Poetic license is a powerful tool that enables writers to paint with a broad brush, to use words like an impressionist rather than a realist. It’s armor against the literalists who expect every I to be dotted and T to be crossed, yet it’s also a handy defense for mediocrity for those who can’t be bothered to self-edit. Personally, I view poetic license the same way I view a driver’s license – just as a driver’s license gives you the right to drive, but not the right to drive on the sidewalk, poetic license is intended to give you flexibility, not carte blanche disregard for both logic and linearity.
No surprise that the musician who lost his metaphorical driver’s license because he couldn’t drive 55 has a similar disregard for his poetic license. Sammy Hagar is no profound thinker (you may recall the Van Hagar album title “For Unlawful Carnal Knowledge” and its shamefully juvenile acronym) but the lyrics to Van Halen’s Love Comes Walking In deserve special attention. Let’s start from the top:
Contact is all it takes to change your life, to lose your place in time
Contact, asleep or awake, coming around you may wake up to find
Questions deep within your eyes, now more than ever you realize
Mr. Hagar indicates that “contact is all it takes”, either “asleep or awake,” but I believe most people know that outside of poorly-scripted romantic comedies, love doesn’t start when you sneak up and touch someone when they’re sleeping. That’s not love walking in, that’s a creep walking in.
Also, I’m no ophthalmologist, but I’m confused how those questions got deep into the person’s eyes. Questions usually reside in the mind, which is admittedly very close to the eyes, so perhaps there is some sort of gasket or seal that isn’t sufficiently containing the questions in the cerebellum? However it happened, this person should probably seek immediate medical attention.
And then you sense a change, nothing feels the same
All your dreams are strange, Love comes walking in
Some kind of alien waits for the opening
simply pulls a string, Love comes walking in
Sammy knows women, I’m sure no one would dispute that.* Clearly, because we all know how much women like being part of an alien analogy. Though personally, I would have specified a cute alien, like E.T. or Alf, lest the lyrics bring to mind that creature from the Predator movies. (That’s not sexy. And I have the costume store receipt to prove it.)
Another world, some other time, you lay your sanity on the line
Familiar faces familiar sights, reach back remember with all your might
Ohh there she stands in a silken gown, silver lights shining down
Um, what the heck is he talking about here? “Another world” — is this a continuation of the alien analogy? And what unmentioned scenario in this other world and other time is testing the hero’s sanity? These lyrics have the continuity of an impromptu alibi from a teenager who mistakenly thinks he’s slyly duping his parents about not having smoked pot, except he’s too stoned to know how poorly he’s doing. I feel like the parents in that scenario – completely disappointed, and bemused by the effort.
Also, exactly what physical strength is required to remember something? Does it really take “all your might” to conjure a memory? I have been feeling bad about my general health, but I am confident I’m not going to pull a muscle while reminiscing.
Finally, did he say “silken gown”? Wow, even Steven Tyler would balk at that trite lyric. Is he referring to a prom photo? A wedding day? This picture he’s painting seems like a collage made from cheesy perfume ads.
Sleep and dream is all I crave, I travel far across the milky way
To my master I become a slave, ‘til we meet again some other day
Where silence speaks as loud as war
And the earth returns to what it was before
Whoa, whoa, what’s going on here? The third verse arrives and Sammy is suddenly switching from second-person to first-person narration? And that’s just the grammar, let alone the goofy imagery: “sleep and dream is all I crave” — that sounds like exhaustion more than love. And who is the master? And why does he refer to yourself as a slave to someone who he will “meet again some other day”? As slaves go, that seems a bit non-committal.
And what is he jabbering about with “where silence speaks as loud as war”? That sounds like it was cut-and-pasted from the Stoner Aphorisms generator. This might pass for a deep thought on the Van Halen tour bus, but I expect this would leave even Jack Handey scratching his head. Though it might be a good preface to “the earth returns to what it was before,” a line too vague to be effective because there is no hint at how far back he’s talking — As it was before what? Prior to having crept into the sleeping person’s room? As it was before Van Halen? Before humans? Before life itself? And why are you bringing all this evolutionary ambiguity up in what purports to be a love song?
Sorry, Sam, but the verdict is in.
Poetic license revoked.
* Except, perhaps, women.