Philosophy References in Pop Music


Checking out Poison Season by Destroyer this past weekend I came across the following lyric in “Sun in the Sky“:

Tender is the night
That sweeps us up in its folly
I left my keys on the kite
And my violin on the trolley

Violin and trolley? That’s no coincidence. I looked up the band and it turns out frontman Dan Bejar was a philosophy major before he dropped out of college. Folks, I think we have the first reference to Judith Jarvis Thomson in popular music, or maybe her and Philippa Foot.

Other sly philosophy references in pop/rock music?

Judith Jarvis Joan Jett Thomson

( J.J.J.J.T. )

 

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Cristian R
Cristian R
5 years ago

Iron Maiden – The Clairvoyant

Feel the sweat break on my brow
Is it me or is it shadows that are dancing on the walls?
Is this a dream or is it now?
Is this a vision or normality I see before my eyes?

I don’t know about you, but shadows dancing on the walls sounds very platonic to me.Report

Aaron Garrett
Aaron Garrett
5 years ago

I’m in love with a Jacques Derrida
Read a page and know what I need to
Take apart my baby’s heart
I’m in love — Scritti Politti (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pNNbJ04167I)Report

FrankVIII
FrankVIII
5 years ago

Not really that sly:
“Transcendental Deduction (Copernican Turn)” – Prawn
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1GRkz5VoHv8Report

GF-A
GF-A
5 years ago

“Is Pious pious cause God loves pious?
Socrates asks, “Whose bias do y’all seek?”
All for Plato…”
Jay-Z & Kanye West, “No Church in the Wild”Report

David
David
5 years ago

“…You can be true, you can be false
You’ll be given the same reward
Socrates and Milhous Nixon
Both went the same way: through the kitchen
Plato the Greek or Rin Tin Tin
Who’s more famous to the billion millions?…”
– “The Magnificent Seven”, The ClashReport

Rich
Rich
5 years ago

“Either/Or” –Title of 3rd album by Elliott Smith (BA, Philosophy, Hampshire College)Report

SM
SM
5 years ago

There are some solid rap + philosophy references out there:
“I’m kind of like W.E.B. Du Bois / Meets Heavy D and the Boyz” – The Roots, “Get Busy”
“You make jokes that you’ll probably kill yourself / A transcendental idealist, I can only will myself […] Then sue for malpractice like I was Redman / Kierkegaard said either/or ain’t a choice” – Milo, “Almost cut my hair (for Crosby)” [Redman is a rapper with an album titled Malpractice]
“Listenin’ to Three Stacks, readin’ Gaya Spivak” – Das Racist, “Ek Shaneesh” [Three Stacks is Andre 3000 from Outkast]

Not that sly, necessarily but: “thank you for the flowers and the book by Derrida” – The Weakerthans, “Our Retired Explorer” [https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2L1tzgaPb6M]Report

Joshua Smart
5 years ago

“Never be hip-hop honorees, I squeeze
Leave these wannabes to die, see ya, ya Maimonides”

From “You Know What TIme It Is” by Your Old Droog on self-titled debut.Report

UG
UG
5 years ago

The song “The Happy Nihilist” by The Classic Crime.Report

Rad Student
Rad Student
5 years ago

Two recent songs make obvious allusions to Nietzsche in their titles:

Washed Out has a song called “Amor Fati”, and Titus Andronicus has a song called “Ecce Homo.” The opening lines from the latter song:
“Okay I think by now we’ve established
Everything is inherently worthless
And there’s nothing in the universe
With any kind of objective purpose
And you can scream for a hundred years.
Split that sky with a thousand curses
To tell the evil that men do,
Honey, you wouldn’t even scratch the surface.”Report

Bram Vaassen
Bram Vaassen
5 years ago

‘There is a Kingdom’ by Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds is filled with Kant references.
The most obvious one being:

‘The starry stars above me,
The moral laws within
so the world appears’

See:

http://genius.com/Nick-cave-and-the-bad-seeds-there-is-a-kingdom-lyricsReport

Zoe
Zoe
5 years ago

The Red Krayola (with Art and Language) have a track called Jerry Fodor’s Story on their 2007 album, Sighs Trapped By Liars.Report

Matthew Tirrigan
Matthew Tirrigan
5 years ago

It’s not particularly sly, but the liar paradox makes an appearance in “Enough Said” by Devo:

“The next thing I say to you will be true
The last thing I said was false”

(https://youtu.be/YChGjkQk6dY?t=1m32s)Report

Kathryn Pogin
Kathryn Pogin
5 years ago

“Socrates’ philosophies and hypotheses/ Can’t define how I be dropping these mockeries” Trumph, Wu-Tang ClanReport

Kathryn Pogin
Kathryn Pogin
Reply to  Kathryn Pogin
5 years ago

Oops–the perils of commenting from my phone. That was obviously Triumph, not Trumph.Report

Mike Titelbaum
Mike Titelbaum
Reply to  Kathryn Pogin
5 years ago

You missed the line that comes before!
“I bomb atomically/ Socrates’ philosophies and hypotheses/ Can’t define how I be dropping these/ mockeries.”
I always thought Inspectah Deck’s point was that since he was bombing atomically, Socrates’ non-atomistic philosophy wouldn’t be able to analyse what he was doing.Report

Kathryn Pogin
Kathryn Pogin
Reply to  Mike Titelbaum
5 years ago

Wonderful point!Report

Sad Eyed Philosopher of the Lowlands
Sad Eyed Philosopher of the Lowlands
5 years ago

I don’t know that it’s quite a *reference*, nor that it points to a *philosopher’s* writing, but I’m fairly well convinced that some connection exists between Radiohead’s “Idiotheque” and Donald Barthelme’s “At the End of the Mechanical Age.”Report

Ludvig Fæhn
Ludvig Fæhn
5 years ago

Christ Cohen — Monad

Unseen, the world is made up from blackest ocean pool
Look – now the wave collapses
You appeared when I was born
Then we were two
Just like the prism pulling color out of sunlight

Entitles separated, then divide in endless twos
My atoms undetected disappear into the fizz of the unknown
Just like the prism pulling color out of sunlight
Projecting on your blinking eye, image of a second just gone byReport

Chris Grau
Chris Grau
5 years ago

Also not so sly but both are great songs:

“The world is that which is the case” in “Chump Change” by The New Pornographers:
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8c00KOwXJzo

“Language Games” by Deafheaven:
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-S08Af4fqsoReport

PB
PB
5 years ago

“They say whereof one cannot speak, one must remain silent, but I yawned and I burped and I passed gas loudly.” – MiloReport

PB
PB
Reply to  PB
5 years ago

Forgot the title: Thatness and WhatnessReport

Danny Weltman
5 years ago

“Does the body rule the mind / or does the mind rule the body? / I don’t know.” – The Clash, “Still Ill.”Report

Duncan Richter
Duncan Richter
Reply to  Danny Weltman
5 years ago

aka The Smiths, but good example all the sameReport

Danny Weltman
Reply to  Duncan Richter
5 years ago

Whoops, I had David’s comment above about The Clash still in my mind at the time. To make up for it, I’ll add “Meat is Murder” (The Smiths again) which is a whole song about philosophy.Report

Duncan Richter
Duncan Richter
Reply to  Danny Weltman
5 years ago

And “This Night Has Opened My Eyes” about the ethics of infanticide.Report

Fritz Allhoff
Fritz Allhoff
5 years ago

If someone grew up in a cubicle as Plato once suggested
They would only know the cubicle and not the world outside it…
And the brain equals a cubicle we’ll never think outside it
Now inside wanna try to tie a diagram to modify them

Eyedea, “Powdered Water Too Pt. 1”Report

Tom Hurka
Tom Hurka
5 years ago

I always wondered whether “Into this world we’re thrown” in The Doors’ “Riders on the Storm” was a bit of Heidegger.

Going back further, there’s George and Ira Gershwin’s “My nights were sour/Spent with Schopenhauer” in “Isn’t it a Pity.”

And of course The Teddy Bears’ “To know, know know him is to love, love love him” is about objective prescriptivity or the Form of the Good.Report

Johnny_Thunder
Johnny_Thunder
5 years ago

Dan Bejar, who more or less is Destroyer, wrote “Chump Change” for the New Pornographers. It contains these pairs of lines:

“Now wipe that look from your face
The world is that which is the case”

and

“Go, don’t stay, just throw it all away.
There is you and then there is your body.”Report

Justin
Justin
5 years ago

Run the Jewels with a possible reference to Keynes’s “In the long run we are all dead” in ‘Close Your Eyes’: “A wise man once said, ‘We all dead, fuck it’.”Report

Commentator
Commentator
5 years ago

Parquet Courts – Master Of My Craft

From the hands of my mother, said I’m master of my craft
Thread count – high
Commissions – high
Hourly rates – high
A minute of your time?
Ya know Socrates died in the fuckin’ gutter!Report

A.B.C.D.E.F. Godthåb
A.B.C.D.E.F. Godthåb
5 years ago

“The Sickness Unto Death” — Typhoon

“I read somewhere that when you face eternity
you face it alone
not matter what you thought
or what you had
or you had not”

(http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YZVaw6SqnQY)Report

Shen-yi Liao
5 years ago

I’m surprised no one mentioned Mr T Experience’s “The History Of The Concept Of The Soul”, which is basically an undergraduate paper in a punk rock song, complete with two footnotes.

Lyrics: http://songmeanings.com/songs/view/117718/
Music: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=a_BiQkZSXhQReport

JKB
JKB
5 years ago

“All I know is that I don’t know nothin” – Knowledge by Operation IvyReport

David
David
Reply to  JKB
5 years ago

Let’s keep it in the family . . .

“…Release me from moral assumption
Total rejection total destruction
Nihilistic feelings are moving
If you try real hard you’ll see right through them…”
-“Nihilism”, RancidReport

HighFiveGhost
HighFiveGhost
Reply to  David
5 years ago

Oh yeah, “Knowledge” by Op Ivy.Report

HighFiveGhost
HighFiveGhost
Reply to  HighFiveGhost
5 years ago

Oh. Whoops.Report

G Felis
5 years ago

This thread wouldn’t be complete without a reference to “Closer to Fine” by Indigo Girls.
I went to see the doctor of philosophy
With a poster of Rasputin and a beard down to his knee
He never did marry or see a B-grade movie
He graded my performance, he said he could see through me
I spent four years prostrate to the higher mind, got my paper
And I was free.Report

Joe
Joe
5 years ago

This masterpiece: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=80EnupogigM
(“Requiem for Martin Heidegger”, Panic)Report

Daniel Whiting
5 years ago

“There’s an altar in the valley / for things in themselves as they are.” (Silver Jews, “Horseleg Swastikas”)Report

Chris Richards
Chris Richards
5 years ago

The instrumental rock band Spaces has an album titled “Nothing Exists but Atoms and the Void.”Report

Snorri Rafn
Snorri Rafn
5 years ago

Orchid – I am Nietzsche
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=edpot4xOqsI
“To hear something new is hard and painful for the ear
We hear the music of forigners badly.”
I make the sounds you can’t understand-
This is my critique!
This is my subversion!
This is my revolution!
I make the sounds that you can’t understand
My fingers, my voice
Slide into every orifice
You (I) own these words
This is friendship
That’s what friends are for-
I am Nietzsche
1886 was a very good year-
And you know this to be true
Thus spake me

Orchid – Tigers
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TkVK8ZPyICA
I kiss the girls that speak Marcuse
I kiss the boys that speak Foucault
I love the kids that know Adorno
And snub their nose at kids who don’t
I make love in theory and touch myself in practice
What’s good for the posture is good for the pose
Who let the Tigers out to kill all the lovers?

Nine Inch Nails – Only (This one is all about solipsism as solace)

Yes I am alone but then again I always was
As far back as I can tell
I think maybe it’s because
Because you were never really real to begin with
I just made you up to hurt myselfReport

Gene Witmer
Gene Witmer
5 years ago

This question immediately made me thing of the song “The Chalice Vermillion” by the band Thought Industry, off their album “Songs for Insects” released in 1992. It’s a long song, and the lyrics have chapter headings. One of those headings is “The Philosopher” and the lyrics of that section are:

“God exists, God is good, God is omnipotent. You
can only have two of three. To choose them all you
contradict. Mackie knew the rules so well he made
Anselm disintegrate, as Pascal sat to toss his coins on
the farthest part of the Universe.
Dead not gone.
Paper is my torment. The quill is my scalpel. I am
my own thesis. The pain grows with the years.”Report

Matt LaVine
Matt LaVine
5 years ago

They aren’t exactly references, but I think the following lines are really great ways to discuss some important philosophical ideas:
“We run the latest theorems, they just re-rap through the givens.” (Shabazz Palaces- Swerve) on the axiom/theorem distinction.
“If God is great and God is good, why can’t he change the hearts of men?” (Tom Waits- Road to Peace) on the argument from evil.Report

john
john
5 years ago

“Call me Plato, I philosophize // Buy the brick then divide it up amongst my guys”

-Guerilla Black, “Compton”Report

LR
LR
5 years ago

“The Sound” by The 1975:

“It’s not about reciprocation it’s just all about me
A sycophantic, prophetic, Socratic junkie wannabe
There’s so much skin to see
A simple Epicurean Philosophy”Report

Justin Marquis
5 years ago

The New Pornographers song Go Places on the album Challengers references the Deus ex machina. But most of their lyrics are bordering on nonsense, so I wouldn’t say it’s really all that philosophical. It’s a great song though.Report

Matthew Lefoster
Matthew Lefoster
5 years ago

Sage Francis – “Grace”:

Patience is a virtue, virtue is a grace
Grace is a little girl who wouldn’t wash her face
Grace is a virtue, virtue is a mean
Between two extremes, one of excess, one of deficienciesReport

Adam
Adam
5 years ago

When I made a shadow on my window shade // They called the police and testified // But they’re like the people chained up in the cave // In the allegory of the people in the cave by the Greek guy

– They Might Be Giants, “No One Knows My Plan”Report

Graham
Graham
4 years ago

Father John Misty, Ballad of the Dying Man.

Eventually the dying man takes his final breath
But first checks his news feed to see what he’s ’bout to miss
And it occurs to him a little late in the game
We leave as clueless as we came
From rented heavens to the shadows in the cave
We’ll all be wrong somedayReport

Graham
Graham
3 years ago

Sidney Gish, Rat of the City

I would let solipsists
plug me in the matrix
rest in it, happy to think,
not cut out for anything

so your taste is the best like the books that you read
but i’m not a lot like you
when we act really blank and stand in the same places
the standing’s all we do
and i don’t mean to say there’s a vat for my brain
but i’m not a lot like you
if i’m floating alone, then the liquid’s my home
and at least i’ve got the gooReport

John McCumber
John McCumber
3 years ago

“Good Vibrations” by the Beach Boys alludes to most of the major themes in Kant’s Critique of Judgment, resolving the disparity between the beautiful and the sublime in favor of beauty, a la Schiller. And does it all in 4 minutes 30 seconds.Report

Graham
Graham
3 years ago

People, Silver Jews

Moments can be monuments to you
If your life is interesting and true
It’s just the same for a man or a girl
The meaning of the world lies outside the worldReport

Chase
Chase
1 year ago

“Time Crisis”-Sammus
“I don’t really ride with Heidegger
But I think about time on the ride to work
I am a mortal yeah I ain’t the Highlander
I’ll be a corpse one day under a pile o’ dirt”Report