Irish singer and songwriter Hozier, known for his soulful lyrics infused with a blues rhythm, has a number of singles more popular than “Arsonist’s Lullaby.”  But this one is my favorite of his, because it speaks to me in a way most other contemporary music does not.

No, I’m not a pyromaniac.

Alright, maybe I’m a little bit of a pyromaniac.  Aren’t we all?

But I digress.  Pyromania is not the appeal of the song.  It’s the notion of being driven by an obsession that can just as easily destroy you as make you great.  The chorus goes as follows:

All you have is your fire
And the place you need to reach
Don’t you ever tame your demons
But always keep them on a leash

We’ve all felt this at one time or another.  The fire.  The place we need to reach.  And the demons that come with them.

The problem is, most of us tame the demons.  We suppress them.  We make them totally docile, and when that happens, we lose the fire.  We’re told that our obsessions are dangerous, that our dreams are unrealistic, and our goals are unattainable.  Civilization does not tolerate demons, because demons are dangerous.

Demons will take you places mortal men were not meant to go.  They’re supernatural.  They’re powerful.  They will submit to you, if you have the will, but they will destroy you if you let them run amok.  They represent our savage nature, and they can make us strong, but they will also divide you from your peers.

Lesser men fear their demons.  Greater ones learn to leash them, command them, and subjugate them to their will.  They discipline their demons.  They drive them through the darkness, into unexplored territory where the weak fear to tread, and through this, they become immortal.  Legendary.  Victorious.

Hozier’s lyrics touch on many parts of the dangers and pitfalls of such an obsession.  In the first verse:

When I was a child, I heard voices
Some would sing and some would scream
You soon find you have few choices
I learned the voices died with me

At first glance, these sound like the tormented thoughts of a madman.  But the notion of “having few choices” is something we can all understand.  We listen to the voices.  We follow them.  Or we kill them completely.  They can only die with us.  What are the voices telling you?  What are your instincts screaming at you to pursue?  Can you make them sing instead?

The fourth verse examines a fixation that vexes all men:

When I was a man I thought it ended
When I knew love's perfect ache
But my peace has always depended
On all the ashes in my wake

This is the point where our passions collide.  At adolescence, we all feel the need to complete one of life’s most basic objectives:  To copulate; to reproduce.  And this is manifested and satisfied to varying degrees in each of us.  Some are content with the copulation.  Others are motivated further; to establish families and have children.  It is a basic and essential instinct, and it is one that can divert us from our personal ambition.

The verse continues with the harsh truth: That this does not guarantee peace.  How many of us have settled for companionship, but felt as if it required us to leave something of ourselves behind?  How many of us have sacrificed our demons to this ambition, only to feel the urge to resurrect them later?

Know your demons before you become coupled, and make sure your partner knows them as well, or you may also be leaving ashes in your wake.

You can hear the full version of “Arsonist’s Lullaby” here:

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