"Long Division" as written by Christopher Walla, Benjamin Gibbard and Nicholas Harmer....
His head was a city
Of paper buildings
And the echoes that remained
Of old friends and lovers
Their features bleeding
Together in his brain

And once it started was harder to
Tell them apart

He was always distracted
By the very mention
Of an open door
'Cause he had sworn not to be what he'd been before

To be a remain remain remain remainder

The television was snowing softly
As she hunted for her keys
She said she never envisioned him the type of person capable of such deceit

And they carried on like long division
And it was clear with every page
That they were further away from a solution that would play

Without a remain remain remain remainder

He had sworn not to be what he'd been before

To be the remain remain remain remainder


Lyrics submitted by TDDx8

"Long Division" as written by Christopher Walla Benjamin Gibbard

Lyrics © Sony/ATV Music Publishing LLC

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Long Division song meanings
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  • +2
    General Commentkind of unclear about some parts still, but this could be about a man who was left behind in the past by an ex lover (hence the term "remainder"), and has spent much time dwelling on the pain he was burdened with.:
    "And the echoes that remained
    Were of old friends and lovers
    Their features bleeding together in his brain"

    he had since become very easily excited to jump at a new opportunity to be the upper hand, the one who leaves and not the one who is left.:
    "He was always distracted
    By the very mention of an open door
    Because he has sworn not to be what he'd been before"

    then i feel like the effects from being treated badly in his past show up to haunt him in the ending of the song. he transforms from the victim into the villain, treating his new woman the way he was previously treated. they both realize there's no solution to either of their problems without one of them ending up as the remainder, and therefore continue the damaged relationship they have, all because he swore never to be left behind again.:
    "She said she never envisioned him
    A type of person capable of such deceit

    And they carried on like long division
    Because it was clear with every page
    Oh, that they were farther away
    From a solution that would play"
    straitjacketfunon May 02, 2008   Link
  • +2
    General CommentIs it just me, or does anyone else think that the 'open door' referred to, is also a metaphor for the open door of a classroom- the student gets distracted by what's going on outside, and stops paying attention to the sums he should be trying to solve? Just something that popped into my head during maths class today.. dammit, i'm distracted by DCFC! ^^
    Sporkahon October 07, 2008   Link
  • +2
    General CommentThe best albums are the ones you can return to and always hear new things. "Narrow Stairs" has certainly entered that pantheon for me.

    Just today, I heard the first line of this song differently: "His head was a city of paper buildings."

    Before a building is actually built, it exists as a set of architectural drawings, a fully-detailed design on paper that is then rarely executed exactly as intended (or maybe not even built at all). So a whole "city of paper buildings" would be a mind burdened by many unresolved and beautiful plans, or good intentions that never come to fruition. The worst part is not only are these things burdensome, they're imaginary, because they don't physically exist. But oh, once it starts...

    I think it fits in well with the "unresolved" nature of the long division metaphor (which has been thoroughly explained). Striving for the perfect solution to an unending problem is asking for toil and frustration.
    davidecoyoteon September 22, 2011   Link
  • +1
    General CommentI think some of these lyrics are wrong.

    At any rate, I find this interesting that this is one of--if not THE first (I'll have to go back and check)--songs by Death Cab that is written in the third person.

    I love the descriptions in this song, and the constant math theme throughout. This is their second song to be named after a mathmatical "thing", I believe--Line of Best Fit would be the first.
    Nimbyon April 30, 2008   Link
  • +1
    General CommentHere's what I think of the song:

    "His head was a city of paper buildings
    And the echoes that remained"

    ^^ Paper building would be unstable, like the relationship that Ben is describing. Echoes would be things that the guy said to previous Ex's or what the Ex's said to him.

    "Of old friends and lovers
    Their features bleeding together in his brain
    Once it started it's harder to tell them apart"

    ^^ His life is very complicated and confusing and it's becoming harder for the character to tell apart who did what to him. It's kind of self explanatory.

    "He was always distracted
    By the very mention of an open door
    'Cause he had sworn not to be what he'd been before"

    ^^ Maybe, since the relationship isn't working, either the guy/girl suggest that they should have an open relationship, which would be their open door. But every time this happens, Our main character always does something to hurt his girl.

    "To be a remain, remain, remain, remainder
    To be a remain, remain, remain, remainder"

    ^^ a bit of overshadowing here. I'll talk more with the ending ones.

    "The television was snowing softly
    As she hunted for her keys
    She said she never envisioned
    Him the type of person capable of such deceit"

    ^^ There's static on the TV, which means there could have been a fight between the two. This would bring in the "she never envisioned" part. Whatever he did in their "open-door" relationship to hurt her, came back here. She hunts for keys, so that she get in her car and leave.

    "And they carried on like long division
    Cause it was clear with every page
    Oh, that they were further away
    From a solution that would play"

    ^^ Long division can take some time. It's the most time consuming way to do math. So obviously this explains that their relationship was long and tedious. In fact, their "long division" was so long that it covers pages worth. And no matter how small the tried to break the equation down, you always ended with non perfect number (i.e. 10/3).

    "Without a remain, remain, remain, remainder
    Without a remain, remain, remain, remainder
    Without a remain, remain, remain, remainder
    Without a remain, remain, remain, remainder

    He has sworn not to be what he'd been before

    To be the remain, remain, remain, remainder
    To be the remain, remain, remain, remainder
    To be the remain, remain, remain, remainder
    To be the remain, remain, remain, remainder
    To be the remain, remain, remain, remainder
    To be a remain, remain, remain, remainder"

    ^^ This part is actually two different things, even though they seem very similar. "Without a remainder" part means they never found answer. Then, there is that break in the repetition it tells us that the male part of the relationship always the same thing. "...to be what he'd been before." The last repetition: "To be the remainder" notifies us that this guy, is always the remainder, in every single one of the relationships, he's always the one that ends up alone.

    Well. there's my two cents (looks like ten....sorry that was an awful joke. I've been wanting to use it for a while, and it seems that I can never find a good situation for it. Oh well.)
    SaviorEFon June 24, 2008   Link
  • +1
    General CommentLOVE the lyrics on this one. The new album is just warming up to me...

    It's all about the long division and an extended metaphor here. It's an amazing one, a perfect description of this kind of relationship he's talking about. Just genius.

    So we know long division works on fractions, like 28 divided by 7. That one divides evenly, without a remainder. It just equals 4. It's easy.

    But if you've got two numbers like 31 and 7, trying to divide 31 by 7 results in 4 and 3/7. It's not even. If you keep dividing forever, it'll go on forever and it'll never resolve, it will never be perfect.

    That's what he says - "It was clear with every page / That they were farther away / From a solution that would play / Without a remainder." He's actually talking about manual long division on paper - you can go on for pages dividing and adding and dividing and adding, but with an irrational number, you will never reach a simple result, there will always be that same remainder.

    It is uncanny and kind of amazing how well this describes a bad relationship. Two people, as incompatible as prime numbers, will never end in a clean result. They can go on and on forever in a cycle of misunderstanding and confusion, but they will never be truly happy if they are so different that they can't understand each other, and especially if things are so fuzzy that they never make it to the next level. But they keep trying 'cause that's what you do, you try to make it work and you don't want to be alone, you don't want to be a remainder again.

    In long division, eventually you just have to give up and put down the remainder. After a while, it's obvious that patterns keep repeating, in fact that's how you tell.

    In a relationship that's going on endlessly without getting anywhere, you have to do the same thing. And he's always stuck there, with that remainder, with what's left from trying to make it work for so long.

    But, if he's been trying with so many numbers that he has so many remainders, maybe it is like long division - maybe he's prime. In that case he's looking for 1 or himself. And his problem is that he's looking to divide by 1, to find that person who truly matches him yet is so different from him. Meanwhile everyone else is probably just looking to Multiply, and not worrying about remainders.

    And I get the sense that he's actually doing this to himself, because "He was always distracted / By the very mention of an open door / 'Cause he had sworn not to be what he'd been before". So, the very mention of division is what starts the process, he's dividing himself. I think (personally) that the key to a successful relationship is addition. No remainder, no mess, just more of a good thing. Combine that with a little multiplication and you've got a good thing.

    I really like this song. It's unfortunately familiar, but just absolutely amazing to me how well this analogy fits the situation. Being a logic-oriented person, hearing it was like having a light-bulb go off in my head, a total epiphany. Thanks Ben.
    triswebon July 18, 2008   Link
  • +1
    General Comment“And they carried on like long division.. for a solution that would play without a remain”

    I think collectively, the couple attempts long division, a prolongation of the relationship because both don’t want it to end. They want to find a solution where there isn’t a remainder, where both can walk away from the relationship whole, neither incomplete and broken. And till they find that solution they keep struggling along with the relationship.

    Through this struggle, the partner is distracted by “open doors”, other possibilities, perhaps with other women. However, he had sworn he’d be faithful this time, because he didn’t want to end up being a remainder, incomplete and broken like before. And sadly, he goes along with the temptation in the end, and she leaves.

    I think the whole song is about two lovers trying to salvage something which once worked, but now isn’t, because neither wants to be hurt.
    krispychic69on August 17, 2008   Link
  • +1
    General CommentOh, to be a third wheel.

    This so reminds me of all the guys who try to get with me just to have a girl, even though they know I'm not what they really want. As soon as they find someone better -- another "open door" -- off they go! It's interesting that Ben would characterize this in a song. How I love him.
    PeaceMongeron April 19, 2009   Link
  • +1
    General CommentI'm kind of surprised no has mentioned this before:

    He was always distracted
    By the very mention of an open door
    Because he had sworn not to be what he'd been before.

    I know Narrow Stairs came out before The Open Door EP, so if there is some connection between the two, it would be that The Open Door EP was sort of modeled after this line/song. I think that The Open Door EP couldv'e been written from the perspective of "what he'd been before." I also love the metaphor of "an open door," it's a fantastic and horrible thing at the same time and so present in almost every person's life.
    helloleahon January 08, 2010   Link
  • 0
    General CommentAh, I just remembered--Bend to Squares, like this one, is written mostly in the third person. I'm running through my website now to find the other lyrics and check.
    Nimbyon April 30, 2008   Link

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