Band member Isaac Slade recounted how he once worked as a mentor at a camp for troubled teenagers (Shelterwood in Denver). One particular teen, a musician, was subject to substance abuse, and most forms of...

Step one, you say we need to talk
He walks, you say sit down, it's just a talk
He smiles politely back at you
You stare politely right on through
Some sort of window to your right
As he goes left, and you stay right
Between the lines of fear and blame
You begin to wonder why you came

[Chorus]
Where did I go wrong?
I lost a friend
Somewhere along in the bitterness
And I would have stayed up with you all night
Had I known how to save a life

Let him know that you know best
Cause after all, you do know best
Try to slip past his defense
Without granting innocence
Lay down a list of what is wrong
The things you've told him all along
And pray to God he hears you
And I pray to God he hears you

[Chorus]

As he begins to raise his voice
You lower yours and grant him one last choice
Drive until you lose the road
Or break with the ones you've followed
He will do one of two things
He will admit to everything
Or he'll say he's just not the same
And you'll begin to wonder why you came

[Chorus: x2]

How to save a life
How to save a life

[Chorus: x2]

How to save a life
How to save a life



Lyrics submitted by fray

"How to Save a Life" as written by Joseph King, Isaac Slade

Lyrics © EMI Music Publishing

Lyrics powered by LyricFind


How To Save A Life song meanings
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  • +18
    Song Meaning:Well, I ended up on this site because this song suddenly had a very profound meaning on my life and I was looking to see what it was written about because it fit so perfectly in my situation I figured a Father must have wrote this about his Son.
    I have a 18 year old son who I have been very close to.. As a matter of fact I can safely say he was my best friend (Maybe second only to my wife). I have done my best to try and give him guidance over the years not to make so many of the same mistakes that I had made in my younger years… Well the short version is he moved out of our home about 5 months ago and has a live in girlfriend, started smoking and drinking and now I just found out 4 days ago is doing drugs as well… Although I disapprove of what he was doing I felt that the best way to still be an influence in his life was to just let him know I disapproved but still treat him and his girlfriend as if they were my best friends…. Well the drugs thing broke my heart and we had to have a painful conversation 3 days ago.
    I haven’t cried in over 20 years but since that conversation with my son every time I hear this song I cannot stop the tears from sliding down the side of my cheek… The worst part is He plays guitar and used to sing this song when he lived with us and I never understood the words or even paid attention to them.. I stumbled upon this on YouTube when I was looking for a different song (Angles on the moon) that he used to play…. So I can completely relate lock step to every line in this song, but the chorus is absolutely heart wrenching
    Where did I go wrong, I lost a friend
    Somewhere along in the bitterness
    And I would have stayed up with you all night
    Had I known how to save a life
    chrisottoon January 18, 2013   Link
  • +9
    General Comment:This is my take:

    "step one, you say 'we need to talk'
    he walks, you say 'sit down, it's just a talk'

    He feels the first thing he needs to do to help his friend is to tell him "we need to talk". And reassure him that everything is going to be ok because after all "it's just a talk"

    "he smiles politely back at you
    you stare politely right on through
    some sort of window to your right
    as he goes left and you stay right
    between the lines of fear and blame
    you begin to wonder why you came"

    The friend the storyteller is confronting seems to know what the talk is about so he tries to stay calm by "smiling politely" But the storyteller cant bare to look his friend in the eye so he "stares right on through the window" The window could symbolize literally a window the storyteller is looking at to avoid eye contact with his friend because he is "fearful" of what his friend will think of what he has to say (and fearful for his friends life), especially if his friend is not willing to take the "blame" for his actions. And if his friend wont listen to him it's all just a waste of time and he'll "wonder why he came". Referring back to the window, he could also be speaking figuratively, thinking of this as his window of oppurtunity to help his friend.

    "where did i go wrong?
    i lost a friend somewhere along in the bitterness
    and i would have stayed up with you all night
    had i known how to save a life"

    He's asking himself "where did I go wrong"? How come I couldn’t reach my friend? And possibly feeling guilty for the "bitterness" he feels toward his friend because his friend hasn’t changed his ways (possibly that bitterness pushed his friend away, making him even harder to reach)
    And the next part could mean two different things. The more symbolic: "staying up all night" would mean spending a lot of time trying to "save a life" "had he known how" by being there for his friend if he only knew how to help him straighten out his life. Or "staying up all night" could literally mean staying up all night while his friend was going through withdraw from the drugs he was taking and "had he know how to save a life" would then mean if he knew staying up all night with him to help him through his withdraw was what he needed to save his life, he would have done that. (Sorry if none of that made sense, it made more sense in my head)

    "let him know that you know best
    'cause after all, you do know best”

    He wants his friend to know that he knows what is best for him hence "let him know that you know best".

    “try to slip passed his defense
    without granting innocence”

    He also wants to " try to slip passed his defense" meaning he wants to be gentle enough to were his friend will let down his guard and listen to him but he doesnt want to "grant innocence" meaning not letting his friend believe that his actions weren’t wrong. So basically find a balance between sensitivity and sternness when he is confronting his friend.

    “lay down a list of what is wrong
    things you told him all along”

    Once he has accomplished that he wants to "lay down a list of what is wrong, things he told him all along" In other words, once his friend is listening he's going to try to tell him all the things that he has done wrong, like he's attempted to in the passed.

    “pray to god he hears you
    and pray to god he hears you"

    The storyteller then realizes all you can do after that is "pray to god he hears you"

    "as he begins to raise his voice
    you lower yours and grant him one last choice"

    His friend get angry because of the things he is telling him, but he stays calm and lays it on the line.

    "drive until you lose the road
    or break with the ones you've followed"

    He tells his friend that he can drive himself to his end or choose a better path to follow.

    "he will do one of two things
    he will admit to everything
    or he'll say he's just not the same"

    His friend will either admit to his wrong doing or he’ll just say he’s not the same person that he used to be and that he can’t change who he currently is.

    “and you'll begin to wonder why you came”

    And obviously if his friend chooses not to change “you’ll begin to wonder why you came” because it was a unsuccessful attempt to help his friend.

    That's just my take.
    alwaysanoleon March 23, 2006   Link
  • +7
    My Interpretation:I've always thought this song was about someone who blames themselves for their loved one's suicide.

    "Step one, you say, "We need to talk"/He walks, you say, "Sit down, it's just a talk""
    Have you ever tried talking to someone about their health when they're obviously mentally ill? They don't want to talk about it. They just want to curl up in themselves, and whenever you confront them about their well-being, they try to walk away.

    "Let him know that you know best/'cuz after all, you do know best"
    They try to convince their loved one to get help, get better, etc. To me, this line always sounded a little sarcastic. Maybe they didn't know what was best, maybe their advice actually made their friend even more depressed, or, if they weren't already, suicidal.

    "And I would have stayed up with you all night/had I known how to save a life"
    If they had only known what their friend had been attempting, they would have stayed up and talked them out of it, or at least tried to. Instead, they either didn't know what was happening, or didn't know how to deal with it and let their friend slip away.

    "As he begins to raise his voice/You lower yours and grant him one last choice"
    The loved one gets angry and defensive, and an argument ensues. The two choices they give him--"driving until he loses the road" or "breaking the ones he's followed"--may have been taken wrong and the loved one was driven to suicide.


    This is just is my take on it, it's probably actually about drug use. But with my past, this is how I've always interpreted the song. Suicide has always been an unfortunate factor in my life, and this is all I can think about when I hear this song. It makes me cry every time. c':

    KeenaChanon July 16, 2011   Link
  • +7
    Song Meaning:In my opinion, it's about mentoring a kid, maybe in the Big Brother/Sister program or maybe a niece or nephew or your own kid who is on drugs or having problems and doesn't know how to make the right decision. In this situation, you know there's a problem, but this kid maybe doesn't, and he will defend his actions to the death because it's the first real decision he's ever made on his own.

    It's a tough situation, because if you cross the line and come across as too controlling, they will want to stay their course even more, but if you aren't stern enough, they won't respect you. The lines

    "Lay down a list of what is wrong

    The things you've told him all along

    And pray to God he hears you"

    show the very real and tragic fact that honestly, you cannot do anything about it even though you can see him making the wrong choice and you know how he is going to hurt himself. All you can do is pray that he realises his own mistakes, that he has listened to the things you've been saying to him his whole life to prepare him for this moment.

    "As he begins to raise his voice

    You lower yours and grant him one last choice

    Drive until you lose the road

    Or break with the ones you've followed"

    Things are not going as planned, and the speaker is afraid of what will happen, but he knows it's absolutely crucial that he keep his cool or else drive the kid further into his problems. After this, the kid will make his own choice ("He will do one of two things He will admit to everything Or he'll say he's just not the same")

    The next line, "And you'll begin to wonder why you came", further alludes to this futility.
    Avacynon December 23, 2012   Link
  • +6
    General Comment:this song is about a father and his son and his son is doing drugs
    "or break with the ones you've followed" that means that hes followed the drugs addicts and hes gonna break with them if he doesnt change his ways
    if u read more of the lyrics it will all make sense
    this song is awesome
    standrod38on December 29, 2005   Link
  • +4
    General Comment:This song is very dear to my heart. In fact, I have a special place in my heart for this song, along with You Found Me, Boston by Augustana, and To Write Love On Her Arms by Helio.
    But anyway. This song is very dear to my heart. Someone who's working to get through depression and being suicidal, this song makes me feel like I'm able to see me through my close friend, who's stayed up with me through long nights just to keep me alive. So to me, it's about someone who's terrified about someone they love committing suicide and being lost without them.
    JustSoLoston January 22, 2013   Link
  • +3
    General Comment:to me...this song is about two people breaking up and its altogether a mess. its like...they want to be together but they have too many differences that they cant get past. "i wouldve stayed up with you all night...had i known how to save a life" reminds me of the fact that, even when you love someone so much, you really cant change who they are. and, obviously, this song shows that he cant save her from whats happening so the relationship just cant go on anymore.


    thats in general.

    but if you look real deep into the lyrics its pretty clear that there has to be some sort of drug incident involved. it was obviously written by the lead singer who is a recovered drug addict.
    j_roh09on March 15, 2006   Link
  • +3
    General Comment:I love this song. But i think its one of those songs that can mean anything to anyone. It has a sort of essence where it could be about loss or just about a bad day.
    its calming and its a good song to listen to when u think theres no reason to go on.
    yeah :]
    -Emily
    ABCDEmilyon May 11, 2006   Link
  • +3
    My Interpretation:This song can mean a lot of things for many people. I used to wonder what it meant, but now I know, because I went through it.
    In the beginning of a "she" is trying to save a relationship or friendship that she had with "him".
    Actually, the singer/narrator is remembering the way he reacted to her attempt to save their relationship and regretting his unwillingness to listen.
    She's trying to gather what little chance she has left with him, and he pretends not to understand. He becomes angry at her accusations,
    "As he begins to raise his voice,
    you lower yours and grant him one last choice.
    Drive until you lose the road
    Or break with the ones you've followed
    He will do one of two things
    He will admit to everything
    Or he'll say he's just not the same
    And you'll begin to wonder why you came."
    This means that she gave him a choice to improve or save their relationship, and he has two options. He can acknowledge what she's saying and they can work through the problem together.
    The singer chose the latter, and she wondered why she even hoped she could fix it.
    "Where did I go wrong?
    I lost a friend somewhere along in the bitterness."
    If he had chosen to talk it out with her, they would still be together. When he says,
    "I would have stayed up with you all night
    had I known how to save a life."
    He's talking about the life of their relationship. They went from being really close/together to being barely friends or acquaintances
    In this instance I was the girl.
    It's painful every time he tries to talk to me now, even though it's been months.
    This song somehow gives me hope that it will get better.
    It will never be romantic again, but I miss the good times we had together.
    mycamelot16on July 17, 2013   Link
  • +2
    General Comment:What i love about this song is the lyrics are so powerful in the 1st 2nd and 3rd verse that it gives you a visual and you can just picture exactly what is going on in the story. It's a very realistic situation that is created in this song.
    I basically agree with the idea that it is about a drug addiction either between a father and a son or two friends. But it honestly could relate to anyone who is trying to save a loved one, but nothing they say can change the persons mind.
    This is just one of those songs that i can listen to over and over and never get sick of.
    xo9HHon August 28, 2009   Link

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