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Doom and Gloom (the Rolling Stones)

Doom and Gloom is a song about the end of the world and was released in 2012.

The lyrics feature references to several popular ideas of what the apocalypse would look like, while also warning against being too pessimistic about its inevitability.

The lead character in the song, who we presume to be Mick Jagger himself, also sings to a prophecised saviour who he asks to “take a chance” and to dance with him.

We presume that, if this saviour does indeed hear Jagger’s plea, the world will be saved.

The song’s constant warnings against paying too much attention to “doom and gloom” lend the song a positive and optimistic note - which is light relief considering its dystopian lyrics.

Picture: Jim Pietryga

Doom and Gloom opens with a metaphor about a dream in which Jagger is the captain of a plane full of “drunk and insane” passengers. The plane crash-lands in a swamp which is populated by zombies.

This first metaphor is meaningful in several ways. The plane can be understood to represent western society and its population’s dependence on alcohol, binge-drinking and drug-taking.

Jagger is leading that society - in his role as a popular songwriter - but he is anxious that his rock and roll songs might be leading his listeners to disaster.

The lyrics state that the plane crashes in Louisiana in New Orleans (an American state famed for its connection to magic and mysticism).

Zombies are usually, in the 1970s tradition of George A Romero, understood to represent humans and their blind devotion to capitalism.

More recent films, such as 28 Days Later, paint zombies as something that humans could become (i.e. rage-filled and blind to morals) if food and other resources become scarce in the event of an apocalypse.

Jagger fights the zombies and comes out “on top”. This is presumably because he understands what they are and is therefore equipped to win a fight against them.

The second interesting metaphor concerns “the tightening of the screws”. This appears to be a reference to the Victorian horror novel The Turn of the Screw.

The novel’s story features a nanny who is tasked to look after two children - but she slowly becomes convinced that the house they are staying in is haunted by malevolent spirits.

In English literature the turning of the screw can be understood to represent an increasing sense of confusion and madness. It is something akin to the idea being boiled alive - but the water is heated so slowly that the unwitting subject does not fully realise what is happening until it’s too late.

In the context of apocalypse, as in the song Doom and Gloom, Jagger appears to be asking the listener if they can also feel an increasing sense of desperation and crisis in western society. This is what he means by: “Hear a funky noise? That’s the tightening of the screws”.

A more light-hearted and upbeat version of this sentiment can be found in Lily Allen’s song Everything’s Just Wonderful from her debut album Alright Still.

The third crucial metaphor in the song, which in truth is less of a metaphor and more of an explicit prophecy, is the idea that westerner’s will soon be “eating dirt” and “living on the side of the road”.

This would appear to be a reference to the kind of apocalyptic visions set out in films like The Road - where humans are stripped of modern comforts after an apocalyptic disaster and must carve out an existence in a dystopian wilderness.
Jagger states that this idea would “make your head explode”.

What he is saying here is that, because westerners are so ignorant of the perils of money-worship and excessive consumption, the cold truth of a prophecised apocalypse is enough to explode their heads.

It is important to note that money-worship and excessive consumption could be taken to be the essence of the kind of rock and roll that the Rolling Stones were once celebrated for.
For this reason, Doom and Gloom could be understood as an apology from Jagger, and a plea to listeners to re-think their ideas about what rock and roll means.

The final aspect which must be understood in order to grasp the song’s meaning is Jagger’s plea to an unnamed and unidentified saviour.

On four occasions Jagger calls out to a figure who he sees “through the light” or “through the night”. We can therefore understand this to mean that he sees this figure in day-dreams or night-dreams.

He asks this saviour to “take a chance” and to dance with him.
This seems to be an explicit plea from Jagger to an artist in the audience.

He wants this artist to join the Rolling Stones, and other musicians, to help reverse the damaging and aged ideas which describe rock and roll as something which encourages excessive capitalism and over-consumption.

It could, of course, also be understood as a traditional romantic plea to a love interest who will save Jagger - and only Jagger - from the apocalypse.

However, given the epic proportions of the song’s lyrics, that would seem like a lazy and unlikely interpretation.

Do you agree? Let me know what you think about the song’s lyrics in the comments below 👇

The lyric that sums up this song is…

“Hear a funky noise? That’s the tightening of the screws”

Further reading

The Turn of the Screw (novel)

28 Days Later (film)

The Road (film)

The Gaia Hypothesis (theory)

Watch the lyrics video for Doom and Gloom by the Rolling Stones

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