"How The West Was Won And Where It Got Us" as written by and Peter Buck Bill Berry....
Blood from a stone
Water from wine
Born under an ill-placed design
A stroke of bad luck,
Wrong place, wrong time
This flier is out of the lime

[Chorus]
The story is a sad one, told many times
The story of my life in trying times
Just add water, stir in lime
How the west was won and where it got us

Canary got trapped, the uranium mine
A stroke of bad luck, now the bird has died
A marker to mark where my tears run dry
I cross it, bless it, alkali

[Chorus]

I didn't wear glasses cause I thought it might rain
Now I can't see anything
I made a mistake, chalked it up to design
I cracked through time, space, Godless and dry
I point my nose to the northern star,
Watch the decline from a hazy distance

[Chorus]


Lyrics submitted by Nelly

"How the West Was Won and Where It Got Us" as written by Peter Buck Bill Berry

Lyrics © Warner/Chappell Music, Inc., Universal Music Publishing Group

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How The West Was Won And Where It Got Us song meanings
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12 Comments

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  • +2
    General CommentI can't believe noone has commented on this one. One of the best R.E.M. tracks on arguably their best album... but at least we have 400 comments about 'It's the End of the World as We Know It...'

    That being said, I'm not sure what I can actually say about its meaning. There is definitely a theme about decline, personal bad luck, perhaps a life frustrated.

    The reference to the canary is about mining, in coal mines they used to take a canary down with them and if they hit gas the bird would die and warn them about it. 'Uranium' obviously places this in a modern context.

    I love the lines "a marker to mark where my tears run dry/I cross it, bless it, alkali." Maybe about giving up? A loss of faith? Later this is echoed with "godless and dry."

    Also - piano solo. Brilliant. R.E.M. should use fewer guitars and more piano IMHO - Nightswimming, this song, The Lifting, Electrolite - some of their best stuff, all with a dominant piano/keyboard line.
    caitsith01on October 17, 2004   Link
  • +1
    General CommentThe song is clearly about failure, and repeated failure, but there aren't any specifics in there, just metaphors.

    "How the West was Won" was the title of a 1963 movie about a pioneer family in the American West. It was joked, darkly, that the history could also be told from the Native American perspective and called "How the West was Lost".

    Given the darkness of the song's lyrics, we can take for granted that the "Where it got us" is implied to be: Nowhere good. This is the second time in the song that a cheery line from pop culture is followed up by a dark comment. The other is "Just add water", a common tagline for products like powderized drinks. Its follow-up, "stir in lime" indicates a hard alcoholic drink is being mixed, so we are being told that the narrator drinks as a response to, or as a cause of, his problems.
    rikdadon August 28, 2006   Link
  • +1
    General CommentThe reference to the uranium mine - I wonder if it is linked to the line about "just add water, stir in lime" - I vaguely recall that limestone and water are used as part of a technique for extracting uranium from its ore....

    Might be coincidence
    el_hon February 29, 2008   Link
  • +1
    General Comment"Canary got trapped, the uranium mine.
    A stroke of bad luck, now the bird has died.
    a marker to mark where my tears run dry.
    I cross it, bless it, alkali."

    alkali is a kind of salt, tears are also salt. Alkali can also be used to make soap. The suggestion might be: tears are caused by pain, but they may have a cleansing effect. This positive side is stressed by the line "bless it" and by the metaphor of the canary, whose death prevents the death of miners.
    The song might be about personal failure and the attempt to carry on, to make the best of it.

    This can also be read in the lines: "I point my nose to the northern star,
    watch the decline from a hazy distance."
    Literally, the singer probably watches the sunset, but on a metaphorical level he might be trying to watch his own decline from a "hazy distance": to not be crushed by his bad luck, but look at it from a distance, to detach himself from it.

    Still, the atmosphere is bitter. The singer tries to be brave but his failure seeps through every sentence.


    pingdjipon September 30, 2010   Link
  • 0
    General CommentThis song reminds me of the Eagles' song the Last Resort - about discovering the western frontier and exploiting it. New adventures in HIFI is one of my favorite r.e.m. albums. I agree about the End of the world commentary. There are so many more thought provoking songs to choose from.
    yogaboaton November 18, 2004   Link
  • 0
    General Commenti haven't commented on this one simply because it's over my head. i've tried but i can't grasp a meaning. i like it, though.
    oldshoeon April 10, 2005   Link
  • 0
    Song MeaningWell, I would imagine that, coming from a band like R.E.M., that it refers to the idea of losing one's place in the limelight, as all bands eventually do. The fact is, Michael Stipe wanted to keep putting out hits like Man On The Moon and The One I Love, but due to creative differences between conflicting sides of his artistic background (and foreground), the best he could come up with was something like this: new, vibrant, yet labeled with an old name. People get tired of hearing old band names, so no matter how hard an artist tries, they just can't emulate the power of their first hit single (nor the innocence of their first record).
    JMuth561on March 17, 2010   Link
  • 0
    My InterpretationThis song always reminds me of the Enron scandal, even though that happened three years after HiFi's release.
    willwerryon October 27, 2010   Link
  • 0
    General CommentI actually think this song is about how religion got to the eastern society.

    "Born under earplay design.
    A stroke of bad luck,
    wrong place, wrong time.
    This flyer is out of the lime."

    Maybe this verse talks about how depending on where you are born, the traditions and truth about the world you get.


    "Canary got trapped, the uranium mine.
    A stroke of bad luck, now the bird has died.
    a marker to mark where my tears run dry.
    I cross it, bless it, alkali."

    He talks about how things happen, and there is a reason for them, not just bad luck, i mean it was uranium.. lol.. but then he talks about our need to create this "marker" just because there is a mark when certain event happens.

    "I didn't wear glasses cause I thought it might rain.
    Now I can't see anything.
    I made a mistake, chalked it up to design.
    I cracked through time, space, Godless and dry.
    I point my nose to the northern star,
    watch the decline from a hazy distance."

    That verse says it all, we make mystakes, and so we go to the simple explanation that there is a design. I think when he talks about the northern star declining, he refers to the declining of those "rules" that were followed on ancient middle east, such as guiding themselves with the norther star.
    aurorabarajason July 27, 2011   Link
  • 0
    General Commentpingdjip - An alkali isn't a salt; it's a kind of chemical compound that neutralizes acids. Alkalis are often very caustic. (Lime (CaOH2), mentioned later in the song, is an example of an alkali. Coincidence?)
    picturesofthesunon January 06, 2012   Link

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