alright i'm in johnson avenue
in San Luis Obispo
and i'm five years old or six maybe
and indications that there's
something wrong with our new house
trip down the wire twice daily

i'm in the living room
watching the watergate hearings
while my stepfather yells at my mother
launches a glass across the room
straight at her head
and i dash upstairs to take cover
lean in close to my little record player on the floor
so this is what the volume knob's for
i listen to dance music
dance music

okay so look, I'm seventeen years old
you're the last best thing i got going
but then the special secret sickness
starts to eat through you
what am i supposed to do?
no way of knowing
so i follow you down your twisting alleyways
find a few cul-de-sacs of my own
there's only one place this road ever ends up
and i don't wanna die alone
let me down, let me down, let me down gently
when the police come to get me
i'm listenin' to dance music
dance music


Lyrics submitted by Mopnugget, edited by zebrakindom

Dance Music song meanings
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47 Comments

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  • +1
    General Commentthis is the song that made me fall in love (read: in love) with the sunset tree...the truth of this album makes me physically sick. i love it.
    raindogon January 29, 2006   Link
  • +1
    My InterpretationWith lyrics in general, and artists like John Darnielle in particular, I think it's a mistake to force literal translations for every line. When he talks about the "special secret sickness" in this song, the vagueness of it is intentional. Whether there was a real life parallel to this story or not, Darnielle's trying to evoke teenage feelings of confusion and helplessness in a way that "you have cancer," or "you have AIDS" can't. Not knowing what's wrong is part of the terror, and it comes through brilliantly.

    On the other hand, I think the narrative vagueness of the last lines is not entirely intentional. Rather he is sacrificing literal "clarity" to imagery. Cul-de-sacs are connected to death as dead-ends, but also work to maintain the suburban setting of the song. Alleyways are connected in our culture to danger, crime, filth. The police are coming to get him. Why? Is he suicidal? Is he on drugs, committing crimes, violent? We don't know, and any attempt to specify requires more information than exists in the song. What we do know is things are going so poorly that his only response is the same as in his childhood, "listening to dance music."

    "...so this is what the volume knob's for..." What an amazing line.
    nycpunk1on January 27, 2009   Link
  • +1
    General CommentHere's a fun fact: the plural of cul-de-sac is actually culs-de-sac.

    Not to say John Darnielle isn't a genius. Because he is. Very much so.
    inmotionagainon March 27, 2009   Link
  • +1
    My Interpretationhere's my take:

    he's 17 years old, so it's that time in your life when you think your life is all dramatic.
    you're the last best thing i got going could be mom, dad, lover, best friend. it's intentionally ambiguous, but it's someone he loves dearly because the rest of his life is shit.
    the special secret sickness could be the alcoholism like another poster mentioned, but it could easily refer to drugs. and because the special sickness has grabbed his loved one, he follows down the twisting alleyways and becomes stuck in several cul-de-sacs on the way.

    the only one place this road ends is death. and since he doesn't want to die alone, he takes his life.
    he is hanging from a noose at the end listening to dance music. so when he says "let me down gently," he's already dead.

    the let me down gently could also plausibly refer to the drug high, but i think that hanging by a noose fits better. it's more consistent with the high drama, fatalistic mind of a troubled teenager.
    sugarkangon November 28, 2009   Link
  • +1
    General CommentSpecial Secret Sickness is alcoholism but I wouldn't say it was based around his mum, I'd say it was a girlfriend that he followed into drink (maybe Kathy from "this year"? he mentions drinking whiskey in that song when he was seventeen). Either way he begins to drink with this girlfriend and gets caught up in the general alcoholism lifestyle and the "let me down" bit is maybe a police intervention or something? That's what I'm thinking
    TheSamPrioron October 31, 2010   Link
  • +1
    General CommentI think the interpretations coming with this are a bit more complicated than they need to be. But maybe since I am from an abusive home, that might make the song a lot simpler for myself.

    The last bit of the song was, to me, about a girl he found that he really connected with. I always assumed this was Cathy, since he references her in the same album during This Year. I took the "special secret sickness" as her knowing about his fathers abusive behavior due to alcoholism, mainly because I told a boyfriend of mine about my own step-dads abuse when I was younger, and the urge to act and tell someone can be strong for those who have not been raised that way vs. us, who don't quite grasp that it is wrong/ that it can be different.

    It could mirror maybe her own hankering for alcohol, I hadn't thought of that until reading these comments. But I thought that he regretted letting his secret out, she might tell, but since he had already told her why reverse himself and miss out on something that could be good? He finds comfort in her, whether they were hard to find or were naturally there because she is a strong person.

    I always interpreted the "when the police come to get me", to her having informed the police of the abuse, and them coming to take him to a safer place, seeing as that is how my abuse ended.

    The peppy beat creates a release for me. There is the inability to NOT dance to this song, despite all the sadness and memories it brings for me, and dancing it out with such straight-forward lyrics is a way of expressing, "you couldn't destroy me, I am loud". This song means a lot to me.

    But it's all about personal experience when it comes to art, I guess.
    soadrocksk8er4lifeon December 31, 2011   Link
  • +1
    General Comment"Okay so i'm seventeen years old
    you're the last best thing i got going
    but then the special secret sickness
    starts to eat through you
    what am i supposed to do?
    no way of knowing
    so i follow you down your twisting alleyways
    find a few cul-de-sacs of my own
    there's only one place this road ever ends up
    and i don't wanna die alone
    let me down, let me down, let me down gently" Reminds me a lot of "Paper Towns" by John Music
    Gorillaz98on February 02, 2012   Link
  • +1
    General CommentJD's stepfather Mike Noonan terrorized and abused him and his mother for most of his childhood. This is another "confessional" song, and it's exactly what it appears to be: Mike gets abusive, teenaged John hides in his room and takes refuge in his music.

    There's another song where he talks about Mike trashing his room in an abusive episode. "Break anything you want, just not my record player", is the line as I recall.
    jf998247on August 26, 2014   Link
  • 0
    General Commentlet me down, let me down, let me down gently
    when the police come to get me
    i'm listenin' to dance music
    dance music

    Brilliant!
    float on OK?on November 06, 2004   Link
  • 0
    General Commentthis is good stuff. He said this is the first album where he actually writes true acounts of his life instead of the of fiction and stories about other people like the other albums. His first autobiography. I like this song a lot.
    think tankon February 17, 2005   Link

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