Sunday, 3 March 2013

The Possible True Meaning of Hymn For The Dudes

     Describe Mott The Hoople's lyrics in one word. Brilliant, enigmatic, interesting, insightful, confusing, may be some words that come to mind. I for one, will mainly use the first one: Mott The Hoople were brilliant, and Ian Hunter was one of the geniuses of the industry. But of course, with lyrics like these, you will always have people trying to interpret what he was really singing about, and a lot of people will wind up being wrong. I'm gonna tackle one of the greatest Mott songs ever, Hymn for the Dudes, and I'm gonna hope I'm a little closer to the truth than most people get.
     The song in its entirety is pro-Christian: it opens with some really pleasant lyrics:

God ain't jive
For I can see his love as it runs alive

     But the band also express contempt over the false Christians, those who only give a damn about their religion when they're facing tough times and need help, in my personal favorite lyrics from the song.

Oh my sweet instant Christian, you are such a sly clown
Too many questions, no replies now

     So Christianity seems to be a true message of the song. Another, to me, seems to be the life of adolescents, gangs, trouble; common topics in Hunter's writing (AKA, Crash Street Kidds, or even All The Young Dudes, although of course they did not write that themselves.)

Over the fields of barbed wire, the war has just begun

     Reminds me of the Outsiders each and every time.
     But what I feel is the main theme of the song is the glam rock movement. Hunter takes several shots at the stars of the day, who were glitter and glam and no substance. It is commonly believed that these were references to David Bowie, the man who made Mott famous, but I don't think such would be the case, because Ian and Bowie were good friends, and Mott may have just quit the business had Bowie not given them what would become their best and most celebrated song. I believe the lyrics lend themselves more to say, Marc Bolan, or even Mick Jagger. But evidently, they talk about how those stars though they would be the top of the world forever, and Ian warns them that they will lose their identities in fame, and soon they're gonna burn out and nobody's gonna remember them anyway.

I got an idea
Go and tell the superstar all his hairs are turning gray...

     And all the lyrics that follow this emphasize this point, up to:

You ain't the nazz 
You're just a buzz
Some kind of temporary

    While this seems like a direct shot at Bowie, for he uses the word "nazz" in good old Ziggy Stardust, I believe it is more likely to be a shot at Todd Rundgren, who of course, was in the awesome band The Nazz before finding fame as a producer, member of Utopia, and solo artist.
     I believe that the repeated line,

 N' rejoice for the king ain't lost his throne
He's still here. You are not alone really a reference to the King himself, Elvis Presley: I think what he is saying is with the glam and the flash groups, a lot of the music coming out had no substance; but don't worry, because Elvis is still Elvis, he's still the king and that won't be changed; and as long as good music exists, there is still hope. Elvis didn't stop being the king throughout the glam rock movement: Ian is saying that real talent stays talent forever and what's great will not change. Quite a reassuring message, when you think about it!
     But Ian Hunter himself, about the song, simply said that it is a song of friendship and support, to the kids who feel alone, and as he wrote it, its true meaning is really his say and his say only. I believe that's the most important message to take out of the song, and so maybe we should just leave it as that.


  1. Huh - "I can see his love as it burns alive" are great religious lyrics (let's face it, it's a good melody too).

    Oddly, my favorite lyrics in the song you didn't even mention: "who cares not for fame
    Just for shy

    Go figure. I think the strengths of the song are that it's

    1) spiritual

    2) anthemic

    3) consoling

    My 2 cents. Thanks for the post.

  2. Mott is one of my fave bands of all time and I love this song. My take on it is more of a general commentary, than targeting specific people like Bolan and Bowie, and if there was a target, it was most likely Ian Hunter himself. Ian has admitted to being wracked with self doubt over his career, and wrote many questioning, self critical lyrics over the years. In the song "Through the Looking Glass" he has a conversation with the mirror and can't understand why the image he sees is getting old and grey, when in his minds eye he still thinks he looks young and fresh.

  3. Nice work, thanks. I have wondered about this for many years. Not disagreeing, but is it possible that the reference to "The King" is to God, or Jesus?

  4. The "Nazz" is slang for the "Nazarine".

  5. For what it's worth, I just heard a live version where Hunter goes all Dylan and ends the song by repeating "The answer is blowing in the wind."