Wednesday, September 16, 2009

For a Song: The Way

Fastball: The Way


I was talking with some friends about how some people misinterpret lyrics to songs. Ironically, that is exactly what I’m about to do. Let me explain.

My wife and I hear songs differently. I hear the arrangement and the music. I hear the quality of the voice. But, if I’m not working on a review, I might never make out the lyrics. My wife, on the other hand, hears the words first, then the melody. Sometimes, she will get as far as hearing the arrangement, but usually because I’ve pointed it out. I’ve mentioned this to friends, and they have had the same experience. So it may be an innate gender difference.

So, when I first heard The Way, by Fastball, I responded to the beat and the guitar solos. I enjoyed the vocal with no awareness of the lyrics. And My wife’s response when she heard it took me by surprise. Before I go any further, It’s worth printing the lyrics in full.

They made up their minds
And they started packing
They left before the sun came up that day
An exit to eternal summer slacking
But where were they going without ever knowing the way?
They drank up the wine
And they got to talking
They now had more important things to say
And when the car broke down they started walking
Where were they going without ever knowing the way?


Anyone could see the road that they walk on is paved in gold
And its always summer, they’ll never get cold
They’ll never get hungry
They’ll never get old and gray
You can see their shadows wandering off somewhere
They wont make it home
But they really don’t care
They wanted the highway
They’re happy there today , today

The children woke up
And they couldn’t find ‘em
They left before the sun came up that day
They just drove off
And left it all behind em
But where were they going without ever knowing the way?

(Repeat chorus)

I had caught the line about “eternal summer slacking”, and I though this was an innocuous slacker anthem. But the line my wife latched onto was, “the children woke up, and they couldn’t find them”. She was offended that this couple could be so irresponsible as to abandon their children. And it ruined the song for her.

By the time this happened, I had already put the song on a collection of favorites, so the collection still got played, despite my wife’s objections to one song. I must say, I was also uncomfortable with what had happened to this song. But I still wanted to hear the rest of the disc. So we were playing it one day with my fourteen year old daughter in the car. She also hears lyrics first, but she latched on to something else. The chorus opens with, “Anyone could see the road that they walk on is paved in gold/ And its always summer, they’ll never get cold/ They’ll never get hungry/ They’ll never get old and gray...”. My daughter remarked that this sounded like a description of heaven.

And I suddenly had to challenge an assumption my wife and I had made about the main characters. Why did we assume that they were twenty-somethings, and the parents of young children? What if they were much older, and the “children” were adults? This sort of living arrangement suggests that the parents are not able to take care of themselves. So maybe the main characters were losing their faculties, and require constant supervision. In this situation, it sometimes happens that the affected person remembers their youth, but not the present. Sometimes they wander off, and try to go “home”.

So now the song goes like this. An elderly couple wake up one day, and remember an incident from their shared youth. They mutually decide to go off in search of this younger time, a time before they had any cares in the world. It’s not clear whether they are physically ever found and brought back to their children. But, in their minds, they remain in this youthful mindset for the rest of their days. In a bizarre way, it’s a happy ending.

I find it highly likely that the guys in Fastball never intended this. That said, if anyone knows what they may have said about The Way, please share it in the comments. In my wildest dreams, one of the writers of the song would come by, and leave a comment as well. Regardless, I find this interpretation valid for me personally.


Anonymous said...

Oh, this is the best interpretation of this I've read yet. I remember when this song came out and I found it incomprehensible. Like your wife, I was bothered by the idea of parents abandoning children. I think if that is indeed Fastball's intended meaning, they should have stayed away from using the word "slacking," especially so early in the song.

Anonymous said...

I mean, if the interpretation you just gave of elderly people as the main characters is correct, then they should have avoided the word "slacking" -- sorry, it's early.

jwhedon said...

Again, it doesn't have to mean they were old... some people have problems and if you really got into it you could come up with a million scenarios. The kids waking up could have been other friends they were squatting with... the roomates... whatever...

The point is that they decided they were not wanting any more of this world and they were ready to leave... they did and now they're in a place where they're happy.

~ Justin Lake Whedon

The Magic Duck said...

Sure, the word 'slacking' can easily throw off other meanings that may (or not) have been intended or accidental, but the overall thrust of the song is quite bittersweet ... I'll just assume that the 'slacking' word was included solely for purposes of rhyming and not to indicate a particular demographic, 'cuz that's the most logical interpretation when reading the lyrics in context.

As much as writing good rock lyrics is an art, so is interpreting the lyrics and the work - you have one of the most perceptive sites around when it comes to being able to cut thru the clutter and get to the meat of what's being offered ... thanks for continuing the great insight and musical offerings ... it's hard to find discretion and sensitivity these days, and I appreciate you hanging in there to provide it ...

J said...

From the Wikipedia site on the band: "Scalzo was inspired to write the song in 1997, after reading a news article about an elderly couple who had disappeared in Texas. The couple was on their way to a family reunion when they disappeared. Scalzo imagined that they began reminiscing and decided to take off on their own romantic trip; however, the true story wasn't so romantic. The elderly woman had actually had Alzheimers, and the man was recovering from brain surgery. The real-life couple had veered off the road in their RV and were found dead at the bottom of a canyon."