August 23, 2008

Decoding "Hungry Like the Wolf"

It's been far too long since this blog explored the lyrics of a popular song for the deeper meaning. (Last time was for Baby's Got Her Blue Jeans On.) Today we'll explore the subterranean meaning of the lyrics to Duran Duran’s “Hungry Like the Wolf” (dedicated to Sancta Sanctis and K-Lo of NRO for their Duran Duran devotion):
Dark in the city, night is a wire
Steam in the subway, earth is a fire
Do-do do do, do do do, do do do, do do do, do do

The first stanza poetically sets the mood: we are in a city and it is night. A wire suggests a narrowness in latitude if one is walking it. The presence of a subway suggests a major metropolitan area and hence the presence of multitudes. The “Do-do do…” is intentionally cryptic and builds suspense musically.

Woman you want me, give me a sign
And catch my breathing even closer behind
Do-do do do, do do do, do do do, do do do, do do

The first line express the human desire for a sign, for proof that God exists and loves us, in this case masquerading as love for a woman. “Catch my breathing even closer behind” communicates the narrator’s nearness; “Woman you want me” is a declarative posing as a query. As the song continues it gradually appears God and man will switch roles, the pursued having actually been the pursuer.

In touch with the ground
I’m on the hunt I’m after you
Smell like I sound, I’m lost in a crowd
And I’m hungry like the wolf

Here the narrator paradoxically declares himself ‘grounded’ (“in touch with the ground) and yet ‘lost’ (“lost in a crowd”). He compares his hunger to that of a wolf, a species possibly associated with hunger due to a rapidly decreasing habitat. Or perhaps the author confuses wolves with coyotes, specifically Wile E. Coyote who was always frustrated in his pursuit of Road Runner. “Smell like I sound” attests to the narrator’s truthfulness, saying that there is no disconnect between what he is saying (sound) and what he is (smell).

Straddle the line, in discord and rhyme
I’m on the hunt I’m after you
Mouth is alive with juices like wine
And I’m hungry like the wolf

Here we see the paradox of bringing together “discord and rhyme”. We struggle to understand how these can be reconciled just as we did before in the assertion of being grounded and lost. “Juices like wine” interests us because grape juice becomes wine over time. Juice is to wine what immaturity is to maturity. We wonder what the narrator means by conflating the two. A long desired merging of eros and agape?

Stalked in the forest, too close to hide
I’ll be upon you by the moonlight side
Do-do do do, do do do, do do do, do do do, do do
High blood drumming and your skin it’s so tight
You feel my heart, I’m just a moment behind
Do-do do do, do do do, do do do, do do do, do do

The narrator again mentions his closeness: even “too close to hide”. There must be something important in the exclaiming of the nearness of the pursued to the pursuer. Yet the mention of a forest suggests cloaking, of invisibility even. The blood “drums” and the skin is like a drum skin, tight in order to produce the correct concusive sound. The “high blood drumming” of the pursuer and the tight skin of the pursued suggests a likeness and similarity despite their evident separateness. “I’m just a moment behind” re-emphasizes nearness; the writer hopes to convey an inevitability of meeting, even going so far as to saying he would be upon her by the time the moon rises.

The next few stanzas are purposely repetitive, perhaps in order to convey the passage of time. Then there is a sudden break, literally so:

Burning the ground, I break from the crowd
I’m on the hunt I’m after you
Scent and a sound, I’m lost and I’m found
And I’m hungry like the wolf

Instead of being lost in the crowd as in the earlier stanza he’s now broken from the crowd. This suggests progress and yet he’s paradoxically still lost and found. "Burning" is indicative of a presence beyond the human. The hunger is again compared to the species canis lupus. The pursued seems changed now too; the woman mentioned in the first stanza has no words (logos in Greek) to say in the song but can be heard to laugh at the start. Towards the end of the song she begins to lose her breath and eventually moans as if in the pain of labor. It's as if the pursued has changed due to the actions of the pursuer. His scent and sound have so merged as there is no longer the need to claim that what he says is what he is.

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