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In which John discusses a lyric that appeared in both Led Zeppelin's "Stairway to Heaven" and a song by the band Smash Mouth.
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Good morning, Hank, it's Tuesday.  So for the last, I don't know, like 21 weeks or so, I've been thinking a lot about the lyric "All that glitters is gold", which appears in the 1971 classic Led Zeppelin song "Stairway to Heaven" and then re-appears many years later in "All Star" by Smashmouth.  

It's a strange lyric because it's manifestly untrue.  Like, much that glitters is not gold, including glitter, and that observation goes back a long way, like in Merchant of Venice, immediately after Shakespeare writes "all that glisters is not gold", he adds, "often you have heard that told", like it was a cliche back then.  

Two centuries earlier, Chaucer wrote, "Hyt not al golde that glareth," and Aesop made a similar observation 2600 years ago.  

"All that glitters is not gold" is a reminder that we can't always trust our senses, that superficial truth is often deeply misleading, and that what seems at a distance to be wonderful or precious often turns out not to be.  To cite one example from my own life, when I was younger, I thought that being famous was like, the most glitteringly magnificent thing that could happen to a person, but then I got to see it up close and realized that it was a little more complicated, but what's up with the notion that "all that glitters is gold"?  

I suppose I should stop here and acknowledge that I'm not an expert at analyzing song lyrics.  You know like there are some people who can tell you that such and such song by The Mountain Goats is about a Maoist rebellion in the 1970s or whatever, I never think that way.  I always think that every song by The Mountain Goats is about me and how I feel listening to the song and what it makes me think about in my own life, so I'm not an expert song analyst.  Also, I don't think that poems or songs or whatever exist primarily as riddles to be solved.  I think art exists primarily not to be figured out but to be lived with and around and also other prepositions.

But right, the lyrics to that Led Zeppelin song begin "There's a lady who's sure all that glitters is gold and she's buying a stairway to heaven."  So this is presented as a presumably naive belief that all that glitters is gold and if you just collect enough of this glittering gold, you can buy a stairway to heaven, but 28 years later when Smashmouth repurposes the lyric, now it seems like it's just about the life of a rock star.  You get the show on, you get paid, all that glitters is gold.  

Now, this gets a little more interesting and complicating if you consider that the original lyric that followed 'all that glitters is gold' was 'wave bye bye to your soul'.  Like, yeah, you're gonna get rich and it's gonna feel like everything that glitters is gold, but you are going to lose your soul in the process just like the Led Zeppelin character can't buy their way into heaven, the Smashmouth character can't rockstar their way into heaven, which is maybe or maybe not what Smashmouth had in mind when they wrote the lyric, but, and this may surprise you, I don't really care about Smashmouth or what they had in mind.

What is important to me is what 'all that glitters is gold' makes me feel when I hear people sing it.  There are moments in human life that feel genuinely magical.  When you find yourself on some adventure or when you're having an amazing conversation with people you really love or when you're sitting backstage watching your brother play music to a crowd that's singing along.  Your moments will be different, but I think we all have them, these little moments where we feel infinite, to borrow a word from Stephen Chbosky, and for me anyway, in those moments, it's almost like you can feel a memory being presently formed and it really does feel like all that glitters is gold, and what I love most about music in the end is the way the songs I love, even the stupid songs I love, contain both the warmth of past memory and the warmth of future hope.

Hank, I'll see you on Friday.

Oh, one last thing.  This video contains a clue and the clue leads in a roundabout way to a secret livestream.  You can learn more about the clue and find people to help solve it with you in the comments below.  There was also a clue last week and in the coming weeks, there will often but not always be clues.  I think that's all I have to say on the matter.