“Hey Mr.!…Mister! What’s that song?” – An apologetic deconstruction of Broken Wings by Mr. Mister
It all started in the 1980s with a sense of trying to feel good
The year was 1985. It’s the middle of the proverbial, “Don’t Worry, Be Happy” era (Bobby McFerrin, Don’t Worry Be Happy (1988).
Primetime comedy shows are all the rage. Mullet haircuts are everywhere (you remember, “business in the front, party in the back!”). The music scene was filled with the sweet sounds of the progressive synthesizers of the time. Yes, it was a time when most believed that pop culture (read: American popular culture) was a thriving vessel of security, teen-age enjoyment, and adulthood luxury. And, when that famed FM radio was clicked on, the subtle thumping of the opening bass lines of the song, Broken Wings (Mr. Mister. Broken Wings.) by the then chart-topping band Mr. Mister slowly flowed through the not-so-surround sound in that overly priced car. Still, that song caught the breath of the listener, at least, for a short while.
Recently, that song, Broken Wings played on the radio. After checking my clock to be sure that I was still in the 21st century, I started to mentally deconstruct the song. Yes, once I regained my breath, I reviewed the lyrics to that song, the purpose of it from that pop-synth-rock band, and how the song could be read through an apologetic lens. Taking my punky style of apologetic deconstruction to task, I listened to that track again, and again, and again, …
Inspired by a Lebanese poet-philosopher Kahlil Gibran from the book, The Broken Wings (1912) (https://gutenberg.net.au/ebooks05/0500551h.html), the band lyricist John Lang penned this classic pop song for that age.
Though the song by Mr. Mister deals with a love affair vis-à-vis a broken relationship and the attempt to reconcile the defeated relationship or move, with an apologetic deconstructive reading of the track, there’s more that can be deduced. Applying a faith-based center analysis – that my punky style of apologetic deconstruction thrives upon – the love affair can be re-scripted to be read how one has lost their faith, challenged their faith through doubt, selfishness, and insecurity. The loss of faith is the core, then, of what is broken, the wing(s) of faith, the foundations of one’s belief system, the necessity to live by, develop, practice, enhance, and mature one’s faith has – for whatever reason – been lost, or, in this case, broken. How many of us can identify with this sense of self-defeat? It is at this point of departure where the apologetic deconstruction of the song, Broken Wings, begins to employ how one can regain, or at the bare minimum work toward recapturing the meaning of faith within their life.
The Lyrics, Deconstructed, Analyzed and Apologetically Scored
With an apologetic critique of the lyrics to Broken Wings we can begin to see, right from the start that there’s a problem between the fictional self and their faith, …I don’t understand/why we can’t just hold on/to each other’s hands…
We’re not told how faith was lost, but this opening verse points to a tone of desperation steaming from this action. The remainder of the verse solidifies my argument, …This time might be the last/I fear, unless I make it all too clear/I need you so…
This is the cry for help, the self-realization that the end is either present or quickly approaching. The chorus identifies the action to release the tension, the self-defeat, the acceptance that help is needed to rebuild one’s faith, and the acknowledgment that this regaining of faith cannot be done alone but can only be accomplished with help. Take these broken wings/and learn to fly again/learn to live so free…
Embedded within the chorus is the realization that once faith has been restored, or heard as the lyrics state, then, the book of love will open up/and let us [read: me] in… Advancing this apologetic hermeneutical reading, it becomes clear that, even at this early stage in the song, the fictitious character is seeking to restore their faith, to know the love that they once had and the need to abandon their present state, condition, and thinking.
Within the second verse, the fictional character starts to make their personal advancement toward regaining their faith, …I think tonight/we [read: I] can take what was wrong/and make it right… Clearly, this is a point of personal reflection and a juncture in the character’s desire to move toward what they once knew about their faith.
The next few lines of this verse are the character’s testimony, it’s all I know/that you’re half of the flesh/and blood [that] makes me whole/I need you so…
The character starts to align themselves with a trajectory, a reckoning, a motive, a belief center action to better their position, and witness – or as I stated, testify – that they lost their faith, but in the act of calling to, learn to fly again, they can surpass this trauma in their life; faith can be restored anew.
The fact that the main points of the second verse are repeated once again is not an accident, nor a reprise of the lyrics to complete a musical marker following pop music structure. I read this reprise of the second verse taking note of the words that are restated, placing an emphasis on their faith-building value and personal cry for help from this fictional main character. The repeated definition that, …you’re half of the flesh/and blood that makes me whole… is the testimony. This is the self-abjection from the main character; a point of humbling, recognizing that they are wretched and have lost not only their core faith but the love central to the meaning of their faith.
The lyricist is careful not to allow this fictional character to lose their worldly position, yet the character still strives to be released from the tensions and burdens of the world that they recognize as being possible through a reformation of their core faith. Applying the term abjection, as used by Julia Kristeva, the norms, rules, and social moralities of the world need to be cast off for the character to transcend the defeat they are experiencing from the loss of faith. As Kristeva notes, the repressions of “corporeal reality,” (read: worldly limitations) are confronted, challenged, and narrated – as I argue – through the necessity for the individual to harness their experience of loss of faith into one that is repositioned as a movement toward their faith, but with a renewed sense of urgency (read: fly again, live so free) that the character is, then, able to, love so free, as the chorus later develops.
Does the Proverbial Book of Love Ever Open?
The song simply ends with the vocalist acknowledging a rhetorical “yes” to the developed process. But is the, yeah/yeah/yeah… that simple of recovery from this lost position into one where the fictional character has found their faith? Or is this a tribute back to the 1980s era of being happy about whatever comes? Is this closing retort a gentle nod to the listener that the story does conclude with a happy ending? What a cliché; a fallacy of resolution as one ventures on an unstable path to find their faith, collect their place within their desire to renew their belief, a desire to script a new life in the “book of love.” But what can one expect from a chart-topping song from the late 1980s?
My punky deconstructive apologetic argument cashes in on the invitation from the lyricist to, …take what was wrong/and make it right… It’s not that this critical reading is right, but rather far from it. What makes this critique valuable is the need to not limit this pop song to one of lost love between a man and woman. The apologetic deconstruction of Broken Wings, I argue, can unveil a blueprint for how one can examine their current state of faith, build upon that honest testimony, and let oneself into the omnipotent book of love.
November 30, 2023
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