A Tale from the Road: The Meaning Behind “Use Somebody” by Kings of Leon

When you attend rock school, graduation depends on the required assignment to write a song about being on the road. The modish professor instructs young rock students that you cannot achieve towering success without sharing the despair of highway isolation.

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After the show, when the burning lights flicker to a fade, then to black, and the band’s back on the bus, or into the 15-passenger van, or even a Ford Taurus, to move on to the next town, that’s when demons of solitude take hold of the minds of aspiring rock stars.

You must journal this and return what you’ve learned to the fans. Even though they’ve heard it all before, from the despair of Bob Seger’s “Turn the Page” to Bon Jovi’s conquering “Wanted Dead or Alive,” every rock idol needs a tale from the road. I’ve seen a million faces, and I’ve rocked them all.

Kings of Leon graduated with their hit single “Use Somebody.”

Night Moves

Caleb Followill received extra credit for writing his road song (mostly) on the road. The overachieving pupil also has a fine rock voice. “Use Somebody” is about loneliness and a desire for intimacy. Followill sings about roaming the country and looking down from the high stage.

I’ve been roaming around, always looking down at all I see
Painted faces fill the places I can’t reach
You know that I could use somebody

Feeling out of touch, Followill could use somebody about now, as in, “I could use a bite to eat.” However, “use” could be read with a darker narrative. Sex has always been a significant part of rock ‘n’ roll history, and the routine of using another human as a purposeful tool appears in countless road tales from Led Zeppelin to Mötley Crüe.

Someone like you and all you know and how you speak
Countless lovers under cover of the street
You know that I could use somebody

Runnin’ Down a Dream

At the core of every artist is insecurity. Wilco’s Jeff Tweedy, speaking with NPR while promoting his book World Within a Song, spoke about feeling slightly embarrassed of his need for public applause.

Off in the night, while you live it up, I’m off to sleep
Waging wars to shape the poet and the beat
I hope it’s gonna make you notice

Followill told Uncut, “I didn’t know if I was talking about a person or home or God. I felt immediately that it was a big song, and it scared me away.” Guitarist Matthew Followill encouraged the singer to record “Use Somebody.”

All Roads Lead to the Arena

Kings of Leon released their fourth album Only by the Night in 2008 on RCA Records. A massive success, the album reached No. 4 on the Billboard 200 chart, and “Use Somebody” won a Grammy Award for Record of the Year.

Only by the Night’s “Sex on Fire” and “Use Somebody” lifted Kings of Leon to arena rock stages using concurrently driving and chiming guitars. The move, alongside “whoa-oh” hooks, has been the move of many bands this side of The Joshua Tree.

Rock Myths

The three Followill brothers and a cousin were Strokes-adjacent in their early major label years, following a nomadic childhood driving around the South while their father preached the Good Word.

Author Chuck Klosterman once wrote, “Rock music is tied to myth and legend (so much so that the decline of rock’s prominence coincides with the rise of the internet and the destruction of anecdotal storytelling).”

When RCA released their debut Youth & Young Manhood, the band’s music always felt secondary to their backstory. It worked, obviously, but they may be the last rock band to push a mythical origin story.

Regardless of how much their story is exaggerated (or not), people like narratives. Fans and press alike love it when an artist has lived in their car at some point. It’s also helpful if you drop out of high school because you cannot domesticate a rock star at any age.

Kurt Cobain once invented that he lived under a bridge. He memorialized the story in “Something in the Way” from Nevermind. In Heavier Than Heaven, Charles Cross’ biography of Cobain, Nirvana’s Krist Novoselic called it revisionism.

Enduring Legend

What is known is Kings of Leon have endured with their original lineup intact. One of the hardest things about a rock band is just keeping it together. Any study of bands with siblings—The Kinks, The Black Crowes, Oasis—will show you how volatile family bands can be.

There’s something admirable about how Kings of Leon stubbornly cling to churchy rock anthems. After Coldplay gave up being a rock band, “Clocks” fans collectively responded: You know that I could use somebody.

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Photo by Ethan Miller/WireImage

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