A Tout le Monde

After my last unsuccessful foray in to blogging about football I think I’m playing with fire once again by discussing metal music. But I beg your indulgence for just a minute or two.

In 1994 Megadeth released the track “A Tout Le Monde” from their album, “Youthanasia”. While Megadeth are one of the “big four” metal bands with Metallica, Slayer and Anthrax, they had by this time diluted themselves in to a mainstream metal act, playing slower more commercial-sounding music. The fact that they released a track with a French language chorus was bizarre enough – surely this was a hit in the making?

Well it would have been but MTV – happy these days to purvey increasingly sexually gratuitous videos – interpreted the song and video as being about suicide and subsequently banned the $300,000 clip. The single was shelved as radio followed MTV’s lead and a beautiful song remained known to only fans of the band.

Last September the track showed up on the radar once more as Kimveer GIll, responsible for the Dawson College shooting in Montreal, proclaimed it as his favourite song. He killed one student, injured nineteen others and turned the gun on himself.

Megadeth lead singer Dave Mustaine, somewhat superfluously, said: “The song doesn’t belong to the killer. The song belongs to the people of Montreal. If anything, it belongs to me and it was my gift to them. It was never meant to be misinterpreted like that.”

Mustaine, a founding member of Metallica before he was fired in 1983 for alcoholism and cocaine abuse, has always claimed that the song is not about suicide but was inspired by the sudden death of his mother. That’s a difficult assertion to prove as as analysis of the lyrics shows.

Don’t remember where I was
I realised life was a game
The more seriously I took things
The harder the rules became

In the context of the song this seems to indicate the person concerned is having a hard time dealing with the realities in life. If you were to take the song as being about suicide then this is possibly the breaking point, the moment the singer realised that it wasn’t worth going on anymore.

I had no idea what it’d cost
My life passed before my eyes
I found out how little I accomplished
All my plans denied

This is the next stage, the person has attempted suicide and reached the point where it is said “your life flashes before your eyes” just prior to death. The lines I found out how little I accomplished/all my plans denied seem to vindicate the singer’s decision (in his eyes) to end it all.

So as you read this know my friends
I’d love to stay with you all
Please smile when you think of me
My body’s gone that’s all

This is where things get confusing and has given Mustaine a platform to argue that the song is not about suicide at all. The words as you read this indicate a suicide note but the line I’d love to stay with you all, he says, indicates that the speaker doesn’t want to die at all therefore how can it be about suicide? It’s a fair argument but it is not inconceivable that the singer merely realises as they slip away that they will miss those they are leaving behind.

The chorus:
A tout le monde (To everyone)
A tous mes amis (To all my friends)
Je vous aime (I love you)
Je dois partir (I have to leave)
These are the last words
I’ll ever speak
They’ll set me free

The use of French seems to be merely a songwriting tool rather than have any specific context in the song – I like it though and it was certainly a very bold move from the band at the time. The meaning is clear and again builds on the confusing nature of the previous verse. Is this the passing of someone of natural causes or are they the words of a tormented person who has taken their own life?

The second verse
If my heart was still alive
I know it would surely break
And my memories left with you
There’s nothing more to say

For me the first two lines are one of the most powerful couplets from my music collection. I loved the overwrought imagery of how this now-dead person was broken at leaving but there was nothing they could do. If anything the line is inspiring and again calls in to question how it could be about suicide.

Moving on is a simple thing
What it leaves behind is hard
You know the sleeping feel no more pain
And the living are scarred

The division of feelings between the dead and the living was highlighted effectively in both couplets.

So “A Tout le Monde” could be a song about suicide – it could be a song, as Dave claims, about a sudden death. One theory is that the first verse is about Dave’s own attempts at suicide (also touched on in the song “Skin O’ My Teeth”) but then it segues in to a song about his mother or just someone who has died suddenly. But that explanation doesn’t really make sense and I think it’s unlikely.

Regardless of whether or not the song is about suicide is hardly here nor there for me. It’s not as if it encourages or romanticises it for a start. I heard this song when I was 20 and in something of a down period myself. I was never suicidial but this song was very special to me and encouraged me to try and get myself together. I found solace in the beauty of the music and the meaningfulness of the lyrics.

I found further solace in it in 2004 when I adapted part of the verse in the eulogy I delivered at my grandfather’s funeral (“As you sit there, know my friends/I’d love to stay with you all/Smile when you think about me/My body’s gone that’s all”). For my grandfather the words felt appropriate. The fact that the words came from a heavy metal band was an irony that made me smile a little.

The reason I’m blogging about this is that the band have teamed up with Christina Scabbia of Italian goth-rockers Lacuna Coil on a re-recording of “A Tout Le Monde”. Mustaine – under fire from fans for the move – has been scrambling around to justify the decision musically. He has talked about doing a duet on the song for years but most fans expected a b-side or a live album version. He’s talking about it being on their new album (“United Abominations”) and being the lead single.

Criticism has also been directed with regard to the timing of the move. One of the injured students from Montreal, Hayder Kadhim, debatably stated that the song “triggered Kimveer Gill’s actions”. The media will lap up this sort of thing as the release gets closer.

So what’s the right thing to do?

Unless a work gratuitously promotes hate or tasteless acts, I don’t believe that art should be held responsible for the actions of individuals whose thought processes are not like yours or mine. Millions of people have probably heard that song (“Youthanasia” sold over a million copies in the USA alone) and as far as I’m aware it did not spark a world-wide murdering spree.

So is it approrpiate to put this song out there again?

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