The Memory Remains — Metallica


The Memory Remains is a single by the acclaimed American metal band, Metallica, off their 6th studio album, ReLoad, released in 1997 and is the second track of the album. The lyrics describe an once-great but now washed up celebrity who is passed her prime and must deal with becoming something of the past and no longer the star she used to be, but is desperate to regain her stardom. The song was written by headman, James Hetfield, and drummer, Lars Ulrich. It is believed to be a reference to the 1950 movie, Sunset Boulevard, which has a character who is faded movie star whom attempts to make a triumphant return to Hollywood and the big life by using a “down-on-his-luck screenwriter” (Wikipedia). This may also be a way of expressing the musical pair’s feelings on their own celebrity fatigue and the downsides of being famous.

The songs starts off with the chorus:

“Fortune, fame
Mirror vain
Gone Insane
But the memory remains”

The first two lines probably go together in a sentence as “Fortune, fame mirror vain” and can translate to “both fortune and fame mirror what is vain.” So this basically says that fame and fortune reflect false pride, or baseless pride. That one who has those things and waves them around do so to express how proud they are, but to no avail (another definition of the word “vain”). And then it goes to the next line, “gone insane”, to express how one goes insane from their false pride of fame and fortune, or simply grows too attached to the fame and can’t stand to lose it. However, they can’t get over this anxiety of losing fame because “[…] the memory remains”.

The first verse goes on to say:

“Heavy rings on fingers wave
Another star denies the grave
See the nowhere crowd
Cry the nowhere cheers of honor”

This stanza describes how the faded celebrity clings onto fame, and waves to a crowd of crying fans that isn’t really there, showing how this star rejects being forgotten or “denies the grave”. It describes the deteriorating mental stability of the star that will also find excuse to put herself in front of a crowd, even if that crowd isn’t really there for her. That way when she hears the cries of the fans, she gets the feelings that it’s for her and not for the other celebrities going down the red carpet.

The second verse continues:

“Like twisted vines that grow
Hide and swallow mansions whole
In light of an already
Faded prima donna”

“Like twisted vines that grow […]” is probably a metaphor for the growing obsession that the star has to get back into the limelight. The obsession “hide(s) and swallow(s) […]” her whole until the only thing she has left is that obsession and her need to become great once again.

After that verse it goes into chorus again, and then to verse three:

“Heavy rings hold cigarettes
Up to lips that time forgets
While the Hollywood sun sets
Behind your back”

The “heavy rings” line relates back to the first verse as a way of showing that the verse is describing the same person. Those rings could also be a motif used to express that wearer has money and use those heavy rings as a badge of her fortune. But that badge is worn in vain to “hold cigarettes up the lips that time forgets.” The second line expresses that she was once very popular but has lost that popularity and is slowly forgotten. “While the Hollywood sun sets behind your back” pretty much says that her ride of fame is now over, Hollywood being the symbol of fame and the sun set as a symbol of the end.

The fourth and final verse goes on to say:

“And can’t the band play on?
Just listen, they play my song
Ash to ash
Dust to dust
Fade to black”

The metaphor of the band is way of expressing the star’s desperation, as if she’s saying “Can’t I just stay? Can’t I still be famous? Can’t you all still love me? Just let me have my chance and you all will.” The “Ash to ash, dust to dust” part explains how one starts from nothing and returns to nothing, and that all things that were once made great must return to nothing, or that what goes up must come down. “Fade to black” goes along with those two prior lines, but can also be a reference to another Metallica song from their second album, Ride The Lightning, which is about committing suicide and returning to nothing.

After that is the second chorus, but right before the solo, Hetfield adds before repeating the “Ash to ash” part:

“Drift away
Fade away
Little tin goddess”

Obviously those first two lines explain how the star is fading and will soon be forgotten. But a “little tin goddess” is a reference to the idiom “little tin god”, which is described as a “self important, dictatorial person” (Urban Dictionary) or when a person thinks their attractive exterior is all it takes for them to get ahead in life. So basically the faded star is filled with conceit and wondering why she’s no longer popular, and is filled with a lot of vain. It also brings to question what got her to be so popular in the first place, which was probably her good looks. And over time her looks faded away, and people lost interest in her because she wasn’t very talented otherwise.

After the solo and final chorus, it ends with: “Dance little tin goddess, dance.”

So in conclusion the song is about the tragedy of the celebrity who can no longer sustain her flashy lifestyle of fame and fortune but tries so hard to do anything to keep things the way they are, which may possibly end up destroying her, as had happened in the film, Sunset Boulevard, where at the end the faded star finally gets her wish of getting one last chance to be in the limelight, but only after shooting and killing the screenwriter who she had been using due to her obsession. “Say yes, at least say hello. Say yes, at least say hello.”

Bibliography:

LYRICS:

Fortune, fame
Mirror vain
Gone insane
But the memory remains

Heavy rings on fingers wave
Another star denies the grave
See the nowhere crowd
Cry the nowhere cheers of honor

Like twisted vines that grow
Hide and swallow mansions whole
In light of an already
Faded prima donna

Fortune, fame
Mirror vain
Gone insane…
Fortune, fame
Mirror vain
Gone insane…
But the memory remains

Heavy rings hold cigarettes
Up to lips that time forgets
While the Hollywood sun sets
Behind your back

And cant the band play on
Just listen, they play my song
Ash to ash
Dust to dust
Fade to black

Fortune, fame
Mirror vain
Gone insane…
Fortune, fame
Mirror vain
Gone insane…
Dance little tin goddess

Nananananana nananada nananananana nanananadana
Nananananana nananada nananananana nanananadana

Drift away
Fade away
Little tin goddess

Ash to ash
Dust to dust
Fade to black

Fortune, fame
Mirror vain
Gone insane…
Fortune, fame
Mirror vain
Gone insane…
But the memory remains

Ash to ash
Dust to dust
Fade to black…
But the memory remains
Faded prima donna

Dance little tin goddess dance

Nananananana nananada nanananana nanananadana
Nananananana nananada nanananana nanananadana

Say yes, at least say hello
Say yes, at least say hello

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