Save A Prayer & The Desperate Narrator

“Definitely a song written by a lonely guy desperate to hook up with … somebody … ANYBODY“

Simon LeBon on Twitter discussing “Lonely In Your Nightmare”

“sounds like da lonely guy is beginning to get desperate …”

Simon LeBon on Twitter discussing “Hungry Like the Wolf”

When it comes to Duran Duran lyrics, Simon LeBon rarely shows all his cards but last week’s listening party shed a little light into his creative process. I was already working on this article when the Tim’s Twitter Listening Party for Rio appeared in my Twitter feed Wednesday morning. I raced home from the record store (felt so good to be in one after two months) to tune in. It was a really fun hour with a lot of familiar names on Twitter but it didn’t change the somewhat uncomfortable relationship I have with “Save A Prayer”.

As a preface to this, I admit that I still love “Save A Prayer”. I still want to hear it during every Duran Duran show and it still tugs on my heartstrings when it comes on the radio. I think it is as good as a ballad as they have ever written. But I also think the lyrics are worthy of some serious contemplation. How romantic of a song is it really? Does the music’s ability to evoke a mood overshadow some uncomfortable truths? 

The framework with which I examine the song relies on Seymour Chapman’s model of narrative communication which places the constructs of Implied Author – Narrator – Narratee – Implied Reader between the Real Author (in this case LeBon) and the Real Reader (the listener). Here, the Implied Author is the persona of Simon LeBon, aspiring pop star, and the Implied Reader is the female Duranie screaming in the front-row of a sold-out show. 

Simon’s tweets about other songs on Rio (see above) seem to validate my own interpretation that the difference between Real Author, Implied Author and Narrator within the song are often the same person (LeBon). With little to no artifice, LeBon was writing lyrics that reflected how he felt as well as how he wanted to be seen by the reader. However, this creates a problem of narrative authority almost as soon as “Save a Prayer” begins:

You saw me standing by the wall,
Corner of a main street
And the lights are flashing on your window sill
All alone ain't much fun,
So you're looking for the thrill
And you know just what it takes and where to go

If we choose to read this verse with LeBon in the role of protagonist, the issue of authority remains unresolved. How can he know the intent of the women watching him from her window sill or ascertain that she knows how and where to find her thrill? In a way, he is declaring that she is “hungry like the wolf” and he has become the hunted – insisting that desire works in both directions. This reveals the mindset of the Implied Author – “a lonely guy desperate to hook-up” if we take LeBon at face value. 

What if the “me” standing by the wall isn’t LeBon the person but an advertisement for the band and the “you” being the collective youth of the era? A flashing billboard outside “your” window could be an offer to “escape” reality which certainly ties into the band’s underlying ethos of escapism as encapsulated in the videos for this album. In that case, the thrill “you’re” looking for lies in the band, not necessarily LeBon’s bed. While that might better explain the narrator possessing knowledge of another character’s mindset, I don’t think for a second that was LeBon’s intention when writing this song. 

Don't say a prayer for me now,
Save it 'til the morning after
No, don't say a prayer for me now,
Save it 'til the morning after

The melancholic mood of this ballad and having it near the end of the record could symbolize a sense of awareness that wasn’t present on the earlier songs when, again using Simon’s words, the narrator was a “lonely guy desperate to hook-up”. Now that he has had a one-night stand, does he start to realize the emptiness of the experience despite his attempt to romanticize it and call it paradise? It certainly doesn’t stop him, hence the narrator imploring the reader to not say a prayer just yet. But maybe there is an arc of learning across Rio for LeBon as author and narrator.

Feel the breeze deep on the inside,
Look you down into your well
If you can, you'll see the world in all his fire
Take a chance
(Like all dreamers can't find another way)
You don't have to dream it all, just live a day

But then again. Maybe not. Hard to read this as anything more than the narrator trying to seduce someone. While the lyrics aren’t cringe-worthy like “Read My Lips” on Liberty, there is certainly little room for interpretation other than the obvious. LeBon remains the “lonely guy” trying to find comfort in her well. 

Pretty looking road,
Try to hold the rising floods that fill my skin
Don't ask me why I'll keep my promise,
Melt the ice
And you wanted to dance so I asked you to dance
But fear is in your soul
Some people call it a one night stand
But we can call it paradise

The music quickens as do the pulses in the third verse. The urgent desire from LeBon is matched by Roger Taylor’s more conventional drum pattern with the snare on the 2 and 4 replacing the rim shot of earlier verses. In the video, LeBon, clearly acting as the narrator, kisses the sleeping woman goodbye on the “I’ll keep my promise” line which seems to imply that he won’t as he leaves in search of another pretty looking road. 

My final thought on the intention of the narrator within “Save A Prayer” centers around the public vs. private voice and the possibility that the verses and chorus are different voices. The music supports this idea with a key change from D-minor in the verse to B-minor in the chorus. In the verses, we are shown the private voice of the Implied Author – the lead singer of a band on the road looking to keep loneliness at bay by having one-night stands. However, in the chorus, the Real Author takes over and speaks not to the individual women in the verses but to the Real Reader (us, the listener). He is asking us to not judge him for actions he knows he will soon regret. 

This layer of guilt could reflect the Real Author’s true emotional state that cannot be dismissed with a joke on Twitter about being a “lonely guy trying to hook-up”. The Implied Author/Narrator (Simon LeBon the rock star) would be expected to act as he does in the verses. Patriarchal society all but demands that of someone in his position. While fulfilling those expectations, a little voice in the back of the Real Author’s mind seems to be raising an alarm and he seeks our prayers in the chorus. Does this warrant our sympathy? That is up to each individual listener. For me, challenging the lyrics and dissecting the author’s mindset when writing the song only make me appreciate it more. No matter how one reads “Save A Prayer”, there is no happy ending with the couple forever in love but that is exactly the fantasy it manages to sell us despite the words that say otherwise. That, my friends, is the magic of popular music. 

2 thoughts on “Save A Prayer & The Desperate Narrator”

  1. I love it when people discuss their interpretations of the bands lyrics are among my favorites.Funny that when I first heard this song i was rather oblivious to the obvious meanings in it.As an inexperienced, naive teenager I sang along but never put any deeper thought into it. As an adult I still love the song. The lyrics resonate with me.Lonely protagonist looking for some human contact in a red-light district.I like that for a brief, sad time they can call their encounter ‘paradise’.The music itself is so beautiful to my ears. I have no clue as to what key they were in,Sadly my love for music does not include that talent and I’m envious of those of you who can enjoy that perk. I have no idea if Simon was making a sly comparison to fame, a personal experience or simply crafting a story but this one remains a favourite.

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