This song is beautifully depressing and hauntingly surreal in a way only TMBG could bring us. For interpretation I just find this song to be a fairly literal look back on the narrator's life (lives) and the regrets that still haunt him in death. But maybe it's just me.
I go to the shelf, take out a bag of groceries and when I see the expiration date I think "oh, there is enough time to eat that until it is expired. so i'll put it back in the shelf! I don't think the dead guy is really reincarnated, no: now I#M also like that bag of groceries, I always think "Why should I do things NOW, because I still have enough time till the date stamped on myself" ->procrastinate! but then he is really taken off the shelf before he was expected to be! Then, "I will never say the word procrastinate again"! I always procrastinate until i'm dead and then it is too late to do important things that i wanted to do, e.g. apologize for making his brother a slave in his childhood. But now i recognized that it was wrong to procrastinate, but it is too late! You just don't see yourself in the mirror (Here: recognize what you really are -->that you are lazy) when your eyes are closed (maybe because you're always asleep, but also because you don't want to see). and i won't sit at home anymore, or look out of the window because this is what he used to do the whole day long. So stop procrastinating and do the things you have to do before it's too late!
A deliberately melodramatic surreal take on death. The character of dead is full of regrets for not living his life to the full and ends up being reincarnated as shopping left on the shelf. Ironic! A very simple piano song, this arrangement anticipates the clean intimate production Linnell favours these days. Free of clutter, this is one of Floods highpoints. (mr Tuck)
I once read that a person's head would actually stay alive several seconds after it was removed from their body; and so my theory is that this song is sung from the perspective of a man whose head is now sitting "in the basket" reflecting on his life and also thinking about his posthumous future.
Also, this is a bit random, but I always thought that the "Or I'm still alive" part was "I'm skinned alive", and so I had no idea what the song was trying to say.
I came back as a bag of groceries Accidentally taken off the shelf Before the date stamped on myself
This line makes me think the narrator died young, like a food item thrown away before it's expired.
Interesting connection between this and a couple of No! (or No! reject) songs:
From Dead: I came back as a bag of groceries Accidentally taken off the shelf Before the date stamped on myself
In other words, the dead guy gets reincarnated as a grocery bag. You could even say he is a grocery bag.
From Dead yet again: Did a large procession wave their (did a) Torches as my head fell in the basket, (large procession)
The narrator's head has been separated from his body, then. Now why is this sounding familiar?
I blame the Masons.
From Dead: "Now it's over, I'm dead, and I haven't (now it's) Done anything that I want (over)Or, I'm still alive And there's nothing I want to do."
When someones dies, a quote often heard is something along the line of that they had so many things left undone that they wanted to do in thier lifetime. Whenever you are bored, you can be achieving your goals. But when you look back, you feel that so much more could be done within your life. Basic message being: do what you can now, and think about anything you would regret not doing at an older age.
I interpret this differently. I don't know what the "bag of groceries" means, as I'm not such a philosopher, but obviously, him putting it back has something to do with him "returning" as it. I think perhaps it refers to him being inanimate, because "you won't see my" (living) "head in the window anymore", rather, "I'll be up there on the wall at the store".
I can't seem to connect this with the rest of the lyrics. A mob of people apparently are happy to see him dead, and also, there is no distinction between being alive and with nothing left to do and being physically dead and unable to do anything. Is he really dead? --ThirdAnonymous
Me, I don't concentrate on the reincarnation part, but how he seemingly died. To me, is seems like he died a while ago, killed at a chopping block, you know, a public execution.
Possibly a man died and he 'came back' like a ghost or a vision like "A Christmas Carol" and he sees what his life was and what people thought of him. A grocery bag is maybe a metaphor for something nobody minds, nobody notices a bag
This song's still confusing me more than it is making sense, but this is what I've got. I see it as an ambiguous song, that could be interpreted either way.
On one hand, the narrator was executed a long while ago, when they publicly cut heads off-- either with a guillotine or an axe, as illustrated by "Did a large procession wave their torches/As my head fell in the basket". He was, as I see it, wrongly executed, as "I came back as a bag of groceries/Accidentally taken off the shelf/Before the date stamped on myself" demonstrates-- he was taken off the "shelf" of life before he should have been. He's apparently somewhat familiar with modern culture, so he was possibly lurking around as a ghost for hundreds or thousands of years. The song is him reminiscing of his life and perhaps almost trying to bargain with himself to get himself back to life.
On the other hand, this song is narrated by a living, breathing human being who's apparently so disgusted or irked or just bored with his life that he's not even sure if he really is alive. He's weaving a tale in his mind, thinking of how he was bumped off Planet Earth a little bit too early. Maybe he was publicly executed. Through thinking this, he realizes he really hasn't done anything remarkable in his life, and he is actually sitting at home brooding.
It's an interesting song, and I'm sure I'm nowhere near the original intent of the lyrics, but that's how I see it.
My own interpretation of Dead seems to be different than most others'. Everyone keeps interpreting the second line as being about reincarnation, but the way I see it is like this:
The first line, "I returned a bag of groceries accidentally taken off the shelf before the expiration date": The bag of groceries represents another person's life, one that is about to be killed before it's his time ("accidentally taken off the shelf before the expiration date"). Unfortunately, as the second line states, in the act of saving the guy, he himself got put in the same situation, 'coming back' from the situation as someone who is being killed before it's his time. In other words, I interpret these first lines as being the equivalent of, for example, someone pushing another person out of the way of a car, only to get hit and killed by the car themself.
In this case, the section after it has a different meaning altogether. "Did a large procession wave their torches as my head fell in the basket, and was everybody dancing on the casket?" Maybe he's not referring to people wanting him dead and happy that he's dead, but rather, he's talking about whether or not he's praised or honored for his heroic sacrifice. It's quite possible, he's saying, that his sacrifice didn't mean anything to anybody, which is why he's asking, "Where's the thanks? Where's the appreciation? Did I die for nothing?"
"Now it's over, I'm dead and I haven't done anything that I want, or I'm still alive and there's nothing I want to do.": Well, I always just thought that it was a clever interpretation of the state of death, although coupled with the previous part, it begins to sound like he didn't really WANT to make a sacrifice, that he didn't want to die in the process of saving the other.
The next section, he just goes over his regrets. Nothing much to really interpret there. Same goes for the other remaining section about not being around anymore.
- After listening to the song with this interpretation in mind, I can't help but notice how perfectly it fits the lyrics, except for "And I'll be up there on the wall at the store". I wonder what this line might stand for. It just doesn't make any sense in this interpretation. --Tehlast5 (talk) 23:33, 2 May 2014 (EDT)
Death In Life
To me this song encapsulates the mood of the classic literary motif known as "death-in-life", about which many of the English romantic poets wrote. I love the image of the angry eastern-European folk mob waving torches & hunting down that notorious living-dead icon, the vampire ("I'll never see myself in the mirror..."), the Hamlet-like worries about what judgement awaits the sins of this life ("I didn't apologize..."), and the final couplet which crystalizes the motif's central paradox in the plainest possible phrasing. Linnell is a teacher and a democrat at heart, and wants to take the most abstruse and complex thoughts (e.g., Meet The Elements) and render them in a nearly monosyllabic pop vocabulary. --Nehushtan 23:05, 15 Feb 2006 (CST) -- (updated) Nehushtan (talk) 09:19, 29 December 2019 (EST)
Hmm. I believe this guy was young and died unexpectedly. Nobody seemed to miss him, or anything, and this is his narration about the reflection he has on his life. Near the top on my Saddest TMBG Songs list. --Lemita 17:41, 27 July 2006 (UTC)
I think it means that the guy died young and that he was a jerk and a slacker. People didn't like him and they thought he was a waste of space so they were happy to see him dead. After he died, he felt sad about some things he did and some things he didn't do.
To me, this song is about procrastination, the key lines being: Now it's over, I'm dead, and I haven't Done anything that I want Or, I'm still alive and there's nothing I want to do
Essentially, it sums up knowing that you have to go out and do something with your life, but not taking that opportunity because the motivation to do it right now is not there.
To commence, it is deeply prudent to realize that this song's plot is actually out of order. Like many movies, the beginning illuminates the final, and almost eternal, cycle of a man, hopelessly bound to a vicious cycle of unachieved potential. It should be realized that the timeline actually begins with the man being sentenced to death by the gluten (Such A death is executed by a man's head being chopped off by a large blade. Said head is then deposited in a basket).
To begin, the "story," if you will, is narrated by a man who lives his life sitting around and accomplishing nothing. This man, however, is actually deeply content with this, and deep in his mind finds no need to correct this.
After the man is killed for the first time, he has an epiphany before he is reincarnated. He realizes that everything he did in life was not worthy of this man's full potential, and he vows to correct his life and never idly waste it again. This can clearly be illuminated by his realizations of his wrongdoing ("I didn't apologize for when I was eight and I made my younger Brother have to be my personal slave") and his vow to "never say the word â€˜Procrastinate' again." The line, "I'll never See myself in the mirror with my eyes closed," means that he, in fact, appreciates that he must consciously participate in life in order to gain true meaning.
All of this is further illuminated by the next lines (the choppy self-promises). It is here, however where intensively close analyzing must be executed, for the last two lines contain a contradiction and a statement that seals his eternal fate. The lines "And I won't/ Be around/ Ever anymore/ And I'll be up there on the wall at the store," is actually him self-consciously admitting that there is no eradicating his problem of not living up to his true potential. Despite his epiphany, he never really accomplishes anything. The "store," in this case, is actually his home (or wherever he spends all his time) where he wastes all his time at. By him not "being around anymore," he is saying that he will spend no time with his loved ones, or even execute a social life.
Finally, he is reincarnated. It is so deeply prudent, and in fact necessary, to not consider the bad of groceries as a literal bag of groceries. Rather, this is simply a metaphor for a person. The beauty of this metaphor is, however, that by making it a bag of groceries, there is an additional concept of eternal idleness. You see, a bag of groceries never moves from the store. Instead, it remains there until it is taken away or bought. It can be assumed very clearly that when this bag is "taken," the man is actually either sentenced to death, or just simply dies. This is supported by the fact that he dies the first time. It would be logical that the plot would somehow parallel itself throughout the story.
To sum this entire story up, a man, hereby considered "Lad," is a lazy bum, if you will. Lad never accomplishes anything, and has no desire to do so. Eventually, Lad is sentenced to death. After dying, he has an epiphany and vows to change his life for the better. All this is moot, however, as he never actually accomplishes anything in his next life. Rather, he simply becomes another idle man who eventually repeats his death sentence, and dies leaving another unfulfilled life. This cycle is repeated endlessly, resulting in him over and over again being reincarnated and living a meaningless life.
The phase "Did a large procession wave their torches as my head fell in the basket" shows that he clearly feels that society is attempting to destroy him or turn him into someone that he's not. Society is clearly attempting to increase the speed of his life, and causes the narrator to die quickly. He is thus nearing his death and regretting what he has not done, while lamenting societies attack on him for what he percieves as a natural personality.
The speaker was not actually reincarnated as a bag of groceries. The bag of groceries serves as a metaphor for the speaker's life. He has died young (been accidentally taken off the shelf before the expiration date), and expresses his regret at having procrastinated throughout his life. The opening verse is an expression of his desire to be not the man returning the groceries, but the groceries themselves who, unlike him, can be given a second chance to live (be up there on the wall at the store).
A severed head can live as long as 30 seconds apart from the body. This song is the line of thought from an executed person.
After listening to this song... for an incredibly long amount of time, I think I can come to a decent interpretation of it:
-Says he'll never 'say the word procrastinate again' he won't 'sit at home anymore'. This suggests he is/was lazy and reactive (instead of proactive). -Says you can't see yourself in the mirror with your eyes closed. This suggests he is/was ignoring who he was and never tried to determine what he truly wanted. -Says he was never certain what he wanted to do ("or I'm still alive and there's nothing I want to do.") -Is observing his own death (he says "I'm dead" "My head fell..." etc. during the same lines that he's describing his head being chopped off, describing the processions).
With these all combined, I think I we can determine that he is an 'observer', someone who stands on the sidelines and doesn't gamble on opportunities or take chances, and that at the end of his life, or during some midlife crisis, he comes to regret everything he's done. He's regretful he never lived.
As for the groceries, groceries are inanimate. They're a pretty good symbol for being an observer. The only thing that doesn't fit is the line about the little brother being the personal slave - but I think that's just a line the Johns through in after a period of writer's block, or something.
Don't overthink it.
I believe that the song is from the perspective of someone transitioning from life to death and regretting wasted time. The groceries are not the person, but each item is something that the person meant to do before they die. The "bag of groceries" can be a representation of the person though, as we are all a collection of items done while we are alive. We think we know how much time we have and there is no urgency to do anything, but in this case the shelf was emptied before that date (he dies). Perhaps returning the groceries back to the shelf means that those things he meant to do can be done by anyone else. The head in the basket may be simply wondering what others thought of him; "Was I loved?".
I am a grocery bag reference!
Death is a metaphor
I see a lot of comments here interpreting death as literally "not alive", but for me it's a metaphor for creative/emotional stagnation. What really strikes me is the numerous references to feelings of pointlessness. This is probably less widely applicable than a lot of the interpretations above.
Now it's over, I'm dead and I haven't
Done anything that I want
Or I'm still alive and there's nothing I want to do.
It doesn't sound like it's a problem a literal dead person would have, it sounds like the problems of the living. In my experience, when work is at its heaviest and I've got no time for myself (death), I overflow with ideas and aspirations that I can't accomplish because work is in the way. Then, when work clears up, I'm back to being uninspired and lazy, and I'm left to question whether I ever had the drive to take on those challenges, rather than just daydream about them.
I will never say the word
"Procrastinate" again; I'll never
See myself in the mirror with my eyes closed
Two themes here resonate with me. First, there's the determination to never procrastinate again. It could be looked at as a desire to say "procrastinate" (or any other word) but it could also be taken as "I will never procrastinate again, I won't have that word spoken in my presence". I think we've all said that at least once, and it's never true. The rest of the verse goes on to talk about regret for things left behind, which has better interplay with the literal interpretation. Still, I read it as a series of rather pointless goals that the narrator is complaining about missing out on, in the same way I sit around feeling sorry for myself when the workload comes down hard.
Finally, there's the pervasive "grocery bag" imagery, which I'm having trouble with. TMBG are no stranger to mixing imagery, and it could be that this is about something completely different. After all, having two themes at once doesn't somehow invalidate a song's meaning. My surface-level interpretation of the bag is that it's a story about an grocery store employee being crucified by his boss for putting some bad produce back on the rack. He really didn't deserve the reaction, but he's living with the unfair consequences. == I don't have much to say about the song overall but I think that when narrator is singing the lines like "I will never say the word procrastinate again" it is not supposed to be him looking back on his life and regretting everything he didn't do, but rather some humor of him regretting that he doesn't have anymore time to waste. But anyway, great song.
Depression represented to perfection
"Now it's over I'm dead and I haven't done anything that I want, or I'm still alive and there's nothing I want to do."
Anyone with depression will feel that line to their bones. That is the best single written line I've seen in any media that describes depression.
Some random musings that could suggest a couple of interpretations...
I tend to prefer the idea that each TMBG song does have one, definite interpretation that the band intended when they wrote it, but with 'Dead' I see a lot of different imagery contradicting itself and I'm of the opinion that it might well be a story wrapped in a metaphor wrapped in another story.
At face value, the song is about someone who has died and been reincarnated as a bag of groceries. They lament that they didn't do anything with their life while they could, and now they can't - because they are a bag of groceries.
Picking it apart, there are a few things wrong with it as a straight story - firstly, the person in the song *returns* a bag of groceries before he *comes back* as one, which would suggest the person's life and death are within the same period of modern history. But the line that their "head fell in the basket" with a large procession waving torches sounds like they were ceremoniously beheaded, suggesting some earlier period of history. As a coherent story, it doesn't make sense.
Also, for a very long time, I heard that the person in the song was a consumer returning some out-of-date groceries that they bought, but actually it says they returned them to the shelf *before* the expiration date. Is the person in the song a supermarket shelf-stacker? Did they remove some out-of-date stock, only to find it wasn't out of date, and then have to put it back? Is this part of the story trying to tell us that the person has a humdrum existence in life? Again, this doesn't sound like life in revolutionary France, or wherever/whenever one might have been publically beheaded.
I have wondered if the "basket" into which his head falls is actually a shopping basket and if all of the events in the song take place in a store? Did he return the groceries to the shelf, has some kind of horrific beheading accident in the store (or perhaps they weren't decapitated and just slumped to the ground with their head landing in a basket) and then were immediately reincarnated as the groceries they just put back?
I have also wondered if the song is actually about metaphorically being "left on the shelf" - an idiom meaning someone is too old to find love. Are they actually "dead" in the sense that their youth is over? That they are too old and tired, which is why they lament that "I'm still alive and there's nothing I want to do"?
So, there's a few of ideas - one entirely metaphorical interpretation, one quite literal, and another where the song is just a lot of random statements about life, death, regret and reincarnation that aren't really meant to tell a coherent story. --18.104.22.168 08:34, 22 August 2020 (EDT)
I recently rediscovered this album, and while many songs on it are truly excellent, this might be my favourite.
I initially searched for taoist interpretations of the lyrics since that seems a really obvious way to look at this, and several other, Glood song/s but it turns out nobody really has mentioned that.
Awesome comments from everybody here, but one or two additional personal thoughts from me:
The torches in the procession might represent light in some way, or whatever light represents. This could be death, the light at the end of the tunnel, or even the light of hope, maybe the light of healing or cleansing?
I loved the idea that the basket would be a shopping basket, that hadn't occurred to me. It made me realise,the head might be a head of lettuce though (which again could tie in with the items in the bag representing specific things).
As for seeing yourself in the mirror with your eyes closed, well none of us can do that, ever! It isn't a metaphor, necessarily, it's a fact, perhaps in the form of a zen koan?
Now to the bag of groceries. In a store, they don't sell bags of groceries, just items that you then put in a bag. If it is a whole bag of groceries on a shelf, then this has been ordered and set aside for a customer, maybe they forgot their wallet and had to go back to get it? This means the date on the bag itself wouldn't reply to food going bad, since those dates would be on the specific items. Maybe the date is the length of time before the store gives up on the customer and separates out the items to go back into stock? This still seems to have possible meanings as a metaphor for reincarnation, to me.
By being accidentally taken off the shelf early, I wonder if the store was too eager to give up on the customer, and perhaps the singer is making a resolution to give people more of a chance to come back and pay within the time limit.
Just some thoughts.
A grocery worker's existential crisis
Who returns groceries that were accidentally taken off the shelf for being expired? What does it mean to be "up there on the wall at the store" after the epiphany that the narrator shouldn't procrastinate any more?
I think these two things that seem difficult to fit into other interpretations are the key. The narrator is working in a grocery store putting this expired bag of groceries back on the shelf and imagines himself as the bag.
If you were going to die in the next ten minutes, would you regret that you never went skydiving, or saw Machu Picchu? Yet, here you are alive and well and you are not booking a plane ticket.
So the narrator decides he will stop procrastinating, determine what he really wants (opening his eyes in front of the mirror), and do something about these regrets he would have on his deathbed. Why he's even going to be employee of the month!