from the point of view he is talking to her...
Go without
'Til the need seeps in
You low animal
Collect your novel petals for the stem

And glow
Glow
Melt and flow
Eviscerate your fragile frame
And spill it out in the ragged floor
A thousand different versions of yourself

And if the old guard still offend
They got nothing left on which you depend
So enlist every ounce
Of your bright blood
And off with their heads

Jump from the hook
You're not obliged to swallow anything you despise
See, those unrepenting buzzards want your life
And they got no right
As sure as you have eyes
They got no right

Just put yourself in my new shoes
And see that I do what I do
Because the old guard still offend
Their pudgy hearts and slimy hands
They've got nothing left on which we depend
So enlist every ounce
Of your bright blood
And off with their heads

Jump from the hook
You're not obliged to swallow anything that you despise


Lyrics submitted by heyheyhey111, edited by RamuneDrink

Sleeping Lessons song meanings
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  • +3
    General CommentI've figured out what they're saying.

    Essentially, its an address to the elder generation of society to pass away/go to eternal slumber (hance 'sleeping lesson') peacefully already without screwing up the younger generations in a selfish attempt to feel powerful again (in a fruitless bid to fight against the realization that death is inevitable, which creates a profound feeling of impotence and powerlessness in the older generations). Its about how throughout almost all societies of human history, the "old guard" (the 'elders' of society who uphold social conventions, norms, attitudes) come to this elderly point in their lives where they are no longer the potent youths but now aging has-beens, and so attempt and usually succeed in controlling and using the younger generations -- they thus feel as though they are in control of at least something. So this bitter, older generation sends its young, healthy and brightest off to war upon war and generally neglect the needs of the young and of the future generations.

    There is a natural power balance in virtually every society where the older generations simply maintain a LOT more power than those in the younger years of their lives, in a financial, political, and social sense. So, without meaning to, they generally exploit it, taking advantage of the fact that there's not much younger generations can or hhave the confidence to do about their parent's and grandparents' selfish decisions -- in the song they are identified as "those unrepenting buzzards [who] want your life"; scavengers. Further, the very next line declares "they've got no right, as sure as you've got eyes". "They've got no right" is repeated then a second time. This is a declaration that such exploitation by them is not justified.

    The Shins singer then ask you to "Just put yourself in my new shoes", or in other words, 'look at it the way I'm looking at it', or 'see it from the perspective I'm showing you'. It continues, "And see that I do what I do, Because the old guard still offend". So our singer here is telling as that his life occupation is singing in a band called the Shins and not working on Wall Street making huge bucks but instead creating art because...because the 'old guard', or the elders of our time 'still offend', in other words, have no respect for the young.

    Then, "we've got nothing left on which to depend", which is expressing a sense of hopelessness in that this elder generation doesn't know what the hell it's doing -- we can't depend on them to make good decisions our society and indeed the world.

    So the singer calls out for action on the part of the exploited: "So we waste every ounce, Of your bright blood, And off with their heads". Like the Revolutionary forces of the French Revolution who cut off the heads of the incompetent King, or, indeed, like any group of revolutionaries who did something about their political situation. The above lines call for political action like history has seen time and time again. The 'off with the heads' line is probably metaphorical, but nevertheless brings up these images of passionate revolutionary activity in the face of oppression and/or injustice.

    It finishes, "Jump from a book", essentially demanding to think for yourself by reading and therefore being educated and aware. It continues, "And you're not obliged, To swallow anything that you despise", telling us that we shouldn't be afraid to rebel against these moronic attitudes and actions (which we despise, like intolerant beliefs, excessive religiosity, lack of critical thought, corporate domination, ridiculous laws, etc.) of our elder generations, who more often then not (and certainly now, in America for one) make decisions that do tremendous harm.

    If you look throughout history, such a pattern emerges time and time again. The young and healthy (with "red bright blood)" are sent off to their deaths by their elders who want to feel powerful again. Feeling powerless in the realization of thier unavoidable death, they exploit younger generations in order to feel power over something. If they can't conquer death, at least they can control their younglings. This older generation in a society simply use their power to impose their grubby will on the population at large, those that are much less powerful. Ultimately, though, the lyrics call for an awakening of action ("off with their heads").

    Note: When I say 'elders' I mean generally mean themany people at the age of mid-life crisis and over who have great financial, political, or great social power who essentially set the social policy of nations.
    Risikoon February 22, 2007   Link
  • +2
    General CommentGreat opener. When I heard this song I thought, "This is going to be an awesome album". Reminds me a bit of Animal Collective (especially "Did You See the Words").
    doctortimon October 31, 2006   Link
  • +2
    General CommentThis album is a complete album, and no song can be taken out of that context except phantom limb.
    The album follows a central character, a boy, who has been reading Nietzsche and believes that religion and society have nothing left to offer. I believe it is both the voice of James Mercer telling us that we neither need to swallow the views of this album, and the voice of the male character in the albums plot telling us that the religions of our forefathers can no longer make us feel complete or satisfied with the idea of an afterlife, though you really have to draw from prior shins meanings like your algebra and sphagnum esplanade to get that.
    I agree that is has an Alice in Wonderland theme as well, where the boy falls asleep in Sleeping lessons, meets a girl in 'Australia,' and they begin their descent down the rabbit hole with Pam Berry.
    ladybug87on November 02, 2006   Link
  • +2
    General Commentkkaaccyy:

    I think that interpretation is very elegant and thoughtful, but I would venture to say that it is not likely a very accurate analysis.

    However; I do think your interpretation roughly applies because the song is clearly about doing battle with your self. I mean self in the ego sense. Our egos are constructed of beliefs. They did not come from us. The old guard is that set of beliefs. If you are able to realize that every belief in the universe is our choice, and the current set isn't helping you have a good dream, kill them. Off with their heads is a classic symbol of the battle against untruth. Essentially, one must sever one's own head in the process of awakening.

    you're not obliged to swallow anything you despise. Think about this, if you are the dreaming creator of all existence, why should you have to live your life the way anyone else says?

    Now the part of the song that sealed the deal for me:

    Just put yourself in my new shoes.
    And see that I do what I do,
    Because the old guard still offend,

    I have been going through this process. I am awakening. I want people to understand why I am doing it. It makes one seem crazy to wake up from the dream. But like Captain Ahab, one must "enlist every ounce of your bright blood and off with their heads"
    That's what Ahab's White Whale was...anything you want it to be. It's a canvas upon which to paint your obstacles. It's the prison without bars, the gateless gate.

    I feel this song is one of the coolest ever created.
    dr_strangeloveon March 13, 2007   Link
  • +2
    My OpinionI get an alice in wonderland feel...
    davey21on July 07, 2010   Link
  • +1
    General CommentIn my opinion this song could be about politics, but I really think it's about an alcoholic.

    Go without
    'Til the need seeps in
    You low animal
    (Trying to stay sober)

    And glow
    Glow
    Melt and flow
    (Alcoholics have a glowing reddish face)

    Eviscerate your fragile frame
    And spill it out in the ragged floor
    A thousand different versions of yourself

    (Throwing the bottle on the floor with different emotions)

    And if the old guard still offend
    They got nothing left on which you depend
    So enlist every ounce
    Of your bright blood
    And off with their heads
    (Hurting someone in a rage? maybe? I don't know)

    Jump from the hook,
    You're not obliged to swallow anything you despise,
    See, those unrepenting buzzards want your life,
    And they got no right,
    As sure as you have eyes,
    They got no right,
    (buzzards being the alcohol companies?)
    (You don't have to drink it)

    Just put yourself in my new hooves
    And see that I do what I do
    Because the old guard still offend
    Their pudgy hearts and slimy hands
    They've got nothing left on which we depend
    So enlist every ounce
    Of your bright blood
    And off with their heads
    (saying its hard to stay sober)

    Jump from the hook
    You're not obliged to swallow anything that you despise
    (you don't like it, it burns, but you still drink it)
    Leeseyon April 05, 2008   Link
  • +1
    General CommentAfter reading other comments and picking up on the themes of the album, I think its about a someone's point of view whose on the outside looking in on the life of this character who could possibly be living her life indoors like a monk/nun. My idea is that the friend/lover is telling the other get out of this monastic, celibate lifestyle as purported by the religious (old guards) & get out now!!

    First, the title "Sleeping Lessons," and the hypnotic, dreamy, repetitive sounds, makes me think that when the character/celibate girl is sleeping her repressed desires come out in dreams.

    Go without
    'Til the need seeps in (go w/out an intimate relationship which is innate for everyone)
    You low animal (animal nature, need for sex, pleasures of life, wine, alcohol, etc.)
    Collect your novel petals for the stem (this symbolically represents picking up the pieces from a rift in a friendship)

    And glow
    Glow (enlightened by something)
    Melt and flow (warming up to the ascetic/religious lifestyle)
    Eviscerate your fragile frame (depriving herself of bodily pleasures)
    And spill it out in the ragged floor (metaphor: an outcry for her needs)
    A thousand different versions of yourself (narrator POV is she's losing herself)

    And if the old guard still offend (old guard: establishment, men in power offends her freedom)
    They got nothing left on which you depend (narrator denies that she really needs them)
    So enlist every ounce (with what will power or strength she has left)
    Of your bright blood (her own sanctified life (turns religion on its head)
    And off with their heads (again turning the history of religion on its head- figuratively- meaning it should be off with the guards head, throughout history heretics, infidels, non-believers, etc. were punished for not believing, i.e. crusades)

    Jump from the hook (narrator pov, they're tying her down, and got her where they want her)
    You're not obliged to swallow anything you despise (bait for fish, here its dogmas/doctrines)
    See, those unrepenting buzzards want your life (turning religion on its head again,
    "unrepenting" usually characterizes sinners, he's turning it on the establishment. the guards of establishing are like prey (buzzards) for her life)
    And they got no right (anarchistic view, religious authority is not justified)
    As sure as you have eyes (she has eyes like every man, woman, and child has eyes, all equal)
    They got no right

    Just put yourself in my new hooves (narrator embraces an animalistic nature)
    And see that I do what I do (follows after his desires)
    Because the old guard still offend (he sees it the other way, religious buzzards offend our very human selves)
    Their pudgy hearts and slimy hands (fat hearts (hypocrisy), and slimy hands (immoral, dishonest)
    They've got nothing left on which we depend (humans depend on loving relationships, "old guards" are dry, void of familiar relationships)
    So enlist every ounce (enlist (pun intended))
    Of your bright blood (bright blood could also mean she's not like them, she has life that others lack)
    And off with their heads (narrator pov: leave their hold on you)

    Jump from the hook
    You're not obliged to swallow anything that you despise (narrator pov: you don't have to take in what they're feeding you, could be rituals, dogma, aceticism, etc.)


    If the above is close, then mercer may have expressed anti-religion sentiments in this song. its possible. personally speaking, in general, religion, like almost everything in life has its good & bad. there's always another side to every coin.
    GrungyBeatleon December 16, 2008   Link
  • +1
    General CommentThe lyrics are beautiful, so much meaning, right?
    Honestly the first time i heard this song (in my contemporary dance class), i knew that it was about a person with an eating disorder like anorexia or bulimia.

    Simply:

    Go without (food)
    'Til the need seeps in (binge)
    You low animal (regret from binge)

    Eviscerate your fragile frame (empty your body -purge- that is fragile from lack of nutrition)
    And spill it out in the ragged floor (purge)
    A thousand different versions of yourself (anorexics often pretend they are alright and in control of their weight and they act happy and normal around friends when they are all in fact deeply depressed and suffering)

    And if the old guard still offend (people around pressusing them to gain weight back, parents who guard and moniror their eating, or even someone in the psychiatric ward, watching them)
    They got nothing left on which you depend (when anorexics eat, they eat in routine, always the same foods and portions, when they run out, they refuse to eat anything else)
    So enlist every ounce
    Of your bright blood (with the little energy you have left)
    And off with their heads (when the aforementioned food runs out they become even more nervous and agressive and tetchy and start screaming at people, who have nothing to do with it, and blaming them for stealing their food. yep, ive been there.)

    Jump from the hook (anorexics are almost always depressed and many have suicidal thoughts)
    You're not obliged to swallow anything you despise (speaks for itself, you dont have to eat anything you dont want)
    See, those unrepenting buzzards want your life (everyone is trying to make you fat, blame THEM)
    And they got no right
    As sure as you have eyes
    They got no right (anorexics feel that everyone is against them and its only up to them to decide when or if they gain the weight back)

    Their pudgy hearts and slimy hands (everyone who is trying to make you fat is in fact fat themselves or fat at heart. the slimy hands are from the oil they cook your meals in. anorexics look at themselves and everyone else critically)








    neverhide60on May 14, 2010   Link
  • +1
    General CommentIt's really quite simple people, I can't believe how far off some of you are.

    The business men drink my wine.

    It's about throwing away the ideals our owners want us to embrace and to live life free from trivial pursuits of happiness. He can't sleep because he spends all night with thoughts racing about why he can't attain what's unattainable. He needs to just let go and be happy with who he is, what he's done, and what he's doing, and maybe he'll be able to sleep better.

    I remember reading that mercer was suffering from insomnia when he wrote this album.

    Look up Arcade Fire's Modern Man for similar expressions.
    MeInReverse8on September 09, 2010   Link
  • +1
    My InterpretationI think it's about an escape from self-imposed conformity. We spend so much of our lives denying our true natures and desires in an attempt to fit our designated roles in society. But deep down, we all want to not only be something different, but many different things at different times.

    Perhaps Mercer equates this yearning to be "a thousand different versions" of ourselves with dreams. Our dreams, be they fabulous or terrifying, give us small tastes of a life free of barriers and the impositions others put on us. And much as literal insomnia keeps us rooted in stark reality, a metaphorical insomnia might have the same effect of preventing us from just shattering our fragile yet rigid frames, and letting our true selves flow out.

    But sometimes, the need to indulge our basic animal instincts and urges, be they creative, intellectual, sexual, or spiritual, force us to break free, and tell all those who would have us kept in our gray prisons of quiet conformity to go f#$% themselves.
    iteration2on February 12, 2013   Link

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