I wish to begin the New Year by renewing a commitment.
Back in July, I wrote a post that was an open letter to Duran Duran. I pitched myself as the writer most qualified to author the band's official biography, a book that would hopefully erase that abysmally inaccurate text by Steve Malins.
Despite wonderful support I received from online friends of mine (ha! See what I did there?) I haven't heard anything back from the band. I understand. They're busy. There's a new record coming out this year and we're all excited about that so it's not as if Duran Duran has had any shortage of things to do. And yet, there may be another reason for their silence.
I have not yet proven myself to them.
Well I intend to do exactly that by turning my intellectual and compositional prowess towards something that has oft puzzled Duran fans: the meaning of "The Reflex." I'm no Derrida, but deconstructionism is something I enjoy and why not have a go with my favorite band?
While certainly one of Duran Duran's biggest hits (straight to number one in the summer of 1984), the message contained within the lyrics is not entirely clear. Snooty rock critics dismissed the song as meaningless. I beg to defer. I believe it is the very search for meaning that defines this song.
You've gone too far this time
And I'm dancing on the valentine
I tell you somebody's been fooling around
With my chances on the danger line
To me, these words imply a common theme for our age. This sounds like the exasperation of someone who is trying to please everyone else. Notice how we seem to have an issue with saying "no" to people? In the absence of "no" we neglect ourselves and finally someone "goes too far this time." As for the valentine business, perhaps Simon was seeing things from a female perspective for a moment and imagining being pushed too far by their screw-up boyfriend/husband/baby daddy (Men! Am I right, ladies?)
I'll cross that bridge when I find it
Another day to make my stand
Here we see courage falter. The narrator is set to give the object of their frustration the what-for but decides not to. There are always reasons not to. You want to keep the peace or maybe you are a workplace subordinate to your oppressor. So "I'll let it go this time, but if there's a next time, look out!" Yeah. Maybe tomorrow. That's it. Sure sounds familiar.
Why don't you use it?
Try not to bruise it.
Buy time don't lose it.
This can be seen as nothing less than an internal dialogue. The narrator's inner voice is basically asking "What's it going to be? Are you going to stand in this world and be counted for who you are or are you going to continue to kowtow to everyone else because that's what's expected?" Or as Shakespeare might have asked in a bit less eloquent manner than Simon, "To be or not to be?" But "another day to make my stand," right?
The reflex is a lonely child
Who's waiting by the park
Okay, this gets a bit problematic. Child abandonment? I'm trying not to see it that way and instead I come back to the philosophical notion of courage. A kid lonely and waiting is likely also a scared tyke. This child must summon the courage to either keep waiting for what/who they need or set off into the dark to try and find it. Both will take guts. Which will it be? Stay in the park or venture off like a Viking in the Song of the Volsungs? Fine, I admit I'm reaching a bit on that last point but has Simon ever openly said it wasn't that? I didn't think so.
I'm on a ride and I wanna get off
But they won't slow down the roundabout
Oh God, haven't we all felt like that? In order to survive I must not be myself. I'd love to break away from this and live an authentic life but I'm a prisoner of the inertia of this machine. Free yourself from The Matrix! Ahem. Sorry.
I sold the Renoir and the TV set
Don't want to be around when this gets out
This part could be taken more than a few ways. The narrator may be ridding themselves of distractions in their search for meaning and identity. Television is something of a cancer, so why further pollute your life? Renoir, however, was a great artist and produced works of incalculable value. Is the narrator selling this art to survive or is it perhaps a symbol of selling off that which we value most about ourselves? Man, screw this world.
So the "reflex" itself may be the inner voice we hear in the prelude to the chorus. "The reflex" may be that elusive courage telling us to take risks or to follow instinct. It might even be that subtle yet constant nagging sense that something just isn't right with this world (and we're back to The Matrix.) Societal systems are marvelous at crushing someone's identity. "The reflex" is our natural instinct to "fight the power."
The song had its moment of inchoation through Simon improving the lyrics at the microphone or so I recall reading. Perhaps "The Reflex" is a product of this very spirit of instinct?
Maybe. For after all...
Every little thing the reflex does
Must be answered with a question mark
So there you have it. Do I get the job?
I'll be waiting by the park.
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