“21 Guns” is about discovering that a fight isn’t worth destroying yourself or others for. On the surface, the song refers to war and armed conflict. However, its hidden meaning has more to do with personal struggles and social relationships – and how to cope with pressure and ambition.
Not much is directly known about the creative process behind the song, but there are a few clues. For one, the track appears to have been influenced by a 1972 song, “All the Young Dudes,” written by David Bowie. It’s also important to note that the song fits within the broader themes of its album, 21st Century Breakdown, which addresses themes of conflict, anger, and manipulation.
In this article, we’ll take a closer look at these powerful lyrics to reveal their hidden meaning. We’ll also touch on the themes that make the song so universal – and the songwriting process. Let’s begin!
This track wastes no time before knocking the wind out of the listener. The lyrics ask if we “know what’s worth fighting for when it’s not worth dying for.” This has already set up the major theme for the song: the costs of the battles we fight.
Next, it describes the pain that comes from those costs. You may “feel yourself suffocating” because the pain can “weigh out the pride.” In other words, the price of victory isn’t worth it. At the end of the verse, Green Day makes it more personal. Because the cost of the battle can “break your heart,” we find ourselves “in ruins.”
This has an application to war, which would fit the theme of the album. If the casualties keep piling up, we had better be sure that our goal is worth something. This is an important lesson, but there’s also evidence of a more abstract meaning to these lines.
In an interview with Rolling Stone, Billie Joe Armstrong shed some light on the track’s hidden meaning. He describes a life period of trying to take his music to a “new level,” creating pressure. As a result, he began “torturing” the people around him who didn’t understand his stress from the outside.
Armstrong went on to say that “21 Guns” is about “trying to find your way back” after getting “lost in what you’re doing.” This means the song should be interpreted in a broader way, allowing it to have application in many areas.
After the first verse, the chorus goes off with a bang. “Twenty-one guns” is a reference to a twenty-one gun salute, a military honor for the fallen. The lyrics go on to tell us to “lay down” our arms and “give up the fight.” This indicates again that the war being waged is not worth the cost.
However, even the chorus has more abstract hints. It ends with the words “you and I,” indicating something more personal than a large battle. This probably means that the song’s singer wants to make amends with the listener.
The second verse focuses more on the personal costs of this unworthy battle. At “the end of the road,” we may find ourselves powerless as our “mind breaks the spirit.” The lyrics then paint a picture of faith walking on “broken glass,” which means its stability is wavering. In other words, doubt is defeating belief in the cause.
After we find ourselves “in ruins” again, the chorus repeats. The song’s bridge, which leads nicely into an instrumental break, paints a grim picture. The listener has “burned down the house and home,” which means they’ve cut themselves off from their closest people.
However, they also stood “too close to the fire” in order to feel its warmth or “forgiveness.” Simply put, this destructive act was regretted immediately afterward. This is why the lyrics use the phrase “liar.” The actions and emotions don’t match.
In the final verse, it’s time to “live and let die.” This is our one opportunity, and the lyrics ask us to look to the heart. Something inside our heart “has died,” and we need to pay attention to that pain. With this final call to action, the song repeats the chorus until the end.
In summary, “21 Guns” is about letting go of unnecessary, destructive efforts. This has its application to warzones, but also to the daily crusades we all fall into from time to time. We’ve all had times when we needed to take a step back and check our direction. That’s why this song can reach anyone.
There aren’t many firsthand accounts of the creative process behind “21 Guns” available. One of the most detailed is Billie Joe Armstrong’s 2020 interview for Rolling Stone, in which the frontman explains his mindset while creating the track.
The song was written at a time when Armstrong (and presumably the rest of Green Day) was “pushing himself” musically. However, he realized that he couldn’t let his efforts destroy him or his relationships. This outlook is the inspiration for “21 Guns,” although the song also touches on the issue of war.
Another interesting fact is that “21 Guns” owes some of its composition to The Starman himself. In 1972, a David Bowie original called “All the Young Dudes” was released by Mott The Hoople. You can hear the similarity in the chorus, and Green Day wasn’t oblivious, either. David Bowie is actually given songwriting credit for “21 Guns” as a result.
It’s safe to say that fans and critics alike are glad everything came together. “21 Guns” was nominated for two Grammy categories and has sold millions of copies worldwide. Peaking at number twenty-two on the Billboard Hot 100, this track was a genuine heavy-hitter.