“Burden in My Hand” by Soundgarden

Kim Thayil, one of the members of Soundgarden, described “Burden in My Hand” as a modern-day version of “Hey Joe“. “Hey Joe”, which is considered a classic tune by many, dates back to 1965, and its main character is a man who has murdered his wife after he “caught her messing around”. And that’s fundamentally the same idea upon which “Burden in My Hand” is based, though there are some differences.

For instance, in the Soundgarden song, the vocalist does admit that he ‘shot his love today’. However, it doesn’t appear that he ever mentions why he did so. Moreover, whereas the lyrics of “Hey Joe” are pretty simple, contrarily “Burden in My Hand” is sort of a psychological thriller, filled with what can be deemed as complex metaphors. And what they all seemingly point to is how the man who perpetrated this act, the narrator, is feeling in the aftermath.

“Burden in My Hand”

According to Chris Cornell, said character is “not necessarily feeling particularly emotional about it either way”. However, the implication is that he is dealing with something like a guilty conscience. 

And it is that notion that the title of the song alludes to. Yes, the titular burden may be interpreted as something like, say, the narrator being tasked with the arduous assignment of hiding the body. But it appears more like, even though he may not be sorrowful per se, he does realize that the act he committed was not one of sound judgment. 

And whether he gets caught by the authorities or not, what he has done will remain an emotional “burden”, even though he describes it as one that is ‘in his hand’, connoting more of a physical challenge.

At the end of the day

This isn’t the easiest song to decipher. The vocalist gets somewhat philosophical in explaining what he has done and the “need” for “a little sympathy” in the aftermath. So at the end of the day we will say, sort of like “Hey Joe”, this is a take-from-it-what-you-will kind of affair. 

That is to say that you, the listener, may in fact find yourself sympathizing with the vocalist.  Or your emotional reaction may rather be reserved for the victim of his crime. It’s sort of up in the air, as the lyrics don’t particularly lead us in either of those directions. In fact there only seems one definitive aspect of their relationship that we can take away from this story. And that’s the fact that the vocalist admittedly has had issues with his temper.

And if you find all of this to be a bit confusing, you are not alone, as it has also been suggested that the entire narrative is allegorical. 

What the above is all meant to lead us to, once again in Cornell’s own words, is a “destitute” character who did something serious in poor judgment and is now “trying to figure out how he” will move on, if at all. 

And even though Cornell himself never apparently took anyone’s life, this is a character whom he came to empathize with, i.e. one “sitting in the dirt” who is finding it difficult ascertaining what direction to take his life in.

"Burden in My Hand" Lyrics

Facts about “Burden in My Hand”

“Burden in My Hand” managed to hold down the top position on Billboard’s Mainstream Rock chart for five weeks. It also reached number one on Canada’s Rock/Alternative listing and number two on Billboard’s Alternative Airplay chart stateside, in addition to breaking the top 40 of the UK Singles Chart. 

Additionally, it was placed at the top of the year-end Canada’s Alternative 30 for 1996. And to note, the track was not eligible to appear on the Billboard Hot 100 itself, as it was not released as a commercial single stateside.

This song was written by the late Chris Cornell. In describing the process, he said that this “was a song that came from the guitar itself”.  And he went on to explain that it was the guitar that dictated the song’s lyrics. 

The entirety of Soundgarden is credited with producing “Burden in My Hand”, in conjunction with Adam Kasper.

This is the second single from Soundgarden’s fifth studio album, “Down on the Upside”. And its label is A&M Records.

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