Why “Handlebars” is the best song
I know this is an old song. So sue me.
Handlebars sounds like vintage Eminem, except instead of racism and spousal abuse, it has SCIENCE!
Aside from being catchy, the thing I like about the song is the story it tells without actually telling the story. In the beginning, achievement is met with childlike wonder. He’s proud of his ability to ride a bike with no handlebars, or take apart a remote control. His ambition is to make a comic book with his friends. Everything is so simple, but he’s happy.
However, as he goes along, the pride kind of changes into something else. Rather than being proud of what he’s accomplished, each new advance leads into a hunger for more; more mountains to climb, more feats to accomplish, more power and privilege, and more people to subjugate. The more he can do, the more his ambition grows.
As the song intensifies, it drives us forward along with him, and we see how it evolves, one tiny step at a time. He consistently describes himself as happy, but the tone towards the end betrays him. Science lets us make a vaccine that can save millions, but human nature allows us withhold that vaccine. Science lets us split a molecule for power, but human nature turns it into a bomb.
Technology is great, but if we use all that power to guide a missile by satellite, then what use is it? Is that really what the boy riding his bike with no handlebars aspired to? Though it was a journey of a thousand steps, is he really happy with where he ended up?
Despite nothing in the song being futuristic, I think this is a science fictional writer’s song. It struggles with the same things science fiction struggles with: technology and how it causes a sensawunda, how it changes people, how it shapes the human race, and how it can be used for both good and evil.
I highly recommend you give it a listen.