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The Meaning of Songs
 

 

 

 

Alameda by Elliot Smith

You walk down Alameda
Shuffling your deck of trick cards over everyone
Like some precious only son
Face down, bow to the champion


You walk down Alameda
Looking at the cracks in the sidewalk
Thinking about your friends
How you maintain all them in a constant state of suspense


For your own protection over their affection
Nobody broke your heart
You broke your own because you can't finish what you start


Walk down Alameda
Brushing off the nightmare you wish
Could plague me when I'm awake
And now you see your first mistake
Was thinking that you could relate
For one or two minutes she liked you
But the fix is in


You're all pretension
I never pay attention


Nobody broke your heart
You broke your own because you can't finish what you start
Nobody broke your heart
You broke your own because you can't finish what you start
Nobody broke your heart
You broke your own because you can't finish what you start
Nobody broke your heart
If you're alone it must be you that wants to be apart

 

 

My analysis of the meaning of Alameda

The walk down Alameda refers to the authors walk into, and through, despair. I assume Elliot Smith picked this area, known for homeless people and drug usage, purposefully as a location of despair and imperfection that would fit an imperfect martyr.

“Like some precious only son” likely refers to the religious pouring of the blood on the cross that represents the martyrdom of Christ. The author “bows to the champion” of all martyrs, as he deceives everyone with his “deck of trick cards” and martyr like persona.

The “cracks in the sidewalk” represent his imperfection and his living lies (i.e. break your mothers back childhood rhyme) as he keeps his friends in a “constant state of suspense” so they will not realize his imperfections.

And, of course, the “first mistake” was in believing that he would not be found out (But the fix is in) for his “pretension” during the first few minutes (For one or two minutes she liked you).

Who is to blame for the disappointment and broken hearts caused by the deception (For your own protection over their affection)? (You broke your own).

The “nightmare” that he wishes “Could plague me when I'm awake” is death.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Empty by Ray LaMontagne

She lifts her skirt up to her knees
Walks through the garden rows with her bare feet, laughing
I never learned to count my blessings
I choose instead to dwell in my disasters

Walk on down the hill
Through the grass grown tall and brown
And still it's hard somehow to let go of my pain
On past the busted back
Of that old and rusted Cadillac
That sinks into this field collecting rain

Will I always feel this way
So empty, so estranged

Of these cutthroat busted sunsets
These cold and damp white mornings I have grown weary
If through my cracked and dusty dimestore lips
I spoke these words out loud would no one hear me

Lay your blouse across the chair
Let fall the flowers from your hair
And kiss me with that country mouth so plain
Outside the rain is tapping on the leaves
To me it sounds like they're applauding us
The quiet love we make

Will I always feel this way
So empty, so estranged

Well I looked my demons in the eye
Laid bare my chest said do your best destroy me
See I've been to hell and back so many times
I must admit you kinda bore me

There's a lot of things that can kill a man
There's a lot of ways to die
Yes and some already dead that walk beside me
There's a lot of things I don't understand
Why so many people lie
Well it's the hurt I hide that fuels the fires inside me

 

My analysis of the meaning of "Empty"

The song starts with a story about happiness (her bare feet laughing), and what should be a current pleasant experience (through the grass grown tall and brown), but the author sees only his past disappointments (I choose instead to dwell in my disasters). The Cadillac (that old and rusted Cadillac) represents the quality of a life that once was different, but is now empty and clouded (sinks into this field collecting rain), perhaps similar to the author’s life.

Regardless of the sunsets, new morning, flowers, and “quiet love we make,” the author asks if he will always feel disconnected (Will I always feel this way?) (Still somehow it is hard to let go of pain) (So empty, so estranged?).

Verse 3 signals his intent to change by confronting the emptiness (Well I looked my demons in the eye, Laid bare my chest said do your best destroy me). Note the present tense and confronting tone (I've been to hell and back). He has decided to not go there again (you kinda bore me).

The things that can kill a man are not having the courage to stand up to your demons (it's the hurt you hide). The use of the word “well” indicates the author’s personal answer to the emptiness, and how to “let go of his pain” (Well it's the hurt I hide that fuels the fires inside me).

I am not sure I agree with the interpretation of depression as much as an event that caused the pain. I have the feeling that the author was lied to (There's a lot of things I don't understand, Why so many people lie) and that may be the source of the pain.

While there is little support for this interpretation, the author may be speaking to the person that hurt him ( I have grown weary … If, I spoke these words out loud would no one hear me?). (Yes, and some already dead who walk beside you.) However, this runs contrary to the overall tone of the song and the “applauding rain,” verse that indicates someone new. The use of "rain" as representing the loss of a past quality life (Cadillac ... collecting rain) and the next use as encouraging the change (tapping of the rain ...applauding) indicates a potential change that is occurring.

I do see the song as somewhat redemptive in that the author has confronted the demons and found that they "fuel the fires inside him."

 

 

 

 

Also: see http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RenHNO19XKs

Desolation Row by Bob Dylan

They're selling postcards of the hanging
They're painting the passports brown
The beauty parlor is filled with sailors
The circus is in town
Here comes the blind commissioner
They've got him in a trance
One hand is tied to the tight-rope walker
The other is in his pants
And the riot squad they're restless
They need somewhere to go
As Lady and I look out tonight
From Desolation Row

Cinderella, she seems so easy
'It takes one to know one,' she smiles
And puts her hands in her back pockets
Bette Davis style
And in comes Romeo, he's moaning
'You Belong to Me I Believe'
And someone says, 'You're in the wrong place, my friend
You better leave'
And the only sound that's left
After the ambulances go
Is Cinderella sweeping up
On Desolation Row

Now the moon is almost hidden
The stars are beginning to hide
The fortunetelling lady
Has even taken all her things inside
All except for Cain and Abel
And the hunchback of Notre Dame
Everybody is making love
Or else expecting rain
And the Good Samaritan, he's dressing
He's getting ready for the show
He's going to the carnival tonight
On Desolation Row

Now Ophelia, she's 'neath the window
For her I feel so afraid
On her twenty-second birthday
She already is an old maid
To her, death is quite romantic
She wears an iron vest
Her profession's her religion
Her sin is her lifelessness
And though her eyes are fixed upon
Noah's great rainbow
She spends her time peeking
Into Desolation Row

Einstein, disguised as Robin Hood
With his memories in a trunk
Passed this way an hour ago
With his friend, a jealous monk
He looked so immaculately frightful
As he bummed a cigarette
Then he went off sniffing drainpipes
And reciting the alphabet
You would not think to look at him
But he was famous long ago
For playing the electric violin
On Desolation Row

Dr. Filth, he keeps his world
Inside of a leather cup
But all his sexless patients
They're trying to blow it up
Now his nurse, some local loser
She's in charge of the cyanide hole
And she also keeps the cards that read
"Have mercy on his soul"
They all play on penny whistles
You can hear them blow
If you lean your head out far enough
From Desolation Row

Across the street they've nailed the curtains
They're getting ready for the feast
The Phantom of the Opera
In a perfect image of a priest
They're spoonfeeding Casanova
To get him to feel more assured
Then they'll kill him with self-confidence
After poisoning him with words
And the Phantom's shouting to skinny girls
"Get outta here if you don't know
Casanova is just being punished for going
To Desolation Row"

Now at midnight all the agents
And the superhuman crew
Come out and round up everyone
That knows more than they do
Then they bring them to the factory
Where the heart-attack machine
Is strapped across their shoulders
And then the kerosene
Is brought down from the castles
By insurance men who go
Check to see that nobody is escaping
To Desolation Row

Praise be to Nero's Neptune
The Titanic sails at dawn
And everybody's shouting
"Which side are you on?"
And Ezra Pound and T.S. Eliot
Fighting in the captain's tower
While calypso singers laugh at them
And fisherman hold flowers
Between the windows of the sea
Where lovely mermaids flow
And nobody has to think too much
About Desolation Row

Yes, I received your letter yesterday
About the time the door knob broke
When you asked how I was doing
Was that some kind of joke?
All these people that you mention
Yes, I know them, they're quite lame
I had to rearrange their faces
And give them all another name
Right now I can't read too good
Don't send me no more letters no
Now unless you mail them
From Desolation Row

 

My analysis of the meaning of "Desolation Row"

Desolation Row is a state of mind representing the developing counter culture of the 1960s that is outside of the establishment, convention, and the mainstream culture.  The artists, free thinkers, and misfits congregate on Desolation Row to strip away the false illusions of society.  The use of the characters leads ultimately to why Dylan, and "Lady" (Joan Baez) are a part of Desolation Row.

The name, Desolation Row, may have been a combination of Desolation Angels (Kerouac) with Cannery Row (Steinbeck) and influenced by the writings by Woody Guthrie about the underclass of society desiring change.  Musician Al Kooper asserts Desolation Row is in Greenwich Village in New York City, based on personal contact with Dylan, but this appears unlikely from the lyrics.

The characters on Desolation Row are a part of the carnival show that represent, verse by verse: politics, traditional roles, evil, religion, science, medicine and love.  Many of the characters are counter culture misfits, both good and bad, that have caused society to question the status quo.

Likely, the first verse has historical basis from Dylan's days in Minnesota when he discovered that people commercially sold postcards of local hangings (see footnote below).   The setting is the absurdity of a world (circus) with "blind" politicians "tied to tight rope walkers" pleasing only themselves with "one hand in their pants" the "riot squads need some place to go."   Historically, the riot squad hung three persons from the jail of the "blind commissioner."

The second verse with a meeting between the "easy" virtue Cinderella, who through her will power (and a slipper) changed her place in society, and the traditional lover, Romeo, does not go as expected when he becomes possessive ("you belong to me I believe"), and he is told be does not have a place ("You're in the wrong place, my friend, You better leave").  That another resident stepped in to forcefully defend ("ambulances leave" or that Romeo committed suicide again) shows how far Romeo has strayed from the expectation of assigned roles when this fairy tale romance does not end with Cinderella falling in love with the prince.  The traditional roles of women do not apply anymore.

The third verse is in stark contrast to the second as the storm builds ("The stars are beginning to hide") and "everyone" goes inside and "is making love" ("or expecting rain").  Excluded are Cain and Abel, presumably as they represent jealousy and evil, and the Hunchback, for his betrayal of family.  The Good Samaritan is in contrast as he "does unto others" and is invited to the carnival in contrast to the evil.   

The fourth verse centers on the suicidal Ophelia who is an outsider due to the "iron vest" of her traditional religion.  She is old before her time because she is not true to herself ("Her profession's her religion, her sin is her lifelessness.").  She is fixed on Noah's Rainbow (a time for judgment after purification), and so she only peeks into the life of Desolation Row as an outsider.  She is the stereotype of a religion based on self denial and not allowing one to experience life. 

The fifth verse centers on the disheveled Einstein and "his friend" ("With his friend, a jealous monk")  (Isaac Newton was a monk that would have been jealous of Al's abilities) who was known for "playing the electric violin on Desolation Row."  There is a famous black and white picture of the middle-aged Einstein playing his violin.  The reference to Dylan's electric guitar at the Newport Folk Concert that changed music, as Einstein did Newton's physics, is unmistakable.  Einstein is still misunderstood "and reciting the alphabet" (presumably e=mc2) while investigating black holes in the universe ("went off sniffing drainpipes").  He wears a disguise (Robin Hood a do-gooder) to shield himself from the potential uses of his discoveries that he keeps locked "in a trunk."

The sixth verse centers on the medical profession that medicate (slang "cyanide hole" for closet of medications that kill patients who may question) the "sexless patients" trying to blow up their theories.  Dr. Filth is likely Sigmund Freud based on the "F" name, the "sexless patients," and his atheist viewpoint that led to his split with Carl Jung thus requiring his nurse "she also keeps the cards that read "Have mercy on his soul"."  Freud's reliance on drugs to medicate patients, and personally, added with his sexual repression theories may make him Dr. Filth. "Penny whistles" would represent the common man who was not troubled by Freud's sexual theories, and who's lives were often at odds with the theories. [As a note, I have discounted the Josef Mengele interpretation due to his not using drugs (cyanide or other) in his experiments, unlikely to hire "local loser" nurses instead of Army personnel, nor being at the era of penny whistles].

Verse seven features Casanova being nurtured ("to get him to feel more assured") by the Phantom of the Opera (a disfigured genius who nurtured Christine), as the great lover is being poisoned with word and self-confidence as a punishment for his visit to Desolation Row (where no pretense is allowed).  The "skinny girls" are being urged to leave as, presumably, Casanova will return to his correct place in the social order and they have no place at the "feast."  Apparently, Casanova's trip to Desolation Row was to find a love not "in an image of a priest."  They have "nailed the curtains" to prevent entry, or escape, or even a look, for those wishing to exchange their place in society.

Verse eight centers on what happens at midnight when the agents "round everyone up" that "knows more than they do."  This may be interpreted in many ways, but the "heart-attack machine strapped across their shoulders" is common slang for a guitar that is burning on "kerosene brought from the castles" as it is played at the club or "factory."  (see Andy Warhol "Factory" etc.).   The insurance men are the police.  [this verse has been interpreted to involve paranoid agents of the federal government enforcing the status quo and the killing of residents of DR, but I find this inconsistent with the line "strapped across their shoulders," and the message of the song.  No matter what, this verse is inconsistent with the characters of the other verses, and may have been added at a different time.]

In verse nine, everything is unraveling, and the unsinkable society ("the Titanic sails at dawn") is about to to be sunk by the goddess of the sea (Neptune) inspired by the tyrant policies of  a politician (Nero).  A fight has broken out between Pound and Eliot (both had distinct ideas on the place of races and were in the "captain's tower") in the war of ideas over civil rights (and everybody's shouting "Which side are you on?").  This sounds like the fight for civil rights that was occurring in 1965, that was being led by the residents of Desolation Row.

The last verse is separated by a long harmonica solo, and a personal tone that is separate from the circus of surreal characters of the previous verses.  Dylan is unable to change the past ("the door knob broke") and is residing on Desolation Row as the only alternative in repressive society where he is seen as a dangerous subversive for his leadership role in civil rights ("When you asked how I was doing, was that some kind of joke?").  He does not want to respond to the questions (from "the letter") from mainstream society until the writer joins him in an understanding that the song is coming from the counter culture of dissidents on Desolation Row ("Don't send me no more letters no, not unless you mail them from Desolation Row.").  Both Dylan, and "Lady," (Baez) "look out" as members of a group desiring social change.

The rich set of cultural and religious stereotypes as metaphors to describe society is reinforced by the use of imagery in each phrase.  No doubt, the song was intended to have many meanings, and was as Joan Baez said in Diamonds and Rust, to give all of us "some vagueness" that we need.

Perhaps, this song was the best description of the counter coulter that was emerging at the time, and that paved the way for social evolution by a group that had previously been outcast from politics.

 

Footnote 1:  On June 15, 1920, a mob of 10,000 lynched three men, Isaac McGhie, Elias Clayton and Elmer Jackson at the corner of First Street and Second Avenue East in Duluth MN. The men were in town with a traveling circus and were dubiously accused of raping a local girl. (On June 15, 1920, Dylan’s then ten-year-old father lived in a third floor apartment at 221 North Lake Avenue.) The Police Commissioner instructed the guards not to use their guns to defend the young men who were broken out of jail by the mob. Postcards with a photo of the incident were sold as souvenirs. It seems likely that the opening lines of Desolation Row, if not the entire song refer to this incident and the players involved, or to Duluth in general.

 

Montage by artist's Theo Cobb and Shane Balkowitch

  Painting

 

 

 

 

 

 

Florescent Adolescent  by Arctic Monkeys (Alex Turner)

You used to get it in your fishnets

Now you only get it in your night dress

Discarded all the naughty nights for niceness

Landed in a very common crisis

Everything's in order in a black hole

Nothing seems as pretty as the past though

That Bloody Mary's lacking her Tabasco

Remember when you used to be a rascal?

 

Oh the boy's a slag

The best you ever had

The best you ever had

Is just a memory and those dreams

Weren't as daft as they seem

Not as daft as they seem

My love when you dream them up...

 

Flicking through a little book of sex tips

Remember when the boys were all electric?

Now when she's told she's gonna get it

I'm guessing that she'd rather just forget it

Clingin' 'til I'm gettin' sentimental

Said she wasn't going but she went still

Likes just a minute to be gentle

Was it a Mecca dobber or a betting pencil?

 

Oh the boy's a slag

The best you ever had

The best you ever had

Is just a memory and those dreams

Weren't as daft as they seem

Not as daft as they seem

My love when you dream them up

Oh, where did you go?

Where did you go?

Where did you go? Woah.

 

Falling about

You took a left off last laugh lane

You were just sounding it out

You're not coming back again.

 

Falling about

You took a left off Last Laugh Lane

You just sounded it out

You're not coming back again.

 

You used to get it in your fishnets

(Falling about)

Now you only get it in your night dress

Discarded all the naughty nights for niceness

(You took a left off last laugh lane)

Landed in a very common crisis

Everything's in order in a black hole

(You just sounded it out)

Nothing seems as pretty as the past though

That Bloody Mary's lacking her Tabasco

(You're not coming back again.)

Remember when you used to be a rascal?


 

My analysis of the meaning of "Florescent Adolescent"

Florescent Adolescent is about a woman ruefully recalling past sexual proclivities compared to the boring way her relationship has evolved.  Even as she tries not to delve into her past and be sentimental, she remembers, and she is drawn to ways that she might spice up the sex and change the character of her relationship.  While he was once the best, they have settled into a routine that lacks the spice of the past.  In tragic-comic style, she knows the excitement is not coming back again, and her bright colored youth is fading.

"You used to get it in your fishnets
Now you only get it in your night dress
Discarded the naughty nights with niceness
Landed in a very common crisis"


When she was young and sexy, the fishnets represented sex, but now sex is in a nightgown, and not so sexy, just routine.  And, the naughty nights have given way to “the common crisis” of settling into a routine as the relationship ages.

"Everything's in order in a black hole"

Her “black hole” is still ready for sex, and she is willing.

"Nothing seems as pretty as the past though"

 
Trying to recreate the memories of the past are never quite as pretty or good.

"That Bloody Mary's lacking in Tabasco"


She wants to add spice (Tabasco) to the drink that is lacking.  What would a Bloody Mary be without the spice of the Tabasco?  Note that this line changes at the end of the song to be about her.

"Remember when he used to be a rascal?"

Her current boyfriend / husband used to be a rascal and a lot of fun.  And, note the last line of the song changes to: "Remember when you used to be a rascal?" She has changed just like he has.

"Oh that boy's a slag
The best you ever had
The best you ever had"

Yes, he was the best, but he has fallen some.  "Slag" is slang for someone that engages in casual sex or has become mildly contemptible.  The name originated from the impurities that were skimmed from mining processes.

"Is just a memory and those dreams
Not as daft as they seem
Not as daft as they seem
My love when you dream them up..."

Her dreams are not as "daft" when she dreams them, but they are just a memory now.  Note "and those dreams" followed closely by "when you dream."

"Flicking through a little book of sex tips
Remember when the boys were all electric?"


She still wants to spice the sex life up to like the past, and she remembers a time when she didn’t have to work so hard to turn the boys on (and didn’t need a book of sex tips).

"Now when she tells she's gonna get it
I'm guessing that she'd rather just forget"

Now, sex is not so electric and is more forgettable. 

"Clinging to not getting sentimental
Said she wasn't going but she went still"


She still clings to the past and the way things were even though she tried to not go there.  This sounds like a dream that she experiences even though she doesn't want to be "sentimental" about the past."

"Likes her gentlemen to not be gentle
Was it a mecca dauber or a betting pencil?"


A sexual reference in that she likes it rough, and big, as a multi color mecca dauber that is larger in diameter than a skinny black and white betting pencil.  Mecca Dauber has a slang reference as St Vitas Pants for the male reaction to a female while dancing.  Both the betting pencil and the mecca dauber represent a change in the race or bingo game from the excitement to the boring portion of figuring out the paperwork that is consistent with the song metaphor of her life moving from excitement to boring. 
 

"Falling about
You took a left off Last Laugh Lane
You just sounded it out
You're not coming back again."

She got lost (falling about) and took the wrong turn (left) for getting the last laugh in love.  Now, she knows that part of her life is not returning (coming back again).
 
The last verse contains overlapping lyrics as though from a dream.
In the third to last line of the song (over lapping), there is a change to: "That Bloody Mary's lacking her Tabasco."   Her bright colored adolescence has faded to a dream.
 

_______________________


Alex Turner (what the author said) (note that his ex girl friend,
Johanna Bennet, is credited on this song)


It’s the story of “somebody that once you thought was amazing, and turns out not to be.” And what started as “a pisstake song we were just having a laugh with,” has turned into a bigger tune than you could ever imagine. 

http://www.dominorecordco.com/uk/albums/07-06-07/favourite-worst-nightmare/

Johanna Bennet is said to have commented that the song was about their relationship and his being on the road too much.

______________________

 

Live Version - Conan O'Brien 1999

You Were Right - Studio Version (recommended if 1st listen)

 

My analysis of the meaning of "You Were Right"

You Were Right -  Doug Martsch -  Built To Spill

You were wrong when you said
Everything's gonna be alright
Yeah, you were wrong when you said
Everything's gonna be alright

You were right when you said
All that glitters isn't gold
You were right when you said
All we are is dust in the wind
You were right when you said
We're all just bricks in the wall
And when you said manic depression's a frustrating mess

You were wrong when you said
Everything's gonna be alright
Yeah, you were wrong when you said
Everything's gonna be alright
You were wrong when you said
Everything's gonna be alright

You were right when you said
You can't always get what you want
You were right when you said
It's a hard rain's gonna fall
You were right when you said
We're still running against the wind
Life goes on after the thrill of living is gone
You were right when you said
This is the end

Do you ever think about it?
Do you ever think about it?
Do you ever think about it?
Do you ever think about it?

The key lines are taken from songs, and artists, that influenced music (and our lives).   The questions to ponder are whether the message of music is “everything is going to be alright,” or “this is the end.”  So, were we wrong or right?  Do you ever think about it?

The Songs:

- "Everything's gonna be alright"
- "No Woman, No Cry" - Bob Marley
- "All that glitters isn't gold"
- "Stairway to Heaven" - Led Zeppelin
- "All we are is dust in the wind"
- "Dust in the Wind" - Kansas
- "We're all just bricks in the wall"
- "The Wall" - Pink Floyd
- "Manic Depression's A frustrated mess"
- "Manic Depression" - Jimi Hendrix
- "You can't always get what you want"
- "You can't always get what you want" - Rolling Stones
- "It's a hard rain's gonna fall"
- "Hard Rain's gonna Fall" - Bob Dylan
- "We're still running against the wind"
- "Against The Wind" - Bob Seger
- "Life goes on long after the thrill of living is gone"
- "Jack and Diane" - John Cougar Mellencamp
- "This is the end"
- "The End" - The Doors

____________________