"A Good Man Is Hard to Find" as written by and Sufjan Stevens....
Once in the backyard,
she was once like me,
she was once like me.
Twice when I killed them,
they were once at peace,
they were once like me.

Hold to your gun, man,
and put off all your peace,
put off all the beast.
Paid a full of these, I wait for it,
but someone's once like me.
She was once like me.

I once was better.
I put off all my grief.
I put off all my grief.
So I go to hell, I wait for it,
but someone's left me creased.
Someone's left me creased.


Lyrics submitted by EvilPopkin

"A Good Man Is Hard to Find" as written by Sufjan Stevens

Lyrics © NEW JERUSALEM MUSIC

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A Good Man Is Hard to Find song meanings
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  • +2
    General CommentWhat I think about the story and song....

    The grandmother's character is the embodiment of complacent, comfortable, luke-warm Christianity. Notice how until it's end, everything in the grandmother's world is perfectly cliche. O'Connor makes it clear, though, that she undergoes a a radical transformation moments before her death, when she offers grace to The Misfit, reaching out and calling him her own child. Among other things she dies in a position of oneness with God, in the position of Christ on his cross or the Budha in meditation, "smiling up at the cloudless sky." His immediate response is to shoot, but the story's end shows the beginning of his own transformation- tears show a new e-motion, a motion out of himself. Since the grandmother is not a "good" character the reader is forced to offer her grace as well, in order to stay within the story's premises.

    I think that the song is from the Misfit's perspective, perhaps at the moment after he kills the grandmother. The peace and putting off of grief he speaks of is not authentic peace in Christ, but the "peace" that comes from have a dead spirit, a spirit that is detached from its humanity and all it entails (conscience, vulnerability, etc). Detachment and alienation are the major themes of American modernism, the movement O'Connor was at the end of. The grandmother was once at peace in that way too. Although the two characters are opposites in terms of authenticity and fakeness, she was once like him in that her spirit was also narrowed and deadened before her transformation. In The grace that she offers him and the resulting moving out of himself (his glasses were damp with tears) make him vulnerable, the very thing he has avoided, and that is to be "creased," emotionally, intellectually, and ultimatly spiritually.
    jkleinon February 25, 2006   Link
  • +1
    General Commentwell sufjan is writing from the misfit's point of view. Even though the grandmother is the main focus in the story, there is some sympathy to be held for the criminal who has abandoned any intentions on living a good life. He wishes to displease god. I don't want to give away anything in the story, so I'll stop.

    Sufjan's lyrics reflect the misfit's lost hope, and his wishes to "putting off all peace." He's given up, and is ready for whatever will come of all he has done. I'm unsure what Sufjan means when he says "she was once like me." I'm hoping someone will clarify that.
    ifoundareasonon January 24, 2005   Link
  • +1
    General CommentI agree with all the above statements.

    The grandma is also a bad person in the story.
    She brings the cat even though no one else wants it in the car. She talks too much, she points out that the man is the misfit and puts everyone in danger. O'Conner was trying to show that the grandma only was good when a gun was pointed at her head and when she came that close to dying. She tried to save herself by telling the misfit that he's a good person and that God loves him. But we all know she is being fake. So I think the song is basically saying that we are all like the grandma in some way. He is singing in the misfits point of view. The misfit is a bad person and he's isn't trying to be good.
    a_transienton May 04, 2005   Link
  • +1
    General Commenteveryone can read the story here: caxton.stockton.edu/jjm27Litt2143/stories/…

    it is an amazing story, especially if you really look into it and think about it. don't take it at face value... it is so rich and full of meaning. it's also hilarious. and heartbreaking.
    yellowpaperoseon October 01, 2006   Link
  • +1
    General CommentSome evidence from O'Connor's story that Sufjan is writing from the perspective of The Misfit:

    "[The Misfit] had a long creased face and didn't have on any shirt or undershirt." [i.e., "Someone's left me creased"]

    I think this song conveys The Misfit's disturbance and incomplete resignation that he must be the instrument of "peace" - in the sense of transcendence following spiritual shock, as opposed to complacency, which "peace" also means at times in the song - for others while remaining unfulfilled himself.

    In spurning the grandmother's radical Christian gesture, The Misfit also "puts off all his peace" anew. Previously, his lifestyle had challenged his own (and others') complacency; at that moment, he chooses to joylessly transform his victims (or not), rather than allow himself to be transformed into "peace."

    From O'Connor's story:

    "She would of been a good woman," The Misfit said, "if it had been somebody there to shoot her every minute of her life."

    "Some fun!" Bobby Lee [his accomplice] said.

    "Shut up, Bobby Lee," The Misfit said. "It's no real pleasure in life."

    Sufjan Stevens imagines in this song that, after their encounter, The Misfit continues to be troubled by the double meaning of "peace," the transformative power of violence, and his own proximity to/involvement in (his victim's) salvation.

    For whatever reason, I empathize with Sufjan's "A Good Man" but not "John Wayne Gacy, Jr." I guess it's easy enough to understand wanting faith but rejecting it because faith is a monumental, complicated burden.

    O'Connor's characterization is so powerful because The Misfit is struggling with fundamental questions - the meaning of life and Christ's sacrifice - and ultimately with having provided meaning to another that he himself lacks, a kind of self-sacrifice.
    mochajason October 07, 2006   Link
  • +1
    General CommentAs for the word "creased", I always just thought it meant like a wrinkle. You know, like pleats in pants. Or when you fold a paper, you are creasing it, you're making it sharp at a point. Maybe it means that the old woman "sharpened" the misfit; she upset him, ruffled him, or caused him to bring out whatever caused conflict in him.
    juliam919on October 11, 2006   Link
  • +1
    General CommentI've given a lot of thought to this song, as I've been an O'Connor fan for ages, and it's actually really easy for me to see the last verse being sung from the grandmother's point of view. This is just a theory. I haven't neccessarily settled on anything, as far as this song goes. Just something for you to wrap your brain around.

    After her son, daughter in-law, and grandchildren were taken into the woods and shot, she "put off all her grief" to plead with The Misfit and urge him to pray. She shamelessly begs for her life, offering money and lavishing him with cheap compliments, disregarding the loss of her family members. Perhaps why she may find herself "going to hell"? As stated above, "creased" can mean being grazed by a bullet. Far from being "grazed", the grandmother had, in fact, been pummelled through the chest. Perhaps "creased" is simply being used as an alternative for "shot", etc. Our last visual is of the grandmother, in a sort of creased-over position, "half sitting and half laying" in a ditch. That's how she was left. That's how the story ends.

    Trying to flay and anatomize the works of Mary Flannery O'Connor and Sufjan Stevens is like fumbling to skillfully execute a brain transplant, blindfolded, with little medical knowledge, while wearing a suit of armor. Luckily, this is songmeanings.net and not a gravely ill patient splayed on an operating table. A song won't haunt us for butchering its meaning ... I hope.
    freiheiton January 09, 2007   Link
  • +1
    General CommentFirst off, it's safe to say that O'Connor has a completely different take than Sufjan. I've read O'Connor's story and came away thinking that the Misfit, as Larson has stated, is Christ. He's taking self-righteous, smug, Churchites and putting them through the gauntlet of true Christianity (or persecution). Here are some signs to support this.....

    "Daddy was a card himself," The Misfit said. "You couldn't put anything over on him. He never got in trouble with the Authorities though. Just had the knack of handling them."

    - this represents God the Father, whom the Jewish leaders (Authorities) had no problem with.
    ------------------------------------------------------
    The grandmother shrieked. She scrambled to her feet and stood staring. "You're The Misfit!" she said. "I recognized you at once!"

    "Yes'm," the man said, smiling slightly as if he were pleased in spite of himself to be known, "but it would have been better for all of you, lady, if you hadn't of reckernized me."

    - She only recognizes him when her family is in trouble, and she sees him for who he really is. He tells her that it would have been better if she never recognized him, because now she will have to suffer (Jesus mentions a number of times that in order to find your life, you must lose it).

    The Misfit also states that he doesn't know why he was locked up, as no one explained it to him. He writes in the sand, doesn't have a shirt (Jesus' clothes were left in the tomb), and speaks of justice in an all-or-nothing way, as if everyone is guilty of something and all guilt deserves the same penalty.


    As for Sufjan's meaning, I think....

    "Once in the Backyard" represents how children start off the same, on fair ground, but move in new directions. Even though we evaluate by what decions others make after childhood, the Misfit is still like the old woman in that they still possess a sin nature. Even so, from his view, he is now skewed.

    "Twice when I killed them." - The Misfit killed them in his mind and in actuality. O'Connor understood that in God's site, sins of the mind were the same as sings of the physical state.

    I think the rest of the song deals with the Misfit's close encounter with an emotion that should have been dead long ago - the understanding and acceptance of grace. He is startled by the old woman's desperate change, and how close he came to it himself ("Someone's left me creased"). It is almost as if his determination and acceptance in a sinful, hellbound life are somewhat damaged after his encounter with this woman.

    This is just my view. I'm sure Sufjan can enlighten us one of these days as to what he really meant.
    Joelius_Caesaron April 25, 2007   Link
  • +1
    General Commentin a live version of the song sufjan extends the lyrics at the end:


    half awake, half asleep
    lying half awake, or half asleep
    I can feel you there
    Like the gun on my head

    half awake, or half asleep


    I'm sure it has more to do with the story, but I haven't read it yet
    MadeMyself7on December 09, 2008   Link
  • 0
    General CommentIt's supposedly based on the Flannery O'Connor story of the same name. I've only read a small part of it, but surely someone who has can step in and add to this, yes?
    avuncularon October 09, 2004   Link

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