Sunday, May 11, 2008

Coldplay - Viva La Vida

I've pre-ordered the latest Coldplay album on iTunes, this has enabled me to download the title track "Viva la Vida". I'll probably let you have my opinions when the album is out... but cryptic imagery of this song really captured my imagination. I actually think it's a veiled attack on a political figure. I'll say who I think that is and why, after you've had an opportunity to read the lyrics:

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

I used to roll the dice
Feel the fear in my enemies' 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

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 know there was never
Never an honest word
That was when I ruled the world

It was a 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
Revolutionaries wait
For my head on a silver plate
Just a puppet on a lonely string
Oh, who would ever wanna be king?

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 St. Peter won't call my name
Never an honest word
But that was when I ruled the world

Ohh...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 St. Peter won't call my name
Never an honest word
But that was when I ruled the world

I actually think the song is a veiled attack on Tony Blair. Yes, I know I could easily be attaching my own political bias onto the song... but I'll list my reasons and let you make your own minds up.

The chorus is my strongest reason for feeling the way I do. The character in the song hears Jerusalem bells a ringing... this could easily be a reference to Blair taking up a position as a Middle East peace envoy. Then we have a militaristic/quasi-religious reference connected to Rome and a line in later choruses that reads "for some reason I can't explain, I know St Peter won't call my name". These lines can't help but make you think of a connection to Roman Catholicism... to which Mr Blair is a "recent" convert. The character in the song is clearly struggling with something on his conscience which is why he knows deep down that St. Peter won't call his name... he knows he's done something that he feels he cannot atone for (Roman Catholic theology runs along the lines that you need to confess your sins to a priest to be absolved; also some catholics believe in purgatory, a system whereby you can only get to heaven by paying your sins off in a kind of limbo state - this is entirely without biblical foundation and opposes the teaching that Christ's sacrifice pays for the entire sum of our sins). It could therefore be a reference to the amount of casualties in Iraq (coalition and Iraqi), something that would take a heavy amount of paying if you subscribed to purgatorial theology.

Other elements of the song make reference to memories of an old king dying and a new king being crowned... which mirrors the early days of New Labour when all opposition was effectively neutered. Then we have the mention of betrayal... how everyone who believed the central character represented one set of ideals, actually discover they aren't representing them... and the head on the silver platter could easily be a reference to people wanting Blair out of office. The line following that talks of a lonely puppet on a string... and perhaps this could refer to Blair being a puppet to US foreign policy. There are also constant references to lies and deceit and Tony Blair was noted for his "spin". Funnily enough when he was in office at No.10, if you typed "liar" into Google, the top result was Blair's biography on the No.10 website.

The beginning of the song probably likens the central character to King Canute who according to legend told his people he had power over the sea... it betrays an air of arrogance. Actually to set the record straight, the historical King Canute had a reputation of being very good king. The reason he went out to the sea and tried to hold it back,was not to prove he had mastery over it... it was actually to prove to his people that he couldn't (because the silly idiots had got it into their heads that he was a godlike figure).

Anyway, that's my reasoning behind why I think the song is a veiled attack on Blair's political history.

What are your thoughts? Do you agree/disagree? If so, I'd like to hear your own ideas and alternative theories.


  1. Greetings, Nick!

    I was searching to see what people thought of potential Catholic references in the new Coldplay song and that's how I found your page.

    Just wanted to give you some specific info about Purgatory, because it sounds like you may have heard some wrong things.

    Purgatory is taught as a doctrine of the Catholic Church, meaning it is officially taught - not just believed by some Catholics. It is not about working off sins that were not forgiven by Christ's sacrifice. The Catechism says, "All who die in God’s grace and friendship, but still imperfectly purified, are indeed assured of their eternal salvation; but after death they undergo purification, so as to achieve the holiness necessary to enter the joy of heaven. The Church gives the name purgatory to this final purification of the elect, which is entirely different from the punishment of the damned" (CCC 1030–1). So, the eternal punishment for sins is forgiven because of Christ's sacrifice, but the temporal punishment remains.

    I liked the way Dorothy Sayers described it in her introduction to Dante's Purgatory (the second part after the Inferno). I'll summarize briefly and probably poorly: Suppose that because of rage or jealousy or carelessness you broke the lamp of a friend. After that friend forgave you, you would still have some things to take care of. First, you should probably make reparations for the lamp by buying another one or paying for it. Secondly, you should try to correct whatever it was in you that caused you to break the lamp in the first place. If you were truly sorry for breaking the lamp, you would want to do these things. That's kind of what Purgatory is - a place where we're purified of all the other associated garbage that remains after we're forgiven our sins.

    As for Biblical references, here's just one by Jesus: "Settle with your opponent quickly while on the way to court with him. Otherwise your opponent will hand you over to the judge, and the judge will hand you over to the guard, and you will be thrown into prison. Amen, I say to you, you will not be released until you have paid the last penny." - Matt 5:25-26

    Peace to you!

    Denver, CO, USA

  2. Anonymous7:26 pm

    I think you kind of overdid this one trying to get our close history fitting into it. If you know you´re history it's very easy to figure out that this lyric is all about the french revolution and what happened just the years after it.

    The first part is mainly about Napoleon and when he gets moved to Corsica; he used to rule the world....then the walls get closed around him....his castles stand upon pillars of salt and pillars of sand. He lives on an island in an ocean.

    Actually, if you searh "Viva La Vida" song on youtube, then you get everythin to understand exactly what I means.

    Anyway, this has nothinh to do with Tony Blair or anything, just the French rev..

  3. Thanks for the comment guys.

    Patrick. The passage you quote is about attitudes in this life... not when the game is up. In reading the New Testament, Paul using words from Greek vocabulary speaks of two kinds of judgement... the "Bema" judgement for believers (which is about reward for obedience and not purification. Although it is true that Paul speaks of those Christians whose acts in this life did not bear much fruit as "escaping as one who passes through the fire", the passage makes it clear that they are saved albeit by the skin of their teeth), and the great white judgement throne where those who either did not have the opportunity to know Jesus... or who rejected him, stand and make account of their actions. I'm of the belief that those who did not know Christ... or did not have the Gospel adequately explained to them, will have the opportunity to claim that grace at that time. God sees all things... the very core of the human heart, he knows all who genuinely will accept him.

    Having been educated among Roman Catholics, and being friends with others... I know that not all accept purgatory as genuine doctrine... they also thankfully don't buy into the frankly ludicrous idea of papal infallibility.

    The idea of purgatory, was responsible for many of the cathedrals and churches we have in Europe's towns and villages. Wealthy lords and kings would pay for churches/monastic buildings to be constructed, so that they could have people praying for their forgiveness... to reduce the amount of time they believe they'd spend in purgatory. Yes... there actually was a currency rate for various sins. X amount of murder in the Crusades required y amount of payment in prayer... and of course the rates were so high, no human would have time to do itn in 10 lifetimes... which is where the established church saw it's opportunity. The same principle we see in the philosophy of carbon offsetting in the modern era... is nothing new.

    If you look back through history to the beginning of the Established Church, you see that Constantine assimilated certain aspects of the pagan Roman religion into the church... some of this survives today (pontifex maximus was the title of the pagan high priest for example... and the regalia e.g. red slippers, was balso associated with this position, the idea of praying to saints instead of household gods).

    I'll be careful to be critical of that... because as a canny politician, I can understand what Constantine was probably trying to achieve. In order to consolidate Christianity's position, he needed to make it more pallateable to his people. This is what also lay behind the relic hunting in Constantine's time.

    Let's not forget though, that Constantine as an apparent Christian... still had his subdued rivals conveniently disappear ... and he didn't get baptized until he was dying, for fear that his sins post baptism would count against him (the doctrine of purgatory does not appear to have been developed at that time).

    The man aside, I can see that for a little time... there was a pragmatic purpose behind blending Roman culture into Christianity... but I think once established, these traditions should have been slowly cast aside.... but instead they became tradition... and then tradition became obligation.

    My position has always ben that accepting Christ's sacrifice once for all, and living life in his Spirit... are sufficient for all our salvation.


    Mia culpa! I'm not an expert on revolution history... I have a habit of jokingly proclaiming that when men start wearing wigs and tights... I lose interest in history. I prefer to stay in the ancient world... as you can probably tell from the spiel above.

    That said,one wonders why Chris Martin was motivated to write about the French Revolution.

    A personal favourite saying of mine coined by George Santayana that you no doubt will be familiar with is:

    "Those who cannot remember the past, are doomed to repeat it."

    I still think Martin could be criticising modern politicians through the microscope of historic parallels... otherwise why do it? The only other reason I can think would be that Coldplay are going over the top art house... which I am reluctant to believe... as it would suggest they have begun the dark journey of believing their own hype and heading the wrong way up their own alimentary canal.

    I don't want to believe that as I actually like Coldplay a heck of alot...and I don't want to see them take a trip to egoville and destroy their career.

    Anonymous the Second... I am removing your post because it looks like it is either phishing scam, or pointing to an illegal download of the song.

  4. Anonymous4:42 pm

    Nick, got to your site by way of your quick review of the Dr Who ep "Blink" which, I concur, was made very right by Carey Mulligan's presense.

    I, like Patrick, was about to correct your misconception about Catholic belief regarding purgatory, but he's done so adequately. Save for one detail, a detail I fear you missed in your response: The use of Matt 5:26, specifically (I assume) "I say to you, you will not be released until you have paid the last penny." is a shockingly gross misuse of scripture.

    Finally, as I scour your blog, I am stunned to find that there is, indeed and much to my mock-surprise, christians left behind in "old Europe". ;) Your quoting of The Times and commentary points to a very salient point about the Faith in the west: when the Church stops worrying about her (barely-christian) schools, old buildings, investment funds for works, and shrinking political relevance ("Minister for Religion" my eye!!) in the world, and concentrates on simply doing the Will of Him that called us, a better, happier, wealthier and more successful Church we shall be. Alas, what God values, and what men value are most assuredly not the same.

    Or more succinctly put: That which is not important is simply passing away. :)

  5. Nick, your reply has a lot of content, and I certainly don't mean to provoke argument. Just a couple more clarifications on objective Catholic teaching, though, based on what you said:

    (this is pasted from another page) "All of the infallible teachings of Sacred Tradition, Sacred Scripture, [and] Sacred Magisterium require belief by the all the faithful, including laypersons, religious, and ordained persons.... Since God himself guarantees the truth of these teachings, all the faithful are obligated, in the strictest sense, to believe what is taught." (This includes the doctrines of Purgatory and Papal Infallibility. Sure there are always going to be fallen away "Catholics" who believe whatever they want and live however they want, but in reality they are not in communion with the Church, no matter what they think.)

    Also, many sins and abuses have been committed by the clergy, including Popes. However, it's important to remember that the Church teaches not that the Pope is impeccable (free from sin or fault) but infallible when teaching on faith and morals. Any abuse of indulgences in no way indicates that the doctrine of Purgatory is false.

    Finally, I'm not sure if I understood aragond's comment correctly, but Matthew 5 has often been used in reference to Puragtory, even by early Church Fathers. In the context of Matthew 5, that of the acceptability of the gift offered at the altar when your brother holds something against you (i.e. sin), it is clear that the judge/prison/penny language refers to this same thing.


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