I’m often the one to answer questions online from listeners of Smalltown Poets (a band I’m in). Thought this Q&A might interest some:
On Aug 15, 2012, at 10:32 PM, Betsy Peterson wrote:
Hello, I was at work the other day and your (Smalltown Poets) music is on our Ipod at work; your song “Monkey’s Paw” came on. We listened to it twice and still could not understand what it was about. Can you tell me where it came from and what it is about? What does holding a monkey’s paw mean? Thanks! I enjoy your music!
Thanks for your email, Betsy. Lead singer Michael Johnston and I (keyboardist) wrote the lyrics for that song. Michael and I met in high school, in a writing/literature class. That class and the teacher, Mr. Bussey, shaped alot of our views on poetry and literature that have impacted our writing in Smalltown Poets. One frightening short story, The Monkey’s Paw by W. W. Jacobs, particularly made an impression.
In this story, a magical monkey’s paw gave three wishes to whomever held it; the wishes came true, but only at a great (and sometimes terrifying) cost. The bottom line: be careful what you wish for because you just might get it, and you might not like what comes with it. The story has been adapted for Broadway, radio, and television (including a Hitchcock version.) Would you believe it’s even the basis for an episode of The Simpsons?
In the lyrics of the Smalltown Poets’ song, a word picture is painted that shows how easily we are tempted to pursue our own wants, dreams, and ideals in the name of Christ, only to find that God would have rather had our obedience. We who call ourselves Christ-followers often get what we want only to see it backfire on us, because we were pursuing our desires instead of His – and no, the two aren’t supposed to be mutually exclusive (see Psalm 37:4). As in the story, we often get what we wished for, and then wish we hadn’t.
As the lyrics point out, something I view as an accomplishment in the name of Christ, a “jewel encrusted crown, ” can actually “weigh me down and bring this temple to the ground.” A misguided endeavor, not based on wisdom and faith (see Rom. 14:23), can damage or even destroy me. At the very least, it doesn’t help me. “Unless the Lord builds the house, those who build it labor in vain.” (Psalm 127:1) I can, therefore, “thank heaven for the trophies” all I want, but I might still have “hell to pay.” (The implication here is not that one slip-up can send you to hell; we’re merely referencing an old expression about the reality of consequences.)
The end of the song sums it all up: “Forevermore to understand that dreams come true can kill a man, if never graced by Sovereign hands.” Thanks for your question!
p.s. Michael Johnston and I co-wrote Monkey’s Paw with our longtime guitarist and former bandmate Lee Moody, who is also from our smalltown hometown: Tifton Ga. The song appeared on our debut album, and went to #1 on the Christian Rock charts. You can hear the whole song here.
Danny Stephens Smalltown Poets