Aside from this being a musically fantastic song (a little folk, a little rock, a little bluegrass/country fiddle), the lyrics are continually bowling me over with layers and layers of interesting themes. Here’s the part that hit me the most:
The Bible’s blind, the Torah’s deaf, the Qur’an is mute
If you burned them all together you’d be close to the truth still
They’re poring over Sanskrit under Ivy League moons
While shadows lengthen in the sun
Cast on a school of meditation built to soften the times
And hold us at the center while the spiral unwinds
It’s knocking over fences, crossing property lines
Four winds cry until it come
Setting aside Conor Oberst’s (the singer/songwriter) obvious disdain for religions and their texts… I think he makes some really profound points, if I’m understanding him correctly.
He’s pointing out that all our studying and searching of ancient texts is causing us to ignore the increasing problems that are all around us (the shadows lengthening).
While I would disagree with him a bit, and say that I personally believe that the Bible is life-changing and life-giving (when read properly, as a narrative of the history of God’s involvement with man and not a science textbook), I absolutely agree with him on this point. We’re stuck in our religions while everything is unwinding around us (“And hold us at the center while the spiral unwinds”).
God wants to bring his Kingdom/Heaven to Earth, here-and-now, and start making the world more like it was intended to be. We can’t do that if we’ve got our heads stuck in the sand.
Here’s another quote with a similar theme, it’s the opening of the song:
Your class, your caste, your country, sect, your name or your tribe
There’s people always dying trying to keep them alive
There are bodies decomposing in containers tonight
In an abandoned building where
A squatter’s made a mural of a Mexican girl
This seems to be an indictment on the fact that we’re fighting/killing over stuff that doesn’t matter (class, caste, country, etc.) while there are people dying simply because they’re trying to get to America to start a better life (people from Asia dying inside shipping containers as they’ve traveled on a boat across the Pacific, Central/South Americans coming up to America and squatting in abandoned buildings, etc.). Regardless of what you think about illegal immigration, I think (hope?) that we can all agree that people dying for any reason is a problem…
You can check out the rest of the lyrics here, along with a lot of people’s thoughts and ideas about what else the song might mean. Also, you can watch the music video for the song below, if you’d like to hear the whole thing. Really cool idea for the video, by the way. Since he’s (obviously) saying some fairly inflammatory things in this song, the video is staged as a live performance somewhere, and people gradually get more and more mad at him as he’s singing, and they start booing and throwing stuff at the band while they’re playing. It’s pretty cool.