Jay Gatsby (aka James Gatz). Dignified? Desperate? Deluded? Here are the songs to help you make sense of Fitzgerald’s most famous character. Okay, so they might not have been written with the Roaring Twenties’ ultimate icon in mind, but the dots are absolutely there to be connected…
- MUSIC FOCUS: Pop-punk, arena rock (& Taylor Swift).
- ACTIVITY FOCUS: Read about the ideas that are common to each of the songs below and to Fitzgerald’s ‘The Great Gatsby’. Store the ideas and use them as fuel for future essay writing. And have a go, too, at picking out quotes from ‘The Great Gatsby’ that show evidence of that common ground.
10. You Me At Six: ‘Take On The World’
“And it’s the fight
The fight of our lives…
…Step out of the shadows and into my life”
Well, yes, that repetition of the word “fight” feels pretty significant and the sense of battle inherent in Josh Franceschi’s lyrics echoes Gatsby’s own struggle. And no wonder both individuals are so prepared to brawl their way out of the “shadows”. When there’s no light, there’s no hope either, and no way of seeing the way forward. Maybe that explains why Gatsby brought, “enough coloured lights” of his own.
9. Stick To Your Guns: ‘Left You Behind’
“Now the young man roams the globe
Searching for the very thing he left at home”
Soldier, bootlegger and dreamer in equal parts, the man formerly known as James Gatz has certainly been places. And possibly when first leaving home, fuelled by ambition, he didn’t feel the pain of tearing free of his roots. Almost certainly, The American Dream glittered brightly enough that Gatsby was blinded to the love he already had in his life. But, to think that Gatsby – in a more poignant moment, at some point down the line – might have felt like the protagonist in Stick To Your Guns’ classic ‘Left You Behind’ isn’t too much of a stretch.
8. Neck Deep: ‘She’s A God’
“I’m blinded by my faith for my babe”
Gatsby’s faith in Daisy runs deep. When asking her to choose life with him over her marriage to Tom, he can’t see how clearly the odds are stacked in Tom’s favour. Not that we can criticise the protagonist for his tunnel vision. Look how far it’s got him! As readers, though, we see the glass ceiling that Gatsby can’t and we feel crushed for him.
7. Selfish Things: ‘Pride’
“I’ve heard that fortune is a race”
For Jay Gatsby, the act of becoming wealthy was indeed like being involved in some kind of athletic competition. He must have had to fight like a wild dog to achieve what he did. Just think of all the other desperate men trying to take advantage of the prohibition laws. But, of course, that real fortune Gatsby’s after isn’t actually on offer to people like him at all. Whether we think of that ‘fortune’ in terms of riches or luck, Tom Buchanan’s got both and there’s no way Gatsby can win that kind of privilege. The tragic truth is that, if amassing hard, cold cash was indeed athletic competition, Gatsby probably would win first prize. But real fortune is not a race at all. In 1920s America, it’s a birthright, and the only competition the truly fortunate take part in happens on the polo field.
“Legends never die… they suffer through harm
Just to touch a dream”
We love Gatsby because he’s a dreamer. And, no, we don’t see him on the battlefield during World War 1, but we know he was there. And, no, we don’t see him battling it out with the other gangsters on the street, but he must have been merciless. And, no, we don’t see him roaming the world with Dan Cody, but roam the world he did. His life isn’t precisely authenticated but we can guess at it: his existence is partly evidenced and partly imagined – just like all the greatest legends!
5. Asking Alexandria: ‘Moving On’
“Traded in his misery for the lonely life of the road… never been so torn up”
It’s easy to read ‘The Great Gatsby’ and never quite engage with the places Gatsby must have been, the things he must have seen or the level of commitment it must have taken to facilitate his social progress. Okay, so it doesn’t sound like he was loving his life as a farm boy, but still we shouldn’t underestimate the strength of character it takes for Fitzgerald’s hero to keep travelling down the lonely road – the one that takes him further and further from home. Even at his most torn up, he keeps going, forever fuelled by hope and love.
4. Neck Deep: ‘December’
“Cast me aside to show yourself in a better light
I came out grieving, barely breathing and you came out alright”
Gatsby’s illuminations were always going to be too gauche for Daisy. Which is a shame given that: “He had waited five years and bought a mansion where he dispensed starlight,” in the hope that she would spot it. Readers might consider the starlight metaphor to be pretty significant. The light from stars can take years to reach Earth and so the image speaks for Gatsby’s commitment. When Daisy chooses to retreat into her: “small rectangle of light,” with Tom, it feels like she’s rejecting what Gatsby’s light stands for and buying into a superficially safer setting.
3. Taylor Swift: ‘Blank Space’
“New money, suit and tie
I can read you like a magazine”
The pink suits, the brash car, the endless crates of oranges – it’s not hard for the likes of Tom and Daisy to work out that Gatsby wasn’t born into privilege the way that the two of them were. And, so, as readers, examining his brightly-coloured outfits, we feel an overwhelming sense of pathos for the great Gatsby. Taylor Swift’s lyric also reminds us of his temporary nature. At first glossy and interesting, magazines quickly become tattered and are routinely discarded. It’s all too sad.
2. Machine Gun Kelly: ‘mainstream sellout’
“Leave the scene you’re ruining it
Oh, you’re so ephemeral”
Like the enigmatic Machine Gun Kelly, Gatsby does his best to rebuff the haters. And yet, with bank accounts filled with money accumulated over generations, of course the Tom Buchanans of the world judge Gatsby as ephemeral. Money made in a rush will disappear just as quickly and can never carry the authority of inherited money; these eye-catching gangsters might be temporarily exciting, but their appeal will last a very short time. At least, that’s what the entitled inhabitants of East Egg think.
1. Black Veil Brides: ‘Saviour II’
“So I’m trying my hardest to be what you made
Like a court jester, my smile won’t fade…
…grew this heart in a motor car
I wear a mask to be the star”
I mean, where to start? That “hardest” superlative – it gives us a clear sense of how absolutely BVB frontman Andy Biersack has committed to his dream (remind you of anyone?). Then there’s the self-awareness evident in that “court jester” simile – he’s the entertainment but with ambitions of being so much more than that. The eternal “smile” is a necessary feature – a friendly face might facilitate the working-class male’s success in an arena where so many are trying to pigeonhole him as aggressive, dangerous etc. Then there’s the power of the “motor car” – such an important symbol. And the mask? Well, Andy Six dropped his stage moniker and reclaimed his Biersack name. Jay Gatsby, tragically, never quite got that chance.
Which quotes from F. Scott Fitzgerald’s text best link to the ideas outlined above? Have a think and please send your ideas in – whether or not you make one link or ten, we’d love to publish your thoughts here. Feel free to start with the Gatsby quotes we have referenced.