the new Return of the Champions CD, it may shed some light on what Brian intended the song to be about
mmm2m8r Posted May 19, 2006
Just bought their first CD to get 39. I remember when it was played on the radio in 1975. I thought the Moody Blues had gotten back together and composed that song. Then I finally heard the group was Queen. Always loved that song but never purchased any Queen stuff till now. The singer does sound a lot like Justin Hayward (Moodies) in parts of the song. Also, the fantastic chorus in the song is very reminescent of the old Moodies melotron- enhanced vocals. This time travel explanation is much better than the one I envisioned of a New World exploration by Vikings or such. Very haunting and forlorn but beautiful. What a songwriter.
Key: Complain about this post
- 1: PaulBateman (May 7, 2002)
- 2: FABT - new venture A815654 Angel spoiler page (May 7, 2002)
- 3: Queex Quimwrangler (Not Egon) (May 7, 2002)
- 4: Steve K. (May 7, 2002)
- 5: Geoff Taylor - Gullible Chump (May 7, 2002)
- 6: Guran (May 8, 2002)
- 7: FABT - new venture A815654 Angel spoiler page (May 8, 2002)
- 8: Not Shakespeare (May 9, 2002)
- 9: Steve K. (May 9, 2002)
- 10: Not Shakespeare (May 13, 2002)
- 11: Steve K. (May 13, 2002)
- 12: Geoff Taylor - Gullible Chump (May 13, 2002)
- 13: DaveMcL (Jul 23, 2002)
- 14: TeaKay (Aug 5, 2004)
- 15: intelligent moose (the one true H2G2 Moose) (Jan 13, 2005)
- 16: roadio (Nov 12, 2005)
- 17: TeaKay (Nov 13, 2005)
- 18: mmm2m8r (May 19, 2006)
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