The Cincinnati indie rock band, Walk the Moon, released their debut album, “i want! i want!”, in November of 2010. An engraving William Blake included in his 18-piece compilation called For the Children: The Gates of Paradise inspired the title of the album. For the Children: The Gates of Paradise is a series of tiny engravings that chronicle the life of man—from birth to death—including events such as interactions with the fire and earth and the natural human feelings of fear and desire. The album’s namesake, “I Want! I Want!” is a 6cm by 5cm engraving in which a figure wearing a wide hat stands at the foot of a slender ladder that is propped against a crescent moon. The man wearing the hat is not looking up at, the moon smiling its Cheshire cat smile, but at the starry background and/or a couple who stands behind him, embracing one another, seemingly oblivious to his astounding yet dangerously disastrous ambition.
On the “i want! i want!” album there is a song entitled “I Want! I Want!” and a song entitled “William Blake”. The two songs share the same lyrics, which describes the adolescent desires of a 17-year-old boy and alludes to sexual encounters and the shedding of innocence, however “William Blake” is more upbeat with a faster tempo and a strange, chipmunk distortion. While the distortion of the instruments and vocals adds emphasis to the lines outlining how strange “feigning innocence” is or the sounds of his love are, one could argue there isn’t a point to the distortion at all. I would assume the band was trying to fill space on their album, and wanted to try out song editing, granted that this was their first album and it was self-produced. However, the story woven in the lyrics of “William Blake” add commentary to the “I Want! I Want!” engraving in the form of Walk the Moon’s interpretation of the image.
The song is about love and the desire of every aspect of love, regardless of how “strange” or risky. In the very first verse, vocalist Nicholas Petriccia sings about a young man sneaking a visit to a girl he’s interested in and how troublesome young love is due to restriction by parental rules and how boys have to not only woo their girl, but also gain the trust of the girl’s parents:
“I walk through the fog
And kiss her through the fence
Oh, how strange and difficult
It was the close scrutinizing of the song lyrics that brought out an essential detail of the engraving that is easily missed amongst the backdrop of mystical space and the absurd, impossible idea of climbing a flimsy ladder to the moon. The man at the base of the ladder is looking at what he desires, or wants, the most, and it’s not the moon. His head is turned, and you can’t see his face, but it is clear to see that he is either looking at the starry sky or toward the embracing couple standing behind him. At the observation of this essential component of the piece, one can see now that Blake was juxtaposing the desire of romantic relationships (and often times the feeling of how unattainable that is and how lonely someone can be when single) to the impossible idea of climbing to the moon—which is obviously a disaster waiting to happen, but a symbol of dreaming big and wanting all of what the vast universe can offer. This idea is repeated in the chorus of the song multiple times as the vocalist requests, “Show me/ I’m 17 and you don’t know me,” which can only be seen as a boy’s ambitious attempt at having romantic or sexual relations with the girl of his fancy.
The song itself is a creative representation of the trials of young love and, in a way, a progression or story similar to that of Blake’s For the Children: The Gates of Paradise; while “William Blake” is not the story of an entire lifetime, it’s the story of a moment in life much like the engraving from which the original song and album (both “i want! i want!”) gets their name. In the Walk the Moon song, William Blake is not only a symbol of ambition and the zest of human desires, but an inspiration and also a model of how to present common, everyday experiences and feelings through a creative medium.
Reflection on R2:
I decided to take Professor Harris’s advice given in a comment on the original post and include some of the key lyrics that I thought would support the claim that the song was about desire, in hopes of tying the song and album more to the engraving instead of just stating the claim with little to no support. Despite the fact that, when I listen to the song I can easily know that it’s about the sexual desires of a young man, I found it exceedingly difficult to choose specific lyrics. As a whole, the song speaks volumes about young love and how sneaky boys must be to get to the girls they fancy, but obviously I can’t just transcribe the entire song here for reference. Key quotes were needed to show that yes, sneaking into a girl’s house to engage in sexual acts with her while her parents are in is just about as ambitious and dangerous as climbing a flimsy, toothpick-esque ladder all the way to the moon. During my rewriting I began to see how the song not only brought attention to the fact that the man at the bottom of the ladder was looking not up at the moon, but possibly back at the embracing lovers, but also to the main focus of the engraving–the ladder itself.
I wanted to investigate further the possibility of the woman in the embrace reaching out to the man at the bottom of the ladder in a beckoning way, but I don’t really trust my eyes well enough to be sure that that’s what’s being shown in the engraving. The Walk the Moon song also don’t have much input from the young woman, because the song is in the young man’s perspective, so I wouldn’t have had much to tie that in with besides the “when she hollers” lyric, and I don’t feel that supports the claim strongly enough, so I left that detail out; omissions are just as important as what has been included.
Regardless, it was enjoyable to return to this work–the beautiful and creative engraving by William Blake, and the “groovy” music by Walk the Moon are definitely not images or songs that I will forget easily.
Somewhat incorrect lyrics can be found on the “William Blake” youtube video linked above.