"Down by the Water" as written by and Colin Meloy....
See this ancient riverbed
See where all the follies are led
Down by the water and down by the old main drag

I was just some tow-head teen
Feeling 'round for fingers to get in between
Down by the water and down by the old main drag

The season rubs me wrong
The summer swells anon
So knock me down, tear me up
But I would bear it all broken just to fill my cup
Down by the water and down by the old main drag

Sweet descend this rabble round
The pretty little patter of a seaport town
Rolling in the water and rolling down the old main drag

All dolled up in gabardine
The lash-flashing Leda of Pier nineteen
Queen of the water and queen of the old main drag

The season rubs me wrong
The summer swells anon
So knock me down, tear me up
But I would bear it all broken just to fill my cup
Down by the water and down by the old main drag

The season rubs me wrong
The summer swells anon
So knock me down, tear me up
But I would bear it all broken just to fill my cup
Down by the water and down by the old main drag

Down by the water and down by the old main drag
Down by the water and down by the old main drag


Lyrics submitted by hugmecolin, edited by Winged, HalfBakedSkillet, EmilyP, KingQwerty, crayfish, ChunkMark

"Down by the Water" as written by Colin Meloy

Lyrics © BMG RIGHTS MANAGEMENT US, LLC

Lyrics powered by LyricFind

Down by the Water song meanings
Add your thoughts

35 Comments

sort form View by:
  • +5
    General CommentI haven't seen a comment here that I entirely agree with, so I thought I would just like to give my two cents.

    I think this song is about fond memories and the melancholy that comes with the realization that things past must stay that way. It might also be about regret, it might not (Is the "Leda of Pier 19" the one that got away?). The narrator, visiting the town where he grew up, relives a summer during his adolescence to which he would give anything to return. ("I would bear it all broken just to fill my cup/Down by the water.")
    Some people might think the narrator is saying that summer "rubs [him] wrong," but he is actually talking about any other season beside summer. Anon=soon: "This season annoys me, but it's ok because summer's just around the corner, and summer brings back these amazing boyhood memories!"

    The narrator reveals his love for the quaint seaside town, as well as a girl he may or may not have had a relationship with, after all, she was "Queen of the water, queen of the old main drag" and he was "just some towhead teen".

    I definitely do not think this song is about rape or organized crime. I think Decemberists fans tend to jump to conclusions when it comes to song themes, because with songs on any other Decemberists album they probably would be right. "The King Is Dead" is, at least thematically, something drastically different for the band. On no song in this album with you find gratuitous violence or rape, which is not necessarily a good or bad thing. I love their old albums, but I also appreciate when a band can evolve successfully.
    worldzgreateston March 15, 2011   Link
  • +2
    General CommentAre you sure it's "main drag"?? if so what exactly does that mean?


    Also this verse seems wrong : "The last flashing lee to appear nineteen"


    I'm sure it's : "The last flashing _______ to pier nineteen"

    Cyberghoston December 02, 2010   Link
  • +2
    Lyric CorrectionAfter "all dolled up in garbadene," the line should read: "The lash-flashing Leda of pier nineteen."
    mrmojorisin789on March 07, 2011   Link
  • +2
    My Interpretation"When you can't figure out what a song is about, it's probably about a prostitute."

    I agree the setting is Portland, but I think it's a tale of a young man who comes there for work back in the 1800s when the city was the major port of the region. He doesn't like the weather and the melancholy mood the town gives him Summer's always just around the corner, right?), but he finds comfort in the brothels, "down by the water" on the main drag. Maybe there was even prostitution on the ships? A historian's perspective here would be most appreciated.

    I had a feeling the "lash-flashing Leda" line was key to unlocking the meaning. Some folks thought he was singing "leader" but I listened to it and it just didn't sound right. Turns out Leda is a character from Greek mythology who became impregnated by two men in the same night. I wasn't sure about the lash-flashing part and then I realized it was short for eyelashes. However it could be that there is also some anthromophization regarding describing a ship as a woman. So maybe there's a double meaning as there is a definite nautical feel to the lyrics. It seems the character is "knocked-down and torn up" emotionally about his behavior and possibly his love for the woman but continues going down to the waterline in order to fulfill his needs. Probably were way more young men there in those days than women so it's not hard to imagine this scenario.
    acirvinon October 19, 2014   Link
  • +1
    General CommentJust downloaded this and it is amazing. So glad to hear The Decemberists just get better and better. Cannot wait for the new album!
    evalucynaon November 02, 2010   Link
  • +1
    General CommentIt's actually a current R.E.M. member - Peter Buck - on guitar, along with Gillian Welch on co-vocals.
    sonnyjdon December 21, 2010   Link
  • +1
    My InterpretationI got this song free on iTunes and I've fallen in love with it!
    I think this song's about a teenage boy that was a troublemaker in high school. So he gets sent away to a summer camp. He meets a girl there while exploring the riverbed with the same issues as him and falls in love with her. He grows out of his ways and moves on, but he'd give it all up to be back with her. Later he hears that she has drowned in the river so he gets dressed up in his "gabardine"'s to go to her funeral.
    Idk, just my view.
    And "main drag" is slang for a town's main street.
    Skenopsison January 04, 2011   Link
  • +1
    General CommentHe's talking about his hometown, Portland, OR. Portland is on the Columbia river and built on an ancient riverbed. His speaks of his experiences growing up. From a"towhead teen" struggling as a musician, through seasons of ups and downs. He's facing challenges throughout life, "I would bear it all broken just to fill my cup" in order to find success. He then starts to speak fondly of his city, he's growing accustomed to it, finding comfort in familiarity. The last part "All dolled up in gaberdine" speaks of his current fame in a bittersweet way. Done riding the rockstar fame of his youth and settling into a mature muscian role and exploring his music.



    All dolled up in gabardine
    The last flashing lee to appear nineteen
    Queen of the water and queen of the old main drag

    The season rubs me wrong
    The summer swells anon
    So knock me down, tear me up
    But I would bear it all broken just to fill my cup
    Down by the water and down by the old main drag

    The season rubs me wrong
    The summer swells anon
    So knock me down, tear me up
    But I would bear it all broken just to fill my cup
    Down by the water and down by the old main drag

    Down by the water and down by the old main drag
    Down by the water and down by the old main drag
    Send "Down by the Water" Ringtone to your Cell
    ridukosenninon January 18, 2011   Link
  • +1
    General CommentThis song seems to be about someone pressuring a woman sexually, possibly raping her. It is told from the perspective of the perpetrator, who feels guilty about the incident. This interpretation explains the tactile imagery ("the season rubs me wrong," and especially "feeling round with fingers to get in between.") "I would bear it all broken just to fill my cup," means he would commit such a disgusting act just to satisfy his physical desire. The correction I added, (which I found on elyrics.net) adds significantly to this interpretation. "Lash-flashing" is clearly description of an alluring woman, and "Leda" was "a queen of Sparta who was raped by Zeus who had taken the form of a swan; Helen of Troy was conceived in the rape of Leda." (wordnetweb.princeton.edu/perl/webwn.) This is not the only Decemberists song that includes references to rape (See "Odalisque," "The Island.")
    mrmojorisin789on March 07, 2011   Link
  • +1
    General CommentLast flashing leader of pier ninteen. It's about a boat!
    richgon March 18, 2011   Link

Add your thoughts

Log in now to tell us what you think this song means.

Don’t have an account? Create an account with SongMeanings to post comments, submit lyrics, and more. It’s super easy, we promise!

Back to top
explain