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This is a large generalization I'm making and I don't expect to solve such a big and impossibly complex debate.
Look over at songfacts.com or and look up the meanings to a lot of songs. When asked what their songs mean, few artists ever give as impressive an explanation as the one you thought of in your head. In fact, most artists just say "I like keeping it vague so the user can take their own meaning."
Sometimes, I just feel like these artists are just string together a few rhyming words while they're high and just piece it together without much thought. I say this as someone who sometimes finds something profound to relate to in a song lyric and feels really empowered by that, so I've historically wanted to have a great respect for the people putting together these lyrics.
I was listening to the Greenday song 21 Guns and I related to it in so many ways. Without going into too much detail, I encountered someone I used to work for and I found myself dwelling on the pain from the bad of our relationship rather than the good of it. I related to the parts about the song regarding whether you know what's worth fighting for
So I wanted to see what it was about and BJ Arsmtrong had this to say:
"It brings up 21st Century Breakdown in a lot of ways, and the 21 gun-salute for someone that's fallen, but done in an arena rock 'n' roll sort of way."
I mean, that's so nothing at all. He just strung a piece of symbolism together and used to make a statement about war. Like he hasn't done that already or even done it far more effectively in the past. Billie Joe Armstrong was way more effective talking about war in interviews I've read than in the blurry symbolism hidden within three verses of song. If he already has the power to be articulate about how he feels about current events, why bother putting them into a song?
Maybe him and other songwriters have some meaning in their head but compare this to directors and screenwriters. Listen to DVD commentary or public appearances: they usually love to talk on end about what they were thinking and what they intended when they made films.
I don't mind that Billie Joe Armstrong had a different meaning in his head when he wrote the song than the way I interpreted it. I would be a little disappointed if he didn't put much thought into it at all.
I also think that songwriting is something that needs to defend itself more because screenwriting or directing is an undertaking which requires a tremendous amount of creative energy and effort. You can't just stumble onto a masterpiece that resonates with the zeitgeist of the times by pure chance. I'm more inclined to think that capturing the zeitgeist by pure chance is more possible when all you have to do is 200 words (21 Guns comes out to 221 words, with many sentences being duplicates) and your primary goal is to make them rhyme.