lyrics for thought, music

Lyrics For Thought: “Viva La Vida” by Coldplay

A Spirit in C. S. Lewis’s The Great Divorce informed a man, “When you painted on earth–at least in your earlier days–it was because you caught glimpses of Heaven in the earthly landscape. The success of your painting was that it enabled others to see the glimpses too.”

One of my qualifications for good art is that it gives us some glimpse of Truth. This means that in lyrical music I tend to gravitate toward the writings of Christians and their illuminations about God or Love or Joy or whatever. Yet sometimes, despite Truth’s majestic and far-reaching canvas, Christians will seem stuck repainting the same clichéd corner while someone else comes along and – perhaps quite unknowingly – depicts something grand. In fact, the two songs that have recently fascinated me the most were not penned by professing Christians. The first was Flobot’s “Handlebars,” in which we are shown a sweeping picture of the destructiveness of increasing power and pride. The second half of that story lies in the aftermath of what happens once that power is gone…

And so I give you Coldplay’s “Viva La Vida.”

I used to rule the world
Seas would rise when I gave the word
Now in the morning I sleep alone
Sweep the streets I used to own

It almost seems to pick up right where we left off with Flobot’s “Handlebars,” where the storyteller had built up to this awesome and ominous picture in which he had the power to “guide a missile by satellite” or “end the planet in a Holocaust,” or perhaps even the power to make “seas rise when he gave the word.” But that was then. He no longer rules the world.

I used to roll the dice
Feel the fear in my enemy’s eyes
Listen as the crowd would sing:
“Now the old king is dead! Long live the king!”

One minute I held the key
Next the walls were closed on me
And I discovered that my castles stand
Upon pillars of salt and pillars of sand

Chris Martin placed a lot of religious imagery in this album, and I cannot help but be reminded of the “foolish man who built his house on the sand” (Matthew 7:26). If you only take a cursory glance at that passage, Jesus simply seems to be saying that anyone who doesn’t follow him is building their life on a poor foundation. Chris Martin paints this concept with a beautiful richness and depth, giving us an interpretation that even the mightiest kingdoms of this world are built upon such transient pillars. “The old king is dead! Long live the king!” This king replaces the kingdom before, and a new one will replace him… all their castles stand upon sand.

I hear Jerusalem bells a’ringing
Roman Cavalry choirs are singing
Be my mirror my sword and shield
My missionaries in a foreign field
For some reason I can’t explain
Once you go there was never, never an honest word
That was when I ruled the world

It was the wicked and wild wind
Blew down the doors to let me in
Shattered windows and the sound of drums
People couldn’t believe what I’d become

The singer looks back on the power he once had, both the good times, where he had bells and cavalries and missionaries across the world, and the bad times, where the power corrupted him until “people couldn’t believe” what he’d become, and now…

Revolutionaries wait
For my head on a silver plate
Just a puppet on a lonely string
Oh who would ever want to be king?

I love that last line of the second verse. He’s gone from basking in power to realizing that even then he was just a puppet in the grand scheme of the world – the power wasn’t really his – and now he cries, “who would ever want to be king?” It reminds me of something from Ecclesiastes… all is folly, all is meaningless… even all of this power.

I hear Jerusalem bells a’ringing
Roman Cavalry choirs are singing
Be my mirror my sword and shield
My missionaries in a foreign field
For some reason I can’t explain
I know Saint Peter will call my name
Never an honest word
But that was when I ruled the world

Now the singer doesn’t even think he’ll make it to heaven as some sort of justice for the wrongs he committed while in power. This encompassing lyrical picture is accompanied by an epic array of strings and choirs and resounding timpani flourishes, and I believe it to be an excellent portrayal of the Truth of the utter folly of wordly power and prestige.

May I not be quick to forget that.

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2 thoughts on “Lyrics For Thought: “Viva La Vida” by Coldplay”

  1. What is the r-word you are reffering to, friend? Thanks for reading and commenting.

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