Summer is upon us, friends! In the spirit of the approaching season, I thought I would pick a more upbeat tune. I was digging through some songs and searching for something with a bit of a literary reference… and I found one! The song/poem I chose is “Soma” by The Strokes, off of their 2001 album Is This It.
First off, I have to address the title of the song. For those of you who don’t know, “soma” is the name of a fictional drug created by author Aldous Huxley for his dystopian novel, Brave New World. This book looks at a totalitarian government that controls society through a mixture of science and technology with the argument that such a combination could ultimately reduce the individuality of the human race.
“Soma is what they would take when
Hard times opened their eyes
Saw pain in a new way
High stakes for a few names
Racing against sun beams
Losing against their dreams
In your eyes”
The song opens with an allusion to “soma,” most likely referring to the ambiguous “they” as the characters in Brave New World who, he explains, took the drug to escape their problems when confronted with them. I like the lyrical rhyme scheme here of way/names, and beams/dreams.
I think this first stanza could be talking about general drug use and perhaps drug dealing. Considering that soma is a fictional drug, we are able to substitute illegal drug use for the references and the song takes on a more realistic meaning.
“High stakes for a few names” could be referencing the world of drug trading: people facing high risks just to gain new customers or win the trust of better dealers. I love the lines, “racing against sun beams/losing against their dreams.” Perhaps there are people trying to hurry through the night to accomplish some sort of deal.
“And I am
In your eyes
See I am
In your eyes
This chorus could simply be about a significant other who perhaps enjoys the benefits of the drug lord, but struggles with the morality of the situation. “In your eyes,” which is mentioned in the first verse and again here, references the disapproval of this other person who cannot seem to accept the current state of things.
“When I saw her for the first time
Lips moved as her eyes closed
Heard something in his voice
“And I’ll be there”, he says
Then he walks out
Somehow he was trying
Too hard to be like them”
These first two lines could be a depiction of a friend of the narrator’s using the drug for the first time. Perhaps this “he” is the drug promising to always be there but then “walking out” as a “trip” never lasts (I am alluding to acid here, simply because Huxley experimented with LSD).
The last two lines are a bit confusing under this presumption, though. So, perhaps this “he” is a real person and not the personification of a substance. If this is the case, then he is trying to be like the other dealers, or maybe he is trying to fit into a mold that he is incapable of fitting.
“Well I am
In your eyes
And I am
Oh, darling, let me go”
The only thing that is different in the chorus this time is the last line. I think that perhaps the narrator is talking to the drug. Maybe the first time when he said, “let’s go,” he was looking forward to getting high or tripping, or however else you can describe a drug-induced experience. Only now, he is addicted and wants this drug to let him go.
Tried it once and they like it
Then tried to hide it
Says, “I’ve been doing this 25 years”
But I’m not listening no more
And these friends, they keep asking for more
Oh, but that’s it
This last verse could not be any more straightforward: this user talks about how quickly drugs can pull a person in. The verse outlines the internal struggle to hide the addiction from family and friends. Then it addresses the amount of time for which addictions can take hold of a person, in this case 25 years. The user then claims he won’t listen to the drug anymore, but he cannot get away from it because his friends want more. However, he claims that he is done.
I may be so far off in my interpretation of the song, but I had a lot of fun listening to it from this angle, and I love its reference to the classic novel. It is so fascinating how many different ways we can listen to music, and while we cannot always get into the minds of these bands and songwriters and poets, we can always try our hardest to get some sort of understanding of their work. And who can tell us that we are wrong?
— Haley Renison, Poetry Editor