Being the 50th anniversary today of the assassination of JFK, it seems perfectly appropriate to talk about the only Sunspot song that mentions his murder, “Snuff Film”.
We wrote this one back in the Spring of 1997 and a lot of people over the years have asked me what it’s about, especially because the title of it sounds kinda brutal. In fact, when my younger cousin wanted to sing it at his school talent show, he was forbidden to perform it until I sent an email to the principal explaining the track (and how it’s hardly as offensive as any of the suggestive modern “Love Songs” that were also being performed at the event, probably choreographed to some pubescent gyrations designed by a Dance Team Mom.)
“Snuff Film” is basically about feeling like your life isn’t worth living, feeling like it’s not even worth bothering to get up in the morning because it all ends horribly, whether you’re in a hospice, killed by your friends (like Caesar), or killed in the middle of the street (like JFK.) It’s all about that feeling of hopelessness. What’s that line in Fight Club? “On a long enough timeline, the survival rate for everyone drops to zero.” That means, any story of any of our lives is going to end in death, and that really sucks, man. What’s the point if nothing ever changes, nothing ever gets better, and the end result is always the same?
That feeling is what this song seeks to give voice to. Hopelessness, betrayal, and isolation.
The first verse talks about the betrayal of “Julius Caesar” which if you’ve ever read the Shakespeare play or any of the dozens of movies that they’ve made about the Roman Empire, it’s a true story that always ends with the great man’s death (I guess “great” would depend on where you stood on the Roman Empire vs. the Roman Republic, but we can all agree on how important he was.) In essence, the play is a snuff film because it’s all about what happens when Caesar dies.
And then in the second part of the verse, “When I realized that my religion was nothing more than superstition, reality turned into visions…” it’s about when you toss away your most closely-held beliefs, like religion, everything seems in flux for awhile. Kind of like how Lestat goes apeshit in The Vampire Lestat when he contemplates that God might not exist. What you know becomes upside-down because something you previously believed has changed. You trusted the world was one way and now you understand that it might be something else completely and that freaks you out.
And in the second verse, we talk about America’s National Freakout, the JFK Assassination. His death was the watershed event for our largest generation ever. People talk about it as the end of American Innocence (especially coming up on Vietnam a few years later and the way the country fractured apart.) But that end of the innocence is the biggest message of the song (“it was that day my wings fell away, and I turned my back on man.”) In The Crow, the bad guy (Top Dollar, what a horrible name for a bad guy) says, “Childhood’s over the moment you know you’re going to die.” That’s what happened to the hope of that generation (my parents’ generation who had voted for Kennedy in 1960 and we’re excited by his youth and vigor compared to Eisenhower who they always said “looked like he was just playing golf most of the time.”) He was so popular that both political parties still try to claim him and he never got a chance to grow old and decrepit, to become corrupted by the system. He will always be that same person they elected, but he was lost forever. And the Zapruder film (the home movie that shows the moment of the assassination in Dallas) that’s been scoured over and replayed so many times, it’s the original snuff film. One they can show on the nightly news.
Listening to it again, the intros and the choruses have a real Radiohead vibe that I didn’t notice at all when we were writing it. But it’s got that soft-loud dynamic that a song like “Creep” has. The bridge seems to be inspired by a little Ozzy Osbourne / Lita Ford “Close Your Eyes Forever” moment because it’s dark and driving and Wendy and my vocals play off each other.
And that bridge is a downer! The line, “He [God] looked at what he made and cried and he contemplated suicide”, is just another cry in the dark looking for a point, any point to all of it. It’s one last cry against nihilism that ultimately fails. It’s kind of a bummer song, but sometimes when you feel desperate and hopeless, it’s good to acknowledge that feeling and to embrace that darkness because ignoring it isn’t healthy. It’s why we love conspiracy theories because like religion, they give the world meaning. If JFK was assassinated by a conspiracy, it means that it wasn’t just a random act of a small man like Lee Harvey Oswald, killing a great man, like John F. Kennedy. It was the result of something larger, something not so random, something that we can believe so life doesn’t feel so goddamn arbitrary and unfair.
“Snuff Film” is the lament of the injustice and purposelessness in our lives. Download the track for free right here.
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