Handlebars - Flobots
© 2008 Universal
“I can ride my bike with no handlebars” is the recurrent line in the song “Handlebars’ by the Flobots. While seeming like such a simple message, the progression of the song reaches far beyond kid tales of riding a bike with no handlebars and heads straight for an expose of the "dark side" of knowledge, creativity, and technology.
There is a strongly egocentric perspective on all of life which pervades the song. Lines like “I can design an engine… I can keep rhythm with no metronome… I can make anyone go to prison” point to its self-orientation. Additionally we have the repeated phrase “Look at me, look at me” which recurs several times in the song as well. The autonomous self is the vantage point from which all reality is to be viewed and judged.
The song proceeds from innocent, innocuous behaviors, curious but minor feats of accomplishment: “I can show you how to scratch a record,” and, “I can tie a knot in a cherry stem.” However, the song "progresses" (irony intended) toward increasingly disturbing, threatening, and violent behavior, with ever-greater effects upon society at large. The first-person singer-egocentrist says that I can accomplish anything: I can hand out a million vaccines or let everyone die, I can guide a missile by satellite, and finally end the world in a holocaust.
Delving further into modernism, the multiple references to the science, technology, and medical fields present the listener with their potential and “accomplishments.” Yet there is an ironizing perspective toward these achievements. I have the power for either benefitting or harming others, and the choice is miine. It is this stance that moves it from the confident optimism of modernism into the jaded, cynical, postmodern framework.
The song devolves from simple pleasure and normal abilities into an passionate rant, both musically and lyrically. The opening music is very simple, a repetitive melody with equally simple accompaniment. It the gains angst-y energy which builds throughout the song to the point of worldwide apocalyptic cataclysm. It then abruptly returns at the end of the song to the simple innocence of riding a bike with no handlebars, ending where it begins. The effect is to hold up insipid modernistic confidence against the ubiquitous evils of which it is capable, well illustrating the cynical, postmodern condition. The same drives that bring us pleasures can get us all killed.
[written by] Toni / Ray