Happy happy oh my friend
Blow out candles once again
Leave the presents all inside
Take my hand and let's take a ride

Backwards down the number line
You were eight and I was nine
Do you know what happened then
Do you know why we're still friends

Laughing all these many years
We've pushed through hardships tasted tears
We made a promise one to keep
I can still recite it in my sleep

Every time a birthday comes
Call your friend and sing a song
Or whisper it in to his ears
Or write it down just don't miss a year

You decide what it contains
How long it goes
But this remains
The only rule is it begins
Happy happy oh my friend

You decide what it contains
How long it goes
But this remains
The only rule is it begins

And all my friends come
Backwards down the number line

All my friends come
Backwards down the number line

All my friends come
Backwards down the number line

All my friends

You decide what it contains
How long it goes
But this remains
The only rule is it begins
Happy happy oh my friend

You decide what it contains
How long it goes
But this remains
The only rule is it begins

And all my friends come
Backwards down the number line


Lyrics submitted by deathbear

Backwards Down The Number Line song meanings
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6 Comments

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  • +2
    General Commentbackwards down the numberline=

    leaving the present(s) behind and taking a trip down memory lane.

    with a friend

    on the telephone.

    Lots of your friends might call you on your birthday, coming backwards down the number line.

    The only rule (about life) is that it begins. You decide what [your life] contains and how long it lasts.

    I like the mathematical aspect of the song. A number line begins (at the origin) and extends to infinity. If you break down the song, it is really making the claim that somehow life is as infinite as the number line itself. If the "only rule" is that "it begins," then by extension, there is no rule about anything else, but death in particular.

    I think that the message is less "hey man there are no rules, party hearty!" but rather "congratulations, you got yourself born. What will you do with this gift? How can you make it infinite and pass on the positivity? How about through celebrating and tending to your connections with your friends?"

    That's a good idea. I miss my buddy in Cali. I should give him a call.
    joejefferyCTon August 04, 2009   Link
  • +1
    General CommentActually, the song is written for Tom Marshall, childhood friend of Trey's and longtime phish lyricist. It is a description of the tradition that the two of them have had since they were 8 and 9. On the other guy's birthday, they either call, write down, or sing in person a new birthday song each year. The only rule is that the SONG begins,
    "Happy, happy, oh my friend". Hence the lyrics, the writer/singer decides what it contains, how long, etc. Song was written because the two had a small falling out following the apparent demise of phish in 2004
    taylor720on August 20, 2009   Link
  • 0
    General Commentall my friends came backwords down the number line early in march!
    Stayon April 03, 2009   Link
  • 0
    General Commentwell this might have to be my favorite phish song and its really helping me out right now cuz im in a real rough spot with the gf so its like cheering me up lol

    but yea i think this song is about always remembering the real strong friendships that you have made and not forgetting who your true friends are
    mrbojangles4890on October 13, 2009   Link
  • 0
    General Comment this song i find extremely touching. while the origins of this song are well-known, coming from Trey's friend Tom, i find joejefferyCT's interpretation insightful and, quite frankly, dead on. getting together with close friends from your past is like going down the number line, you are leaving the present (another layer to add to the lyric "leave the presents all inside") and all other current distractions behind to escape into a time and place in the past, into a mindset and dynamic with close friends of yours from when you were young.
    also, with the birthday context (which i love the "happy, happy"), are we really getting "older" with each passing year?
    lastly, the ending song off this album joy, "twenty years later" is a perfect closing to this opening song on the album. i find that it was no mistake or coincidence that this was the beginning and "twenty years later" is the end, because, just like birth, we all "start out small."
    AmericanAquariumDrinkeron December 16, 2009   Link
  • 0
    General CommentI like the concept that "the only rule is, it begins" can apply to friendships. Friends carry all sorts of roles, and these roles strengthen and weaken, materialize and vanish, through the years. You could fall out with a friend for years, but there is no rule that "it's over". The only rule is that it began, and where it goes from there is the story.
    evalenteon June 24, 2011   Link

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