In college, I took an English class that discussed poetry for a while, along with an assignment where we were supposed to analyze a poem. As a dedicated music geek, I chose to use a song for it, Streets of Philipelphia.
The speaker in this song is the main character of the movie Philadelphia, Andrew Beckett, a lawyer who is fired from his job after it’s discovered that he has AIDS. The character is a strong personality who is unwilling to take the unfair treatment he’s been dealt.
The lyrics refer to a person who no longer recognizes himself when he looks in the mirror because of the physical toll the disease has taken on him. He also talks about the pain of being abandoned by friends and co-workers because of their fear of his disease. The lyrics go on to personify his disease, as he can “hear the blood in my veins, black and whispering as the rain.”
The themes of alienation and disappointment run deep in the lyric, as well as bitterness. He ironically details all this happening on “the streets of Philadelphia”, the city of brotherly love. The dark mood carries throughout the entire lyric as he says “Ain’t no angel gonna greet me.”
The thing that makes the lyric work so well is it’s so simple. While there are a lot of poetic-sounded parts, it’s all simple, straight-forward language that makes his point rather than obscure, fancy symbolism and words.
This one proves that sometimes simplicity is far more powerful. Check the song out yourself and see if you agree…