The finches and sparrows build nests in my chimney
With remains of small flightless birds that you failed to protect
But their yoke isn't easy, in fact it's a drag
As they're blowing through cornfields and mountains of rags
All over the suburbs, across the great lawns
And they're crop-dusting gardens all over this town

But nobody cares when it gets in their hair
It gets in their lungs as it floats through the air
It gets in the food that they buy and prepare
But nobody cares when it gets in their hair

Across the great chasms and schisms
And the sudden (m)aneurysms
Where the black ink will drip across the crespice of your eye
And your teeth are worth more than you can spare
Oh don't tell me that it just isn't fair
Don't speak about the cycles of life
'cause your thoughts are so soft
I could cut 'em with a spork or a bride's knife

And the wine made our minds too loose
Such a reckless choice of words
And you tell me that I'm too abstruse
I just thought I was a kind of bird
I said,
I just stood there not saying a word
Not saying a word


Lyrics submitted by emhass

Spare-Ohs song meanings
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25 Comments

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  • +2
    General CommentI just remembered that that wasn't how the story went at all.

    What it was was this:

    Andrew Bird has a farm somewhere on the east coast. He had chickens that were kept in a coop. He would try to protect them from foxes (or coyotes, I don't remember which) but the foxes or coyotes would keep getting into the coop and Andrew Bird couldn't protect his chickens. All that would be left of the chickens would be their feathers, which would be picked up by sparrows and carried to their nests in Andrew Bird's chimney. When he would start a fire in the fireplace, the nests would all be incinerated and turned to ashes which would end up in people's hair and food.

    Sorry about that.
    -Sean
    seanraheon March 03, 2009   Link
  • +1
    General CommentFor what it's worth, in comments at NewCityChicago.com he says, "`Spare-Ohs' deals with the remains of animals or humans, and that getting into your food or skin or hair. Themes of mortality."

    Is crespice a real word? Maybe it's a blend of 'crest' and 'precipice?'

    I appreciate what I see as a bit of self-mockery when he uses an archaic spelling for "abstruse."
    Quisquillosoon March 31, 2007   Link
  • +1
    General Comment"Yeah, I had 26 chickens and now I have zero chickens. I wasn’t able to keep the raccoons away from the chickens. And then for a year after that happened the chicken feathers are still around from the massacre. There’s just hundreds and hundreds of sparrows around my barn and they were taking the chicken feathers and stuffing my chimney with them to make nests. And then I would have a fire and I would see the smoke coming out and I would see little feathers reminding me of how I let down the chickens. And the whole line, “Don't speak about the cycles of life 'cause your thoughts are so soft I could cut 'em with a spork or a bride's knife.” The whole cycle of life thing was so apparent I was like, "Oh come on, this is just too obvious." Yeah, but then it also kind of talks about the implications of the cremations and the remains of animals and people floating and landing in our hair without us knowing it." --misterbird

    gothamist.com/2007/05/16/…
    akindabirdon June 02, 2007   Link
  • +1
    General Commentactually, he has said what it is about during a concert once..

    as a child living on a farm, he had the job of making sure all of the chickens were safe from harm.. (a fox)
    sadly, he says that he wasn't very good at his job and had often found a horrid sight by next morning... the feathers from the now diseased chickens were often carried in the house chimney by sparrows---(hints the name, spare-ohs) to be made into nests... once again, a sad ending to these birds' lives as well (living in a fireplace) the feathers from these birds had traveled through the house and into there food, hair, but no one seemed to care.... a sad memory of andrew's that makes a beautiful song and story...
    mocabirdon November 05, 2007   Link
  • +1
    General CommentAnd your teeth are worth more than you can *spare
    Oh* don’t tell me that it just isn’t fair

    maybe that has to do with the title?
    i was listening to this song this morning, and thinking "this song must be about chickens" the whole day. i think that's kind of funny now that i see the story behind the song.
    ciaosampintoon December 03, 2007   Link
  • +1
    General CommentThis has been one of my favorite songs lately. Although the stories above are believable and there are several good comments so far ("spare-ohs" and the yolk reference), I think that there is a lot more to this song.

    I think his personal experience with the chickens starts if off. He rolls the story of the fallen chickens and ubiquitous feathers into the lines "all over the suburbs / across the great lawns / crop-dusting gardens all over this town" which are fairly clear commentaries on modern suburbia and people's general lack of care about the blanketing of foliage with chemicals and the plight of animals (such as chickens). This is probably connected to the his "greeness" as describe above, and also he seems to be saying that the burden of the event ("the yolk is a drag") weighs on him as he is reminded of it by the feathers that fall all over the town that no one seems to mind.

    The second verse seems to be a conversation in which he relates the severity of his experience with the chickens to someone else, saying that they don't understand what he is saying, to the point of them being seperated by "great chasms and schisms" including that which lies within (through the crespice of the eyes), and that the listener's response is either simple or naive: "don't speak about the cycles of life / 'cause your thoughts are so soft / I could cut 'em with a spork or a bride's knife", as if to say that there is no substance to the words he receives in response.

    The he follows with more bird references, which seem to refer to himself -- his name is Andrew Bird afterall, and the reference at the end "when you tell me that I'm too obstruce / I just thought it was a kind of bird" probably reflects a lot of his personal experiences being different/creative and having people say strange things to him, as if to say "what did you say about me? Are you saying that I'm a "strange bird" somehow? To which he follows "I just stood there not saying a word" which describes the exasperation one has in the situation -- having just related something intense and personal all he gets in response is the comment that he's a little weird.



    The finches and sparrows build nests in my chimney
    what remains of the small flightless birds that you failed to protect

    but their yolk isn't easy in fact it's a drag
    as they're blowing through cornfields and mountains of rags

    all over the suburbs
    across the great lawns
    crop-dusting gardens all over this town

    but nobody cares when it gets in their hair
    it gets in their lungs as it floats through the air
    it gets in the food that they buy and prepare
    but nobody cares when it gets in their hair

    across the great chasms and schisms
    and the sudden aneurisms
    where the black ink will drip
    across the crespice of your
    eyes and your teeth
    are worth more than you can spare-
    -oh don't tell me that it just isn't fair
    don't speak about the cycles of life
    'cause your thoughts are so soft
    I could cut 'em with a spork or a bride's knife

    and the wine made our mouths too loose
    such a reckless choice of words
    when you tell me that I'm too obstruce
    I just thought it was a kind of bird
    I just stood there not saying a word x 3
    inanityon January 30, 2008   Link
  • +1
    General CommentWhen examined in the context of This Is Not A Song About A Train, the story about the chickens getting killed, and Andrew Bird's own words as related by akindabird above, at least two layers of meaning become apparent.

    The first is the literal: there are dead things burning up and getting in our hair.
    The second is on a more abstract macroscopic scale: the cycle of life is obvious, ignored, but no less mysterious and meaningful.

    Reading the song as an environmentalist manifesto or song about extinction is a bit of a stretch, except insofar as the meaningful cycle of life invoked by the ashes of the chickens implies the interconnectedness of all life (and death) on Earth, and the song's meaning can therefore encompass such topics indirectly. Blades of Grass, and all that. ;)
    thriggleon December 23, 2008   Link
  • +1
    General CommentWhen I saw him play this live, he told the backstory of this song. He had tried to nurse a sparrow that had a broken wing, but it died and he felt very said that he couldn't save/protect that bird despite the effort he put into it. He cremated the bird and that is what this part is about:

    'but nobody cares when it gets in their hair
    it gets in their lungs as it floats through the air
    it gets in the food that they buy and prepare
    but nobody cares when it gets in their hair'

    It's about the ashes getting in peoples hair and food. Sort of a circle of live. That is the basic meaning of this song, but if you read the lyrics you notice the brilliance he put into the words.
    seanraheon March 03, 2009   Link
  • +1
    General CommentI think it is very suggestive that the tune from "Spare-ohs" is quoted by Andrew at the beginning of "Lazy Projector", a song that seems aimed at how we so often ignore hard truths and needs of others, and ms-remember them or erase them completely from memory. Both songs are an appeal to conscience, to recognize the pains we bury away-- to care, even when that's all the help we can give.
    Also interesting that he chooses sparrows as his title. Perhaps a not terribly veiled reference to a Bible verse"Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? Yet not one of them will fall to the ground outside your Father's care." Doubt that the second line of the song is coincidental, and it underscores the main point in both songs about honestly caring instead of dissembling.

    Finally, I thought it was a nice comedic touch (and there are so many in his songs, even a sensitive one like spare-ohs) when he plays with abstruse versus albatross ("some kind of bird") -- one usually thought to be an ill omen.

    Beautiful music tied to thoughtful lyrics.
    wmacon August 06, 2014   Link
  • 0
    General CommentIt think there are several things wrong with this version. Here's what I heard, and you can consolidate as you see fit. I'm sure I've made more than a few mistakes:

    The finches and sparrows build nests in my chimney With remains of the small flightless birds that you failed to protect
    But the yolk isn't easy in fact it's a drag
    As they're blowin' through cornfields and mountains of rags
    All over the suburbs across the great lawns
    And they're cropdusting gardens all over this town

    But nobody cares when it gets in their hair
    It gets in their lungs as it floats through the air
    It gets in the food that they buy and prepare
    But nobody cares when it gets in their hair

    Across the great chasms and schisms
    And the sudden aneurysms
    Where the black ink will drip across the crispus of your eyes and your teeth
    They're worth more than you can spare
    Oh, don't tell me that it just isn't fair
    Don't speak about the cycles of life
    'Cause your thoughts are so soft I can cut 'em with a spork, or a bride's knife

    And the wine made our mouths too loose
    Such a reckless choice of words
    When you told me that I'm too abstruse
    I just thought it was a kinda bird
    I swear, I just stood there
    Not saying a word
    Alfredoon February 24, 2007   Link

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