Panic! At The Disco. It’s a statement. It’s pretty odd. It’s a band. Their lyrics are inventive (I guess you could argue they’re nonsensical at times, but I find value in the imagery even if the literal meaning isn’t apparent), their melodies are catchy, and Brendon Urie’s voice is like a sparkly angel rocketing over the Mediterranean Sea before sunset at the speed of sound. Which is supposed to be a good thing.
One of my favorite Panic! tunes is “This Is Gospel” off of their fourth album Too Weird To Live, Too Rare To Die!, and recently I recorded a cover of it with a good friend of mine. I actually rather like how it turned out as a duet, so here it is if you want to hear.
*If you like the girl singing with me, go check out her SoundCloud! Her name is Gaby DeSpain and she’s a lovely young singer and songwriter in Seattle with some great songs, a bright future, and not enough penguin plushes.
To be honest, this isn’t how I intended on starting this blog. but this song offers a look into a couple themes that are worth exploring. The album, Too Weird To Live, Too Rare To Die, gets its name from a quote in Hunter S. Thompson’s Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, a book that is mainly famous for its cynical perspective on the American Dream. I have yet to actually read the book (reading for school takes up an incredible amount of time), but I do know that the quote is from the book’s main character, Raoul Duke, talking about his best friend/attorney after the two share a drug-fueled adventure through Las Vegas.
In the context of Panic!’s album, the quote is most likely referring to the city itself, since the cover art and subject matter of the songs project a renewed appreciation for the city that the band started in. An important theme in Fear and Loathing, though, is Thompson’s idea that the American Dream has been rewritten, partially because the counterculture of the 60’s failed enact meaningful change. Drugs are largely to blame for this, and the idea that substance abuse is dangerous and harmful on multiple levels is something that Panic! explores in their song “This Is Gospel.”
The song itself was written by Brendon Urie back when the band had three official members (they’ve never kept their lineup the same between albums, which is really a shame). Urie is the lead singer of the band and currently the only official member. In a few interviews, he’s openly admitted that “This Is Gospel” is one of his most honest songs, because he wrote it about his friend and drummer Spencer Smith, who had been struggling with addiction. During an interview with Billboard magazine, Urie said:
“I was really on edge and anxious about where the future of the band was going, the future of our friendship in general. With him and his health I was really scared of what was going to happen. When I wrote that song I was mad – mad at myself and mad at him. Like, ‘Why can’t I do something to fix this? What is wrong with me? What’s wrong with you?'”
There’s a piano version of this song on youtube that is beautiful, even with confetti and fried chicken falling on the piano. The relatively bare arrangement for the piano version helps Urie convey more emotion, and I think it’s one of the best songs they’ve recorded.
There’s a lot of emotion in this song to begin with. For me, the hardest part about recording our version was trying to internalize the meaning and convey it as I sang, while still making it my own and projecting my own experiences onto it. Part of what makes it so difficult to sing with the right conviction is the way the song’s written. Most of it is in third-person, talking with an odd formality about “the fallen ones locked away in permanent slumber,” who are “assembling their philosophies from pieces of broken memories.” There’s a distance between the speaker and those he’s talking about, which keeps the audience distanced as well.That distance is immediately destroyed in the chorus when he shouts, “If you love me let me GOOOOO,” joining the ranks of the outcasts he mentioned before.
All in all, it’s about seeing your friend go through rough times, feeling helpless in the face of their struggles, having your own similar fight to take care of… and this song is your catharsis, your outlet, your gospel. It’s sad, it’s empowering, and it’s human. I only cried like once the first time I heard the piano version, though. Maybe twice. It’s whatever.
Suffice it to say that even if I had gone through something similar to Brendon, it would still be hard to perfectly capture the emotion of the song. Did we succeed? I guess that’s up to the individual listener. This isn’t gospel for everyone, but rather anyone who feels comfort in the song, in knowing they don’t have to be alone. And the inclusivity of Panic! and their songs, lyrics, fans, concerts, and stories is part of why I love them so. That along with Brendon’s voice/hair/backflips.
And with that I leave you. It’s Nine in the Afternoon, and I have swing dancing later.
¡Hasta la próxima!