Sometimes I Think it Might Be Better to Just
Pull the Fuckin’ Trigger…
The song is another immensely successful song for the band, earning them a Grammy and 2 MTV awards, along with a now (at the time) familiar spot on Billboard’s top 10. This might just be the most “important” song Aerosmith ever recorded, right here.
It was successful, not just because it had commercial and pop appeal, but it also had the driving hard rock drum beats and guitar riffs that identify Brad Whitford, Tom Hamilton, and Joey Kramer as the rock stars they are, not to mention showcasing Joe as the Super Star Rock God that he has become. It goes without even mentioning the super strong message of abuse and the lack of attention abuse victims were getting at the time. The song even made it to #37 on ‘Rolling Stone’s Top 100’. And that says a lot for a magazine who was none to kind The Boys from Boston.
Steven and Tom put the song together, after Tyler read a Newsweek article on gunshot victims, he was able to connect the song with the theme of child abuse and incest. The angry disposition that Steven had, that in essence, nobody at the time seemed to be acknowledging how many kids in this country, were being abused by their own parents, or close relatives. He went on to say;
“The song is about a girl getting raped and pillaged by her father. It’s about incest, something that happens to a lot of kids who don’t even find out about it until they find themselves trying to work through some major fucking neuroses.”
He told R.S.-
“I came up with the line “Janie’s got a gun.” He then sat on it for months, “waiting for the oracle door to open.” “It only became a song about child abuse after I looked over at a Time magazine and saw this article on 48 hours, minute by minute, of handgun deaths in the United States.”
“Then I got off on the child-abuse angle. I’d heard this woman speaking about how many children are attacked by their mothers and fathers. It was fucking scary. I felt, man, I gotta’ sing about this. And that was it. That was my toe in the door.”
Steven goes on to say, and he maybe trying to speak for the whole male species, albeit unqualified and unsolicited, not to mention largely incorrect. However, I give him a lot of respect for speaking out loud about it. And from his own truth, addressing the behavior as not only that he understands it, but also that it is forbidden;
“How can a father not be attracted to his daughter, especially when she’s a cross between the girl he married and himself?” “All a man has to do is be totally honest with himself and he can see it. However, the real man knows that’s just a place to never go. Instead he celebrates it by telling his daughter how beautiful she is and what a precious child of God she is. There’s ways to love it without making love to it – I wrote ‘Janie’s Got A Gun’ about fathers who don’t know the difference.”
The song peaked in the United States on Billboard’s Hot 100 at #4, and then #2 on Billboard’s Mainstream Rock Chart, However it did reach #1 in Australia, and #2 in Canada. Maybe some of you remember the band performing it on Saturday Night Live in 1990 in the same show they appeared as Special Guests on the Wayne’s World skit; “We’re not worthy!”, with Tom Hanks playing their roadie.
Allmusic.com gives critical acclaim to the song in this way (this is a good read);
“A great example of this stylistic tightrope walk is “Janie’s Got a Gun,” a song that balances serious-minded lyrics with an ambitious melody that shows Aerosmith is capable of more than just hard rock. The narrative of “Janie’s Got a Gun” deals with child abuse, incest, and murder, but Steven Tyler avoids being sensationalistic or melodramatic in his lyrics by using imagery that is as jagged as the emotions behind it: “Janie’s got a gun/Her dog day’s just begun/Now everybody’s on the run….”
The melody allows the group to flex their grasp of hard rock dynamics while also incorporating a number of other musical elements: the production weaves in orchestral swirls and the song opens with a world music-styled chant that blends African and Indian flavors into its hypnotic style. Aerosmith’s recording drives this complex song home with a performance that is as impassioned as it is skillful: the band restrains themselves in a subtly funky fashion during the verses, but delivers just the right touch of bombast during the song’s more emotional moments. Tyler also delivers a powerful vocal that hits the right balance between sympathy and righteous anger. All these elements gel beautifully to make “Janie’s Got a Gun” a message song that avoids the usual musical and lyrical clichés to create something truly powerful.”
I think Allmusic.com does a really good job, better than I could ever hope to, in translating what the guys did here. Deservedly so, they give Steven tremendous accolades, and credit for this masterpiece. However, it’s my opinion this song doesn’t make it without Joe and Brad creating the soundtrack to the message, along with Joey and Tom providing pure strength and power, and yet at times backing off so much so, that it gives the tentative feeling of the subject matter at hand. But Joe and Brad create a sound, a melody that has both intensity of the problem, and the delicate personality of the victim the song represents. It’s truly, truly amazing, the emotional range the guys created to accompany Steven’s lyrical genius on this one! Joe pulls out an old Chet Atkins electric acoustic to provide the trepidation in sound, while Brad delivers intensity of the moments, both of often colliding in chaotic resistance to the abuse, and yet still at times, turning it back to represent the desire to just hold yourself together without deference.
The essence of the song, the message, could have been simplistic to do… In fact, I’m sure it’s been done before, and since. However, what they achieved was the balance of sympathy and anger, empathy and compassion, resistance to forced submission, and ultimately vengeance where some will see revenge. Not just in the lyrics, but in the driving guitars, bass line and drum beats, they bring this message to the listener in a powerfully blatant manner, and yet with complete sympathy. All the while, they do not ask, or expect the listener to convict the girl or the father, they simply ask you to take fucking notice! And more importantly, remove the shadows. The music reaches out for you… grabs you and says; “Pay some fucking attention here, there’s a lot going on, and you need to know!”
This is one of the songs that Kolodner and Steven argued and fought about/over what lyrics would be commercially acceptable. You can see Tyler’s point, when you realize the song took 9 months to write. It would be difficult to give in, when you realize the importance of the song as a whole. The line “He jacked a little bitty baby” was originally “He raped a little bitty baby”. Tyler still sings the original lines when performing live. In addition, the line “…and put a bullet in his brain” was sometimes changed to “…and left him in the pouring rain” on the radio.
I think it’s also important to realize the era in which the song was written, and received critical acclaim. What exactly was the Pop Culture topography like at the time? With vanity and promiscuity being the theme of most pop music at the time, and a band who may have rode that formula for success maybe better than any other artist or group of their time, the song was immensely daring and innovative. For a band that mastered and exuded sexual innuendo and double entendre as a base of their existence, this song wasn’t only brave to do at the time, it was also tremendously respectful when all was said and done. My wife Mary, remembers it being “the same year that Madonna was inviting us all into her bedroom, to Express Ourselves. It was and still is pretty much a taboo subject, but Lord knows the victims needed then, and need now an advocate in the arts to bring their plight to the light.“
And with this song in mind. This very important song in Rock History, Steven has now created a fund, a charity to provide shelter, assistance, and protection against the abuses young girls and even women endure in real life. A truly beautiful cause. For that alone, and the branches from this song, of all affected, all protected, this song may very well be the most important song in the band’s entire catalogue. http://www.janiesfund.org/
As I wrote this, the song was in a battle of songs up against “Pink”, in an FB Aerosmith group. All in good fun, but a little odd to say the least. Strange match up of a song so important in American Pop and Rock History, not to mention this band’s history, to be put up against a song, that has absolutely no virtuous meaning, or value to the America fabric of Pop Culture. But I guess different generations see the importance of things a bit differently. And that’s cool too… I like that generation #4 sees, and HEARS a damn good song!
The video attached was directed by our own Marin County, and San Anselmo’s native, David Fincher of ‘Fight Club’, ‘Alien III’, ‘Panic Room’, and the American version of the ‘Girl With The Dragon Tattoo’ fame, among others.
“He jacked the little bitty baby
The man has got to be insane… yeah
They say the spell that he was under
The lightnin’ and the thunder
Knew that someone had to stop the pain…”
With all due respect, and there is a ton!
This is “Janie’s Got a Gun”