Cut Your Roses Down

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Video still from INXS concert in St. Louis, April 23, 1994, capturing stage set design for the song “Cut Your Roses Down.” Michael introduces the song, stating in unequivocal terms, “This is a song about Nazis and fascists.”
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Still of Michael Hutchence reading the newspaper, from official video “Cut Your Roses Down” directed by Lynn-Maree Milburn, 1993.

Inspired by the “Grunge” era, INXS’s Full Moon, Dirty Hearts album was released on the heels of Welcome to Wherever You Are and contained two duets: one with Chrissie Hynde of The Pretenders and one with the legendary Ray Charles. Although this album did not achieve the same level of commercial success as previous albums, it’s still quintessential INXS with its mixture of rock, funk, and soul, and is among the favorites of many fans worldwide.

Hutchence stated in several recorded instances that he wrote “Cut Your Roses Down” about fascism. Although this aspect of Michael is not often discussed, he was a strong advocate for the freedom and self-determination of oppressed people. For example he spoke out many times about the people of East Timor who were brutally occupied by the Indonesian government from 1975-1999, (fun fact: one might remember the prominent “East Timor” poster in the movie Dogs in Space).  The Indonesian occupation was, in no uncertain terms, ethnic cleansing, which included famine, mass murders, genocide, rape, and widespread suffering due to avoidable disease.

Although he doesn’t specifically mention East Timor in the lyrics of “Cut Your Roses Down,” his documented passion for that cause helps provide some context for where his head and heart may have been focused when he wrote them. As Michael tried to raise awareness of the horrific situation there, Western corporate media outlets failed to provide adequate coverage. Fortunately, East Timor achieved liberation in 1999, (although unfortunately Michael did not live to see it happen). However, there are currently many places in the world where tyranny and oppression are occurring and being ignored by Western mainstream press, where his lyrics in this song still apply. Today more than ever, the rejection of fascism is a relevant topic.

Note: For more information about the historical struggle for independence in East Timor, please watch the documentary Death of a Nation, written and presented by award-winning journalist and Michael’s fellow Aussie John Pilger in 1994.

“AND IT COMES DOWN TO THIS

WHEN YOU TAKE A LOOK

GOT TO FIND A REASON

FIND IT OUT

WHAT THE FUCK IT’S ABOUT

ALL YOU LOVERS

TAKE A LOOK AROUND

BEFORE THEY CUT YOUR ROSES DOWN

ALL THEY HAVE IS BONES AND BLOOD

DON’T THEY KNOW THAT

LOVE IS AROUND?

 

DO THE FASCIST THING

PAY THE PRICE AGAIN

NOT ABOUT TO WATCH THAT HAPPEN

GONNA LOVE AGAIN IN THE END

 

MAKE YOUR WAY THROUGH THE PAIN

YOU GOT NO ONE TO BLAME

PUT A ROPE AROUND

PUSH IT INTO THE GROUND

ALL IN THE NAME OF LOVE

 

MEET THE DEVIL WITHIN

THAT’S A NAME NOT A FRIEND

COMES AROUND

KNOCKING DOWN DOORS

WHEN YOU LET HIM IN

GONNA BURN AGAIN”

In the first verse of the song, Michael appears to be trying to get our attention by compelling us to “take a look around” and realize what is happening, ostensibly to the people who are being subjected to fascist rule and to the large-scale atrocities being committed. His reference to “lovers” is not necessarily meant in a romantic sense, but rather to highlight our shared humanity and compassion for one another. Those of us who are “lovers” need to “take a look around before they cut our roses down,” a message that conveys a warning that the beauty of life and nature we enjoy could be destroyed, cut down by an exploitative “they.” 

The symbolism of roses could also be a reference to The White Rose Society, which was a non-violent Nazi-resistance group during World War 2 who actively opposed the fascist rule being implemented by Hitler and his regime.

It’s important to note that there is an entire verse in the “Sure is Pure” remix of Cut Your Roses Down that is omitted in the album version of the song. This is the verse that starts “Do the fascist thing…” eliminating any obscurity in the song’s intended target. “Pay the price again,” is a warning that those who ignore history are doomed to repeat it. “Not about to watch that happen,” is a rejection of passivity in the face of such circumstances, and “gonna love again in the end,” is a faithful encouragement for a liberated self and society.

The next verse is haunting in terms of Michael’s apparent personal meaning. “Make your way through the pain,” implies the coping mechanisms we know he struggled with, which were exacerbated by the head injury he had sustained in Denmark prior to making this album. “You’ve got no one to blame,” is a self rebuke we could all stand to heed. “Put a rope around, push it into the ground,” ostensibly references a containment of oppression, but undeniably evokes the suicide that he would commit four years later. 

An alternative analysis of the aforementioned verse may be directed at the unnamed authoritarian rulers or fascists whom Michael is trying to impugn. When he tells them to “Make your way through the pain” he may be referring to the roots of fascism which are often born out of widespread dissatisfaction due to economic distress. The next line, “You’ve got no one to blame. No one” is also a reference to the roots of fascism, as it’s common for a totalitarian regime to scapegoat entire groups of people on the basis of religion, race, ethnic origin, etc. “Put a rope around, push it into the ground” brings to mind the image of gallows or possibly the rounding up of entire groups of people with a lasso rope and then enacting genocide upon them (push into the ground). “All in the name of love,” is an uncanny echo of his previous lyric in “Original Sin,” “…of the murder committed, in the name of love yeah, you thought what a pity.” Coincidentally, both songs contain themes of racial discrimination, where oppressors are so entrenched in their own backwards thinking that they actually believe they are doing a service for humanity by destroying or subjugating entire groups of people for notions of racial or ideological purity. 

“Meet the devil within” is another lyrical recanting, obviously referencing the same theme as INXS’s 1987 hit, “Devil Inside.” “That’s a name not a friend,” is a recognition and calling-out as well as a disavowal, (ironically, a disavowal of the entity he claims responsibility for harboring within). “Comes around knocking down doors, when you let him in” continues to symbolize the tension within, the invading force “knocking down doors,” and the paradox of inevitability along with free will is demonstrated in the line, “when you let him in, it’s all gonna burn again.” This brings to mind the age-old struggle of good vs. evil, and it’s almost as if Michael is suggesting that these totalitarian leaders have succumbed to letting their shadow selves take over, such that the internal struggle within is a microcosm of what ends up being played out in large-scale genocidal actions towards innocent groups of people where authoritarian regimes invade people’s homes and personal sovereignty and put them in prison camps either literal or metaphorical, eventually murdering or “burning” them.

One thought on “Cut Your Roses Down”

  1. I am so fascinated (Mystified) to still be learning, almost 25 years later, just how impactful INXS/ Michael Hutchence was (is) to our lives. Specifically the impact of that day, in my hometown, St. Louis, MO April 23,1994 on so many levels. It makes my hair stand on end to see that video still of an INXS concert that I attended, but I don’t remember that image or Michael’s comment from the show. Then to see INXS/ Michael Hutchence again three years later, in St. Louis, the night that Princess Diana died August 31, 1997 and the profound meaning that continues to unfold with that experience. #thatchilldivine

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