lyrics for thought, music

Lyrics For Thought: “Handlebars” by Flobots

I can ride my bike with no handlebars
No handlebars
No handlebars

I love the intelligence and vocabulary of the Flobots rappers, and the actual instruments that provide the rhythm for their rapping. I think this song is about power and pride, and their voracious appetites that lead to self-destruction. It starts off with a simple plucking sound and the image of a little kid riding a bicycle, harmlessly showing off a no-hands trick.

Look at me, look at me
hands in the air like it’s good to be
ALIVE
and I’m a famous rapper
even when the paths’re all crookedy
I can show you how to do-si-do
I can show you how to scratch a record
I can take apart the remote control
And I can almost put it back together
I can tie a knot in a cherry stem
I can tell you about Leif Ericson
I know all the words to “De Colores”
And “I’m Proud to be an American”
Me and my friend saw a platypus
Me and my friend made a comic book
And guess how long it took
I can do anything that I want cuz, look:

We have the elementary schoolchild showing off the things he learned in school (Leif Ericson) and showing off his creativity (comic book). Good things to be proud of – but it’s pride nonetheless.

I can keep rhythm with no metronome
No metronome
No metronome

I can see your face on the telephone
On the telephone
On the telephone

With the second hook he’s growing into his youth and being proud of his skills (keeping a beat) and his possession of status symbols (fancy phone).

Look at me
Look at me
Just called to say that it’s good to be
ALIVE
In such a small world
All curled up with a book to read
I can make money open up a thrift store
I can make a living off a magazine
I can design an engine sixty four
Miles to a gallon of gasoline
I can make new antibiotics
I can make computers survive aquatic conditions
I know how to run a business
And I can make you wanna buy a product
Movers shakers and producers
Me and my friends understand the future
I see the strings that control the systems
I can do anything with no assistance

Growing into adulthood, we see pride in the corporate world and begin to feel the enticement of power that makes one think he’s above the rules.

I can lead a nation with a microphone
With a microphone
With a microphone
I can split the atoms of a molecule
Of a molecule
Of a molecule

The song is building, and the third hook transitions to political power as the trumpet swings lazily but ominously before the final punch:

Look at me
Look at me
Driving and I won’t stop!
And it feels so good to be
Alive and on top!
My reach is global
My tower secure
My cause is noble
My power is pure

This is the pride that comes from being in power. But of course governments always justify their actions by necessity and good intentions. But this kind of power can do whatever it wants and affect outcomes for millions:

I can hand out a million vaccinations
Or let’em all die in exasperation
Have’em all healed of their lacerations
Have’em all killed by assassination
I can make anybody go to prison
Just because I don’t like’em and
I can do anything with no permission
I have it all under my command

In the final raucous hook, he gloats in his destructive abilities.

I can guide a missile by satellite
By satellite
By satellite
and I can hit a target through a telescope
Through a telescope
Through a telescope
and I can end the planet in a holocaust
In a holocaust
In a holocaust
In a holocaust
In a holocaust
In a holocaust

As the horror fades, we eerily hear the introduction reemerge, with the image of the innocent little kid….

I can ride my bike with no handlebars
No handle bars
No handlebars
I can ride my bike with no handlebars
No handlebars
No handlebars

…does that innocent showing-off really have the same root as the horrors we just went detailed? Pride just feeds on itself, and when given it’s given power….

Deep stuff.

What do you think the song’s about? (Listen/Watch video here.)

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1 thought on “Lyrics For Thought: “Handlebars” by Flobots”

  1. Great song dissection.

    The first time I heard this song a while back, I thought it was nothing more than an annoyance, but on the second listen (after a friend recommended it to me), and actually listening to the lyrics, I’ve become a fan. It’s pretty deep. And the visuals on the music video are impressive.

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