"Race Among the Ruins" as written by and Gordon Lightfoot....
You think you had the last laugh
Now you know this can't be true
Even though the sun shines down upon you now
Sometimes you must feel blue
You make the best of each new day
You try not to be sad
Even though the sky falls down upon you
Call it midnight, feelin' bad

When you wake up to the promise
Of your dream world comin' true
With one less friend to call on
Was it someone that I knew
Away you will go sailin'
In a race among the ruins
If you plan to face tomorrow
Do it soon

The road to love is littered
By the bones of other ones
Who by the magic of the moment
Were mysteriously undone
You try to understand it
But you never seem to find
Any kind of freedom comin' clean
Is just another state of mind

When you wake up to the promise
Of your dream world comin' true
With one less friend to call on
Was it someone that I knew
Away you will go sailin'
In a race among the ruins
If you plan to face tomorrow
Do it soon

So take the best of all that's left
You know this cannot last
Even though your mother was you maker
From her apron strings you pass
Just think about the fool
Who by his virtue can be found
In a most unusual situation
Playin' jester to the clown

When you wake up to the promise
Of your dream world comin' true
With one less friend to call on
Was it someone that I knew
Away you will go sailin'
In a race among the ruins
If you plan to face tomorrow
Do it soon

When you wake up to the promise
Of your dream world comin' true
With one less friend to call on
Was it someone that I knew
Away you will go sailin'
In a race among the ruins
If you plan to face tomorrow
Do it soon


Lyrics submitted by pharmageek

"Race Among the Ruins" as written by Gordon Lightfoot

Lyrics © Warner/Chappell Music, Inc.

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Race Among the Ruins song meanings
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  • 0
    General CommentFrom the 1976 album, Summertime Dream; the hit, "Wreck of the Edmond Fitzgerald" is the first track.
    Heard this particular song on a progressive rock show on a local FM album station when I was 12 and totally had a change of heart re: Lightfoot's AM radio fodder (OK, not that bad! I liked "Sundown" and "If You Could Read My Mind"). "Race Among the Ruins" was also the 1st song I used my dad's Fisher cassette deck to tape of f the radio, followed in subsequent yrs. by taping punk music off college radio, but I digress...
    What does this song mean to me? First, after I wore out my cassette overplaying this song, I broke down (during my Goth years, mind you!) and bought the album for myself in my 20s. Lyrically, to my mind, it's about someone who has a long-term mental illness describing all the highs and lows of coping with his/her own symptoms as well as viewing other MH consumers (friends, relatives, etc.) dealing with MIs in their own fashion. Ultimately,the chorus repeats, no matter how bumpy the ride or how difficult navigating life's waters, one only gets one life, so live the best life one can. One of the few but best songs I've heard that seems to honestly speak to those with and/or about the underdiscussed, underrated stigma of a mental illness.
    pharmageekon May 10, 2006   Link
  • 0
    My InterpretationThis is somewhat about mental health as well as "growing up". Moreover, this song is about a retrospective/ introspective look at the emotions and feelings one may have about past relationships and the lasting effect they have on you and others. The "ruins" are the bits and pieces of us we all leave behind somewhere with the bits and peices of other people (and perhaps their friends)after people change and their relationships change/ end. 'Racing through" them is sometimes what we do to cope with those memories or to deal with how they affect us in new relationships... or maybe just the long term effects they have on us... maybe lasting guilt, feeling foolish, even a sense of accomplishment that you got out of a terrible relationship. It's amazing how we can feel all those things at once! Also, it seems some people are hurt so bad it seems they are always waiting for the other shoe to fall even though their relationship seems so strong now.
    XUPNon July 24, 2010   Link
  • 0
    My InterpretationTo me, this song is about achieving something that few others have. The verse about thinking you have the last laugh is often not true as the song states. Unfortunately, what you may have as a result of your hard work and achievement is ruins. I think the ruins can be anything, but the song refers to love. So I could imagine someone who has achieved what he or she thought would be great love, only to find there was nothing there. Now, there is a race among the ruins. A race to get divorced, a race to keep the kids, a race among a destroyed relationship. I think the jester to the clown reference could be referring to the judges in our courts. Perhaps the husband or wife has to play jester to judge (who are often just clowns in gowns) in their race among the ruins.

    Either way, this song touches me deeply, not for the love part, but for the achievement part. Much of what we seek to achieve through our efforts turns out to be less fruitful than we first imagined and all of that work is ruins.
    Freedom Loveron July 30, 2012   Link
  • 0
    My InterpretationSeems to me it's about losing loved ones ("one less friend", "bones")
    Anguson April 20, 2013   Link
  • 0
    General CommentThe song is about all that is lost on the road to success, it's fleeting nature and coping with the losses
    rb3868on June 10, 2013   Link
  • 0
    General CommentThis is one of those tunes that has quite a number of levels to it. On one level, the singer is dealing with someone that has suffered a loss and he's trying to get that person to come back to reality. ("If you plan to face tomorrow, do it soon.") On another level, it can be interpreted as the singer having to deal with someone who has an addiction; the person he's talking to is in a "race among the ruins" of addiction (possibly to drugs, alcohol or something else prevalent in the 70's.)
    quampon April 16, 2014   Link
  • 0
    Song MeaningYou broke up with your girlfriend. You know you were right to do it, but now you're feeling sad about it, depressed enough to call off work.

    (Chorus) This was supposed to be the one, your dream girl. You're pitying yourself because you realize you have one less friend and you're lamenting the fact that you got to start over and go through the rat race of finding a new love (that's the race among the ruins). Gordon's advices to do it soon.

    You I know it happens to everyone (the road to love is littered by the bones of other ones- what a great line). You try to understand it but it seems like you'll never find that special someone. Then, you tell yourself the quit thinking like that (just another state of mind) and be positive.

    You try to stay positive (take the best of all that's left) you know the hurt will pass. You tell yourself to grow up, don't be a fool. Be a man about it.

    (Chorus again) ;)
    Bikeymoyon December 07, 2017   Link
  • -3
    General CommentThis song is clearly written to people who suffer voter's remorse for voting for Barack Obama. In the third verse he mentions Joe Biden...
    talltyrionon April 24, 2012   Link

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