For those who are not rocking

A return to rock'n'roll and logic blogging. AC/DC's "For Those About to Rock" has some trouble (Video, Lyrics).  The crucial line is the familiar:

For those about to rock, we salute you

Now, I'm inclined to say that those who are about to X are not currently X-ing.  If you're about to run, you're not running.  If you are about to sneeze, you are not currently sneezing.  If you are about to type, you are not right now typing.  And so on.

Trouble is, the line occurs in the midst of an AC/DC song.  We, then, have an interpretive dilemma.  On the one hand, the song is addressed to those currently listening to the song.  That means that those people listening to the song are not rocking.  And that means that the song is not rocking them.  This seems a bad thing for AC/DC to concede, especially in the middle of the song.

On the other hand, perhaps the song is not addressed to those listening to the song, but someone else, not listening to the song. Someone who is currently not rocking, but, perhaps, would like to rock and who, again perhaps unwittingly, is in fact about rock.  Trouble is, it certainly seems that the salute would mean that, well, those folks are listening to the song — else they wouldn't know that the guns going off are a salute, but rather a bombardment.  And then we're back to the first option.

Questions: Are AC/DC saluting people who are not rocking? (It seems so, if they are saluting people who are about to rock.)  If the people are not rocking and are currently listening to their song, "For those about to rock," what does that say about what AC/DC thinks about that song? (Maybe: you aren't rocking to this song, but wait until "Thunderstruck"!  We salute you for waiting patiently. Boom!)

18 thoughts on “For those who are not rocking”

  1. Long overdue and brilliant analysis of AC/DC's seminal (re)interpretation of the gladiators "morituri te salutant."  Indeed the inversion of the salutor/salutee dyad opens paradoxical vantages on the process of writing/rocking itself, upsetting or at least troubling the possibility of imposing the rocker/rocked opposition.   

  2. It does seem like ACDC is saluting those who are about to rock, and thus those who are not rocking. And because the song is probably addressing the listener, it does imply that the listeners are not rocking. However, the last few lines of the song are:
    "For those of you, for those who rock…Yeah…(Ain't gonna get tired, won't take a break, we salute you)…We salute you…We salute you…"
    Looks like the listeners–those who were about to rock–are finally rocking, and are finally saluted!
    The whole song builds up to a nice climax there. ACDC seems to be telling the listener that he isn't really rocking until he tirelessly jumps around for at least five minutes.

  3. Hm. I never had trouble with the song. I took them to be addressing all those for whom rocking was imminent, such as those going on stage to perform an awesome gig. Alternatively, they could be addressing concert goers who are traveling to the venue in expectation of epic rocking out. Either way, no paradox. Perhaps the head banging cures cognitive dissonance.

  4. That is a little more detailed analysis of an ACDC I have ever expected to hear. But when I went to thier concert that was the song they opened with. So maybe it is like thanks for coming and now we will rock you because even though you might think this is rocking, you haven't really rocked yet.

  5. Nice, dcz! As though to say: this song may count as rocking for other bands, but not for us.  This is a good way to turn it, but it is only a variation on the theme that AC/DC are conceding that those listening to "For those about to rock" are not currently rocking.  And that said, I actually think "For those about to rock" rocks equally with all those other AC/DC songs.  If it doesn't rock, nothing of theirs counts as rocking.

  6. I think that close reading solves the conundrum.  Note Young et al's mistranslation of the Latin.  The Latin says that we salute 'those about to die'.  However, the intrusion of a different preposition into the sentence changes the sense entirely.  It is for 'those about to rock', which would thus have to be rendered in the ablative, rather than the vocative.  Thus for -on behalf of – 'those about to rock', we salute 'you'.  Thus 'you' are not 'those who are about to rock/not currently rocking'.  Therefore the paradox evaporates.  'You' can be rocking – and indeed rocking hard – while listening to this song, which therefore retains its rocking credentials.  We salte you – the rockers – on behalf of those who are not currently rocking and therefore standin some awe of you.  QED.

  7. More reflection further unravels the problem.  The original Latin phrase informs us that '[we] those who are about to die salute you [Caesar].' This has the same general sense as AC/DC's statement, with the important exception that, implicitly, because of the inevitability of death (unlike rocking) Caesar is, like us, included in the category of the morituri, whereas, as you have demonstrated, 'you' cannot be included in the category of 'those about to rock' (rockaturi?) without introducing a paradox.  AC/DC could simply have said 'those about to rock salute you'.  This, however, would have left them two syllables short.  Commendably, rather than fill the space with an 'ooh yeah', they cleverly introduced the word 'we', which wrecks the sense of the original and introduces the paradox, but then also added the initial 'for', negating the 'we', preserving the logically-required separation of 'you' from 'those about to rock' and simultaneously meeting the decasyllabic requirements of the metre.  I used to think that this line was gibberish but thanks to your broaching of the topic I now see it as a work of profound philosophical and versifying talent.  Thank you.

  8. Guy, thanks for the comments.  But I disagree.  First, I am not sure that using the Latin phrase as a guide for interpretation is the best option.  For sure, it is derived from it (as noted above by John), but making it fit the Latinate forms is an interpretive hail mary pass.  Second, those about to rock are the audience, not the speakers or absent speakers.  I like your interpretive move, taking 'for' to be 'on behalf of' instead of 'addressing.'  But the song begins with "Stand up and be counted for what you are about the receive," which seems clear is the rocking. You are about to receive rocking, you about to rock, is the parallel construction.  And again, if they are about to either, they are not currently doing either. 

  9. I really disagree with this whole for those who like to rock, rocking equally with other ACDC songs, clearly it does not. When someone asks you what ACDC song do you want to rock out to For those who like to rock, is not the first song that comes to mind, nor is it the second.Now obviously it has a similar feel and tone as other ACDC songs, it is the same band and in the same genre but i would rank it maybe in the lower 60's of the 77 songs they have made. And so my position stands.

  10. @dcz: Not so.  The first issue was whether AC/DC concedes that they and their audience aren't rocking with "For those about to rock."  Your comparative interpretation puts them beyond other (scarequote) rockers (/scareqoute), but it nevertheless has them conceding that they are not rocking.  So, no.  Your position does not stand.
    Second, even if your rankings are accurate, given the negligible difference between AC/DC songs (really, can you tell the difference between "Sink the Pink" and "Have a Drink on Me" before hearing their signature lines?) they nevertheless rock equally enough.  Truly, does "Back in Black" rock *that* much more than "For those…" or "Thunderstruck" or "You shook me"?  No.  Moreover, the question of 'which to rock out to' is not equivalent to 'which rocks more,' as popularity and familiarity can be a desideratum for the former, but not the latter.
    To clarify, I'm not saying "For those…" doesn't rock.  In fact, by my standards, it does.  [I have been compromised on this point, though, as my oldest daughter has been inflicting Taylor Swift on me for the last few months.] My point is that if it doesn't rock (which I take them to concede), nothing else in AC/DC's opus counts as rocking, as nothing else written by AC/DC rocks anything but negligibly more than "For those…". 

  11. "My point is that if it doesn't rock (which I take them to concede), nothing else in AC/DC's opus counts as rocking, as nothing else written by AC/DC rocks anything but negligibly more than "For those…"
    I'm not sure AC/DC concedes that the song doesn't rock. Equivocation?
    R1 means the audience is excited. R2 means the song is awesome. One can be rocking to a song that sucks (this seems to be pretty prevalent these days), but one can also be bored by something that rocks (e.g., adolescent girl roles her eyes to Ahmad Jamal).
    So, the lyrics in no way implies that the song doesn't rock, but do concede that the audience isn't excited enough.

  12. Hi Ray,
    First, I don't know Ahmad Jamal.  And adolescent girls will roll their eyes to rocking performed by Satan's own select allstars.  That is the nature of the beast.
    Second, this is a nice way to interpret 'rocking' in favor of dcz's point. 'Rock' is both an audience and musician term — one may rock, say, as a guitar player, and one may rock as a listener.
    Now, I can concede this semantic difference, but maintain that it's a difference that makes no difference in the song.  The reason why: AC/DC not only does not concede that there may be a difference (a rocking song, but a non-rocking audience), but guarantee that their audience will respond appropriately to their song.  Here's one of the central verses:
    We rock at dawn on the front line / Like a bolt right out of the blue/ The sky's alight with the guitar bite/Heads will roll and rock tonight
    Again, they are committed to the coincidence of rocking as musicians and the rocking as listeners (at least with their music).  But, again, they are talking about rocking that is about to happen.  And so…

  13. @Akin First off," have a dirink on me" starts out with a real bluesy guitar intro that is slightly dirty with distortion, it starts off slow with around 110 beats per minute but then speeds up to around 120 (more of a traditional rock pace). While "sink the pink" is no where near as bluesy as have a drink on me, from the start it is distorted but you also get a little chorus effect on the intro which is mostly the same note repeated over and over again while again "have a drink on me" has more of a traditional blues intro, so it is several diferent notes being played down a scale to the main chords.
    So yes I can very distinctly tell the difference from "Sink the Pink" and "Have a drink on me" just from the way the guitar sounds from the start. But maybe that is unique for me because I play the guitar (but I really don't think it is).
    Yet I was thinking about it and I think that you can be wrong with the whole rocking thing. If one is in a perpetual state of rocking that means that one has three temporal states a) has rocked in the past, b) is currently in the state of being rocked at the present (that was a hard discription to form without using the term rocking) and finally c) will be with in the state of rock in the future. So if the statement is going out to people who are perpetually rocking, then the reference to about to rock is an acknowledgement toward future rocking at state (c). In other words the perpetual rocker could be in the rock state of (b), it is just that the band is saluting the perpetual rocker's future state of (c).
    If someone said to you, "I am kicking a can", you wouldn't think that the kicking had stopped, you would think that they have kicked the can in the past, they are currently hitting the can with thier foot in the present, and that they are about to kick the can in the immediate future.
    So maybe the salute is to motivate the person to keep rocking. Because even though they are currently rocking AC/DC wants to salute those who can keep on continuing to rock. Even the lyrics you posted above denote a perpetual state of rocking, because they say they rock at dawn (in the morning) and then they mention the night, so it appears that the rocking has continued throughout the day. So AC/DC does not want to salute the people who are currently rocking and about to stop, they want to salute the people who are currently rocking and about to keep that state of rocking going.

  14. @dcz,  All fine and good, only insofar as it is understood that the audience is currently rocking.  But, still, 'about to' at least conversationally implicates otherwise.  It's not a deductive entailment, but the alternatives require either something akin to genealogical reasoning (as with Guy's comment) or versions of the intentional fallacy (which I see yours falling into).   In essence, the intentional fallacy is that they didn't intend for the line to be interpreted that way, so that can't be what it means. (They can't mean to say that the audience isn't rocking… they're at a rock show!)  Maybe there's a more nuanced musical defense of your line of thought, but I'm kind of a philistine.
    And I'll concede the differences between 'sink' and 'have a drink, but I'm still committed to the negligibility thesis.

  15. @akin, In my defense, I do not think that the intentional fallacy is applicable when dealing with art. Part of the expectations of the audience when experiencing art is to inquire into what the artist ment by producing this particular piece of art. Here we have a case of a musical lyric which doesn't seem to make sense, when taken literally. People not rocking at a rock show does not seem logical. So being a generous interpreter, having the belief that the artist is a reasonable rational person, we conclude that they must not be trying to express this contradition but ment something else with the lyric. I know that this is a little more indepth than a philistine might want to go, but do you really think the road less traveled is about a guy without a map?  It is the same principle.

  16. @dcz.  Everything you've said seems right, but note that we're still constrained by what the author has said, not what we think the author should have said, given who we think the author is.  It is precisely this that makes my observation about 'for those about to rock' significant to begin with — namely, that AC/DC *should* think they're rocking and that those listening to the song are rocking, so saying that they are *about to rock* is so strange.  People not rocking at a rock show doesn't make sense,  but sometimes the principle of charity can't be our only interpretive rule.

  17. @Akin I agree, the principle of charity is not enough, but I still think it is needed here when or interpretation runs into this contradiction. We are using several types of art and interpretive methods to interprate this song. To begin with we are looking at the lyrics itself, then the musical accompanyment, both two different art forms with different rules of interpretation. Then we also have to deal with the fact that this is a band performing and so it also becomes a piece of performance art. All of these need to be taken into consideration when interpreting.
    So granted the words do have meaning for us because the performer is trying to convey a message to us with in the context of all of them. For example what would it have ment if Alys pushed a rock through the streets of Mexico instead of a block of ice? Or if he was in Iceland instead of Mexico? The entire meaning of what he did would have changed. So we do need to take into consideration what was literally said but also try to find what is being communicated.
    So when we look at these words in thier context that is, with in the art that we find them. Then we can find the meaning. Maybe what the artist meant to do is to bring us to a point of contradiction  but I do not think that is really the point of the song. I think the song is to thank people for rocking out in a cool way using unique imagery of both a 21 gun salute and the calling of gladiators before a show. So when the artist says for those about to rock, he must mean something different than what he is saying.

  18. @dcz.  Those are considerations that are relevant to determine what they are trying to say, not what they said.  The point is that there's a difference, and there's an egregious mis-match between them with the song.

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