Rock and roll rhetoric: Searching for a Heart

“They say love conquers all
You can’t start it like a car
You can’t stop it with a gun.”

Searching for a Heart (Zevon), Warren Zevon

What a great line. Everyone, since the Roman poet Virgil, knows that love conquers all, but no-one explains why … until Zevon states the obvious, timeless truth in his perfect, film-noir, rock and roll vernacular: you can’t start it like a car, you can’t stop it with a gun.

Most obviously, it’s a beautiful example of simile; an explicit (as opposed to the less direct metaphor) comparison between two things: love and a car.

Simile is common enough and sits at the heart of so many great lyrics. Think of:

  • “like a bridge over troubled water”
  • “You are like a hurricane”
  • “We move like tigers on Vaseline”

and many more. The best, like Zevon’s bring new insight.

The couplet is also an example of isocolon: two (or more) clauses with grammatically similar structure:

You can’t start it like a car
You can’t stop it with a gun.

The song was originally written for a film by Alan Rudolph, called Love at Large. I’ve only just discovered this video and I’m not sure if the scenes come from that film…

From the 1991 album, Mr. Bad Example:

 

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