"The District Sleeps Alone Tonight" as written by and Benjamin D Gibbard James Scott Tamborello....
Smeared black ink

Your palms are sweaty.
I'm barely listening
To last demands.

I'm staring at the asphalt wondering
What's buried underneath.

(Where I am)
(Where I am)

I wear my badge.
A vinyl sticker with big block letters
Adhering to my chest.

It tells your new friends,
"I am a visitor here."
"I am not permanent."

The only thing
Keeping me dry is

It seems so out of context
In this gaudy apartment complex.
A stranger with your door key
Explaining that "I'm just visiting".

I am finally seeing
That I was the one worth leaving.
I was the one worth leaving.

DC sleeps alone tonight.

It seems so out of context
In the gaudy apartment complex.
A stranger with your door key
Explaining that "I'm just visiting".

I am finally seeing
That I was the one worth leaving.
I was the one worth leaving.

The district sleeps alone tonight
After the bars turn out their lights
And send the autos swerving
Into the loneliest evening.

I am finally seeing
That I was the one worth leaving.
I was the one worth leaving.
I was the one worth leaving.
I was the one worth leaving.

Lyrics submitted by rjbucs28

"The District Sleeps Alone Tonight" as written by James Scott Tamborello Benjamin D Gibbard


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The District Sleeps Alone Tonight song meanings
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  • +14
    General CommentI don't think there's a lot concealed beneath the surface of this song. What makes it moving is the way its description of a mundane scene evokes an atmosphere of loss, guilt and alienation recognizable by anyone who's ever reached the same point in a relationship as the song's narrator has.

    The narrator stands in the entrance to a D.C. apartment complex where the woman he's visiting lives. Outside, it is raining, reflecting his mood. He might be visiting from across the country, or simply across town; either way, the object of his nostalgic pilgrimage is someone he used to be close to, but who has moved on in her life. As one would expect under the circumstances, the visit provides the occasion for the two to conduct a belated post-mortem examination of their relationship (though we only hear his side). He numbly receives her last demands, although we can only speculate what they are ("Please don't contact me again"?) The moment is awkward and tense for both people; her palms are sweaty, and he stares at the ground, perhaps wishing he could sink into it ("wondering what's buried underneath where I am"). The small details of the scene serve to underscore the sense of mutual alienation: he imagines that his "VISITOR" security badge cruelly announces to the world his status as a mere interloper in this woman's new life. Simultaneously, he's struck by how the woman's new surroundings don't suit his image of her (either he never really understood her, or else she's changed in ways he cannot fully comprehend). Something about all this provides an epiphany for the narrator: he begins to blame himself for driving this woman out of his life and into a new one where he has no real part to play. In a final reflection, the narrator senses that D.C. is a place full of similar stories: it's not only him but the District who will sleep alone tonight (indeed, there's more than a grain of truth to D.C.'s reputation as a city of lonely hearts).

    A sad song. However, I like to think that there's a silver lining in the end: not only have the events culminated in a moment of (apparently) badly-needed self-understanding for the narrator, but also inspired in him a certain feeling of solidarity with the human condition, as he recognizes that he is just one of a multitude of forlorn and hurt souls. Thus, although he may not yet realize it, this experience has placed him on the road to becoming a better person than he was when he was simply the "one worth leaving".
    Res Ipsaon April 20, 2004   Link
  • +5
    My InterpretationIt seems to me that the song is fairly straight forward. It was written after Ben's girlfriend moved to DC.
    When he visits her he has to wear a name tag because he doesn't know any of her DC friends and it needs to be explained to every one of them that he is "a visitor" and "not permanent" and worst of all, why she decided to leave him on the other side of the country in the first place.

    She seems "out of context" in the new apartment complex because it doesn't match with his memories of her home. But the truth is, she's not the one out of place. It's him. Her life has continued on even without him which is why she's now "a stranger with (her) door key." In a nut shell, she's got a whole life going on without his being part of it.

    She seems to have had a very good reason for going to DC. Maybe school or an important life changing job opportunity. From the upbeat tone of the end of the song I imagine what Ben's saying is that after the visit he understands why it was important for her to leave him even though they are both lonely. He understands, but he still feels like he's been abandoned. Or he's being sarcastic, but he doesn't strike me as the sarcastic type.

    I wonder if they broke up. Long distance relationships are hard :(
    CityKittyon February 11, 2013   Link
  • +2
    General CommentI think the friend is in detox. He's visiting 'em. He has to wear a name tag, the bit about 'keeping him dry' and 'bars turn out their lights' and 'autos swerving'. There's definitely an alcohol theme somewhere present.
    browningon June 27, 2003   Link
  • +2
    General CommentThe beauty of this song is that the lyrics, though well written, aren't very deep. The depth comes from the basic truths about life that the story describes. He is visiting an old girlfriend, but how much she has changed amazes him. She seems "out of context" where she is, and it seems all wrong to him. One amazing thing is that despite the fact that none of the changes he describes are positive (out of context, gaudy, stranger) he still understands why he was the one worth leaving. Kind of a non sequitur thing. But perhaps he sees that he was unable to change. Amazing song, my favorite of 2003. And I can't stop listening to it.
    divicanon April 07, 2004   Link
  • +2
    General CommentIm gonna have to agree with Browning on his take of the song being that the singer is visiting a friend in Detox or Rehab.... i dont think all these interpretations about him visiting an old girlfriend are wrong.. but no where does it say hes visitng a women.. but lemme try to explain why i think its alcohol related..

    "I'll wear my badge: a vinyl sticker with big block
    letters adherent to my chest
    that tells your new friends I am a visitor here: I
    am not permanent " ... Hes visiting a rehab or detox... so obviously he wears a name tag to distinguish himself from the others who are staying there.
    "and the only thing keeping me dry is where I am
    you seem so out of context in this gaudy apartment
    complex ".. Hes dry, as in sober.. and the only thing keeping him sober is the fact that hes in a place where people are being helped to not drink, then he realizes his friend is so different now that he isnt drinking.

    Then i think he starts to realize that his friend went to rehab.. or left him as he says because the drinking life that the singer lives is not what he wants anymore... he points this out after he says the district sleeps alone tonight after the bars turn
    out their lights
    and send the autos swerving into the loneliest
    and I am finally seeing why I was the one worth
    leaving " he realizes all the stupid things people do when they drink and sees that his friend "leaving him" was the right thing to do.
    TSavesthedayon October 11, 2004   Link
  • +1
    General Commentno comments on this song? oh man.

    this is such a good song and i don't even know where to start explaining it, so i won't bother. it's so beautiful. a must have.
    fakeliarcheaton June 18, 2003   Link
  • +1
    General CommentMy favourite on the album. To me he's talking about visiting an old friend in DC. Someone he used to be very close to. But now the friend has new friends and they've grown apart and he doesn't feel apart of things anymore with the new friends and the apartment and ect. And he is very humble and explains how he finally realizes how it was worth leaving.
    Title_Trackon June 23, 2003   Link
  • +1
    General Commenti REALLY like this song.
    indiewuvon April 13, 2004   Link
  • +1
    General CommentIt occurred to me after I wrote my earlier comment that the line "The only thing keeping me dry is where I am", which evoked a rainy scene in my mind, could also mean that the only thing keeping the narrator from crying is the fact that he is in a public place.
    Res Ipsaon June 20, 2004   Link
  • +1
    General CommentI'm right there with you on the relationship broken up part, but I have a different take on it. I think he's saying that her new life is pretty shallow (gaudy apartment complex), with people not really connecting (DC sleeps alone tonight). He was the last thing in her life of any substance - to actually break up with him, she had to move away. All of the people in her life now are so shallow, they're not worth any effort from her.

    Although I'm intrigued by the rehab idea too.
    cr0000on July 01, 2004   Link

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