Morrissey A-Z: "I Bury the Living"

GirlAfraidWillNeverLearn

Well-Known Member
OK, here we go...
I love this song; I think it’s a great achievement, especially for Moz, who is in the technical “latter half” of his career. Surprisingly, most of the phases work together: I appreciate the contrast between the louder, more vicious first section’s instrumentation and the second and third section’s quiet, to illustrate the change in viewpoints.
As I believe I have explained elsewhere, I personally don’t find the lyrics to be condenscending. Spiteful, perhaps, but not towards those who’s position he inhabits in the song’s first section. He takes the viewpoint of a (presumably young) individual who has been indoctrinated by propaganda and myths of “traditional” heroics on the battlefield: the use of the name “John” perhaps signifying the fact that these plotted delusions can sink into anyone’s heads.
By the end of his short life, John has realised the futility of this conflict, seeing the damage it has inflicted upon himself and his family: “that wasn’t the job I loved” suggests that John was invested in the work, but this may be suspension of disbelief in the face of a conflict that doesn’t “live up to expectations”.
The closing sections are just gorgeous, musically, with Jesse plucking out a Vini Reilly or even Marr-esque sequence. This is overplayed with devastating words from John’s parents: “funny how the war goes on, without our John”.
The final section slows this fingerpicking sequence down, placing the laughs of someone: an officer, perhaps, bringing the focus on the song back to class and the difference it makes on your “roles” in society or war. He’s laughing - he threw his troops into the fire but stayed a safe distance away himself, as always.
All in all, a powerful song, to say the least.
10/10

Very well put. I never took it as him being spiteful against the people who fall for the system. It's the system itself he's denouncing.

The Smiths comparison is very apt for the end section, the piano always reminds me of Asleep / the coda on some versions of Suffer Little Children respectively and the Decibelle demo of the latter has similar laughter and the reading of the children's names at the end (starting ~5:20).

 

Gregor Samsa

I straighten up, and my position is one of hope.
Very well put. I never took it as him being spiteful against the people who fall for the system. It's the system itself he's denouncing.

The Smiths comparison is very apt for the end section, the piano always reminds me of Asleep / the coda on some versions of Suffer Little Children respectively and the Decibelle demo of the latter has similar laughter and the reading of the children's names at the end (starting ~5:20).


Couldn't disagree more. Lines like

  • A wretched outcast with no point of view/What could I do?/Just military service

  • From a class without, I haven't a clue/What the war is about

  • Honour mad cannon fodder

and

  • If you wonder what's in my head/It's just the hatred for all human life

are all obviously very spiteful and cruel towards the soldiers.
 
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T

Trans

Guest
Couldn't disagree more. Lines like

  • A wretched outcast with no point of view/What could I do?/Just military service

  • From a class without, I haven't a clue/What the war is about

  • Honour mad cannon fodder

and

  • If you wonder what's in my head/It's just the hatred for all human life

are all obviously very spiteful and cruel towards the soldiers.

yeah but soldiers for what cause. Jihadist soldiers I would say fit that description. I take it to mean that there are slippery slopes and blurred lines between the types of different soldiers despite the commonality that they all (potentially) kill and destroy
 
D

Deleted member 29235

Guest
I like this song. Its cold, overwrought melodrama works for me. And it's the last decent song on LIHS.
 

GirlAfraidWillNeverLearn

Well-Known Member
Couldn't disagree more. Lines like

  • A wretched outcast with no point of view/What could I do?/Just military service

  • From a class without, I haven't a clue/What the war is about

  • Honour mad cannon fodder

and

  • If you wonder what's in my head/It's just the hatred for all human life

are all obviously very spiteful and cruel towards the soldiers.

He uses typical stereotypes about the military as a stylistic device, which, however, are often grounded in reality. See Flibberty's post with regards to the opening line for example. One should consider that this might have been written with the US military in mind, which is especially known to specifically recruit outcasts and poor people (that's not to say that recruiting strategies are dramatically different in other countries though).

It might sound cruel to say they have no clue what the war is about but it's also often true and the system exploits this cluelessness as well as the aimlessness of young people from working class backgrounds. It's exactly the same point Kate makes more subtly in Army Dreamers.

Honour mad cannon fodder criticises both - the hunger for medals of some soldiers but also the fact that they are dehumanised by the military.

Of course it's stylistically different from other lyrics he's written but to conclude that he's done this with cruel intentions is a bit of a stretch in my opinion. It's polemic and melodramatic and it criticises the machinery of war in general.

The last example you gave though is puzzling and lazy and probably the worst line of the song. I think it might represent what the soldier has become after some time in the line of duty - a pretty sinister point of view.
 
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Mozzer1980

Guest
Hope to finally unwrap my copy of LIHS and listen to this song. I'll be a happier human being then.
 

Gregor Samsa

I straighten up, and my position is one of hope.
He uses typical stereotypes about the military as a stylistic device, which, however, are often grounded in reality. See Flibberty's post with regards to the opening line for example. One should consider that this might have been written with the US military in mind, which is especially known to specifically recruit outcasts and poor people (that's not to say that recruiting strategies are dramatically different in other countries though).

It might sound cruel to say they have no clue what the war is about but it's also often true and the system exploits this cluelessness as well as the aimlessness of young people from working class backgrounds.

Honour mad cannon fodder criticises both - the hunger for medals of some soldiers but also the fact that they are dehumanised by the military.

Of course it's stylistically different from other lyrics he's written but to conclude that he's done this with cruel intentions is a bit of a stretch in my opinion. It's polemic and melodramatic and it criticises the machinery of war in general.

The last example you gave though is puzzling and lazy and probably the worst line of the song.
Yes, outcasts are often recruited, but to say that since the soldier in question is an outcast all he is capable of is doing military service, is very very cynical.

Sure, most soldiers don't know what the wars are really about, but that goes for most people in general. Moz, however, singles out the have-nots as being particularly unenlightened.

I don't know, to call someone who serves in the military cannon fodder is to me rather cruel. If your theory is correct, I think he should have been able to articulate it with more finesse and less bile.

I agree that it criticises the machinery of war, but in my opinion, it mostly blames the soldier. And I guess that that would have been fine, had he just expressed his criticism/shrouded his cruelty with wit, finesse and more nuance.
 

BookishBoy

Well-Known Member
Yes, outcasts are often recruited, but to say that since the soldier in question is an outcast all he is capable of is doing military service, is very very cynical.

Sure, most soldiers don't know what the wars are really about, but that goes for most people in general. Moz, however, singles out the have-nots as being particularly unenlightened.

I don't know, to call someone who serves in the military cannon fodder is to me rather cruel. If your theory is correct, I think he should have been able to articulate it with more finesse and less bile.

I agree that it criticises the machinery of war, but in my opinion, it mostly blames the soldier. And I guess that that would have been fine, had he just expressed his criticism/shrouded his cruelty with wit, finesse and more nuance.

Yes, it's that "hatred for all human life" that messes up the song, for me. I mean, absolutely, write a song about how the military-industrial complex pushes uneducated young men (and women) into the army etc in the US/UK/wherever, and perhaps also critique those recruits for lacking the intellectual curiosity to question their role as part of a pointless killing machine, but to then throw in that line about hatred for all human life seems to undermine the point?

I mean, we know by know that Morrissey doesn't like people much (and neither do most of us on here, probably!), but projecting that on to John in this lyric just feels so out of place.
 

GirlAfraidWillNeverLearn

Well-Known Member
Yes, outcasts are often recruited, but to say that since the soldier in question is an outcast all he is capable of is doing military service, is very very cynical.

Sure, most soldiers don't know what the wars are really about, but that goes for most people in general. Moz, however, singles out the have-nots as being particularly unenlightened.

I don't know, to call someone who serves in the military cannon fodder is to me rather cruel. If your theory is correct, I think he should have been able to articulate it with more finesse and less bile.

I agree that it criticises the machinery of war, but in my opinion, it mostly blames the soldier. And I guess that that would have been fine, had he just expressed his criticism/shrouded his cruelty with wit, finesse and more nuance.

I think the difference in how we both perceive the sentiment of the song is mostly rooted in the fact that I never assumed that these lines express his own views. He doesn't necessarily think the outcast is incapable of doing anything else, but that's how the military and the soldier himself sees it. It is written in character from the soldier's point of view. And he uses these points of view to illustrate how he thinks the machinery works. He thinks the military sees soldiers as cannon fodder. It does also blame the soldier for taking part but at the same time it also recognises that "John" makes no difference in the big picture because the war goes on without him...

All this was always very obvious to me, but it's interesting to see that other people interpret it very differently.
 

Nerak

Reverse Ferret
Couldn't disagree more. Lines like

  • A wretched outcast with no point of view/What could I do?/Just military service

  • From a class without, I haven't a clue/What the war is about

  • Honour mad cannon fodder

and

  • If you wonder what's in my head/It's just the hatred for all human life

are all obviously very spiteful and cruel towards the soldiers.

I think he probably was going for them as a product of the system & its values rather than anything else - but it's not very elegant.

A clunky Army Dreamers.

 

GirlAfraidWillNeverLearn

Well-Known Member
Yes, it's that "hatred for all human life" that messes up the song, for me. I mean, absolutely, write a song about how the military-industrial complex pushes uneducated young men (and women) into the army etc in the US/UK/wherever, and perhaps also critique those recruits for lacking the intellectual curiosity to question their role as part of a pointless killing machine, but to then throw in that line about hatred for all human life seems to undermine the point?

I mean, we know by know that Morrissey doesn't like people much (and neither do most of us on here, probably!), but projecting that on to John in this lyric just feels so out of place.

It is clumsy but there's a progression in the story: John gets recruited, he's clueless. Once he's in the military he sees himself as a hero, he doesn't question what he does and he becomes a military puppet and everything that was human about himself disappears and as a result he starts hating everyone else. He is made into a monster. Not suble, not elegant but I think that might be what Morrissey wanted to express here.
 

Gregor Samsa

I straighten up, and my position is one of hope.
I think the difference in how we both perceive the sentiment of the song is mostly rooted in the fact that I never assumed that these lines express his own views. He doesn't necessarily think the outcast is incapable of doing anything else, but that's how the military and the soldier himself sees it. It is written in character from the soldier's point of view. And he uses these points of view to illustrate how he thinks the machinery works. He thinks the military sees soldiers as cannon fodder. It does also blame the soldier for taking part but at the same time it also recognises that "John" makes no difference in the big picture because the war goes on without him...

All this was always very obvious to me, but it's interesting to see that other people interpret it very differently.
Yeah, that’s probably it. I never interpreted the lyrics to be anything but Morrissey’s own views. We know how he feels about war, about violence and about state/government/etc. If these are his views, of which I am certain, we should hardly be surprised. I just wish he would have articulated them with more finesse.
 

Gregor Samsa

I straighten up, and my position is one of hope.
Yes, it's that "hatred for all human life" that messes up the song, for me. I mean, absolutely, write a song about how the military-industrial complex pushes uneducated young men (and women) into the army etc in the US/UK/wherever, and perhaps also critique those recruits for lacking the intellectual curiosity to question their role as part of a pointless killing machine, but to then throw in that line about hatred for all human life seems to undermine the point?

I mean, we know by know that Morrissey doesn't like people much (and neither do most of us on here, probably!), but projecting that on to John in this lyric just feels so out of place.
Absolutely horrible line.
 

GirlAfraidWillNeverLearn

Well-Known Member
Yeah, that’s probably it. I never interpreted the lyrics to be anything but Morrissey’s own views. We know how he feels about war, about violence and about state/government/etc. If these are his views, of which I am certain, we should hardly be surprised. I just wish he would have articulated them with more finesse.

I think you misunderstood. I have no doubts that the criticism expressed in the song as a whole reflects Morrissey's own views. I was referring to those lines you singled out, which, as I explained above, I understood as being part of the narrative and written in character.
 

BookishBoy

Well-Known Member
It is clumsy but there's a progression in the story: John gets recruited, he's clueless. Once he's in the military he sees himself as a hero, he doesn't question what he does and he becomes a military puppet and everything that was human about himself disappears and as a result he starts hating everyone else. He is made into a monster. Not suble, not elegant but I think that might be what Morrissey wanted to express here.
OK that does make sense, I agree, but definitely clumsy. (These are such interesting discussions, by the way!)
 

Nerak

Reverse Ferret
It is clumsy but there's a progression in the story: John gets recruited, he's clueless. Once he's in the military he sees himself as a hero, he doesn't question what he does and he becomes a military puppet and everything that was human about himself disappears and as a result he starts hating everyone else. He is made into a monster. Not suble, not elegant but I think that might be what Morrissey wanted to express here.

I'm always too busy thinking I'd redo the 'our John' bit to notice the plot.

It reminds me of a great wee play I saw about school shootings in America. The actor (who was brilliant) went from shy wee kid, to being the gun.
 

GirlAfraidWillNeverLearn

Well-Known Member
I'm always too busy thinking I'd redo the 'our John' bit to notice the plot.

I'm exactly the opposite. I always want to explore why he did something the way he did it, even if I don't like it. In the past, I've become completely obsessed with songs I couldn't stand due to this.

I Bury The Living is not one of them though.
 

Nerak

Reverse Ferret
@GirlAfraidWillNeverLearn

It is in character!

The soldier seems to be having a moment of crisis.

Then the end is actually a sort of culture shock. The family have lost that visceral connection to the war but it's still happening... odd how some reviews assumed the last verse is Morrissey mocking a mother. 🤒 as Vegan would say.

You'd be a great director.

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Nerak

Reverse Ferret
I'm exactly the opposite. I always want to explore why he did something the way he did it, even if I don't like it. In the past, I've become completely obsessed with songs I couldn't stand due to this.

I Bury The Living is not one of them though.

That's what would be done in a rehearsal room, I should be ashamed of myself.
 
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