Being Labelled A “Radical Lefty” + What Supertramp’s ‘The Logical Song’ Is All About

Supertramp’s biggest selling LP, 1979’s Breakfast In America.

Last week on Newstalk ZB I faced the usual election-season accusations via email and text from a handful of listeners claiming I’m a “radical lefty” spouting my “liberal agenda” with “lefty buzzwords” like “inequality.” Do you laugh or cry? There are actually people on this planet who believe those concerned about inequality are radical.

As is often the case, there’s comfort in music. Supertramp’s The Logical Song (1979) shuffled its way onto the iPod and it occurred to me I’d never really thought what the lyrics were about. Here are three of my favourite explanations from fans of the band from the website.

Fan Explanation #1:

“For me, it is about the way society prefers to create non-thinking robots than facing the age old philosophical and spiritual questions that have been asked since time began.

I think the the first verse speaks of the first 3 stages of a man’s life; 1. As a child where the world is a magical place. 2. As a pupil/student where he is taught the rules of society and has his thought processes trained and conditioned. 3. As an adult where he is shown how to conform and become part of that society. Interestingly the song uses the word shown suggesting that he is not totally part of it (yet).

The first line of the chorus is suggestive that he either lies awake at night and ponders some of life’s deeper questions like “who am I?” and/or that at times the world ie society at large can be totally asleep to these issues.

The second verse is warning about how society treats people that don’t conform. History has shown that society tends to defend its own dogma and status quo quite ruthlessly. Radical thinkers of the day have been ostracised, ridiculed and compromised as well as burned at the stake, hung and crucified for daring to suggest paths and alternative ways of thinking to the masses.

So, it is much safer and easier to “sign up” and bceome part of society. And as the last line says, to become a vegetable. Thankfully, the chorus then kicks in again suggesting that the author/singer isn’t going to conform and feels the need to question things and seek answers”.

Fan Explanation #2:

“I think this song is about how as a society we have all sort of settled in, gotten comfortable and stopped progressing. People have gotten into the habit of being content with simple, boring, unchanging lives. Then they get stuck being cynical but respectable. People also have stopped asking deep questions for fear of sounding absurd.

I think the growing trend in American politics of embracing fundamental Christian values is a good example of what this song may mean. People find it easier to stop asking questions and being unwilling to learn more because they think they are as content as they will ever be. Some people find a happy place and then refuse to change, and any hint of change makes them go hay-wire… sorry if this rant makes no sense”.

Fan Explanation #3:

“It’s a very straight forward song. It’s really about the gradual loss of innocence and joy we experience as children. As we grow into adulthood our minds become conditioned and less receptive consciously and spiritually The Logical Song illustrates this most eloquently”.

One thing I’ve learned in talkback is that some who disagree with others politically may lack the vocabulary and understanding to explain why, which is why they resort to easy to remember categories like “liberal,” “lefty,” and “radical.” They don’t want to know that you can simultaneously be in favour of entrepreneurship, of innovation, of personal responsibility as well as endeavouring to understand the complexities in life, including the multitude of reasons why some people struggle more than others.

Of course it goes further: belief in both God and evolution, in justice and the causes of injustice, in privacy and security, in progressive environmental policy and industry, in third-world corruption and the real success of many aid programmes etc. None of these complexities should be considering fence-sitting, nor should they frighten those who lean conservative into thinking people with a different outlook are radically left-wing.

Here’s Supertramp’s* The Logical Song:

*A solo performance by the voice of Supertramp who also wrote this song, Roger Hodgson.

One Comment Add yours

  1. Great song, Tim! Will get my intermediate students to listen to it and decipher their own meaning.

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