Tuesday, April 12, 2011

If Bon Jovi's "I'll Be There For You" Were Taken Literally

In 1988, a long-maned band named Bon Jovi released a song called "I'll Be There For You," about a narcissistic divine being who offers to resolve his romantic conflicts with a river goddess by damning the entire human race to instant and inescapable destruction.

The song begins innocently enough. The narrator (we'll call him Demi-God #1) sings: I guess this time you're really leaving / I heard your suitcase say goodbye. The mention of the departing woman's talking suitcase foreshadows the odd events to follow, while also hinting that this is an old argument. This may be Bon Jovi's way to tying the song to the Mayan belief that the world has actually been destroyed and recreated three times (though I'll Be There For You focuses primarily on the destruction part).

In response to the observation of Demi-God #1, plus the ominous proclamation that said heartbreak has literally lacerated his heart (though he apparently has the power to instantaneously heal, like Wolverine), his partner (hereafter referred to Demi-God #2) coldly answers that true love is suicide. This tells us something about her character but more importantly, it serves as a subtle clue that these demi-gods are, in fact, mortal beings. One might even surmise that they can only be killed if/when they give in to their romantic longings (like Hancock).

The first clue to the dubious powers of Demi-God #2 come in the next verse: You say you've cried a thousand rivers / and now you're swimming for the shore. (I believe it's safe to conclude that the narrator remains Demi-God #1 throughout the piece.) By way of ecological reference, the Nile discharges about 300 million cubic meters of water each day. Since a cubic meter equals 7.481 gallons, we can easily estimate that the tear ducts of Demi-God #2 could release as much as two and a quarter trillion gallons of water!

However, there are two potential points of contention here. First, no time frame has been given. While two and a quarter trillion gallons of water is quite a sizable amount in any circumstance, it could be that these tears were released over thousands of years (indicting both the staying power of her grief and the past apathy of her mate). Second, it must be pointed out that Demi-God #1 adds this qualifier: you say. Since it's doubtful that one could fail to notice such a spectacle, we might further surmise that either Demi-God #2 is lying or Demi-God #1, for all his power, is blind.

Also worthy of mention is the fact that Demi-God #2 is swimming for the shore though the literal deluge created by her own grief. This has obvious parallels to the flood mentioned in the Bible and the Epic of Gilgamesh, as well as other texts of the ancient world. From a scientific standpoint, the results of such a deluge would prove disastrous to land-based life, especially if we assume that the tears of a divine being move at greater velocity. Given that there are approximately 700 sextillion gallons of water in the ice caps, a mere 2.244 trillion gallons would not cover the earth, but it would most certainly cause extensive flooding to coastal regions, resulting in massive loss of life, property, and wars sparked over competition for remaining resources.

It comes as no surprise that Demi-God #1 shows very little concern for the welfare of Earth's land-based inhabitants. In fact, he points out that he, too, has been left drowning in [his] tears, which is another clue to his own mortality, and might even indicate an output of tears equal to Demi-God #2. That means that due to the romantic quarreling of these two super-beings, the inhabitants of planet Earth would have 4.5 trillion gallons of supernatural saltwater to contend with.

Demi-God #1 goes on to say that he has prayed to God for assistance (presumably in halting the recurring lacerations in his cardiac muscle, rather than intervening to save the billions of others who are suffering imminent death), further evidencing his lack of omnipotence. Perhaps most disturbing, though, is the chorus that follows, wherein Demi-God #1 confesses his desire to change himself into oxygen and power the respiratory functions of his beloved, while also offering to remove the sun from its current location at the center of the solar system, as a demonstration of his affections:
I'll be there for you
These five words I swear to you
When you breathe I want to be the air for you
I'll be there for you
I'd live and I'd die for you
I'd steal the sun from the sky for you
Words can't say what love can do
I'll be there for you

I think we can safely surmise that Demi-God #1 has no intention of actually delivering the sun into the hands of his beloved, since divine beings so obviously tied to the element of water might instantaneously evaporate in the presence of nuclear fusion. Relocating the sun to almost any other position in the cosmos would still have a damning impact on Planet Earth, though. Humans, animals, and planets would freeze to death almost instantly. Even microbial life would be unable to survive.

Some might find it romantic that Demi-God #1 is willing to sacrifice so much to demonstrate his affections. However, the selfishness of his actions casts a rather dubious shadow over his affections. Remember, he will not be the one who experiences the sheer terror of an abruptly dark sky, followed by the collapse of the atmosphere and an in-rush of freezing-cold space air. We should also bear in mind that later in the song, Demi-God #1 again expresses a desire to change his form--this time to wine, which could hint at alcoholism (either his own or that of his beloved, in the latter case making him an enabler).

Surprisingly, the cosmology presented later in Bon Jovi's epic becomes even stranger: I know you know we've had some good times / now they have their own hiding place / Well I can promise you tomorrow / but I can't buy back yesterday. We can interpret a great deal from this. For one, the memories of these demi-gods do not seem to function as ours do. In fact, their memories seem to have both mass and a singular self-awareness resulting in their desire to escape the minds of their makers and hide to avoid recapture. Were this true, one could easily imagine the horrible psychological effect it would have, not to mention the strain it would pose on a relationship!

Equally worth of mention is the fact that while Demi-God #1 can control the events of the future, he cannot engage in the odd system of bartering set up to repurchase events of the past. While this cosmic bartering system receives very little mention in the song (even less than the mention given to the Nephilim in Genesis 6:4 and Numbers 13:33) one could speculate that this a further check on the power of these demi-gods, perhaps even indicating that they are "fallen" in some way.

One should not assume that Demi-God #1 is completely without compassion, though. He openly declares his wish to be his beloved's valentine, signaling an intimate familiarity with the traditions and cultures of homo sapiens. Though Valentine's Day was first established by Pope Gelasius the First in 496 A.D., it did not become associated with romantic love until the life and writings of Geoffrey Chaucer, about nine hundred years later. From this, we can deduce the setting of Bon Jovi's cosmological epic: sometime between the fourteenth century and the present, though the use of Baby as a term of affection strongly hints toward the latter.

Despite the egregious, self-destructive, and primarily psychotic depiction of these demi-gods throughout the majority of this epic, Bon Jovi chooses to end on a wholly unexpected and provocative note; Demi-God #1 follows a blistering guitar solo by expressing his sadness that he missed his beloved's birthday and wishes he'd been there to see her blow those candles out. Granted, this is followed by yet another recitation of his willingness to relocate the sun and spell the doom of all living creatures on earth, but divine beings who celebrate with birthday cakes could be Bon Jovi's subtle way of indicating these demi-gods' latent humanity. It could even be the songwriters' intention to indicate that each cycle of destruction and rebirth brings these demi-gods closer not only to romantic reconciliation, but psychological and emotional maturity, as well.

Clearly, Bon Jovi's I'll Be There For You functions as a complex cosmological epic with extensive reference to the creation myths of ancient cultures, and in so doing, may also act as a subtle critique either of divinity itself, or at least our concepts of divinity. It is quite refreshing to see such a complex intellectual undertaking in the realm of rock and roll. I hope you will agree that this multi-dimensional, lyrical rock ballad warrants further study in homes and universities across America.

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