The first time I heard this song the radio DJ introduced it by saying, “I think it’s political but I’m not sure.” It seemed like a fairly stupid statement but after listening to the song, I wasn’t sure either. I knew I liked it, but I felt like the lyrics (please see below) were probably deeper that I comprehended at the time.
I like that the lyrics require thought. I get sick of “teardrops on my guitar” pop songs that require about as much mental effort as a Dancing with the Stars marathon. I’ve listed to the song a few more times and I still like it. It still makes me think but I think I’ve got the basics of it. I think my original mistake had been trying to analyze the individual lyrics. This song requires a more big-picture approach.
The song opens with a first stanza that speaks of raw talent “I can show you how to scratch a record” “I can keep rhythm with no metronome”. But the subject also has a child-like innocence in his broad subject matter (“I can tie a knot in a cherry stem, I can tell you about Leif Erikson”) and content (“Me and my friend saw a platypus”). The talent is that of youth, raw and untainted by ambition.
The second stanza quickly introduces that ambition. It leaves young talent and moves to the corporate. The ambition starts relatively small (“I can make money open up a thrift store, I can make a living off a magazine”) and progressively becomes more ambitious “(I can make new antibiotics, I can make computers survive aquatic conditions”). The lyrics progress from the subject working in a business to designing a product to running a business. It then moves beyond a single business to the understanding and manipulation of the economy as a whole (“Movers shakers and producers, Me and my friends understand the future, I see the strings that control the systems”).
The second stanza ends with the subject moving out of the corporate and into the political. The line, “I can do anything with no assistance” implies a single leader while “I can lead a nation with a microphone” makes it pretty clear that the leadership role being referenced is that of President of the United States.
The third stanza opens with lyrics that reflect the triumph associated with power. The subject is sure of his power, its reach and its scope. And no sooner has that power been proclaimed than we see that it has corrupted. The only mention of using the power for good (“I can hand out a million vaccinations”) is there only to illustrate that the alternative is just as easy to order and well within his power (“Or let'em all die in exasperation”). It’s hard to hear “I can make anybody go to prison, Just because I don't like'em and, I can do anything with no permission” without thinking of the enemy combatants in Guantanamo.
And finally the possible final consequence of uncontrolled power ends the stanza: total destruction. That’s the general theme of the song, uncontrolled ambition and power. The subject plows straight through these various life stages unchecked (“Look at me, Look at me, Driving and I won't stop”). The rise to power is the bike with no handlebars, ridden straight forward with little to no control.
The music reflects these stages in both tone and tempo. The song starts with a very controlled tempo; the lyrics nearly monotone and without accompaniment; the instrumentation almost nonexistent. As the song progresses the vocals become less constrained until the end when they are screamed with a likewise screaming chorus. Instrumentation gradually becomes more complex throughout the song as well, slowly adding progressively intensifying trumpet and electric guitar. The tempo increases as the song builds to climax. In short the music of the song mirrors the lyrics as it moves from simplistic to complex, niave to worldly, innocent to corrupt, and along the progession of power.
Thank you for reading.
No Handle Bars, Flobot
I can ride my bike with no handlebarsNo handlebarsNo handlebarsI can ride my bike with no handlebarsNo handlebarsNo handlebarsLook at me, look at mehands in the air like it's good to beALIVEand I'm a famous rappereven when the paths're all crookedyI can show you how to do-si-doI can show you how to scratch a recordI can take apart the remote controlAnd I can almost put it back togetherI can tie a knot in a cherry stemI can tell you about Leif EricsonI know all the words to "De Colores"And "I'm Proud to be an American"Me and my friend saw a platypusMe and my friend made a comic bookAnd guess how long it tookI can do anything that I want cuz, look:I can keep rhythm with no metronomeNo metronomeNo metronomeI can see your face on the telephoneOn the telephoneOn the telephoneLook at meLook at meJust called to say that it's good to beALIVEIn such a small worldAll curled up with a book to readI can make money open up a thrift storeI can make a living off a magazineI can design an engine sixty fourMiles to a gallon of gasolineI can make new antibioticsI can make computers survive aquatic conditionsI know how to run a businessAnd I can make you wanna buy a productMovers shakers and producersMe and my friends understand the futureI see the strings that control the systemsI can do anything with no assistanceI can lead a nation with a microphoneWith a microphoneWith a microphoneI can split the atoms of a moleculeOf a moleculeOf a moleculeLook at meLook at meDriving and I won't stopAnd it feels so good to beAlive and on topMy reach is globalMy tower secureMy cause is nobleMy power is pureI can hand out a million vaccinationsOr let'em all die in exasperationHave'em all grilled leavin lacerationsHave'em all killed by assassinationI can make anybody go to prisonJust because I don't like'em andI can do anything with no permissionI have it all under my commandI can guide a missile by satelliteBy satelliteBy satelliteand I can hit a target through a telescopeThrough a telescopeThrough a telescopeand I can end the planet in a holocaustIn a holocaustIn a holocaustIn a holocaustIn a holocaustIn a holocaustI can ride my bike with no handlebarsNo handle barsNo handlebarsI can ride my bike with no handlebarsNo handlebarsNo handlebars