It’s puzzling to me that in pretty much all of the Reddit discussions on “Snow (Hey Oh),” a hit single from the Red Hot Chili Peppers’ 2006 album Stadium Arcadium, nobody really talked about the lyrics at all. They would tend to extol the guitar riff as if it were the second coming of Led Zeppelin IV — it’s a cool, jingle-y pattern, to me, but with nowhere near the torque of Anthony Kiedis’ beat poetry in the vein of “Come to decide that things that I tried / Were in my life just to get high on” and “Deep beneath the cover of another perfect wonder / Where it’s so white as snow”.
Even as pertains to solely the lyrics, anyway, there’s a lot to unpack. I would say the puerile, hipster-in-training take on Kiedis’ monologue here is that it pertains to drugs. Songfacts, for one, in the opening sentence of their blurb on “Snow (Hey Oh),” put things rather authoritatively: “The song is about cocaine and China White heroin, two of lead singer Anthony Kiedis’ drugs of choice.” While this explanation might appeal to figures in society like teenagers and Hollywood actors, there has been no applicable corroboration from Kiedis himself, who instead quipped, according to Ultimate Guitar, “‘I’ve made a mess of everything, but I have a blank slate – (sic) a canvas of snow – and I get to start over.’” So here we see the semantics of the “snow” aspect associated with purity, innocence and renewal, a motif which would seem to placed just about in exact opposition to hard drugs and the imminent physical and emotional roller coaster typically tied thereto.
I, personally, anyway, am from northern Indiana, very close to the Michigan border, an area of the country which gets a lot of lake effect snow. Lake effect snow differs from the east-bound blizzards in one particular regard: the flakes are bigger and fall more slowly. With this being the case, there is typically less wind during a lake effect snowfall than a blizzard, creating a relatively placid, even picturesque setting. I mean, it’s beautiful. That’s all there is to it. And it might be hard for a person who hasn’t witnessed it to understand how it could inspire a song so ubiquitous and lasting as this Chili Peppers gem.
But it made sense to me, when I heard it, that the song were about snow, primarily, and also about all the incredible, rushing beauty we experience in this life, similar to the subject matter in R.E.M.’s “Electrolyte.” The song’s chorus makes undeniable mention of an idyllic vista of sorts but this concept is paired tragically with Kiedis’ resigned wisdom of “Come to decide that the things that I tried / Were in my life just to get high on”. This opening lines suggests a humanistic quest on Kiedis’ part of shared compassion and general goodwill that has failed, further suggested by his admission that “The more I see / The less I know / The more I like to let it go”. The snow, anyway, once again becomes his idee fixe, if you will, that unmistakable rush of undeniable beauty so prototypical of this life we’re living. He’s mourning, in a sense, his failed endeavor of gleaning a paradigm of common goodwill toward men and widespread benevolence and compassion, having instead gleaned a view of people, and perhaps even himself, as narcissistic, living primarily for their own pleasures. His honesty is powerful, though, and ironically, by penning this great song that we’ve bobbed our heads to over the years on satellite radio, at work, at karaoke and wherever else you could imagine, the band have given us just what they wanted to all along, that sort of unifying bulwark that can perhaps make us lay down our burdens, once in a while, and just vibe with each other.
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