"Springfield, or Bobby Got a Shadfly Caught in His Hair" as written by and Sufjan Stevens....
I don't care to say
What I failed to recognize
Every single day
From the poker to the prize

Running out of Springfield, I worked for the Capitol Air
In the bags
Found a woman there who said, she had a mind
To make me a messenger man

If my father took his life
For the national plan
I don't care, I'm not about to stick my grave
With an apron and a bucket of plans

Never ever, I can take the pillow cases
Off the yellow pillows, make a property line
From the bed in the living room, the living room
The morning papers made the most out of nothing at all

So we took the room
With a view of the runaway
I took off my clothes
And she took it for a holiday

I was taken for all the things
That I never had before
Running out of Springfield, she left me
With a note saying, "Bobby, don't look back"

And if my wife took a bicycle ride
With a knife in her hand
I saw it coming all the shad-flies run at once
With a trumpet or a train, oh, I'm running from it

Wait a minute, wait a minute, give a minute, lady
I can explain the aftershave
Wait a minute, wait a minute, give a minute
Bobby got a shad fly caught in his hair, yes, he does



Lyrics submitted by crochetyouahat

"Springfield, Or Bobby Got a Shadfly Caught in His Hair" as written by Sufjan Stevens

Lyrics © NEW JERUSALEM MUSIC

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Springfield, or Bobby Got a Shadfly Caught in His Hair song meanings
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41 Comments

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  • +2
    General CommentWell I'll preface this saying that there's a lot of personal meaning anyone can draw, with or without a "correct" interpretation of the actual narrative. This is after all an amazing heartfelt and hard-hitting song emotionally. But to my sense of the story, aside from what it means personally, it goes something like this:

    Our narrator works a wage job at an airport "in the bags" for Capitol Air. He is financially troubled, has a gambling habit, and finds his father's life choices embarrassing and weak (I read this as joining the military... a cynical view of that being suicide for limited financial security.. though this detail could be off) and what he failed to recognize in his gambling was the great risk he was willing to undertake to strike it rich by any means possible. Add to this a troubled marriage on the verge of divorce and you have a desperate man with a weak sense of risk and enough frustration to take the next big windfall and escape that comes his way, legal or not.

    A woman, seeing his position working behind airport security, offers him a lot of money to become a mule--that is, to transport illicit materials. Drugs? Documents? Priceless artifacts? Exotic plant seeds? Who knows? (Probably drugs. I mean come on.) We do know that though this transaction is the formal pretense of their relationship, there may well be a sexual element, and even something beyond mere exploitation. "Bobby, don't look back."

    At last, we realize how short lived his scheme was. Among his personal belongings is a bottle of aftershave, filled, of course, with not-even-close-to-aftershave. "I can explain," he pleads in futility to the TSA personnel, as he considers the life cycle of the shadfly. He is running from them; from the truth that like theirs, his was but a day-long last-ditch effort at life, doomed from the start to be tumultuous, risky, chaotic, and ending in certain death (figuratively for our Bobby).

    Bobby got a shadfly caught in his hair. Yes he did.

    Sex is almost certainly a part of the narrative, but I think it's mostly a part of the shadfly metaphor; of the lust-unto-death drive of their final hours.

    -bg
    bguileson August 10, 2011   Link
  • +1
    General CommentThis song reminds me of The Upper Peninsula from the Michigan album. In both songs, there's a male character whose life is somehow falling apart. This is one of the best songs by Sufjan, in my opinion. The lyrics are perfect.
    crnthnon July 18, 2006   Link
  • +1
    General CommentApparently, a shadfly is a kind of mayfly that lives only a few days to reproduce, and then dies. It spend most of its life underwater and a larva. I think the fly is a metaphor for the character, he lived a mundane life, only to advance into a stage where he was consumed only with sex, and his life fell apart.
    wanderingmountyon July 20, 2006   Link
  • 0
    General CommentThis song is flippin' amazing. Period.
    MixedUpConfusionon May 12, 2006   Link
  • 0
    General CommentMan, oh man. I love solid b-side albums. 'The Avalanche' could have been a whole new album and I'd never have suspected otherwise.
    Nimbus the Kittenon May 14, 2006   Link
  • 0
    General CommentIn addition to wanderingmounty's information on the shadfly: I looked up Bobby and Springfield, Illinois. the only person I found was comedian born there in 1888 or so who started with small parts, then he did predominantly efiminate parts, then he became famous for playing hitler in movies. Towards the end of his career, he was simply waiting to get little one-liners in a few movies. That sounds similar to the story of the shadfly...spending most of his life unnoticed(under water) and then he finally comes above surface to get his break(as HITLER of all things) and everything falls apart from there as he is no longer needed. Or maybe he has nothing to do with the song, but Sufjan seems to introduce the history of these places into his stories...Maybe I'll come back and critique it further some other time. In the mean time, look it up urself and see what you find.
    kev404on July 21, 2006   Link
  • 0
    General CommentThat was Bobby Watson by the way...
    kev404on July 21, 2006   Link
  • 0
    General CommentI think this song is about a man losing faith in the world and undergoing something of a (to use a terrible cliche) mid-life crisis: he's realised that his life hasn't really meant anything to this point, and he tries to find meaning in an extramarital affair, but it doesn't work.

    "I don't care to say what
    I failed to recognize
    Every single day from the poker to the prize"

    I think this references somewhat subtly the viewpoint character's failing marriage.

    "Running out of Springfield
    I worked for the Capitol Air in the bags
    Found a woman there who said
    She had a mind to make me a messenger man"

    Offering herself?

    "If my father took his life for national plan
    I don't care
    I'm not about to stake my grave with a paper and a bucket of plans
    Never ever"

    I don't care. He doesn't even care about the death of his father, let alone anything else.

    "I can take the pillowcases off the yellow pillows
    Make a property line from the bed
    In the living room, the living room, the morning papers
    Make the most out of nothing at all"

    The reportage of the papers is all about nothing at all. The discordant guitar solo here is absolutely heartbreaking: I feel that it represents this man's internal struggle, railing against the meaningless of it all, his failed life, his marriage, etc., only ending when he makes the decision to have the affair:

    "So we took the room with a view of the runaway
    I took off my clothes and she took it for a holiday
    I was taken for all the things that I never had before
    Running out of Springfield
    She left me with a note saying, "Bobby, don't look back"

    And if my wife took a bicycle ride with a knife in her hand
    I saw it coming
    All the shadflies run at once with a trumpet or a train
    Oh, I'm running from it"

    I do agree with wanderingmounty to a certain extent. I think that Sufjan intentionally uses the shadfly as a metaphor for this man and others, but I don't think it extends as far as the 'obsession' with sex: this man tries to break out of his meaningless life (the larval stage or what-have-you) with an affair, but other 'shadflies' try to make something of their lives with music (the trumpet) or travel, or a train collection, or whatever.

    "Wait a minute, wait a minute
    Give a minute, baby, I can explain the aftershave
    Wait a minute, wait a minute, give a minute
    Bobby got a shadfly caught in his hair

    Yes, he does"

    His marriage falls apart.

    The one thing I'm not clear on is who Bobby is meant to be. The note 'Bobby don't look back' makes me think that it's the singer/narrator, but then it seems like the narrator is speaking when he says 'Bobby got a shadfly caught in his hair.' I realise that Bobby could be both the narrator and his son (e.g. Bobbys Jr. and Sr., whatever) but I don't think Sufjan would be that confusing. I welcome any insight into who Bobby might be, and also why Bobby getting a shadfly caught in his hair would "explain the aftershave."

    Oh, and by the way, this is absolutely my favourite song from the Avalanche. Just incredible, and so different thematically from most of Illinois. It has such a final down note, it gets me every time, and the guitar solo is perhaps the most emotive instrumental passage that I've heard from Sufjan.
    mjearnshawon July 21, 2006   Link
  • 0
    General Commentmjearnshaw = love
    neonemoon July 25, 2006   Link
  • 0
    General CommentThis is by far one of my favorites on Avalanche, or any of his albums for that matter. I took the song this way: explaining the aftershave "Bobby got a shadfly caught in his hair", she's explaining to her husband (Bobby being her lover), saying that she smells of him because she was getting a shadfly from his hair.

    I also felt that Bobby was not interested in this woman, that he was looking for something else. And for some reason on the line "I can explain the aftershave" I always imagine this as the main characters line, with Bobby as a man he had an affair with, trying to explain to the woman. I doesn't really make sense, it's want I think of.

    I like that Sufjan added some of his more experimental guitar to this song, like he did in his earlier album A Sun Came. I love the way his music tells stories that are so open to interpretation.
    anonymeviaon August 02, 2006   Link

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