I count the days the Great Frontier
Forgiving, faced the seventh year
I stand in awe of gratefulness
I can and call forgetfulness

And when I, and when I call
The patient, the patient fall
The Spirit, the Carpenter
Invites us to be with her

What have we become America?
Soldiers on the Great Frontier!
Carpenter and Soldier, one on one
It's the battle, volunteer!

Run from yourself
From your friends, from ya-
Run for your life
For your friends, for ya-
America, merica, meri-
Oh Illinois, Illinois, Illi-

The prairie, the frontier
The perfect farm, it's from here
The fortress, the faker, the cornerstone, the baker
The dancer, the fisher, audition and the disher
The boxer, the fetcher
The chewing gum, dreamcatcher

I count the days the Great Frontier
Forgiving, faced the seventh year
I stand and strain to make ends meet
Five Spirits on the Grand Marquee

And when I, and when I call
The patient, the patient fall
The Spirit, the Carpenter
Invites us to be with her

There was a man at the wall
He was grateful for us all
I saw the wise woman sing
She wasn't asking anything
She wasn't asking anything
How she made the nations sing!

What have we become America?
Soldiers on the Great Frontier!

Run from yourself!
From your friends, from ya-
Run for your life!
For your friends, for ya-
America, merica, meri-
Oh Illinois, Illinois, Illi-

The mattress, the floozies
The actress at the movies
The lantern, the lotion
The wind that wakes the ocean
The Standard Edition
The architect's rendition
The fashion, the fevers
The house we got at Sears

Oh, Great Fire of Great Disaster
Oh, Great Heaven, oh, Great Master
Oh, Great Goat, the curse you gave us
Oh, Great Ghost, protect and save us
Oh, Great River, green with envy
Oh, Jane Addams, spirit send thee
Oh, Great Trumpet and the singers
Oh, Great Goodman, King of Swingers
Oh, Great Bears and Bulls, Joe Jackson
Oh, Great Illinois

Given what you lost, are you better off?
Given what you had, has it made you mad?
Celebrate the few, celebrate the new
It can only start with you


Lyrics submitted by beastiefreak00

The Tallest Man, the Broadest Shoulders (Part 1: The Great Frontier; Part 2: Come to Me Only with Playthings Now) song meanings
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31 Comments

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  • +2
    General CommentAmazing song.

    How does a boy who doesn't even learn to read till the third grade grow up to be one of the greatest, if not the greatest songwriter of the past decade? Blows my mind.
    SnwBorder52on January 25, 2008   Link
  • +1
    General Commenti definitely see all those parallels williford and most those lines at the end also have to do with events in Chicago.

    the fire is fairly obvious and the curse of the billy goat and the chicago cubs are the two main ones that i see.

    and the time signature changes often in this song, but i feel its in 5/4 then switching to 6/4 for that extra beat in the first part. i dont feel anything like a 6/8 time anywhere in this song...
    Yossarian82on December 09, 2009   Link
  • +1
    General CommentI'm pretty sure the title is based upon the Isaac Newton quote "If I have seen further, it is only from standing on the shoulders of giants", i.e 'tallest man' and 'broadest shoulders'.
    Draxzaron July 19, 2010   Link
  • 0
    General CommentI have no idea what this song is about. Any ideas?
    blackemmaon July 14, 2005   Link
  • 0
    General CommentWestward migrants built Chicago on the prairie. This song asks if it was worth it and suggests that we appreciate the grandeur and experience of the new city, good or bad. The West was not for the patient, but for the soldier and carpenter who played equally important roles in transforming the West. Settlers raced into this new life without much contemplation of where they would end up or what they would create. The remainder of the song lists aspects of the city that would have impacted the lives of residents from founding days to the present:

    The fortress – Fort Dearborn,
    The faker – Mayor Daley claimed he yelled this (not something much more vulgar) at the ’68 Convention,
    the chewing gum – Wrigley etc.,
    the floozies – low life on Skid Row perhaps,
    the wind that wakes the ocean – 1893 World’s Fair (“Windy City” put on map)?,
    the house we got at Sears – everything you need or thought you needed you could order from Sears,
    Great Fire – 1871 fire that destroyed city,
    Great Goat – the Cubs are cursed to lose in the postseason because they didn’t let the owner of the Billygoat tavern bring his goat to a game,
    Great River green with envy – Chicago river is dyed green each year for St. Pat’s Day and the city is always envious of New York,
    Jane Addams – she built the Hull House south of the loop in the 19th century to educate and train immigrants and the poor,
    Great Trumpet and the singers – jazz and blues,
    Joe Jackson – Shoeless Joe Jackson of the 1919 World Series scandal.

    You can’t pine for the prairie when all these things are going on around you; embrace them.

    Song title – another of Chicago’s names is The City of Broad Shoulders
    Tundrapyreon July 20, 2005   Link
  • 0
    General CommentNice writeup Tundra.

    I thin that when you look at the title of the song you can come up with 2 possible meanings. The Tallest Man, The Broadest Shoulders. The Broadest Shoulders is obviously a referrence to Chicago. So who or what is the Tallest Man? My first thought was Abraham Lincoln and the line "Forgiving, faced the seventh year" might be a referrence to Lincoln's speech, 4 score and 7 years ago. Another thought after reading Tundra's writeup, is that Sufjan is calling everyone to be the tallest man and stand above all the negative things that have emerged from and happened to the great city of Chicago and stand for all of the good things.
    pstanson August 18, 2005   Link
  • 0
    General CommentWith regard to "Tallest Man"....
    Robert Wadlow is in the record books as the tallest human ever. He was 8'11" and was from Alton, IL, where he lived his entire life.
    GuidedByPollardon September 24, 2005   Link
  • 0
    General Commentalso the sear's tower is pretty freakin' tall.

    "Oh Great Fire of Great Disaster" the great chicago fire where over 300 people died and fires burned for over 24 hours (legend has it that it was started by mrs. o'leary's cow that knocked over a lantern)

    "Oh Great Goodman, King of Swingers" benny goodman - best clarinet player of like, all time!!!

    thanks for some of the things that even a illinois native didnt know, tundraprynne!
    knittingon September 26, 2005   Link
  • 0
    General Commentalso the sear's tower is pretty freakin' tall.

    "Oh Great Fire of Great Disaster" the great chicago fire where over 300 people died and fires burned for over 24 hours (legend has it that it was started by mrs. o'leary's cow that knocked over a lantern)

    "Oh Great Goodman, King of Swingers" benny goodman - best clarinet player of like, all time!!!

    thanks for some of the things that even a illinois native didnt know, tundraprynne!
    knittingon September 26, 2005   Link
  • 0
    General CommentI believe this song is in 5/4 time (or some form of five). The pulses seem to occur on beat 3, then 2 beats after. Then the song seems to switch to 4/4 (or maybe cut time? I'm really bad at determining the difference). There aren't many (recent) popular songs in this time signature. If anybody else has more knowledge (which I bet a lot of people do), please post it because I seriously wish to know!
    musicforlife!on December 13, 2005   Link

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