“Crossing the line” is a commonly understood metaphor meaning passng from the acceptable to the unacceptable. Throughout the years, from Harriet Tubman’s "When I Crossed That Line to Freedom", to Johnny Cash’s “I Walk The Line”, some permutation of the "Line" has been the theme of many songs.
A line defines a boundary, a clear discernible border between one side and the other. Interestingly, in each of the songs below, moral ambiguity clouds the picture between right and wrong and the line itself become nebulous.
A pious soldier shoots the enemy with revengeful abandon, a desperate girl prepares to OD on drugs due to a tragedy, a loving and devoted woman beats the living crap out of her lover, a Veteran returning home confused and depressed is greeted with disdain and is demoralized. Morality is relative and certainly not carved in stone.
The three songs below all deal with crossing the line between acceptable and unacceptable, each in themselves poignant and thought provoking yet—if listened to as a trilogy—they take on an even higher level of bittersweet compassion.
Linkin Park's Across The Line is a powerful song dealing with war (or gang warfare depending on your interpretation) and drugs. Two lines in lyrics in particular: “Holding an enemy across the line” and “Loading it full of his/her goodbyes” seem to symbolize cause and effect of losing a close friend. The burning frustration and sorrow triggers a need for revenge.
But there is a deeper commentary here. The soldier on the front line who lost his friend needs to pretend he is heartless to carry out killing the enemy and ends up “somehow more broken.”
The girl who lost her friend to an apparent drug overdose is on a downhill path of further addiction and despair: ”With every promise she's broken… With every lie she's spoken, Her enemy's not far behind”. The weapon this time isn’t a gun but a needle - “She's pulling her weapon to her side… Loading it full of her goodbyes” and she shoots up, descending further into the dead end hell of a drug addict…
This 1971 hit song by the Persuaders had such a catchy and powerful hook: “It's a thin line between love and hate” -- who wasn’t moved by that tune back in the 70s? The message ran deep - the womanizing partying man who always took his devoted girlfriend for granted gets an unexpected taste of justice when "she finally couldn’t take anymore."
Extreme emotions can trigger extreme reactions and the line between love and hate is easily breached when passion is involved. Abuse and lose… at some point bad karma will come back to get you.
About the Song - Wikipedia
Finally, Walking On A Thin Line was and still is, IMHO, one of the most vivid and compelling songs about Vietnam ever written. Strangely, Huey Lewis & The News were renown as “feel good pop rockers” so this tune was really out in left field for them.
The song is a searing and scathing commentary that lays open the wounds of Vietnam. Vets who returned home after fighting a questionable war and experiencing a hell few of us can ever comprehend were often treated with disdain in the turbulent sixties.
The opening verses lay out the brutal truth—this soldier has been thru hell and back and is feeling uneasy and possibly unhinged. Yet unlike many other anti-war protest songs, the chorus of Walking On A Thin Line portrays the Vietnam Vet with an almost majestic pride...
Don't you know me
I'm the boy next door
The one you find so easy to ignore
Is that what I was fighting for?
This helps bring into balance both sides of the argument - those who thought the war was wrong and those who believed it WAS the right thing to do. Not just a patriotic gesture but a whole-hearted commitment to contain a very credible Communist world-wide threat.
Who has the moral high ground here? As a listener, it forces you to think and to actually "put yourself in the shoes" of a misunderstood Vet who—expecting to find "peace at home"—has to continue to grapple daily with an often hostile surrounding. That kind of implied ambiguity which doesn't necessarily take sides or offer a pat easy answer makes this song much more powerful.
About the Song - Wikipedia