For years, artists have been making music that questions their very existence. One of the most famous that comes to mind is “Like a Rolling Stone” by Bob Dylan; the refrain “how is it?” Is sung to the listener as Dylan questions every aspect of himself. It exemplifies the change that took place in rock ‘n’ roll in the 20th century, as music moved from an underground medium to a modern and beloved medium that became caged as a result. As Dylan wondered how he felt, he was both referring to the fame he had found in his music, as well as the restrictions that came with that fame.
Other songs that have a similar impact are those of Prince, Bob Marley, Bruce Springsteen, and many would be surprised to hear: John Barnes. What John Barnes does with his verse in ‘World In Motion’ is more than most people think. He doesn’t just provide a fun rap for James Corden and Mathew Horne to sing in this episode of Gavin & Stacey, he provides a verse that calls into question his existence as a human. Here’s how:
To fully understand the relevance of the philosophy contained in John Barnes’ verses, you must first understand the conversation between him and the record company before writing it. Let me take you back.
Producer: Hi John Barnes, thanks for coming. (Paraphrase)
John Barnes: Hey Mr / Mrs / Mrs / Miss Producer, how are you? (Paraphrase)
Producer: Not bad, you can do it okay? (Paraphrase)
John Barnes: The traffic was a bit of a nightmare. (You got the idea)
Producer: Haha, isn’t it always? (I don’t really know what was said)
John Barnes: Always. (But I imagine something like this happened)
Producer: Haha. (Paraphrase)
John Barnes: Haha. (This bit is actually spot on)
(The conversation lasted a little longer as the producer poured John Barnes coffee and John Barnes practiced doing little things in the corner of the room with one of those fluffy things you put on the end of the microphones)
Producer: So anyway, this verse, do you have any ideas?
John Barnes: I was kinda hoping you guys in music would sort this out.
Producer: Well, I would really love your input to make it genuine. What if you tried to write a few lines for it?
John Barnes: Am I writing a few lines? What would I write?
Producer: Well, you yourself, the team, know what you’re doing.
John Barnes: Well, I hit the ball. (Also on site)
Producer: Okay, and?
John Barnes: And…?
John Barnes: …
That night, after this exchange, John Barnes found himself questioning his entire existence. “I kick the ball and? Repeated over and over again in his head the same way Dylan would repeat “How are you?” ” And? And? And? Again and again and again. As if there had to be something else. As if he can’t offer more than his everything, his all is to kick the ball. And? John didn’t even know who he was anymore, let alone write a whole verse about it. And this is reflected in the last line. John’s only contribution to the verse, and the crux where the existential crisis takes place, can be seen in:
We are not hooligans
It’s not a football song
Let that line come in. “It’s not a football song.” You have to keep in mind when this line is actually being spoken. It’s almost the last track of the song. After the intro that interrupts the commentary of England’s 1966 World Cup victory, after a full strategic speech from John himself, he states that the entirety of it has nothing to do with football. So what is it all about?
This line is a clear reflection of John’s mental state as of this writing.
Producer: So, did you write something?
John Barnes (Not having left the studio all night and drenched in sweat): Do I? … What?
Producer: The song? Did you write something?
John Barnes: Oh… I uh…
Producer: No worries, we have the verse here if you want to hear it?
(The producer played the entire verse to John as we know it today. Nothing has changed. Except one line.)
You have to hold on and give
But do it at the right time
You can be slow or fast
But you have to go all the way
They will always hit you and hurt you
Defend and tie up
There’s only one way to beat them
Contour the back
So catch me if you can
Because I am the man of England
And what you watch
Is the master plan
We are not hooligans
No violence in this song
Three lions on my chest
I know we can’t go wrong
John Barnes insisted the line be changed when he heard the song in its entirety. The commentary clips, the beat, the strategy, the song of “In-ger-land” at the end, all they were was a constant reminder that he wasn’t sure who he was anymore.
And? And? And?
This song was not a soccer song. This song emphasized the futility of everything. Returning home football won’t change the fact that we’re all on a dying rock that falls into space where the only certainty is death. The roars of these three lions won’t drown out the voice telling you you’re not good enough. And you can hold on and give as much as you want, at the most convenient time, but that won’t change the fact that it’s not a football song.
John knew exactly what this song was: ther song was a representation of everything we need to be aware of when going through our lives. What keeps the world moving and the air flowing through our lungs? Is it football? No, is that music? No, it’s love. It will always be and always has been love. And John saw it with absolute clarity that night.