Bryan Adams is one of my favorite musicians (if not my favorite), a future subject of a blog entry about his longtime snub from the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame, and a Canadian Rock & Roll musician who has many incredibly well-known international hits. However, today I would like to talk about one of my favorite songs of his that is a little less well known. On his album Room Service, which is his contribution to the body of excellent albums on life on the road (my favorite of the genre, along with Michelle Branch’s equally excellent Hotel Paper,), he sings a song about the lonely road of life.
I have long gotten the feeling from Bryan Adams’ body of work that he is fundamentally a lonely man. It is not only that his songs often deal with heartbreak (that is common enough in rock and roll), but that he seems to dwell on the subject of loneliness throughout his whole body of work, starting in the early 1980’s with one of his first hits (“Lonely Nights”) to this song and a song from a later studio album (“Why Do You Have To Be So Hard To Love?”). To deal with the subject of loneliness in such classy way, by having one’s title reference both the fall of mankind in the Garden of Eden (see Genesis 3) as well as a novel by Lost Generation novelist F. Scott Fitzgerald (This Side of Paradise) is an extremely cultured sort of reference to make. Most people who think of Bryan Adams do not realize that in his straightforward rock & roll music he is in fact an extremely cultured man (the fact that his music graces the soundtracks of two excellent historical films–Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves, and The Three Musketeers, ought to give some indication of this fact as well). His excellent high-fashion photos also indicate that at his heart he is a cultured and civilized person, though with a rough exterior that would seem to hide underneath a mask.
So, in “This Side of Paradise,” what we have is a straightforward song about loneliness on an existential level that contains numerous deep connections with theology and literature. Let us explore these connections in greater detail so that we can appreciate this song for the gem it is, especially given the insights that it provides to those whose questioning attitude prevent them from being accepted by those who like pat answers. My own attitude is remarkably similar to that of Bryan Adams here, probably another reason why I like the song so much.
The first verse of the song goes as follows : ” I’m ridin’ in the back seat – nine years old,/ Starin’ out the window countin’ the highway poles./ And then I get to thinkin’ – that it don’t seem real:/ I’m flyin’ through the universe in a ’69 Oldsmobile.” This opening verse sets up the song as a memory of a childhood experience of a dreamy and philosophical boy, a boy like I was also, reflecting on the difference between illusion and reality. In opening this song in such a mild manner, he manages to slip in a very subtle reference to one of his more popular hits, and also more controversial songs, Summer of 69, a song about the loss of innocence, which innocuously sets up this song as dealing with the same theme for those who are aware of the reference.
There are really two choruses in this song, but they differ only by a couple words, so it is useful to discuss the variations next. The opening chorus goes like this: ” And I wanna know what they’re not tellin’,/ And I don’t wanna hear no lies./ I just want something to believe in./ Ah – it’s a lonely lonely road I’m on/ This side of paradise. The other choruses change “I’m” to “we’re,” reflecting the fact that it is not only Bryan Adams, but all of us, who are on a lonely road thanks to the fall of mankind, and also drop either one or both uses of the “and” on the first two lines of the choruses. None of these changes drastically changes the meaning. Bryan Adams here waxes theological about very serious biblical and doctrinal matters. Taking the lyrics of the rest of the song into consideration (which will become obvious shortly), Bryan Adams as a child did not believe the stories (or lies) he was told about the afterlife, about man’s nonexistent immortal soul. He wanted the truth about death, and no one would (or could) tell it to him. And so he feels lonely because he lacks hope in the afterlife, feeling that life is lonely because of the certainty of death. His questions go all the way back to the Garden of Eden, of the curse of death that came upon mankind because of the sin of Adam & Eve in eating the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, the curse that led to mankind being exiled from paradise until the restoration of the new heavens and new earth brings that garden back to earth in the New Jerusalem (see Revelation 22). Adams’ questions, despite being phrased as the doubts of a child, are in fact very intelligent and piercing theological questions–small wonder that his relatives could not give him a satisfactory answer. As he “grows up” he realizes that this loneliness does not only belong to him, but is a part of the human condition, another wise (if bitter) truth that the wise and reflective often learn far too soon.
The second verse of the song reveals its concern with death and makes obvious what difficult questions the young Bryan Adams (and plenty of the rest of us) had about death: ” I’m ridin’ in the back seat – black limousine/ Starin’ out the window at a funeral scene./ And then I get to thinkin’ – and it don’t seem right/ I’m sittin’ here safe and sound and someone I love is gone tonight.” This verse makes it clear that Adams’ loss of faith in traditional Christianity was based on his inability to believe in the fairy tales of heaven and the immortal soul based on the suffering and reality of death. Unfortunately, instead of finding out the truth about what happens after death, Adams was led to doubt any possibility of the afterlife or any resurrection, rather than merely reject the false view of the afterlife that many people have which rejects the biblical truth that the soul that sins shall die (see Genesis 2,3, Ezekiel 18). One wonders just how many people like him were led along the same path to disbelief because of lies about the afterlife?
The bridge of the song comments on further lies, fairy tales, and even truths that Adams was led to reject as a result of his loss of faith: ” There ain’t no crystal ball – there ain’t no Santa Claus./ There ain’t no fairy tales./ There ain’t no streets of gold
There ain’t no chosen few – ya it’s just me and you/ And that’s all we got ya…that’s all we got to hold on to./ Ya this side of paradise.” Again, in many cases Adams is right–crystal balls are a biblically forbidden (and usually fraudulent, unless some sort of demonic activity is present) sort of “magic.” Santa Claus is a common lie that parents tell their children about on Christmas. Most “fairy tales” are just that–though the actual grim content of the fairy tales collected by nineteenth century cultural anthropologists like the Brothers Grimm in Germany are in fact very brutally realistic, as opposed to the bowlderized Disney fairy tales kids see today. There aren’t any streets of gold this side of the new Jerusalem (see Revelation 21:21), though there are the chosen few, though probably not (unfortunately) including Mr. Adams himself. Mr. Adams is right, though, in one sense, to say that there’s only “me and you.” That is, in life under the sun (see Ecclesiastes 4:9-12) human beings have to rely on each other. But Adams, in denying the resurrection, himself takes the position of the Sadducees, who neglected to remember that God is the God of the living, and so that the righteous will live again–if not immediately after death (see Matthew 22:31), in the Kingdom of God, at the sound of the last trumpet (see 1 Corinthians 15:35-58, 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18). Sadly, no one could give the comfort of this truth to the young Bryan Adams.
The third verse closes the song with the following observation: ” I remember bein’ a little boy in the backseat – nine years old/ Always askin’ questions – never did what I was told./ And then I get to thinkin’ like I always do/ We wander ’round in the darkness but every now and then/ A little light shines through.” This is a wise observation, not far from the musings of Solomon about the futility of life (see Ecclesiastes throughout), or Paul’s own musings about seeing through a glass darkly (see 1 Corinthians 13:12). For truly he was not alone in being a little boy who always asked questions (especially “why”) or in being independent minded. In this world of darkness we treasure those rare moments when the light of wisdom and insight pierces through the darkness and gloom of our sin-corrupted world. Let us hope that Bryan Adams, and the rest of us, can gain hope from such flashes of light, which are a sign that the darkness will be once and for all banished and destroyed so that all of us may walk in the light of God’s truth.