Moonlight Shadow: the hidden meaning of a painful song

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You probably sang it while driving, in your car, most probably with a nice smile in your face, like me.

Well, you were wrong. We were all wrong.

Moonlight Shadow is a single by Mike Oldfield, the British rock composer born in 1953, who has spanned his life from hard rock to electronics. The single is extracted from the album Crises, released in 1983.

The song is interpreted by a Scottish singer, Maggie Reilly. Before her Enya was asked, and it would have been interesting to see her in action on this song.

Maggie, however, is perfect to interpret the double side of this song, generating the wonder to discover that Moonlight Shadow is anything but a cheerful melody to enjoy in a mid-summer bonfire.

The lyrics are about the freezed shock of a girl who sees the death of his own boyfriend, taken away in the moonlight, shot to death during a fight. And it’s just on the ascending climax of the song that Maggie gets angry, finally realizing that her love is dying. He was shot just there, under the moonlight shadow.

The trees that whisper in the evening
Carried away by a moonlight shadow
Sing a song of sorrow and grieving
Carried away by a moonlight shadow
All she saw was a silhouette of a gun
Far away on the other side
He was shot six times by a man on the run
And she couldn’t find how to push through

Only rock can conceal so much mystery, so much cruelty, behind quiet notes, behind a delicate voice, behind tones that are inviting like summer hits, and carry such a tough message instead: the helpless wonder of the violent and unexpected death of her beloved.

The bass and the drums accompany a guitar that takes its space in a solo, like it wants to scream what the voice cannot say, broken by the drama.

Someone said that Lennon’s death, happened 3 years before, was an inspiration for the lyrics of this song. And it’s probably the only way the audience could accept a song like this, full of pain and powerlessness.

I stay, I pray
See you in heaven far away
I stay, I pray
See you in heaven one day

We can almost see her, a girl broken by pain and amazement, defeated by a death that came on a party night. Helpless.

The moonlight is the context for a paradoxical event. And rock is the sound that stigmatized it.


Fabiana Falanga writes music stories on Music Templum and Auralcrave. Follow her on Instagram.

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