A Tour Guide to Anberlin’s “Cities”

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Godspeed represents a lot of firsts: it was the first song written for the album, the first song released from the album, the album’s first single, and, not counting the instrumental intro “(Début),” it’s the full first song on the album. It’s also arguably the heaviest song on the album, and it’s since become quite the crowd pleaser at live shows (those whoa’s in the chorus just beg to be flung back at the band by the audience). More so than any other song on Cities, the lyrics of “Godspeed” are chock-full of references and allusions that beg to be examined.

The song’s title appears as (GOD)SPEED on its elusive 7” single, making the title’s play on words a little more apparent. The “white lines” and “black tar” mentioned in the lyrics are allusions to cocaine and heroin, respectively. The song was originally titled “Death by Misadventure,”[9] which was the cause of death listed on the death certificate of Brian Jones, the original guitarist for The Rolling Stones. Jones was found dead at the bottom of his swimming pool. He had been asked to leave the band the month before his death, and two years earlier, his girlfriend Anita Pallenberg left him for his fellow bandmate Keith Richards. There was also a rumored affair between Pallenberg and Stones frontman Mick Jagger.

The lyrics’ reference to Lexington comes from The Velvet Underground’s song “I’m Waiting for the Man” (“I’m waiting for my man/twenty-six dollars in my hand/up to Lexington, 125/feel sick and dirty, more dead than alive”). “I’m Waiting for the Man” portrays an experience of buying heroin at the intersection of Lexington Avenue and 125th Street in Manhattan.

STEPHEN SAYS: “I talk a lot in the song about [Velvet Underground vocalist] Lou Reed, and even though he didn’t die, he helped Nico along with her heroin addiction.” [9]

Nico, born Christa Päffgen (and the subject of the Anberlin song “Dance, Dance Christa Päffgen”), was a member of The Velvet Underground for a short period of time, during which she had a short-lived relationship with Lou Reed. Nico was addicted to heroin for 15 years, and in 1988, she had a heart attack while riding a bicycle which caused her to fall and hit her head. A severe cerebral hemorrhage was named the official cause of death.

The song also references the killing of Nancy Spungen by the Sex Pistols’ Sid Vicious. Spungen bled to death on the bathroom floor of Manhattan’s Chelsea Hotel after being stabbed in the abdomen by Sid Vicious, who was in a drug-induced stupor but later admitted to the stabbing. Less than a year later, Sid Vicious overdosed on heroin and died. A suicide note was found in his jacket, saying that he had made a death pact with Spungen and he had to “accomplish [his] part of the deal.”

STEPHEN SAYS, on the song’s reference to Neverland: “I feel that, in the rock ‘n’ roll business, we live a complete and utter Peter Pan life. You need to stay young, you need to be free, you’re not bound to any type of social rules – you have no idea the stuff that musicians can get away with, just because they’re musicians, and just because they’re expected to. I want to burn that down. I’m tired of Neverland, I’m tired of people believing that they’re in this Peter Pan world.” [2]