I’ve been a fan of the rock band King’s X for many years and am currently reading King’s X: The Oral History, a book by Greg Prato that chronicles the history of the band entirely through quotes from the band, those who have worked with the band, music journalists, and other musicians. They have a musical style all their own, combining heavy rock influences with complicated arrangements and Beatle-esque vocal harmonies. Some even credit them with inventing the “grunge” genre, not just by often tuning their instruments to a lower, heavier tone, but also through their gritty lyrics as a contrast to the “hair metal” that dominated rock in the early and mid 1980s. On top of the musical style, I also liked that in the late 1980s and early 1990s there were a lot of Christian themes in their lyrics but written around the reality of their struggles with their faith and with aspects of Christian culture and the music industry. Unfortunately, these struggles continue for them, and only one of the three members seems to still be a Christian.
One of the reasons I bought the book was that it promised to cover “every song” in their catalog, and since some of their lyrics are enigmatic, I wanted more of the story. The rest of this post is about one of those songs, how the book (understandably) didn’t explain it, and what I was able to get from it anyway.
When I unwrapped the book, the first thing I did was to find the hoped-for explanation of the lyrics for “Six Broken Soldiers.” Written by the band’s drummer, Jerry Gaskill, it’s a different style than other songs and the lyrics seem intriguingly random. Flipping through pages, I quickly found Jerry’s only comment on the song:
“It’s always hard for me to talk about lyrics, because I don’t like to say exactly what I’m thinking, because then that takes away from anything that you may get from it. When I write, I put everything I feel and think into each line, so it comes off very ambiguous sometimes, and even unintelligible sometimes. But I have specific things I’m thinking when I wrote that. Basically, it’s just me talking about me.”Jerry Gaskill
Bummer. Although I was hoping for more specifics, I definitely understand an artist’s desire to let the audience interpret the work in their own way. So, if “it’s just me talking about me,” what do I see knowing that, and re-reading the lyrics? Below I’ll go into some of the lines and my take-aways, but it might be handy to have the lyrics, which you can find here, or if you want to hear the song, click here. There are parts of it I don’t get, and will skip in my comments, but which meant something to the author and that might mean something to you.
Us Talking About Us
In general, I think the song describes the complexity of human personality, not just Jerry’s, but everyone’s, and how little we understand it. First, the title of the song says a lot. Brokenness is right there, but also “six” says we are broken in many ways. We can all identify with having problems, and more than one of them. With “soldiers” I think of our struggle against our problems, and that even the “soldiers” we have to fight them with have their own problems. Our brokenness affects our ability to combat it and there’s no easy fix.
The opening verse suggests that our surrounding culture and heritage are not enough to solve these problems, and often don’t even care about them. Is all we have an “American library” to deal with our sickness? How often do you hear something on the news, or something a politician promises, and think – that’s exactly the answer to my specific situation? Probably rarely, and even rarer if you consider whether they can actually do it, and on time for it to help you. A lot of what is available to us is too vague and too ineffective to be what we really need.
The next part is series of seemingly random short phrases that are metaphorically part of our personality. For me the lyrics include these parts:
- Among the “Six broken soldiers in the trunk of my car”, there are parts of us we share with others (“Two of them speak”) and parts we’d rather not (“four go to bars”). If this is what it means, then it also implies the parts we hide are much larger than the parts we let others know about. All of it is baggage we carry with us everywhere we go, as in the trunk of our car.
- “A caged up gorilla” – There are parts of us we don’t like, that might be harmful, and that we can barely control.
- “three local bands” – There are parts of us that are experiences that led to where we are now, for good or ill. King’s X had multiple, earlier versions before the current one, and so do we all.
Lastly, Jerry mentions an internal parrot that speaks multiple languages, all of them unintelligible, while “the audience he scans.” Parrots repeat what they hear without understanding it so this line could mean there’s a lot that goes on inside ourselves that we don’t understand. This echoes Paul’s frustration with himself in Romans 7:15 where he says: “For I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate.” Our internal thoughts and motivations aren’t always reliable, and we don’t always know where they come from.
The parrot scanning the audience means he is looking for confirmation from outside that he is doing the right thing. The irony is that when we don’t understand ourselves, why would we expect others to consistently understand us better and be able to guide us? Do other people’s internal parrots speak more intelligibly than ours? If they don’t, is popularity or majority rule a good guide for our decisions? He has “sixpence and a quarter,” but doesn’t know what to do with it.
Not a very hopeful song, so what to take away from it?
First, that there is far, far more diversity inside of any one individual for even that individual to understand. How can any society, armed with only an “American library,” hope to truly deal with people as actual individuals? We can claim to respect the individual and stand for diversity and inclusion, but are such things even possible without vastly oversimplifying the situation?
Second, that there is far, far more brokenness in each individual for anyone other than God to fully diagnose and treat. From what vantage point can we actually see the truth we each need, know the answers to our problems, and effectively apply them?
Before moving to the last section, I must clarify that I’m not saying human efforts at solving our problems are totally wrong and useless. Many people manage their problems well enough alone and others manage with a lot of help from different sources. Good friends, family, and in some cases therapy and medication, are very helpful. We know a lot more about human psychology and other related topics than we used to. The “American library” is not a static thing, but grows and changes over time, sometimes improving and becoming more effective, but not always. Sometimes “progress” creates more, newer, problems before the old ones are solved. Therefore, when honestly looking at the human condition with eyes wide open, we seem doomed to always fall short of a full solution with the resources we have. What we have is not sufficient, but we have hope.
Where Does Hope Come From?
While our Six Broken Soldiers seem hopeless, there is an answer from outside our inner confusion and from beyond our material existence. Members of King’s X are (or were) fans of C.S. Lewis, who wrote this description of mankind from Aslan, the fictional kingly lion who represents Jesus, in Prince Caspian, part of the Chronicles of Narnia series:
“You come of the Lord Adam and the Lady Eve. And that is both honor enough to erect the head of the poorest beggar, and shame enough to bow the shoulders of the greatest emperor on earth. Be content.”
Against our problems, we have far, far more dignity and nobility and talent than could possibly come by some cosmic accident. We are each individual creatures of a loving God, and we have far more than an “American library” at our disposal. We have Someone who knows us fully as the complex people we are, who loves us completely, and who was broken so that we might be delivered from our brokenness.
Therefore, come to Jesus, bring your Six Broken Soldiers, and ask Him to heal all of them. He is an infinite resource. There’s nothing about you He doesn’t already know and understand, and nothing He does not have a solution for.
If you don’t know how to do that or what that means, read this earlier post about what it means to have a loving, personal relationship with our Maker and Lord Jesus, who guides and empowers us to love as He does.
 Prato, Greg. King’s X: The Oral History (2019). P. 97.
 Their first album was titled “Out of the Silent Planet,” and they later released a song referencing a chapter in “That Hideous Strength,” two books written by Lewis.
 Lewis, C.S. Prince Caspian (1951).