Interpretations:Sometimes A Lonely Way

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A sad sounding song with sad lyrics! Oh joy!

Not everyone you've abandoned
Is still standing by
Not everyone who is lost is
Wondering why

The chorus tells me that "you" have done something to turn away all your friends. You know why you're lost: you did it on purpose. Your family and friends aren't standing by waiting for you to apologize.

Sometimes a lonely way
Taking your name down from the Jumbotron
Find a new place to stay
And a new home for the trumpeter swan

Whatever you did, it was massively public. You can try taking away the evidence, but people will still remember.
You want to move away from this mess of your life. You're taking your ridiculous ego elsewhere.

We can see it now, the scratches
On the back of the door
We can see it now, no mistaking
What you're better for

You held someone captive! Everyone knows that you're best at being a terrible person.

Sometimes a lonely way
Taken alive in an uncivil war
Trophies and glass displays
Rehearsals for third place, forever more

You're alone in this hopeless situation, the self-made mess that you managed to survive.
But just because you lived through it, doesn't mean you won. Now you are the captive, a prisoner of a war you lost.
The war is over, but the records of it (trophies) remain.
You're going to continue losing no matter how much you try. The competition here is life and to compete would be to be dead, which would contradict being "taken alive". To get 3rd place is to lose. So you're still alive, but your life will "forever more" just be a series of misfortune and loss.

What a depressing song! It's a shame it doesn't have an upbeat melody like It's Not My Birthday. I'd love to hear a cover of this song done in such a way. --deathgecko (Evil Emperor of Lizards) 20:19, 2 March 2013 (EST)

Really really really sad[edit]

This song is a vague farewell dirge to someone who has gone a way, a way which is lonely, sometimes. It's kind of this album's complement to 9 Secret Steps, another song about giving up and retreating, sort of a Piece of Dirt to 9's Mr. Me. If you will. Let's get specific I guess:

"Not everyone you've abandoned is still standing by / Not everyone who is lost is wondering why." The way the second line is phrased might go two ways: our lonely way going subject is lost, and is not wondering why - not because they know why but because they're really lost. Or it might mean these friends who our subject let fall out of their life don't even care ("not everyone who you've lost is wondering why"). Either way it's pretty sad, eh?

"Sometimes a lonely way / Taking your name down from the Jumbotron. Find a new place to stay / And a new home for the trumpeter swan." So the song's you has retreated from the life you've known and the life you probably should live. But you've officially cut things off, so it's time to flee. But beware: This way is lonely (sometimes). ...I googled possible symbolism involving trumpeter swans, and I didn't really find anything, but my guess is the trumpeter swan is some muse of grand victory and divine love, in other words that which one has or strives for in an exquisite, loving social life.

This person has retreated in shame and defeat. And from the general sadness in the song, it is quite likely that JF is saying that this is a sad way to go. Whoa. Oh and just because I namechecked some other random songs, I want to mention that the weird hermitic "you" in the song, the general sense of derangement, and of course the sparse music with a drum machine in back all remind me of Your Own Worst Enemy. ~ magbatz 22:49, 2 March 2013 (EST)

Sad on a number of levels[edit]

Taking a leaf out of Linnell's book, Flans' sad song is too oblique to be read, though others, see above, have gamely tried. A dreary song, that will for many be the point in the show where they decide to venture to the bar (just thinking ahead) it's seems odd that Flans was (allowed?) to have two ballads (Tesla) on the same release. The accordian (underused again!) is the only bright spot. Guranteed not be in the set list in 18 months time.

(Mr Tuck)

Well, I guess you must be happy that They haven't bothered to perform it live, then. If we're talking reviews here, then in my opinion, this isn't that bad of a song and is much better than the bland Another First Kiss, released over ten years prior. As for the lyrics, I agree with what the first two posters said and would like to add the mentioning of a "trumpeter swan" might be a reference to a verse of the Beach Boys' "Surf's Up," an equally melancholy song with obscure lyrics:
"Hung velvet overtaken me/
Dim chandelier awaken me/
To a song dissolved in the dawn/
The music hall, a costly bow/
The music-all is lost for now/
To a muted trumpeter swan"
In fact, the entire sound of the song might also be a reference/tribute to "Surf's Up" or the songs on the album "Pet Sounds". Just a thought. User:Tvfactoryguy


The lyrics "Taking your name down from the Jumbotron" suggest to me a love that has since dried up. If you've been to any major sporting facility in the last five years, you know that the home team will run a text message promotion up on the big screen (Jumbotron). You'll see stuff ranging from "Go Team X, Beat Team Y!" to "luv u john!! -jane xoxo" and even "MARRY ME (so-and-so)". Well, that spark is gone, so now Person A who originally posted the message is taking it "down from the Jumbotron", perhaps symbolically, and going down a new lonely way. And most of the time, Person B in the relationship will not be "standing by" waiting for Person A to come back. "Find a new place to stay / And a new home for the trumpeter swan" is Person A moving out. Perhaps the "trumpeter swan" refers to the fact that Person A was all gung-ho about shouting Person B's name on the Jumbotron in the first place. Finally, "Rehearsals for third place, forever more" might be Person A realizing that he/she will never come across another one like Person B and all the future lovers will be runners-up.

Also, the accordion on this song is just magnificent. Glad They decided to stick with it! --MisterMe (talk) 11:10, 8 May 2013 (EDT)

I hadn't considered the marry-me cam but it's an interesting take. That's probably a uniquely American custom. But I'll guess that Flansburgh is thinking of another generally American use for the Jumbotron - your name goes up when you're at bat but it gets taken down when you strike out. If that's the reference, it adds color to the comparison between losing at sports (never achieving anything better than third place) and being a perpetual loser at romance. --Nehushtan (talk) 23:14, 19 November 2019 (EST)

Past is notorious and sad... future is uncertain but brighter[edit]

There's a sadness to this song but I think it's looking towards a brighter future. I know, completely uncharacteristic of a TMBG song :-)

Compare to e.g. Mono Puff's Creepy... "Over the intercom they announce her real name, Live from the mini-mall they announce her real name" vs "take your name down from the jumbotron". Being notorious has had its bad side and has taken a toll, caused you to lose your true friends and support network in the past. Scratches on the door - also from your past. Now you are not so famous... but (implied to me at least) you can dust yourself off and rebuild a normal life - "a new place to stay, a new home for the trumpeter swan". The tone implies that this won't be easy for you, but, well, every normal person has done it, and we know you'll do it too.

"Twisting" in new clothes[edit]

This contains all the conceps from "Twisting"--a relationship ended badly, the other person has moved on, deal with it--but handled in a completely different way musically. Some concepts are universal but the band has grown and changed over the past couple of decades; the advice is no longer delivered with snark and a bit of glee but with gentle sympathy, and instead of "twisting in the wind" there's now some hope that the person the song is about will "find a new place to stay". Let's just hope it's not a railroad apartment. -- Rosefox

A new home for the trumpeter swan[edit]

The Trumpeter Swan was hunted almost to extinction by the first half of the 20th century, but its numbers were revived starting from the 1950s. Although this swan is no longer considered endangered (merely of "special concern"), its existence remains fragile, as it requires pristine wetlands with minimal human presence for its habitat. Also, artificially bred Trumpeter Swans are non-migratory, so are especially vulnerable to habitat destruction.

The lyrics of the song are vague enough that any interpretation must require an amount of imaginative speculation. That said, it seems to be about someone who has run away. They had had a hard life ("We can see it now, the scratches / On the back of the door" – i.e. scratching desperately to get out), and did not receive much affection ("Not everyone you've abandoned / Is still standing by"). They felt their current life was a failure ("Rehearsals for third place, forever more"). Their absence is being accepted; perhaps they are even being deliberately forgotten ("Taking your name down from the Jumbotron").

"Find a new place to stay / And a new home for the trumpeter swan" – the reference to this particular swan suggests that the person is fragile and will have a hard time surviving in "the wild".

The most enigmatic part of the song is the line "Taken alive in an uncivil war". Does this merely mean they were born into an unwelcoming world? Or does it refer to a specific event, perhaps an assault?

The song is certainly melancholy, but I don't find it depressing, as it reminds me of my own life, the way I have at times separated myself from family and friends in order to find freedom. The path to freedom is sometimes a lonely way.
-- Thread Bomb (talk) 00:40, 25 February 2020 (EST)

An ode to a big fish who is no longer in a small pond[edit]

The thing I love about TMBG songs is that no matter how much I listen to them and think about the words, there's always more to discover. I heard President Biden's press secretary use the term "uncivil war" today, and it got me thinking about this one again.

I don't think these lyrics are too vague to find a cohesive meaning within them, and someone here already hit on the central theme with the trumpeter swan, but I believe I can tie the whole song together.

Let's start with the swan:

Find a new place to stay

And a new home for the trumpeter swan

This is a song about rehoming, and the example Flansburgh gives to support this is the trumpeter swan. This is a species that was thought to be nearly extinct until a population of them was found in Alaska. Because the trumpeter does not tend to migrate on its own, conservationists then brought individuals from among this population down to more temperate areas of North America they are better suited for, allowing them to flourish.

So I believe this is specifically a song about a person who left their community to find a new home where they could flourish, possibly driven by a force greater than their own individual will.

Now let's take it from the top:

Not everyone you've abandoned is still standing by

Not everyone who is lost is wondering why

The song is not written from the point of view of the person who left, but rather the voice of someone left behind who is addressing that person. As the song begins, this abandoned soul takes a defensive tone as though they are hurt by the departure. The first line amounts to "don't expect me to wait around for you." With a twist on the expression, "not all who wander are lost," they nonchalantly attempt to mask their pain by suggesting they have moved on, when it is pretty clear they still care. Even though the abandoned (lost) person just said they aren't wondering why the other person left, they seem to begin doing exactly that as the verses unfold:

Sometimes a lonely way

Taking your name down from the Jumbotron

The abandoned person seems to be considering, maybe for the first time, that the person who left also is feeling lonely. Another commenter in this thread touched on the Jumbotron and its tie to baseball. Specifically, I think this is a reference to baseball's farm system, in which the most talented players from small-town teams are called up to major league teams in big cities. These players often are the stars of those little teams, getting lots of attention (their names are displayed on the Jumbotron a lot). But when they get called up, their talents are dwarfed by better players on those major league teams. The player has moved on to become part of something great but must prove themselves all over again and likely will never be a standout player there. The departed person in the song isn't necessarily a baseball player, but the metaphor serves to describe the circumstances of their departure, as does the following metaphor about the trumpeter swan, which I already mentioned, so I'll skip to the next verse.

We can see it now, the scratches on the back of the door

We can see it now, no mistaking what you're better for

The abandoned person appears to be softening their attitude as they consider the departed person's predicament. The use of "we" here indicates the person is realizing this wasn't a personal slight. In fact, the departed person left a lot of people behind, and even if nobody else realized way back when, the person knew for a long time they weren't being fulfilled there. They knew they were destined for better things, and they were eager to get out, like a dog scratching at a door.

Sometimes a lonely way

Taken alive in an uncivil war

The abandoned person now seems to be removing the blame from the departed person entirely. Not only do they acknowledge, again, that sometimes life calls people to leave others behind and feel lonely in the process, but now they also are likening it to being taken prisoner in a cruel war. It's as if the abandoned person is saying, "really, you had no choice." Destiny has captured the departed person, and even though all involved are suffering for it, the departed person is pursuing a just and noble cause by leaving, the way one might feel when going off to war.

Trophies in glass displays

Auditions for third place forevermore

As in the farm system metaphor above, this refers to the fact that this person was an outsized talent in the community they left. A big fish in a little pond, who was showered with accolades and attention. But in their new home they will be competing against more talented people. Parts will not be handed to them, but rather they must audition. And rather than winning competitions easily, they will be lucky to get third place among their very talented new peers. It's as if the abandoned person is implying that nobody in the departed person's new home could ever appreciate them as much. Even though the departee may become more accomplished there, they will reflexively be admired less, not more.

Bah bah bah bah, bah bah bah

Possibly these vocalized notes are meant to mimic the sound of a trumpet, as in the phenomenon where people sing "bah bah bah" during the trumpet portion of Neil Diamond's "Sweet Caroline." (I'm sure I've heard this happen at a small-town baseball game.) This is a clever way to thread the symbol of the trumpeter swan through the entire song, reinforcing its importance to the theme.

UPDATE: After I wrote this yesterday, today in the shower it occurred to me that out of the seven vocalized bahs, #5-7 mirror the notes of the "bah bah bah" in "Caroline," rising here instead of falling. Also, the first four bahs bear a similarity to the first three notes of "Caroline's" trumpet intro, but with a slightly different rhythm. Thus I suspect the entire melody may be riffing on "Caroline" in some way, but I don't know enough about music to confirm. Would any musicians like to weigh in on this? I believe it could have significance to the meaning of the song: Whereas "Caroline's" bright, staccato trumpet notes celebrate newfound love, the wistful recitation of these notes in "Lonely" (and their reversal) might suggest the song is a reflection on love lost.

TL;DR So to put it all together, I believe this would make "Lonely" a breakup song, perhaps looking back long after the relationship has ended, sung to a talented ex who left to pursue their career. During the intervening time, the jilted singer has gained the perspective to forgive the person, who based on the song's lyrical and musical nods to the trumpet, may have chosen music over their relationship.

Am I making too big of a leap, or does anyone else see evidence to support this?

--Daniel Johnson 18:26, 12 November 2021 (EST)