Interpretations:By The Time You Get This

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Time capsule[edit]

By the time you get this note / A millenium from now / We'll have all gone up in smoke

Pretty clearly about a time capsule. The narrator seems to be rather pessimistic about his own future. Dets65 (talk) 16:39, 12 January 2018 (EST)

I think this narrator's extremely optimistic about the future! It's a real triumphant sounding, World's Fair futurism "the world of tomorrow" anthem. Lofty goals. Interesting contrast to When The Light Comes On, which suggests a more dire present but the implication that things will improve marginally in the narrator's lifetime And if you wanna get real conspiratorial, the exiting of the cave in Let's Get This Over With is the first step towards building the future. Who'd ever thought there'd be cohesion on a TMBG record?? -j2 12:30, January 13, 2018
I'm putty sure this is about the anticipated death of the human race. So no, it's knot optimistic. Unless you count the shazlye as being optimiistc.--WhatTheHeckLinnell (talk) 12:20, 18 January 2018 (EST)
Yeah, seems to me that when he says "1937" he's referring to the next year-numbering system that some future civilization uses after rebuilding following our apocalypse. There is a lot of pessimism on this record. I love it to death. -Themightysun 10:57, 19 January 2018 (PST)
I'd call it an optimistic view of the end of all humanity. We're all gonna die, but that's good for everything else. - Pak-Man 13:23, January 22, 2018
I'm pretty sure that 1937 is the actual 1937, in which a whole lot of horrible was ongoing and about to get much worse. --mishuga (talk) 12:40, 23 February 2018 (EST)

There's Never an End[edit]

1937 was the year Martin Niemöller was arrested in Nazi Germany, and it was the eve of World War II, which is the worst war humans have ever fought, even if you don't account for the horror of the Holocaust. I think what they're saying is the Utopian ideal of a future where humans solve all our problems is a daydream -- humans are gonna human, and as long as we're people we're never going to transcend evil. In every era, we're going to have to fight against the current of hatred that runs through our history -- we can't ever assume we've "made it," or that the badness is behind us. In the end, I think this is about today, an era when nativism and neo-fascism seems to be on the rise worldwide. Many of us who are between my age and the Johns' age sort of thought that the worst of our impulses were buried in the past with Hitler and Stalin and George Wallace. But they aren't. They're always there, waiting for someone to stoke the flame. If we think we've reached the perfect future, well, we haven't -- we never will. There is only ever eternal vigilance. --Mrfeek (talk) 01:45, 3 September 2018 (EDT)

They're being sarcastic[edit]

The way I interpret it, the narrator is confident that all of the ills in the word will be overcome and forgotten in the future, but the bitter joke is that obviously hasn't happened. —Preceding unsigned comment added by Kaylum (talkcontribs) 13:01, January 13, 2018

Not everything has been overcome -- but things are better. Things improve over time, despite appearances. Crime goes down, life expectancy goes up, diversity increases, standards of living keep improving. It would be especially hard to argue that 1937AD was worse than 937AD, or that 2018 is worse than 1937. What I think this song gets across nimbly is the constant failure humans exhibit to predict exactly how things will improve. The narrator expects to see the lower classes swept away or silenced, and for that to bring about a single-voiced unanimous harmony -- predictions which I expect most people today would call a dystopia rather than a utopia. Atrus
The narrator certainly does not expect "to see the lower classes swept away or silenced". You may have been confused by the line "No more will the chattering classes make a noise" - the "chattering classes" is a slightly derogatory term for highly educated middle-class people who publicly comment on current affairs, e.g. highbrow commentary shows on TV, and intellectual opinion pieces in newspapers. Considering that in the same stanza the narrator looks forward to no more crying babies and barking dogs, we can assume this condemnation is not entirely serious; these are trivial complaints. (It should also be mentioned that the term "chattering classes" is most used by the chattering classes themselves.) -- Thread Bomb (talk) 23:46, 13 May 2020 (EDT)

A whole millennium later...[edit]

What was going on in the year 937? Political transitions galore across Europe and Asia. Poverty and subsistence farming was a way of life for a majority of people. Very few people were literate, which means the only folks who could have written this note were the elite nobles. Think about it--a time capsule is a fun idea when you have plenty of leisure time and are looking to establish some strange kind of legacy. When your life consists of plowing a field for a living, you don't have time for such lofty thoughts. That being said, even these elites realized there were problems aplenty in their time, and they naturally assumed that after a thousand years, those problems would be reduced, if not completely resolved. However, it's the typical pie-in-the-sky ideals you might associate with such people: no more dissent, pollution, hatred; even barking dogs and crying babies would have seen the error of their ways.

Meanwhile, what actually happened in the year 1937? Peace, harmony, "rejoicing in the present"? Nah. You had civil wars, strikes, mass killings, aerial disasters, and of course, mounting tensions toward a second world war. What a time to be alive! --MisterMe (talk) 13:22, 22 January 2018 (EST)

Words of hope from someone near the end of World War I in 1918[edit]

The first few verses and choruses come from a speaker in 1918 who has an optimistic view of the future. This is only because of how dire things seemed after 4 years of WWI. Seeing little hope near the end of the 'War to End All Wars' they have written a letter to humanity in the future of 1937. This year was picked as it is a couple years before the start of World War II. The line "it seems that you were never aware that we were here" shows that the lessons of the past were forgotten. Many towards the end of WWI were certain that we would never fight so viciously amongst ourselves. And we know how that turned out.

The song ends on even more ominous note, that we will continue to repeat our failure in learning from the past. This is why the last chorus says "by the time you get this note a millennium from now". Although I feel this could have said "...a century from now" as in 2018 (the song's release date) we are truly "too busy rejoicing in the present to stop and be reminded of the dark and troubled past". We are making the same mistakes now and ignoring the lessons of the past. This may be intentional as a speaker from 1918 would think it would take 1,000 years to truly forget the lessons of WWI and not just 100.

There's no indication that the narrator is speaking from 1918 or has anything to do with WWI. There's no reference to specific events in the narrator's own time. The only time indications are "Greetings to everyone in 1937" and "By the time you get this note / A millennium from now". This indicates that the narrator is speaking from the year 937 A.D. -- Thread Bomb (talk) 23:52, 13 May 2020 (EDT)

My Interpretation[edit]

The first two versus are from the conversation of people in 937 ready to bury the time capsule , verses 3-6 is the note itself, verse 7 is the people in 1937 getting the note ready to write the note, but get distracted by World War II by "There'll be no way to reply." as in they never buried it. So people in 2937 were expecting a "reply" and never got one.

A Plea for Political Stability[edit]

The song references 1937, when the United States was recovering from poverty and prosperous, and even though Franklin D. Roosevelt would continue to get elected in the future, elections and politics weren't as loud, angry, or biased as the present. The next few verses and choruses look at the present day, wishing to get rid of fake news, political bias, and basically any sort of "noise". It's also noteworthy that "chattering classes" is a term used by both left- and right-wingers, so when these classes make no noise, all political parties get along much better. --- 1937 was not, in fact, a prosperous year. Rather, it was the low point of the Great Depression. It is also a mistake to assume that the past was less "noisy" than the present, in terms of dissent and political fighting. The US had a fascist wing and a Communist wing, and in many ways, we have more political agreement today than we did in that era.

The perpetually unsatisfied optimism of futurism[edit]

This song is written from the perspective of a person in 1887, leaving a time capsule to be opened by the people of 50 years in future. They believe that time and progress will solve every problem, and that the future must be some kind of utopia. But the people of 1937 are unable to send a message back into the past to inform them that, in fact, none of problems listed by the narrator have been solved. And all the people who wrote this message in the past are dead, and unable to see for themselves.

The final verse suggests another time capsule (not suggesting a 937 AD time capsule, as time capsules weren't invented until 1876). This one is written to the people 1000 years into the future, and in this context, the lyrics "we'll have all gone up in smoke" takes on a darker meaning - that 1000 years from now, there will be no humanity to receive the message, much less a utopia "rejoicing in the present to stop and be reminded of the dark and troubled past". 13:52, 24 April 2023 (EDT)