Rock lyrics and changes in Finnish self-image

Salamatie by Robin ft. Softengine and Lähtisitkö by VilleGalle are two recent songs with lyrics that refer to Finnish rock classics. Comparing the classics with the new lyrics suggests how the ”hero” of the songs has changed in some 35 years. Here are some observations on the relationship between rock lyrics and Finnish self-image, not to be taken too seriously though! If you want to start with the background, check Finnish rock classics & some other songs for singalong sessions, and if you want to know more about current pop artists, check Finnish pop music as a guide to Finnish (and the Finns).

Salamatie by Robin ft. Softengine (2016) versus Moottorie on kuuma by Pelle Miljoona (1980)

Moottoritie on kuuma by Pelle Miljoona is a song that was voted the most loved Finnish rock piece in Helsingin Sanomat in 2007. The other day my husband asked how come our children, who are far too young to know Pelle Miljoona’s song, are going around singing ”moottoritie on kuuma” and I told him that they got the line from Robin’s most recent release. As the reference is so clear, I assume it is intentional; but the intention may well have been just to borrow a cool line rather than consciously rewrite an old theme. Thus, the implications suggested here are totally mine and may not have crossed the mind of the lyric writers at all. As my background is in analysing how cultural artefacts reflect various things, I can’t resist the temptation to play around with these a little bit. Let’s start by looking at the lyrics.

NOTA BENE: The translations offered here are mine, please do not quote them without reference to this page. HUOM: Tässä esitetyt käännökset ovat minun käsialaani, älä viittaa niihin viittaamatta tähän sivuun. 

Moottoritie on kuuma (The motorway is steaming) by Pelle Miljoona

The refrain of Moottoritie on kuuma goes as follows:

Sister I’d like to stay
But the motorway is steaming
The city lights call me
I would like to explain but my boat is boarding
You are a dream but the world is real, the world is real, real, real

…and the beginning of the second stanza…

I leave to look for myself
Deep inside me
What I find I will bring to you as a gift
Perhaps to keep
It is not right to part
But I have to follow the star

Hence, our speaker thinks he has to choose between love and adventure, and opts for a solitary adventure in the ”real” world over the ”dream” of a girl with the seemingly rather faint hope that someday he might return with a better self-understanding. Perhaps there is also a sense that love represented by the girl is an unattainable dream for the speaker, and hence it is futile to fight for it.

Salamatie (Lightning way) by Robin ft. Softengine

Lightning way begins as follows:

I found myself again on your street
Though I thought all I needed was to be free
But you get me better than anyone else here
And now that no-one else decides, the road is clear
I don’t want to you to go another way
But that motorway is steaming
And it’s calling our names […]

The refrain…

Lightning way
We’ll chase our dream on the Lightning way
and get there some day! […]
The Lightning way will take
us to our beautiful, crazy fate.

Like so many others we may sometimes go astray
But it’s worse if we lose this chance to find our way […]
I am no hero nor a Mr. Right
But we have nothing to lose, we can only win this fight […]

You and I weren’t made to stick to patterns turned forlorn
and I promise we’ll find the place where we belong.

While the atmosphere and attitude of the speaker in The motorway is steaming seems to fit the traditional stereotype of a Finn as the solitary, melancholy figure who finds it difficult to speak, and does not expect help from anywhere, the outlook in The Lightning way is quite the opposite. The present day ”not a hero nor a Mr. Right” does not want to choose between the girl and adventure, but wants to have it all, is determined to talk the girl into going along, and is quite confident that even if there might be some glitches on the way, the shared dream will become real one day.

VilleGalle and the rewriting of Pave Maijanen’s Lähtisitkö (1999)

In the original song by Pave Maijanen, the speaker wonders whether an old love would still feel ”the old yearning”.  VilleGalle’s rewriting of the lyrics was done for the TV series Vain elämää, in which artists reinterpret each other’s hits. The new version performed with Sanni has quickly become a hit. In addition to being a rewriting of Maijanen’s Lähtisitkö,  the lyrics also refer to Juice Leskinen, the creator of a number of beloved Finnish rock classics. For some examples of Juice’s lyrics and other classics, see Finnish rock classics & some other songs for singalong sessions. As an aside, apparently the ”we” of the song is inspired by two people who are among the best lyric writers in Finland right now.

Here are a few lines from VilleGalle’s version. Since it is a rap piece, it is nearly impossible to translate, but for the sake of the argument I gave it a try:

We listened to Juice and cooked up rhymes
To a wooden sauna at our cottage we swam at night
It’s too bad I was still just a boy then
Everyone here has problems, but I’ll beat them
And though it tears me in two, I’d do anything for you […]

Now it’s all over and I can tell
That even the tough guy hurts as hell

You understand its worth only when it’s lost
Why didn’t I ask for help at any cost

As this song is about losing love, it has a melancholy undertone, but the performance is well-balanced with glimpses of humour. Compared to the classic stereotypical hero, this speaker is again quite convinced that he can solve his problems, and there is a sense he has already done so. The main regret seems to be that he did not ask for help early enough.

In sum, the present day lyric heroes are quite different from the melancholy lonely wanderers of the classics they refer to. A couple of weeks ago, a central figure in the game company Rovio (the creator of Angry Birds) announced his departure from the company. He said that one of his reasons to leave the company was that he was tired of the self-pitying depressive attitude that is so dominant in Finland. In a recent comment, Jukka Petäjä, a reporter of Helsingin Sanomat, questions the idea that Finns really are prone to unproductive pessimism. To his comparison of Finnish post-war history with that of many Eastern European nations, one may add that the biggest industrial success stories in Finland so far have been steered by the generation that is perhaps too off-handedly associated with traditional pessimism.

Although pop lyrics obviously don’t give the whole truth on national self-image, even they reflect a change from pessimism to confidence. Right now, the lyric hero seems slightly rough on the edges but deliciously tender inside, and determined to overcome whatever challenges lie ahead – an image that may very well fit on a larger scale as well.

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