First, apologies to El DeBarge for the title of this post.
Second, I guess I should have listened to my cousin Steve. When I played some of the tracks on my new EP for him, he said that “Johnny’s Secret Army” was the one that really stood out. So what did I do? I made “Fuzzy Logic” the featured track. And what happened? One of the first blogs to write about Garden Variety picked “Johnny’s Secret Army” as their favorite.
Shows what I know.
In any case, the song raises an obvious question: Who’s Johnny?
I actually wrote the earliest version of this song in 1996 when John DuPont murdered Dave Schultz at the Foxcatcher Farm in Newtown Square, Pennsylvania. The tragedy was depicted in the 2014 film Foxcatcher starring Steve Carell, and when I wrote first wrote the song it was titled “Incident at Foxcatcher.”
Coincidentally, my sister’s swim team used to practice at Foxcatcher Farm not long before the murder took place. DuPont had given the team permission to practice in his Olympic-sized pool. When he forgot that he’d given them permission, he mistook them for trespassers and chased them off his property. That incident, however, made it into neither the movie or my song.
The thing that always struck me about John DuPont was that no one ever stopped him or really questioned him. He had so much money that he was essentially above the law. As a result, he lived in his own fantasy world, a point made very clear in Foxcatcher.
With this in mind, I imagined DuPont living in a fantasy world where he had a secret army of loyal followers with tanks and guns. But DuPont was also paranoid and suffered from delusions of grandeur, so I imagined him imagining himself pitted against forces of absolute evil — Nazis and Satan.
Of course, DuPont was far from young, innocent, or charming (as the song suggests), but again, the song takes place in his mind. Or at least the mind of someone very much like him. When the French horn kicks in about halfway through the song, I imagine the main character completely losing himself in his fantasy — lifted on the wings of angels to do battle against the devil even as he’s backed into a corner.
Admittedly, the narrative of the song is a little hard to follow, but it has a few good lines. For example, I love “Satan’s got the higher ground but we have cooler hair,” if I do say so myself. And not to toot my own (French) horn, but the brass arrangement isn’t bad either.
But you don’t have to take my word for it.
Listen for yourself…