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Behind the Lyrics - The White Stripes

Updated: Feb 23, 2022

Welcome to "Behind the Lyrics" with Elise Chandler. Each week, I find a song that I feel is understated both musically and lyrically, and I analyze it through several critical lenses.

This week, I have chosen The White Stripes' song "A Martyr For My Love For You" for us to review. The dynamics in this song really get me, and it fits very well on the album Icky Thump. If you haven't listened to this album all the way through, I highly suggest. It is one of my favorites. It has several different song styles, and yet, they all seem to blend well together.

In this song, there is a very interesting suggestion happening in the lyrics. At the beginning of the song, the narrator never describes himself, but he focuses on the girl. She is "sixteen and six feet tall" and "a little teenage dream". He catches her when she is about to fall symbolizing their feelings of falling for each other. This sounds like a wonderful love song until...we get a little bit of information from the narrator about himself.

He says when discussing how they were talking on the phone "for a sec' I thought I sounded sweet, but sure enough in a gruff, faint voice I heard myself speak". A "gruff" voice suggests someone perhaps older, who has been around awhile. However, what really seals the deal that he may be an older man is "My dumb-love fake competence was getting weak." He has played girls before. He knows how to talk to girls to get them to fall, but then, once he wins them over, he gets bored.

It seems in this song though, he has decided to become a hero - a martyr for his love for her. He suggests in the chorus that things could probably work out for a while, but then, he would ruin it all, so he is going to do the right thing and leave her before she can really get hurt.

Interestingly, this is the loudest part of the song, like he is declaring this and it is important for listeners to understand. He could have full control in breaking her heart, but he won't do it because he truly is "a martyr". Towards the end of the song, he even states, "I hope you appreciate what I do".

This guy lives for the affection and idolization (perhaps why he goes for younger, innocent girls?), and it has just occurred to him that he never has to lose that affection if he ends things before they are too serious.

An interesting song indeed. However, isn't that what good music does? Until next time.

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