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They say that art is open to interpretation, but try arguing that, say, The Beatles' "Lucy In The Sky With Diamonds" is a song about a girl named Lucy, in the sky, while in the company of diamonds, and people will laugh themselves into a coma over your naivety. Everybody knows that it's really a song about LSD. Everybody except the guys who wrote it, that is.

Yeah, it turns out you can learn all sorts of interesting shit about the true meaning of songs, books, and movies if instead of debating it you just listen to the damned people who created them. That's how you find out that ...

Pearl Jam's "Alive" Is About A Future Serial Killer Fucking His Mother

Peter Still/Redferns/Getty Images

What You Think It's About:

Figuring out what a song is "about" can be a tricky game. Sometimes it's very straightforward (see: "Baby Got Back") and other times fans will spend decades just making shit up (see: "Hotel California" is not about Satanism, you guys).

Pearl Jam's first hit, the early '90s anthem "Alive," seems to be somewhere in the middle. It's soulful if not sad, but the chorus is a straightforward and life-affirming "I'm still alive." The first verse seems to involve a mother saying something to her son about his dad; the second involves that same son about to have sex with a lady. So maybe it's a song about overcoming the struggles of growing up, only to embrace life in the end? Either way, it's surely something fairly positive and not, say, the freakiest goddamned shit we've ever heard.

What It's Really About:

In a Rolling Stone interview, Vedder explained that "Alive" was meant to tell the origin story of a molested serial killer. In the song, a mother notices that her son has started to resemble his father, who died some time ago. Feeling lonely and wanting to reconnect with her past lover, the mom goes all The Graduate meets Boardwalk Empire on her kid, and they end up having some nice mother-son naked time. Thus the lines:

Oh, she walks slowly, across a young man's room
She said I'm ready ... for you
I can't remember anything to this very day
'Cept the look, the look ...

"Mrs. ... mom, you're trying to seduce me."

Oh, it gets worse. Eddie goes on to explain that "the look" he was singing about was not the look on the mother's face but rather the one "between her legs." It's basically a line about not being able to get the image of your mom's vagina out of your head (specifically, Vedder says, the thought, "That's where you came from"). With that in mind, the lyrics "I'm still alive" start to sound less like the guy in the song declaring his love of living and more like him wondering, "How the hell does the universe allow me to exist after this?!"

Anna Krajec/Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images
And you thought this shirt was about politics.

Concluding that there is no God, the protagonist then becomes a serial killer in the sequel track, "Once" ("I got a bomb in my temple and it's gonna explode / I got a 16-gauge buried under my clothes, I play ..."), which Vedder claims to be able to relate to as a way of "dealing with a bad life." He then adds that he's glad he became a songwriter instead. You and the FBI both, Eddie.

The Lord Of The Rings Isn't A WWII Allegory (But Is About Death)

New Line Cinema

What You Think It's About:

People have thought J.R.R. Tolkien's famous trilogy is actually a metaphor for World War II pretty much since the day it hit shelves. We know that after Googling "LOTR WW2" (because we're lazy), and because 127 Tolkien scholars straight-up said that the second Global Kombat remains one of the "most prevalent allegorical interpretations of The Lord Of The Rings." It's hard to argue with them, seeing as the books tell the story of a bunch of do-gooders from different nations trying to stop Magic Hitler from taking over the world using a dark coalition of his own. A game-changing super weapon tips the balance of power, and the good guys must weigh the terrible responsibility of wielding it.

Plus there's the fact that the books hit the scene in 1954, a perfect amount of time for an author to have digested recent history and turned it into a fanciful tale featuring elves and talking trees.

New Line Cinema
We swear to Eru Iluvatar, if anyone says anything about the Ents not being real trees,
we will sic the Balrog on you.

What It's Really About:

This theory became so prevalent that Tolkien himself angrily wrote a new foreword to the trilogy shooting it down. First, he points out that he started writing the books in 1936, before the outbreak of the war. Then, he carefully points out how, if his own tale is an allegory for real events, it's a very shitty one:

The real war does not resemble the legendary war in its process or its conclusion. If it had inspired or directed the development of the legend, then certainly the Ring would have been seized and used against Sauron; he would not have been annihilated but enslaved, and Barad-dur would not have been destroyed but occupied. Saruman ... would have made a Great Ring of his own with which to challenge the self-styled Ruler of Middle-earth. In that conflict both sides would have held hobbits in hatred and contempt: They would not long have survived even as slaves.

Holy shit! Today we learned that if you wanted to stay on Tolkien's good side, you did not accuse that man of allegory!

British Army
The Germans learned that the hard way after insisting his gunplay was phallic.

It should also be noted that if Tolkien wanted to write about a planet-wide mass slaughter, he probably would have gone with World War I, because he actually fought in that one (and dreamed up the world of Middle-earth while in a military hospital). But he definitely wouldn't have re-imagined it as a story about little people with hairy feet, because he thought that such a thing would be disrespectful to the memory of his fallen friends and comrades.

So then ... if LOTR isn't about war, what is it about? Well, it's about death.

New Line Cinema
What's Elven for "Duh"?

Or, in Tolkien's own words: "I might say that if the tale is 'about' anything, it is not, as seems widely supposed, about 'power.' ... It is mainly concerned with Death and Immortality."

Specifically, it's about how trying to cheat death is our worst impulse -- everyone in the story who tries it gets burned. Sauron is the main bad guy because he uses undead monsters (the Nazgul) to get his Ring of Power back and live forever. The Ring grants Gollum centuries of life but turns him into a withered cave monster in the process. Bilbo's long lifespan nearly drives him mad.

New Line Cinema

New Line Cinema

Remember, Tolkien was a pretty hardcore Christian, so he believed that death (and an entrance into the afterlife) was a gift that we should all cherish. It's actually one of the main themes of The Silmarillion, the LOTR-verse's version of the Book Of Genesis. Still, it's not like you can use "EMBRACE THE SWEET RELEASE OF DEATH, KIDS!" as the tagline, so it's no surprise they didn't really emphasize that in the marketing.

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"Wake Me Up When September Ends" Is Not About The War On Terror

Reprise Records

What You Think It's About:

"Wake Me Up When September Ends" might be the best and most well-known anti-war protest song of the post-9/11 era. The track appeared on Green Day's 2004 album American Idiot (right in the heart of the Gulf War backlash), and the mournful ballad is also the 11th track on the album. September? Eleven? You don't have to be a Truther to realize that the song couldn't be more about the War On Terror if the video featured a soldier going off to war in the desert, which of course it does:

What It's Really About:

It's about Billie Joe Armstrong's dad, who died on Sept. 1, 1982, back when the future founding member of Green Day was just 10 years old.

Ethan Miller/Getty Images Entertainment/Getty Images
He ... seems to be handling it well.

The song, despite its release date, had been written years earlier, and the title refers to what Armstrong screamed through the door at his mother after his dad's funeral, which, granted, isn't something that most people could guess on their own. Armstrong also tends to cry whenever he performs it live. He could technically be crying over the senseless loss of human lives during the attacks on the Twin Towers, but then there are lyrics like, "Twenty years have gone so fast," and you realize there's something else going on, unless Armstrong is just horrible at calendars.

Two decades is, in fact, the exact span of time between Armstrong's father dying and him writing the song. So there's that, plus the fact that none of the rest of the lyrics have anything to do with war or terrorism at all. The only reason they added the anti-war imagery to the video is because they wanted a rebuttal to the recruitment ads the military was running at the time.

Reprise Records
"The Many. The Miserable. The Redneck Agenda."

The Character Uncle Tom In Uncle Tom's Cabin Isn't A Cowardly Traitor

Edwin Long

What You Think It's About:

Uncle Tom's Cabin is an 1852 anti-slavery novel by Harriet Beecher Stowe, and one of those rare novels that legitimately changed the course of history. She was an abolitionist who wrote the story to expose slave owners as the pieces of shit they were, and to portray black people as, well, people. In fact, she was so good at spreading her message of equality that she's actually credited with convincing Lincoln to sign the Emancipation Proclamation. But other than that, it wasn't really a big deal.

In the decades since, however, "Uncle Tom" has become a derisive term for any black person who isn't "black enough." The title character in the book is, according to popular belief, the very image of a "servile black man" who is below whites in station and perfectly fine with it. Think Samuel L. Jackson in Django Unchained.

The Weinstein Company
Though picturing him will ruin any future reading of Uncle Tom's Cabin.

What It's Really About:

It's true that in the book, Uncle Tom is a slave that never fights back and allows himself to be exploited. But in the end he's beaten to death by a slave-owner for refusing to tell him where two female slaves have run away to. Doesn't that remind you of another person from a foreign land who also was all about non-violence and sacrificing himself for the good of others?

Joseph Boggs Beale
... Spock?

The guy's courage and faith is so inspiring that his death actually convinces both of the overseers to renounce their evil ways and beg the dying man for forgiveness. So where the hell did the negative connotations of "Uncle Tom" come from? Well, back then, copyright laws basically didn't exist, meaning that anyone could take a book and do whatever they wanted with it. So, racists decided to produce horrible minstrel shows based on the book. The horrors of slavery were downplayed, and the comical cowardice of Uncle Tom was turned up to 11.

Al W. Martin
They work hard for 22 hours a day in the blistering Sun for no pay at all, and party harder.

Eventually, the blackface adaptations of Uncle Tom's Cabin (both on stage and in early cinema) became more popular than the book (who the hell reads, anyway?) and "Uncle Tom" became a derisive slur for anyone who refuses to stand up for his people. Then, in 1990 the band Warrant made a song called "Uncle Tom's Cabin" that appears to have been written by someone who literally had never heard of Stowe or the original tale in any capacity:

Besides, songs about being too scared to report the illegal dumping of bodies
bring in way more groupies.

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The American Gothic Painting Is Mocking Farmers

Grant Wood

What You Think It's About:

Grab the average person and demand they name five famous paintings at gunpoint and, right after the Mona Lisa, they'll say American Gothic (or, at least, "You know, that one with the old farm couple holding a pitchfork?")

The 1930 painting by Grant Wood is a key piece of Americana, depicting a tough, determined old couple standing resolutely in front of their Depression-era farm. The stern man ominously holds a pitchfork while the woman appears to seriously contemplate impaling herself on said pitchfork in the hope that the afterlife has clothes that come in colors other than "depressing poverty."

Grant Wood
"New plan: I kill him in his sleep and steal his overalls."

Even if you see the painting as a testament to the toughness of Middle America, it's pretty obvious why it's called American Gothic and not American Super Happy Fun-Time.

What It's Really About:

First, Wood's use of "gothic" refers to the architectural style of the window in the background, which is known as carpenter gothic. Second and foremost, the entire thing was meant to be satire -- a humorous, lighthearted riff on Midwestern values, which Wood himself alluded to in interviews. Most art experts today agree that the painting is a joke of some kind, with the only real question being whether it's playfully celebrating or condemning rural folks.

For example, the closed curtains and the pitchfork may be Wood's way of criticizing Midwesterners for shielding themselves from the rest of the world.

Grant Wood
Or maybe that's just where their bathroom is.

On the other hand, Grant Wood was a born-and-bred Iowan who, prior to painting American Gothic, spent more than six years studying art in Europe. That's enough time to make anyone nostalgic for their childhood home, even if that home was a desolate hellscape. So, although Wood eventually poked fun at it, it's not hard to imagine that, during his travels, he developed a loving appreciation for his people's fortitude.

Grant Wood
Not to mention their Bella Swan-esque emotional range.

We just wonder how much of it was left after offended Iowans threatened to bash his head in and bite his ears off over the painting. Boy, people took art seriously back then.

"The Road Not Taken" Is Robert Frost Making Fun Of His Friend

BettinaSampl/iStock/Getty Images

What You Think It's About:

If you've ever attended a school graduation, you've heard this goddamned poem. "Two roads diverged in a yellow wood, / And sorry I could not travel both," and on and on it goes before ending with the traveler walking down the less-traveled road. It's about how you should think about the decisions you make, how the road less-traveled is the better one, how you shouldn't be part of the herd, and how you should go wild sometimes and set a mailbox on fire. It's a very simple message.

Jupiterimages/PHOTOS.com/Getty Images
"Two Jager bombs await at the raging after-party, / And fuck yeah I could chug them both."

What It's Really About:

"The Road Not Taken" was written by Robert Frost to mock indecisive people. The ending (stating that the less-traveled road "made all the difference") is sarcastic. Earlier in the poem, we actually see the traveler is bullshitting himself about the whole "less-traveled" thing, since a second look revealed the two paths had been worn "really about the same." It's basically saying, "Goddamn it, you can't know where the paths lead, so just pick one, you indecisive prick." You know that old man that you sometimes see in the back of the line at McDonald's, yelling at the idiot in front for holding up the line? That's Robert Frost and this bitterly sarcastic poem.

Hulton Archive/Hulton Archive/Getty Images
"This next one is called 'The Lawn That Looks Way Nicer Now That
A Bunch Of Teenagers Have Walked All Over It.'"

Except, in "The Road Not Taken" Frost is yelling not at a hypothetical person but rather his close friend. He actually wrote it for Edward Thomas, a friend who was so indecisive about what to do with his life that Frost once said to him, "No matter which road you take, you'll always sigh and wish you'd taken another." After Frost put that burning frostbite into a poem for the whole world to see, Thomas got offended and decided he needed to prove himself. So even though he wasn't really into it, he decided to enlist in the British Army and was soon killed during the 1917 Battle of Arras, in France.

Hulton Archive/Hulton Archive/Getty Images
"Thanks a lot, dick. Kiss the less-traveled half of my ass."

Fine, fine -- obviously the poem wasn't the only reason that Thomas enlisted, but still, Robert Frost's "The Road Not Taken" sort of killed a guy.

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Devo's "Whip It" Is A Political Anthem

Warner Brothers Records

What You Think It's About:

If you are familiar with even a single Devo song, you're familiar with "Whip It." It honestly doesn't seem to be "about" anything. It does mention whipping a lot, and the music video takes place on a ranch, but it also features the band in all-body turtlenecks and their signature flower-pot headgear. We suppose that with its wackiness, catchy tune, and synthpop sound, you could make the case that "Whip It" is about, well, the '80s, but that's about it. Unless it's a sex thing? A woman does get her dress whipped off in the video -- maybe this was as close as you could get to a BDSM reference back then without getting fined by the FCC?

What It's Really About:

It's actually about Jimmy Carter.

Naval Photographic Center

Um ... let us rephrase that. "Whip It" is a song about the foreign policy of Jimmy Carter, the 39th president of the United States. Devo, which stands for "Devolution" and started out as a political statement against the Kent State shootings, noticed during their world tour that people around the globe were kind of in an uproar over America's foreign policy of pissing off Iran and underestimating the Soviets. But because the band still believed in the man in the White House, they tried to cheer him on with an energetic "Don't give up!" kind of song. That's right: "Whip It" was supposed to be Jimmy Carter's "Eye Of The Tiger."

However, when Devo realized that people frequently thought that the song was about BDSM, they decided to just go with it for shits and giggles, which is why the "Whip It" music video features a woman getting her clothes whipped off instead of, say, a Jimmy Carter lookalike getting whipped in the Oval Office. Which, in retrospect, probably would have just gotten them a visit from the Secret Service anyway.

Warner Brothers Records
"I'm actually OK with this." -Jimmy Carter, probably.

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Also check out 35 Popular Songs That Don't Mean What You Think and 5 Famously Dumb Movies With Mind-Blowing Hidden Meanings.

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