Interpretations:32 Footsteps

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Interpretation 1[edit]

One or two things spring to mind in this song. It appears to be an anti capital punishment comment. The 32 footsteps mark the distance from the cell to the execution apparatus. Capital punishment is seen as unnatural and nature tries to rebel - the "paint don't wanna dry" thus preventing executions. Dirt reaching the sky is a reference to man (made of dirt according to Genesis) going to Heaven (the sky). The feathers possibly imply cowardice, and reflect his fears. New moons shining is a contradiction - a new moon is entirely dark - is this another death reference? Ancient man would have regarded the moon as dying at this point. Missing his baby who has left could suggest that he has been found guilty of killing his girlfriend, but is innocent - not knowing what has become of her.

The nonsense middle section happens to reach the 16th letter of the alphabet. Halfway through 32. Seems appropriate.

The lies may reflect his innocence when found guilty, and the floorboards giving way is clearly talking about hanging. Walls tumbling and night becoming day talks of his imminent release from confinement and his bleak existence being replaced with a brighter life after death. Infantrymen and boxcars summon up images of a firing squad, and the train carriages used to transport people to Nazi death camps - both symbols of state-sponsored murder. Once again the image of the missing girlfriend comes to his mind.

Lastly he is being led to his death and counts the footsteps. Is 31 the last step he remembers before the final one marking his death, or is it his last step and he has actually miscounted? The "no" shouts reaffirm his innocence. —Preceding unsigned comment added by (talkcontribs) 14:59, 16 February 2005

Interpretation 2[edit]

I always liked this song, but didn't realise the significance of the number 32. Why 32 footsteps? The distance from the cell to the execution apparatus? A possibility, but why would 32 footsteps be conserved in every death row? Surely not all death row inmates waiting to be executed occupy the same cell? I did not understand 32 Footsteps until I read the following passage:

"In 1336 King Ludwig of Bavaria sentenced one nobleman Dits von Shaunburg and four of his supporters to death. The nobleman was accused of creating rebellious moods in the country. All of the accused trouble-makers were supposed to be beheaded. Right before the execution, the king asked the nobleman his last wish. Dits pleaded to have his supporters freed if he manages to run past them headless. In addition, the nobleman remarked that each of his friends has to stand eight feet apart from each other. Only those men whom the beheaded nobleman manages to pass will be freed.

The monarch simply laughed at such strange plea but agreed to do everything as the nobleman had asked. Dits placed his people in one row, while carefully counting distance between each one of them. Afterwards, he kneeled before the executioner's block. In a blink of an eye, the nobleman's white-haired head rolled down the stars. His fully erect body with a fountain of squirting blood quickly ran by his accused friends. As soon as he passed the last man standing, after having made 32 steps (!), the body stopped and immediately collapsed to the ground. The king kept his word and freed all of the accused."

It is my belief that the Johns knew of this story and that it became the idea for this song. After all, it is pretty remarkable that a headless human body can take 32 coordinated footsteps without even a brainstem or cerebellum. Many previously-noted interpretations still hold firm, including the floorboards giving way, the new moon and the state-sponsored murder motifs; however this story (another tale of execution) is the clear basis for the song and, in my opinion, what drove John to write it. Someone should ask him if that's true.

(N.B. Names and dates in the above passage may not be accurate - I don't believe Ludwig was the name of the 14th century Bavarian king, as Ludwig I and II were 19th-century Bavarian kings. "Dits von Shaunburg", while not looking like a German name (would probably be closer to "Ditz von Schaumburg"), does not appear anywhere else using Google. However, the story may have taken place in the 19th century, perhaps in 1836, with a different headless man!) -Weizenmensch

Interpretation 3[edit]

Just my two cents, but while I am skeptical about the entire execution thing, If it is about execution then the feathers in the headress are signifying courage, and not cowardice. He is bravely facing his death, although his execution will be wrong, He still refuses to show cowardice. —Preceding unsigned comment added by (talkcontribs) 15:07, 8 May 2005

Interpretation 4[edit]

Wow, and John Lennon thought he had it bad! —Preceding unsigned comment added by ASL (talkcontribs) 21:34, 18 February 2006

Interpretation 5[edit]

I think it's about a fire. Where your eyes don't go, there is always a skull head, representing death. The 32 footsteps are the people trapped probably inside a house and the NO!'s are them screaming for help while burning, while counting how many have died. There are other references but I am far too baked and therefore lazy to write any more.--tehbagel 12:59, 28 Apr 2006 (CDT)

Interpretation 6[edit]

Well, the way that I look at it is that the singer's wife has given him a month (31 days) to sort out himself, or she will leave. By the time it takes him to realise that he wants her to stay is has been 32 days, and she has already gone. 28,29,30,31 ......(Too late) That's probably not the right interpretation, but I don't care. ( Herwwiyal ? )

t3h 32 day breakup thing is right. —Preceding unsigned comment added by (talkcontribs) 17:11, 21 August 2006
I think this is on the right track. We know the narrator's woman has just left him - he misses her, but he can't stop bringing up the number 32. Earlier she had told him she would leave him in 31 days - and now it's the 32nd day - with him obviously having spiraled out of control of his mind. Unsettling song. -drimacus

Interpretation 7[edit]

AlienGirl's Mystery School interpretation: the boxcars are a reference to the Holocaust, which is a recurring theme that runs through several songs on the Pink Album, and indeed through much of TMBG's work. Have you ever noticed that every mention of a train in a TMBG song has it as a symbol of unstoppable despair and darkness? Think about it! —Preceding unsigned comment added by (talkcontribs) 06:03, 28 June 2006

Interpretation 8[edit]

32 is 23 backwards. 23 has a certain significance in Discordianism, and Flansy has mentioned that 23 is an important number for TMBG as well: Their first show was on the 23rd of the month when Flans was 23, etc., etc. ...

This has very little to do with what I believe this ong is about, which is a man, having recently been left by his lover, getting drunk and hallucinating.-- 19:45, 18 November 2006 (UTC)

Interpretation 9[edit]

It's about me ;-) It's about the time I went crazy and paced around in the mental hospital. I wasn't counting, but the hallway must have been at least 23 to 32 footsteps long. HTH, --User:HearingAid

Interpretation 10[edit]

I got it! It's 32 footsteps from the back of the church to the altar. The rest all falls into place after that. "What's the reason, why'd she leave, don't you know we're on the eve of 32 footsteps? Counted them myself, 32 footsteps?" On the eve of their wedding day, there's a runaway bride somewhere on the loose.--tehbagel ( o ) 19:23, 11 April 2007 (UTC)

this song has no meaning[edit]

I can't believe I'm saying this, but I think this song means nothing. Nada, Nichts, Zip, Zilch. I think Mr. Linnell strung together some interesting ideas, with no underlying narrative. ~Christina Miller, May 2007

Interpretation 12[edit]

I always felt that this song had the same message as this monologue from the Film, Pi:

"Hold on. You have to slow down. You're losing it. You have to take a breath. Listen to yourself. You're connecting a computer bug I had with a computer bug you might have had and some religious hogwash. You want to find the number 216 in the world, you will be able to find it everywhere. 216 steps from a mere street corner to your front door. 216 seconds you spend riding on the elevator. When your mind becomes obsessed with anything, you will filter everything else out and find that thing everywhere. " —Preceding unsigned comment added by (talkcontribs) 03:39, 23 May 2008

Interpretation 13[edit]

I get this really strong feeling that it's the end of a long term relationship. "32 new moons in 32 skies" could refer to 32 months, "what's the reason why'd she go" could refer to her leaving and he doesn't know why, the 32 new feathers in his headress could refer to new things he's felt and experienced, and just generally being a 'feather in your cap' reference. Just my 2cp. -- 07:05, 8 July 2008 (UTC)

I agree with the "month + 1" explanation[edit]

Here's the scenario: Boy and Girl are dating. Girl wants to get married. Boy isn't sure if he wants to commit. Girl gives Boy one month to decide. On day 32, Boy decides he wants to marry Girl, but Girl is gone. Here it is line-by-line:
First verse, as Boy is returning to Girl on 32nd day
..leading to the room where the paint doesn't want to dry: His lack of commitment
..running down the road where the dirt reaches the sky: An eternity with Girl
..feathers in my brand new Indian headdress: Awards for bravery moons: Something present, but unseen (i.e. his love/commitment)
Chorus: Realizing she is gone. Confusion.
..lies my ears never saw: She said she would wait, convienentally forgetting the 1 month part.
..walls tumbling down/night to day: The home he wanted is gone/Romance is over.
..infantrymen running in place: He is ready to go, with nowhere to go to.
..boxcars: Think of watching a train go by. All he can see, but out of reach and leaving.
28 (not ready to commit) 29 (not ready to commit) 30 (not ready to commit) 31
—Preceding unsigned comment added by (talkcontribs) 19:24, 4 November 2010

Interpretation 14[edit]

This sounds dumb and I didn't read into it as much as the other people here. Anyway I think it's just about this guy who is hooked on the number 32, and everything in his life seems to happen around the number 32. He doesn't know why, and perhaps his woman (where's my baby, I don't know) left him because of this obsession. At the end of the song, the count-up sounds like someone is in his house tormenting him by counting up to this dreaded number and ends up murdering him before 32. That probably wasn't right but I think it's kind of a cool story. —Preceding unsigned comment added by (talkcontribs) 04:38, 19 January 2011

It's about Andy Warhol.[edit]

Think loose imagery. Repetitive facial representations, artistic references, iconic deconstructionism, a mix of the every day and the exceptional. Combined with his first moment where he burst onto the art scene with his 32 soup cans displayed side-by-side along the wall of the first gallery they were shown in. It took 32 steps to travel from a world before Worhol to a world after him. -Ms. Tripi

It's about a Mouth[edit]

The 32 footsteps leading to the room where the paint doesn't want to dry? It's a mouth! the 32 footsteps are teeth, the room is a mouth, and the paint is saliva. -The Platypus

This seems to be the most reasonable. To add to it: Where's my baby [teeth]? I don't know.

Thirty-two infantrymen running in place [chewing]

Thirty-two boxcars all of them have your face [teeth all kind of look the same, plus they're in your face]

Thirty-two walls come tumblin' down and the night turns into day [losing teeth (walls) lets the light into your mouth]


Hide Away Folk Family from the Murderers Point of Views[edit]

If you did read my Hide Away Folk Family interpretation, I recommend you read that (Interpretation 14)first before reading this. I believe this Hide Away Folk Family but in the murderers point of view. The well-know murderers, Taurus and Aquarius, come into the home of the family. The murderers only take thirty-two steps to find mother and father. The second stanza is the parents being murdered. The lyrics point out that Taurus and Aquarius are insane. "Why she'd go?" is when the mother is asking them where her daughter is. The daughter was killed during or after the sixth stanza in Hide Away Folk Family. One of the murders asked to the wife, "I don't know." Because the murderer did not what to tell the wife that they killed the daughter. They still hear the wife's voice because the murderers are insane. Which is also the reason why they attacked the family.--Nanobot18 (talk) 15:23, 3 January 2019 (EST)

Breakup song[edit]

Maybe a boring interpretation, but I really do believe this is just a breakup song. One hidden behind layers of metaphor and bizarre imagery in true Linnell fashion, sure, but a breakup song all the same. The paint not drying is an image that feels akin to a wound that won't heal, a pretty common metaphor for heartbreak. Even the nods towards capital punishment that others have done well to point out could utimately be a dramatisation of the anguish the singer feels at his 'baby' suddenly upping and leaving. He still sees her face in everything (the 'boxcar' line) - and was seemingly completely unprepared for the breakup as he didn't pay much attention to any of the signs beforehand.

It's always sat alongside Lucky Ball & Chain in my brain for these reasons. Very similar themes, very different methods of delivery, very reflective of each John's writing style. The perfect specimens for study. Unsuspectingprey (talk) 16:10, 7 February 2024 (EST)