Mary, this station is playing every sad song
I remember like we were alive
I heard it Sunday morn' from inside of these walls
In a prison cell, where we spent those nights

And they burned up the diner where I always used to find her
Licking young boys' blood from her claws
And I learned about the blues from this kitten I knew
Her hair was raven and her heart was like a tomb

My heart's like a wound

And I saw tail lights last night in a dream about my first wife
Everybody leaves and I'd expect as much from you
I saw tail lights last night in a dream about my old life
Everybody leaves, so why, why wouldn't you?

Mary, I worried and stalled every night of my life
Better safe than making the party
And I never had a good time, I sat by my bedside
With papers and poetry about Estella

With great expectations
We had the greatest of expectations

I saw tail lights last night in a dream about my first wife
Everybody leaves and I'd expect as much from you
I saw tail lights last night in a dream about my old life
Everybody leaves, so why, why wouldn't you?

It's funny how the night moves
Humming a song from 1962

We were always waiting
We were always waiting
We were always waiting for something to happen

I saw tail lights last night in a dream about my first wife
Everybody leaves and I'd expect as much from you
I saw tail lights last night in a dream about my old life
Everybody leaves and why, why wouldn't you?



Lyrics submitted by lowapr

"Great Expectations" as written by Brian Fallon

Lyrics © EMI Music Publishing

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Great Expectations song meanings
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31 Comments

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  • +3
    General Comment:"What's the song from 1962?"

    I heard Fallon in a radio interview say that the line in the song is a reference to Bob Seger's "Night Moves," which has the line "Started humming a song from 1962."

    The 1962 song Seger is referring to in "Night Moves" is "Be My Baby" by the Ronettes.
    timorous_meon November 29, 2008   Link
  • +1
    General Comment:This is one of my favourites, if not my favourite, GA song. The above interpretations are all good but I thought I'd chuck my 2p in...

    The title is obviously a nod to the famous novel but I don't think the song itself has anything to do with Dickens. It's just a title that has come into common usage and can be applied to a personal situation.

    "Mary this station..." - There are many Marys in Springsteen's work. Could be Mary from O Mary Don't You Weep due to the Sad Songs being played...
    "They burned up the diner..." - again, possibly a Springsteen reference. "The diner was shuttered and boarded" from Long Walk Home or more likely Girls In Their Summer Clothes which has lines "Tonight I'm gonna burn this town down... Frankie's Diner's old friend on the edge of town".

    "Licking young boys' blood from her claws" - could reference a number of examples of evil characters in film, fiction and lore.

    "Her hair was raven..." - women are often described as 'raven-haired' or 'a raven-haired beauty' in poetry and folk songs, this seems to tip its hat to that particularly Irish tradition.

    "I saw tail lights last night" - I presume this is in a dream where his wife/someone else drives away from him, leaving him stood staring at tail lights in true cinematic tradition.

    Estella Havisham is from Great Expectations the novel.

    "Humming a song from 1962" - a reference to Bob Seger's "Night Moves," which has the line "Started humming a song from 1962." As mentioned above, the 1962 song Seger is referring to in "Night Moves" is "Be My Baby" by the Ronettes.

    "We were always waiting for something to happen" - I interpret this as how people can go their whole lives not really living, just passing the time, idling by from day to day, not taking any chances or doing anything fantastic, just waiting for the punch line, the chorus or main storyline to begin. This is sort of supported by the lines "I worried and stalled every night of my life, Better safe than making the party".
    I suppose you could also interpret it as they were doomed in the relationship and just waiting for the inevitable event that would end it all, something will happen and that will be the end of it.
    lrb85on December 29, 2009   Link
  • +1
    General Comment:"Everybody leaves, so why, why wouldn't you?"

    I've wondered if this line is asking "everyone leaves, so why didn't you leave, too?", as to imply that person stayed with him after previous people have left. or is it "everyone leaves, so why would you be any different?" as to imply that person left his life just like previous people.

    Anyway, great album opener.
    ikickedagirlon December 03, 2009   Link
  • +1
    Song Comparison:I heard the radio version and that was great, but I found the acoustic version and it is even more amazing. Love the Dickens/Bob Seger references :)
    tunebabyon August 26, 2011   Link
  • +1
    Song Meaning:Abandonment issues?

    "everybody leaves, and I'd expect as much from you"
    Cantileveron January 04, 2012   Link
  • +1
    General Comment:It is up for debate whether or not Brian has actually read Great Expectations. I remember in an interview he says he got Even Cowgirls Get the Blues from a book just because he thought it was cool, not because he had read it. Therefore it can be assumed that he gets source material not necessarily because it has an emotional connection to him but because he simply likes the face value of it. That said, the reference of Estella would lead one to think that he's read the book, but he may just know the summary or have seen any film recreation of the novel.

    I'll approach this discussion with two states of mind, there first being that he has read the book, the latter that he has not. This will make it easier to divide literary allusions from lyrical meanings, although that is not to detract from the fact that even though something is an allusion, it can still represent an abstract idea.

    First verse: (It should be "and sung them all" not "Sunday morn[.....?])
    Literary Allusions: There aren't many in the first four lines, but it could be that something has prompted Pip to reminisce over memories of him an Estella when they were in Satis House. Satis House being the "prison cell." Being forced to spend time together under Miss Havisham could be considered somewhat of a prison because what young children want to be forced to spend time with an old lady? The next four lines are almost too spot on in describing Estella/Miss Havisham that I find it hard to believe that they aren't. The "kitten" being reference is obviously Estella, and the blues are all the times Pip had to go through when he loved Estella but she showed absolutely zero emotion towards him. Later in her life, Estella would go on to date many men, but she would always leave them and destroy them emotionally. She had been trained by Miss Havisham to do this because Miss Havisham had had her heart broken many years before and she wanted to A) be able to enact revenge upon men, and B) live vicariously through Estella and feel satisfied by destroying these men. There is a time in the book where Miss Havisham tries to prove to Pip that her heart is "not stone." Estella's heart too has been turned to stone by Miss Havisham, so it is not too hard to figure out whose heart Brian is talking about. "my heart's like a wound" means that because of Estella's heart of stone and the unreciprocated love that Pip has, he has a heartache.
    Lyrical analysis: Much of the details I went into during the literary part of this apply, except that everything is in the general sense and not specific to the characters of the novel. The first lines show a man (I would say Brian, however this song may be telling a story and is not necessarily based on Brian's real life) talking to this girl he loves. "Mary" probably chosen because of Bruce Springsteen, or the archetypal resonance that comes with that name (popular name in the 40's and 50's and those kind of girls seem to be the kind Brian is talking about on this record). He's listening to the radio and it's playing all of "their songs" and they remind him of her. The next few lines may not have to do with Mary, but another girl. Perhaps a first love that, from what it sounds like, was kind of a floozy, and led boys on. He fell for this and when she decided to call things off, she was able to get over it like nothing happened yet he was destroyed. Her heart being "a tomb" where all the poor souls of the men she has taken advantage of go to rest. She possibly keeps them as trophies (who knows, this fictional girl might have serious mental issues). "Licking young boys blood from her claws" and the use of the word "always" [used to find her] shows that she does this a lot and gets satisfaction from it (you lick your fingers after you eat something that satisfies you immensely).

    Chorus:
    Literary Allusions: There's really only one and that is the fact that Pip is alone at the end of the novel. Magwitch dies, Joe and Biddy get married, Herbert has Clara, Estella marries Drummle and eventually other men, and Miis Havisham dies. Now depending on which version of the ending you prefer (I prefer the one where Pip does NOT end up with Estella) Pip is pretty alone. Sure he lives with Herbert and Clara, as well as has a good relationship with Joe, Biddy and Pip "Jr," but at his core he has never found his true love and is alone. Everyone left Pip in the sense that they had to move on with their lives and could not commiserate with Pip. He was alone in his sadness. Pip was eventually redeemed a little when he learned his lessons and appreciated the relationships with the people he loved, but he was note wholly redeemed.
    Lyrical Analysis: Much like what I went into above, the man in this story has been left alone, so much to the point that it haunts him at night. He sees the people he loved and lost opportunities in his dreams leaving him in his dreams. Tail lights are on the back of a car and one sees them as a car drives away. This car driving away is symbolic of things leaving (duh!). He cites his "first wife" as well as his "whole (!) life" showing that he has been miserable for a while. Now I'm not exactly sure who he's talking to when he says everybody leaves, but in some live versions as well as acoustic versions, he says "Everybody left me Mary, why wouldn't you?" so this leads me to believe he's asking Mary why she won't leave him. Possible explanation may be that despite everything he's done, Mary forgives him for whatever it is he did to cause them to split up (based on the tone and lyrics of this song I assume it was HE who caused them to split up, not her). He is shocked that she stays and knows that he doesn't deserve her.

    Second Verse:
    Literary Allusions: During the book, there is a time when Estella is going to parties to find suitors to love and leave, and Miss Havisham forces Pip to accompany her to these. Still in love with Estella, Pip is forced to go to the parties and be jealous of the men Estella meets. He is too depressed/can't move on from Estella easily enough to allow himself to go to the parties, have a good time, and meet someone. However at this point in the song there is a little trouble in all of my theories of literary allusions. I said in that the first verse, Mary could be conceived as Estella, however in this second verse, he mentions Estella by name so there are obviously two women in this situation. I'm just gonna say it doesn't matter too much, and it is artistic freedom by Brian in that he just name drops Estella to show that he is hung up on a girl.
    Lyrical Analysis: This verse is one of my favorite verses written ever. It shows an internal struggle of cognitive dissonance. He has morals and does not want to regret things he will do but it is at the cost of him missing out on many fun social events. It brings up the argument of whether being guaranteed to do nothing you regret is worth the price of missing out on what could be a good time (for example: you decide to not drink and attend a party because you think you'll do something stupid. The fear of regret is too great and makes you miss out on life which leads to sadness [trust me I know]). "Papers and poetry about Estella" might not necessarily be referencing a women specifically, but could be the life that he dreams about achieving. As Dumbledore once said, "It does not do to dwell on dreams and forget to live." He's too hung up on achieving the perfect life he wants, that he does not go out there in attempt to get it. He's afraid of failing so he doesn't even start. "With great expectations" also supports this, meaning that he had (for lack of a better phrase) great expectations of what his life would be, but he was too afraid of falling short of his great goal and he didn't even try to accomplish it.

    Bridge:
    There isn't too much in here. "We were always waiting for something to happen" means that instead of going out and trying to accomplish something, he waited around for it to happen. This is not a good way to live your life as you need to go out and get the things you want. They don't just come to you. This attitude may have been the reasons why people left him as well. He was stuck and sedentary, and people were advancing with their lives and couldn't wait around for him.

    Those are pretty much my ideas. Sorry if they are not exactly cohesive as I am not going back to revise my words. Thanks for reading.
    djzachattackon August 13, 2012   Link
  • 0
    General Comment:It's definitely "tail lights" in the chorus, not daylights.
    H1945on July 02, 2008   Link
  • 0
    General Comment:corrections:

    - her hair was RAVEN...
    - i saw tail lights last night IN A DREAM about my first wife...
    - i saw tail lights last night IN A DREAM about my old life...
    charlesbronsonon July 04, 2008   Link
  • 0
    General Comment:Epic album is epic. All new songs. None from the EP :)
    lutheriuson July 05, 2008   Link
  • 0
    General Comment:Astella should be Estella.

    Estella Havisham is a character from the novel Great Expectations.
    dpassen1on July 06, 2008   Link

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