The analysis of conceptual metaphors in “Chainsaw Charlie” by W.A.S.P.

Hi there! Metalaphor is back with the first post of 2016. As I promised in the last article, the January pick is one of the W.A.S.P. classics, namely, “Murders in the new morgue (Chainsaw Charlie)” from the “The Crimson Idol” (1992). This LP is a conceptual album, which means that song after song a listener is guided through a coherent narrative on a single topic. “The Crimson Idol” tells a story of a rise and fall of a young rock star Jonathan. In “Murders…”, the boy meets Charlie, an owner of a record label, who promises him to put the entire world at his feet.

The song, as the entire album, which it is featured on, is an ambiguous text when it comes to a search for meaning. This fact was admitted by Blackie Lawless (author and W.A.S.P. leader) himself on the band’s webpage when commenting on “The Crimson Idol”. Does this spell more metaphors for us? Soon we are going to find that out. Let’s check out the lyrics (Attention, explicit content):

Charlie to Jonathan:

  1. O.K. boy now here’s your deal
  2. Will you gamble your life?
  3. Sign right here on the dotted line
  4. It’s the one you’ve waited for all of your life

Jonathan to Charlie:

  1. Ah – will it feed my hunger
  2. If I swallow lies right down my throat?
  3. Or will it choke me till I’m raw?
  4. And tomorrow when I’m gone
  5. Will they whore my image on?
  6. I’ll will my throne away, to a virgin heir and Charlie’s slave

Jonathan (Chorus):

  1. Murders, murders in the new morgue
  2. Murders, murders in the new morgue
  3. See old Charlie and the platinum army’s
  4. Making me their boy
  5. Murders, murders in the new morgue
  6. Murders, murders in the new morgue
  7. He’ll make ya scream for the cash machine
  8. Down in Chainsaw Charlie’s morgue

Charlie to Jonathan:

  1. We’ll sell your flesh by the pound you’ll go
  2. A whore of wrath just like me
  3. We’ll sell ya wholesale, we’ll sell your soul
  4. Strap on your sixstring and feed our machine

Jonathan to Charlie: (repeat verse 1 and chorus)

Charlie to Jonathan:

  1. Welcome to the morgue boy
  2. Where the music comes to die 
  3. Welcome to the morgue son
  4. I’ll cut your throat just to stay alive
  5. Ah, trust me boy
  6. I won’t steer you wrong
  7. If you trust me son
  8. You won’t last very long

Charlie to Jonathan:

  1. I’m the president of showbiz, my name is Charlie
  2. I’m a cocksucking asshole, that’s what they call me
  3. Here from my Hollywood tower I rule
  4. I’m a lying motherfucker, the chainsaw’s my tool
  5. The new morgue’s our factory, to grease our lies
  6. Our machine is hungry, it needs your life
  7. Don’t mind the faggots, and the ruthless scum
  8. Before we’re done, son we’ll make you one
  1. I’m the tin man, I’ve never had a heart
  2. I’m the tin man, but I’ll make you a star
  3. I’m the tin man, I’ve never had a heart
  4. I’m the tin man

Jonathan (repeat chorus)

Well, this analysis promises to be monster of a post. However, don’t get discouraged and stop reading here – I’ll keep it as short as possible.

The Deal

Here we go with the first ten lines, in which Charlie seduces Jonathan to sign a deal with him:

Charlie to Jonathan:

  1. K. boy now here’s your deal
  2. Will you gamble your life?
  3. Sign right here on the dotted line
  4. It’s the one you’ve waited for all of your life

Jonathan to Charlie:

  1. Ah – will it feed my hunger
  2. If I swallow lies right down my throat?
  3. Or will it choke me till I’m raw?
  4. And tomorrow when I’m gone
  5. Will they whore my image on?
  6. I’ll will my throne away, to a virgin heir and Charlie’s slave

We encounter the first metaphor in line 2 of Charlie’s offer: “will you gamble your life?”. Here, Jonathan’s life is seen as a stake in a game. A possible positive outcome would mean a dream-come-true scenario of Jonathan becoming a world-famous rock-star. The negative outcome would be… well, let’s stay positive. This event of “gambling” is a part of the hero’s course of life, so I opted here for the metaphor LIFE IS A GAMBLING GAME (e.g. You should take your chances; You have to play your cards right to succeed etc.). If we follow this way of reasoning, there is one remarkable thing here worth pointing out. Jonathan’s life is conceptualized as a game and, at the same time, the stake in this game is his own life.

The answer of our young hero comes like a fascinating kaleidoscope of figurative language. Line 5 – will it feed my hunger – is a straightforward case of the DESIRE IS HUNGER metaphor. It works in the following way. Becoming a rock-star is a desire of the mind and/or soul, which is compared to the state of being hungry. Hunger is also a desire, however a physical one and, hence, experienced by a human body clearly and directly, unlike the desires of a soul or mind. Craving for fame, in our case, is seen as consuming food in order to kill hunger. The state of being full (lack of physical desire) corresponds, respectively, to the state of achieved goal (satisfied mental desire – the need to be famous).

In lines 6 and 7 – “If I swallow lies right down my throat? Or will it choke me till I’m raw?” we observe the ACCEPTING IS SWALLOWING metaphor (like in He swallowed my insults etc). This metaphor is actually one of the mappings of a higher-level metaphor IDEAS ARE FOOD. Its full set of mappings looks as follows (taken from Kövecses “Metaphor: a practical introduction” 2002: 73):

  • Cooking corresponds to thinking (“Let me stew over this.”)
  • Swallowing to accepting (“I can’t swallow that claim.”)
  • Chewing to considering (“Let me chew over the proposal.”)
  • Digesting to understanding (“I can’t digest all these ideas.”)
  • Nourishment to mental well-being (“He thrives on stuff like this.”)

The word “Lies” in line 6 relates to “IDEAS” part through the Conduit Metaphor, in which IDEAS must fill the slot of a container and lies – its content. I have examined the Conduit Metaphor in more detail in several older posts of mine (for example, in “Scavenger of human sorrow” and “Empty Words” by Death) and will not dwell on it here.

So, lines 6 and 7 together must basically mean “Will I make peace with this thought or will it kill me?”.

The metaphor in “And tomorrow when I’m gone” (line 8) is arguably DEATH IS DEPARTURE, which was a frequent guest in the previous articles as well. If life is conceptualized as being here, being present, then we can reason about the deceased as those who passed/went away, those making or being on the last trip/voyage etc. If you give this thought a bit of thinking, you may notice that there is a process of a change of state involved here and the metaphor reflects it: living – dying pair corresponds to being here – going away pair. Indeed, I believe, the DEATH IS DEPARTURE metaphor is one of those many, which have a parent metaphor CHANGE IS MOTION. The latter, I suppose, is one of the first basic conceptualizations our “embodied mind” makes. It is obvious why: any motion does not only cause a change or changes of/in something, but is already a change in itself (from a static to dynamic state).

Line 9 in Jonathan’s reply (“Will they whore my image on?”) was a bit of a riddle to me after the early readings of the lyrics. In the end I concluded that this is a metonymy, made possible by the metaphorical use of the verb “whore” in the line. Online Oxford Dictionary offers the following meaning of the word: (v) Debase oneself by doing something for unworthy motives, typically to make money. This meaning came to being through metaphor, when the prostitution frame (here, source domain) was applied to doing other indecent things for money. Then, “my image” must be a Jonathan’s reference to his own music legacy, hence a metonymy. Yet another lexeme worth attention is a preposition “on” at the end of the line, meaning that the whoring of Jonathan’s image will be ongoing after signing an agreement with Charlie throughout his entire life. This way of reasoning allows us to understand line 9 as saying “Will you abuse my music to make money even after my death?”.

Lastly, line 10 – “I’ll will my throne away, to a virgin heir and Charlie’s slave” – contains arguably the HIGH STATUS IS UP metaphor when mentioning the throne (examples include You are at the peak of your career; the lowest lows of the society; You fell in my eyes etc). The concept of throne itself is a non-linguistic realization of the metaphor above. It was usually positioned at least few steps higher than the floor level of the room, symbolizing a higher, exceptional social position of a ruler, the main one. In the line above, Jonathan’s metaphorical throne is his stardom, his status of a rock star, which will be assigned to a new chosen one after the death of our hero.

Why is then high status seen as up and low as down? The metaphor, as pointed out by Lakoff and Johnson in “Metaphors we live by” (1980: 15-17), has a strong social and physical basis: status is correlated here with social power and physical power. These two, subsequently, correlate with the metaphors HAVING CONTROL (social) /FORCE (physical) IS UP (Being subject to control or having no force is down). The vertical scale is introduced by the basic orientational metaphor MORE IS UP/LESS IS DOWN (e.g. pouring more water in an already half-full glass will make the water level rise). Hence, more control, power, or force is metaphorically up. Higher status, resulting from more social/physical power, is accordingly also up.

Murdering a talent

Jonathan signs the agreement with Charlie and the chorus below offers us his reasoning about the conditions he ended up in:

Jonathan (Chorus):

  1. Murders, murders in the new morgue
  2. Murders, murders in the new morgue
  3. See old Charlie and the platinum army’s
  4. Making me their boy
  5. Murders, murders in the new morgue
  6. Murders, murders in the new morgue
  7. He’ll make ya scream for the cash machine
  8. Down in Chainsaw Charlie’s morgue

Though poor in metaphors, the passage introduces supposedly the most important idea of the song: “Murders, murders in the new morgue”. I am going to save the explanation until the end of the post, because it will inevitably involve the knowledge and understanding of the entire song text.

Apart from that, there are only four lines to check (13-14 and 17-18) and as far as I am concerned they do not have conceptual metaphors. If you see it differently, please, let me know your thoughts.

On we go with the second verse:

Charlie to Jonathan:

  1. We’ll sell your flesh by the pound you’ll go
  2. A whore of wrath just like me
  3. We’ll sell ya wholesale, we’ll sell your soul
  4. Strap on your sixstring and feed our machine

Jonathan to Charlie: (repeat verse 1 and chorus)

A rather thought-provoking case of figurative thought is line 19 “We’ll sell your flesh by the pound you’ll go”. I devised several ways to explain the issue, but I am going to comment on the one I hold for the most probable: metonymy of a kind PRODUCER FOR PRODUCED (Jonathan for his music). This hypothesis holds water if we consider the selling frame as applied non-metaphorically to the contextual meaning of “flesh”. As a record label owner, you do not sell the flesh of the musicians; you trade their music. Music (PRODUCED) is an embodiment of a creative genius of a musician – Jonathan in our case (PRODUCER). It inherently belongs to him. (This may be similar to a parent child relation, manifested in such words as “”he/she is my flesh and blood”.) This relation alone is enough for metonymic reasoning, when referring to Jonathan’s released CDs, LPs, tapes as his flesh.

Moreover, the way the marketing of music is shown in this line has a strong negative connotation, implying two things. Firstly, not only the music, but also the artist himself will be sold out to squeeze out a buck out of everyone; secondly, trading “your flesh” again introduces a frame of prostitution in the narrative (label owner/manager – pimp, artist – prostitute). The second assumption is backed by comparing Jonathan to a whore right in the next line (20). At this point, it may be even claimed that line 19 is actually a metaphor, which compares music industry to prostitution: MUSIC INDUSTRY IS PROSTITUTION. Any thought on that?

Line 21 pursues the same line of reasoning seen just above. It fits the explanation in terms of metonymy and it does not violate the constructed prostitution metaphor, if you favor the second option. One more instance of figurative thought, featured in this line, is the objectification of the soul: SOUL IS A POSSESSION, which is a realization of a higher-level metaphor ABSTRACT NOTIONS ARE PHYSICAL OBJECTS. The metaphor transfers the traits of a physical object to an abstract notion, thus opening a possibility to think about the latter as of a possession or a good to trade, for instance.

To interpret the last line of this section (Strap on your sixstring and feed our machine) I will pursue the way of reasoning I started in 19 above. First, we start with “our machine”. I am inclined to opt for the RUNNING A BUSINESS IS TO OPERATE A MACHINE metaphor. I have never come across it, but it seems relevant, because even the expression “to run a company”, for instance, contains it. Second, machine cannot be fed. Only animals or people can. This is where the Great Chain of Being metaphor enters the stage (GCB hereinafter). GCB is a folk theory of how things and living creatures in the universe are related to each other on the domination scale:

  1. Humans
  2. Animals
  3. Plants
  4. Complex physical objects
  5. Natural physical things.

The main feature of this list is its funnel-like reflection of the superiority chain among its entries: every higher entry possesses all the features the lower has and additionally something unique, which distinguishes it and ranks it as superior. For example, humans have all the characteristics the animals have plus specifically human features. Animals have all the features plants possess (biological and physical) plus instincts etc.

The power of GCB lies in its ability to degrade or to promote its members by comparing them to each other. If we metaphorically compare a person to an animal, for instance, we strip this person down of their higher-order attributes and depict as a creature, governed solely by instincts.

In our case, a machine (level 4; metaphor for a company) is animated, having been promoted to rank 2 and compared to an animal. The entailments of this move are straightforward: a living machine, governed by instincts, will do everything to stay alive and safe, meaning it will prey on the weaker ones and feed on its prey without showing mercy or feeling remorse. Now apply this metaphorically to Charlie’s record label and you get a quite clear picture of its business methods.

Finally, “sixstring” means a guitar by synecdoche (another means of figurative thought, part – whole relation); guitar means Jonathan by metonymy. Now it is possible to see what Charlie actually says with this line and entire passage: we will lure you in, make hella money on you and then dump you.

Jonathan repeats his part again…

Tin man

From this place on Chainsaw Charlie enters a long self-presentation. Let’s take a look if something worthy catches our eye here.

Charlie to Jonathan:

  1. Welcome to the morgue boy
  2. Where the music comes to die
  3. Welcome to the morgue son
  4. I’ll cut your throat just to stay alive
  5. Ah, trust me boy
  6. I won’t steer you wrong
  7. If you trust me son
  8. You won’t last very long

Charlie to Jonathan:

  1. I’m the president of showbiz, my name is Charlie
  2. I’m a cocksucking asshole, that’s what they call me
  3. Here from my Hollywood tower I rule
  4. I’m a lying motherfucker, the chainsaw’s my tool
  5. The new morgue’s our factory, to grease our lies
  6. Our machine is hungry, it needs your life
  7. Don’t mind the faggots, and the ruthless scum
  8. Before we’re done, son we’ll make you one
  9. I’m the tin man, I’ve never had a heart
  10. I’m the tin man, but I’ll make you a star
  11. I’m the tin man, I’ve never had a heart
  12. I’m the tin man

Jonathan (repeat chorus)

So, lines 23-24 are reminiscent of line 11. They contain the main idea of the text and we will address them at the very end of our investigation.

26 takes us back to the “preying machine” metaphor. That’s why you don’t have to think of the line literally, it has nothing to do with killing Jonathan, of course. However, it is relevant to my way of seeing the main idea of the song. So, pay attention.

The CAREER IS A JOURNEY metaphor helps to understand line 28: I won’t steer you wrong. By this metaphor, Jonathan is a traveler, his career in music is a journey, his progress is movement forward, and his success is the distance he covers. Jonathan is not along on his trip. To make the endeavor easier, Charlie is the one who steers the boy on his way through the jungles of music industry. This metaphor also helps to make sense of line 30 (You won’t last very long): you will not walk too far away, your trip will end soon.

Lines 31 through 42 are the climax of the song. Leaving the swearing out, “tower” in line 33 (Here from my Hollywood tower I rule) is again the linguistically realized metaphor STATUS IS UP or, alternatively, CONTROL IS UP.

Chainsaw” in 34 is the very tool Charlie kills the music in his morgue. The explanation comes soon.

Line 35 – “The new morgue’s our factory, to grease our lies” – takes us back to ACCEPTING IS SWALLOWING, IDEAS ARE FOOD and the Conduit Metaphor. I refer the reader to the explanations, provided earlier.

The concept of “Hungry machine” in 36 was treated above (21).

Lastly, line 39 sees the last metaphor in this song: I’m the tin man, I’ve never had a heart. This one takes us into a domain of the so-called moral metaphors. To be more precise, it is Moral Essence. This twist of figurative thought compares a person to a physical object in the sense that the substance of a physical object reflects the essence of a person. The examples are ubiquitous: “He’s got a heart of gold…” by U.D.O., “…I’ve got a heart of stone” by Mötorhead, “Rotten to the core!” by Overkill etc.

In 39, Charlie says he is a tin man. What does this entail? Any object is composed of a certain substance. Knowing what substance an object is made of helps us to understand how this object will behave in this or that situation. Correspondingly, a person has a character and knowing this character can help to foresee how this person will behave under certain circumstances. By the Moral Essence metaphor, substance of an object is compared to the character of a human being, thus helping to determine future behavior of a person according to the one highlighted trait. For instance, saying that “I’ve got a heart of stone” would mean that my heart – metaphorical container with emotions in the Western culture – is hard as a rock. It cannot be softened by any external or internal means and, hence, it is not able to feel, express emotions or be empathetic when needed or desired. The whole concept should be clear by now.

Epilogue

Here we approach the end of the post. Only one thing is left to be clarified: why “Murders in the new morgue”? Why is Charlie shown as a brutal, lying murderer with a chainsaw?

I cannot have any knowledge, of course, of what Blackie really wanted to convey, but I suppose this song brings up the topic of killing of a talent to follow a mass taste in art for the sake of money and fame. Hence, several references to murdering music, to whoring, and general innuendoes to prostitution can be found throughout the text. In its entirety, the song tells the following story: Jonathan, a young talented, but unknown musician meets Charlie, a record label owner. The latter lures the boy into a deal: Jon lets his career be managed by Charlie in order to become a rock star. While signing the agreement, Charlie says that Jon’s talent and skills do not matter, that he has to do what he is told in order to earn a buck (basically, to whore his craft) and become famous. Jonathan is at the crossroads: will the fame feed his hunger, if he swallows lies right down his throat? In the end, he does sign the deal. Did that make him happy and what did that bring him? Listen to the great album 🙂

P.S.

At this point, I advise you to take a closer look at the album cover of the “The Crimson Idol”. It hides several metaphors as well. They are artistic ones, not linguistic. In the picture, Jonathan is not rocking on stage – he is lying half-naked on the bed, somewhat hiding his face. Can this be an allusion to him whoring his craft (MUSIC INDUSTRY IS PROSTITUTION)? The second allusion is to crucified Christ: Jonathan lies in a pose of a person, crucified on a bed in shape of a cross against a background of a sold-out gig. One sacrificed himself to save humanity, another – to satisfy his ego and his vices.

Thanx for reading and see you in a month with, hopefully, a song from Ihsahn.

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About Andriy Karamazov


4 responses to “The analysis of conceptual metaphors in “Chainsaw Charlie” by W.A.S.P.

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