Got up before dawn
Went down to the racetrack
Riding with the windows down
Shortly after your first heart attack
You parked behind the paddock
Cracking asphalt underfoot
Coming up through the cracks
Pale green things
Pale green things

You watched the horses run their workouts
You held your stopwatch in your left hand
And a Racing Form beneath your arm
Casting your gaze way out to no man's land
Sometimes I'll meet you out there
Lonely and frightened
Flicking my tongue out at the wet leaves
Pale green things
Pale green things

My sister called at 3 AM
Just last December
She told me you how you'd died at last,
At last?
That morning at the racetrack
Was one thing that I remembered
I turned it over in my mind
Like a living Chinese finger trap
Seaweed in Indiana sawgrass
Pale green things
Pale green things


Lyrics submitted by smallwonderrobot, edited by therydog10, andrewbadr

Pale Green Things song meanings
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20 Comments

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  • +6
    General CommentI wondered perhaps if the pale green things mentioned were analogous to signs of goodness in his stepfather... that the weak plants pushing their way up through the ground were evidence that his stepfather wasn't all bad, but they were still weak.

    Though I like the other ideas posted too, it could be any of them really.
    sad-violin-musicon September 02, 2008   Link
  • +4
    General CommentThis one just kicked me square in the chest, leaving me breathless and tearful.

    I've never really sat down and really listened.

    "I turned it over in my mind / Like a living Chinese finger trap"

    That is to say, you have to let it go and stop pulling at it in order to escape from the trap that was set for you. Acceptance...

    Thank you Darnielle.
    antihexeon October 11, 2012   Link
  • +2
    General CommentAll of John's songs on Sunset Tree are about his childhood, and most involve his stepfather, Mike Noonan, in some context, specifically the bitterness, fear, rebelliousness and general damage to John's spirit produced by his stepfather's frequent physical and emotional abuse of John's mother and himself during his teenaged years in the early 80s.

    Pale Green Things is the same topic, but a vastly different emotion. Anybody who has ever had an abusive/neglectful/addicted parent will understand. Parents influence our lives more than any other person, and something about that relationship (the "living Chinese finger trap") forces us to consider the results of this impact even long after the physical influence is gone. For children of abuse, this is especially hard to swallow. In many ways, they bear physical and emotional scars of their abuse and all they want is to feel loved by the abusive parent, even long after they've realized it's impossible. John built a life of his own after Mike Noonan, but the harder he pulled to get away, the more he couldn't forget what living under him was like.

    In December 2004, Noonan died "at last, at last?" and John got the phone call at 3am that simultaneously fulfilled his deepest, bitterest childhood wish that his stepfather die, but also stimulated an instantaneous recall of one of the few "good" moments he had with him. This is actually a common phenomenon when an abusive parent or spouse dies; there is a need to remember something good or valuable about the relationship so that the entire period spent under the abuser's control isn't seen to have been "wasted", or "meaningless".

    John's random memory of that pre-dawn morning at the track with his stepson was the little tuft of pale green Indiana sawgrass, peeking through the hard, broken asphalt of his stepfather's nature. It was literally the straw John's memory drew in that moment when his mind asked say "My stepfather is dead. Is there anything good I remember about him now?"
    jf998247on June 10, 2013   Link
  • +1
    General CommentWhen he finds out about the stepfather's death, perhaps John starts thinking about the more pleasant memories he had of him, or perhaps how he can relate to him...

    Anybody got an inkling as to what the 'pale green things' refer to?
    McWatton August 16, 2006   Link
  • +1
    General Commentshe told me how you'd died at last, at last?

    that second 'at last' is like a kick to the throat

    I think that a significant amount of time has passed and he forgot that his stepfather is still alive. But now he can't think about anything else, and unlike in the rest of the sunset tree, he remembers the good times at the race track when he used to take john when he was younger.
    he rememberes getting up before dawn. the call at 3am.
    and realizing that even though it's over it's like a finger trap that he can't ever really escape from.
    but then repeats the chorus
    and even though his stepfather's died, there is new life like the indiana sawgrass and seaweed

    and if anyone wanted to know, indian sawgrass is a grass that is coarse and saw edged, but gives shelter and food to a lot of wildlife.
    OHDARLINon September 16, 2009   Link
  • +1
    General Commentalso when he says

    Sometimes I'll meet you out there
    Lonely and frightened
    Flicking my tongue out at the wet leaves
    Pale green things
    Pale green things


    i think he's in a way forgiving him. somehow
    OHDARLINon September 16, 2009   Link
  • 0
    General CommentDoesn't he sing 'you parked behind the paddock'? That would make more sense to me.
    I especially love the
    'Sometimes I'll meet you out there
    Lonely and frightened
    Flicking my tongue out at the wet leave'
    beautiful song!
    HazyJaneon August 15, 2006   Link
  • 0
    General CommentI thought that the "pale green things" was a way of equating scraggy grass growing in hostile conditions to him growing in similar difficulties. They may be pale green things, but they are tenacious, alive, and can derive some pride or satisfaction from the struggle.
    timboon August 17, 2006   Link
  • 0
    General CommentI think the way that he alludes to "pale green things" (grass coming through the asphalt, the wet leaves, seaweed and Indiana sawgrass) throughout the song was a way of juxtaposing the death of his stepfather with something that really represents new live, along with being parts of his memories of his stepfather.
    JulyJulyon December 28, 2006   Link
  • 0
    General CommentIt does make more sense for him to "park behind the paddock"...

    It also sounds like that's what he says.
    bright_eyes13on December 30, 2006   Link

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