Svetlana sucks lemons across from me,
and I am progressing abominably.
And I do not know my own way to the sea
but the saltiest sea knows its own way to me.

The city that turns, turns protracted and slow
and I find myself toeing th'embarcadero
and I find myself knowing the things that I knew
which is all that you can know on this side of the blue

And Jamie has eyes black and shiny as boots
and they march at you, two-by-two (re-loo, re-loo)
when she looks at you, you know she's nowhere near through:
it's the kindest heart beating this side of the blue.

And the signifieds butt heads with the signifiers,
and we all fall down slack-jawed to marvel at words!
While across the sky sheet the impossible birds,
in a steady, illiterate movement homewards.

And Gabriel stands beneath forest and moon.
See them rattle & boo, see them shake, see them loom.
See him fashion a cap from a page of Camus;
see him navigate deftly this side of the blue.

And the rest of our lives will the moments accrue
when the shape of their goneness will flare up anew.
hen we do what we have to do (re-loo, re-loo)
which is all you can do on this side of the blue.


Lyrics submitted by Mopnugget

This Side of the Blue song meanings
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40 Comments

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  • +4
    General CommentDespite all the interesting interpretations of this song, I am almost certain that the entire song revolves around existentialism. Alll its characters- Svetlana, Jaime, and Gabriel, have no intentions and no purpose- it is only stated what they are doing at the moment without any feedback on their actions (reading Camus' The Stranger is identical to this style). I also agree that the quote "see him fashion a cap from a page of Camus" represents the idea of living in a life of pointlessness. "This Side of the Blue" is a reference to the existentialist outlook on the world- regardless of how you look at it, it is meaningless. The echo of the boots- "re-loo re-loo" is the most clear identification of the existentialist theme, paralleling the pointless of Sysephus, who goes about rolling his rock up the hill in the face of certain defeat. Ms. Newsom clearly has a keen understanding and preoccupation with existentialism, which is apparent in her other song such as Only Skin, where she sings "But always up the mountainside you're scrambling... well what is this, scrap of sassafras, eh sysephus?- as well was in Ribbon Bows, where she begs of a dog to "Blink once if God, twice if no God." "The shape of their gonesss" is also another interesting existentialist reference, hinting at the pitiful existence of the human form. Anyways, I am seriously considering Ms. Newsom as the topic of my extended essay for International Bacclaureate.
    micaspangledon July 11, 2011   Link
  • +1
    General CommentAnyone else see homage to Joni Mitchell in the title? (Both Sides Now & Blue?) Bit tenuous.
    _ellieon April 28, 2005   Link
  • +1
    General Commentthis song is the most beautiful thing on 'the milk-eyed mender' i think. her voice is so subtle and the music is the most wonderful and soothing folk i have ever heard. i think that 'this side of the blue' may be a reference to earth, the other side of the sky to heaven, with the continuous restrictions that we suffer on earth captured in the repetition of 'all you can do on this side of the blue' and the way she talks of gabriel navigating deftly as if he knows exactly where he's going, showing the difference between earth and heaven throughout the song really, how even the loveliest woman is merely 'the hardest heart beating this side of the blue', just a determined life. who knows.
    tommyjazzon June 18, 2005   Link
  • +1
    General CommentAnd the signifieds butt heads with the signifiers,
    and we all fall down slack-jawed to marvel at words!
    While across the sky sheet the impossible birds,
    in a steady, illiterate movement homewards.

    Is a reference to post-structural lingustics (and her seeming distaste for it). These links should help with that a bit:
    en.wikipedia.org/wiki/…
    en.wikipedia.org/wiki/…
    billylostinon November 12, 2005   Link
  • +1
    General CommentFirst of all, I do love Joanna Newsom. But sometimes I think she lacks clarity.
    Songs like En gallop and Peach, plum, pear are difficult to grasp the meaning but in the end they are beautifully written ideas. But I'm not sure it applies to all her songs.
    I've googled a lot on "Bridges and balloons" and apart from compliments to her impressive vocabulary, I haven't found good analyses on what she meant. It's like people are stunned by her skills with words, and they take the meaning for granted as if it was a sin to question what the hell she meant.
    I see people commenting on this song, but no one can really point out what she is specifically talking about. Alright, it is a critics on semiotics, there are references about existentialism, and so what? Perhaps I lack the culture to understand what she is saying, but then, can anybody explain me?
    When I have to spend hours to understand a song meaning I always remember this Nietzsche's quote:
    "Those who know that they are profound strive for clarity. Those who would like to seem profound strive for obscurity" (The Gay Science, sec. 173)
    Maybe one should value her words as beautiful indeed, but just as part of the song, with no further meaning (only for her, I guess).
    nbriion September 23, 2006   Link
  • +1
    General CommentI've always seen this as a song about sea travel, and it conjures up an image (for me, at least) of a lone woman sailing the coasts of the world in a sailboat just big enough for herself. It kind of brings to mind a feeling of intellectual malaise and a bit of self-loathing; the narrator has all this education, but she's finding that the rest of the world doesn't require it, so she can't find anywhere to apply it. It feels like a lofty intellectual's search for common sense.
    bodishmoshersonon August 08, 2007   Link
  • +1
    Song MeaningThis song strikes me as much less fantastical in meaning than it is in words... I think it's about that void you fall into when you're no longer a kid but you don't feel like an adult, and how the narrator (most probably meant to actually be Joanna) and her different friends are dealing with it. It doesn't have a message as much as paints a picture of that midway point in life, and feeling confined by the emotions it comes with.

    The narrator herself seems to be feeling depressed, without direction ("I do not know my own way to the sea"), uninspired ("I find myself knowing the things that I knew"), and negative about her place in life (the sea coming to her representing just letting things happen, along with the allusion to things happening in waves). With her reference to embarcadero I picture her on a train in San Francisco late at night (haha), over thinking to the point of feeling paralyzed.

    Svetlana doesn't sound too positive either. Jamie on the other hand seems to have something planned, goals in life (marching on, nowhere near through). Gabriel seems to be in a similar place as the narrator but embraces his existentialism (wears it as a hat) and uses it as his direction for life, takes comfort in it.

    The fourth stanza sort of paints of picture of how all of these characters spend their time, marveling at words (possibly stoned? or maybe they just really like words), watching birds, sort of existential activities as it is. It just helps to tie together an image of what each character has is dealing with and how they approach it differently. The last stanza also helps to complete the picture of where things will go, while still leaving it open enough to whatever may come (yet not in a terribly hopeful way).
    thegrueon September 30, 2009   Link
  • 0
    General Commentw/e.
    this is probably my favorite joanna newsom song.
    by far.
    lowellisdynamiteon May 25, 2005   Link
  • 0
    General Comment*..determined life, not noticing that when she's gone, she'll be happier and more advanced than when she was alive. who knows.
    tommyjazzon June 18, 2005   Link
  • 0
    General CommentAs an art history major, the Camus and semiotics references are enough to make me excited. This song is brilliant and by far one of my favorites on the album.
    fallnislikethison January 04, 2006   Link

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