From his debut album, Eric Church’s ‘Lightning’ has a strange story behind the actual release of the song. It was supposedly released as a single. Then, word spread that it was simply an album track with a music video. At the time, Church said of the song, “This is one of those topics that there will always be disagreements on, and that’s okay. That’s what I do – make people think, make people talk,” The VP of marketing at Capitol Cindy Mabe said this about the decision to release the video, but not push the song at radio. “‘Lightning’ is the song that got Eric his publishing deal and ultimately his record deal. It represents everything that makes Eric unique…Video has the ability to translate differently than radio,” Mabe added. “We want people to watch this video and feel the pain and the regret of this man who has committed this horrendous crime and yet, somewhere inside of themselves, understand how they could end up in the same place.”
To me, the song can – and does – stand on its own without the video. The twist on this ballad about a man sentenced to death is that the condemned man is painted as the protagonist. It’s the murderer we feel sympathy for. The lyrics tell of his remorse, ‘Every life owes a death/That’s what the Bible says/I owe mine to this state/For shootin’ that boy to death’. The video depicts this remorse well with shots of the headlines the killer has kept, tucked inside his Bible. The lyric even goes so far as to justify the narrator’s reason for commiting his crime, ’A hungry blue eyed baby cryin’/Made me rob that store’. A shot of the blue eyed baby, presumably the narrator’s daughter, is shown just as Church sings that line.
With this video and song, Eric Church succeeds in painting a picture of a condemned man who is truly sorry for what he’s done, and succeeds in making me feel sympathy for the man. One could argue this song is either pro or con in the capital punishment argument. And I think that is the song’s best quality. It tells a story with vivid imagery, but does it in a way that’s not politically driven – and with this topic, that’s quite an accomplishment in my eyes. The fact that the lyric is from a first-person perspective probably leads us to identify with a condemned man more so than a third-person account because we get to hear the man’s thoughts. This way, we know he’s truly sorry. But, he knows the punishment fits the crime.
I can understand why this song got Eric Church a publishing deal. It’s really a stand-out, and one of a kind. And it’s the song that got me to finally give Eric Church a second listen. The only problem is that it lies somewhere in the middle of a classic dark country song like ‘Delia’s Gone’ and a saccharine love song like ‘Love, Me’ from Collin Raye. To quote The Simpsons, ‘too smart for the corn dog crowd, too dumb for the bagel crowd’. I think that’s apt.
Watch the music video for Eric Church – ‘Lightning’.