"Rake" as written by and Van Zandt....
I used to wake and run with the moon
I lived like a rake and a young man
I covered my lovers with flowers and wounds
My laughter the devil would frighten
The sun she would come and beat me back down
But every cruel day had its nightfall
I'd welcome the stars with wine and guitars
Full of fire and forgetful

My body was sharp the dark air clean
And outrage my joyful companion
Whisperin' women how sweet did they seem
Kneelin' for me to command them
And time was like water but I was the sea
I'd have never noticed it passin'
Except for the turnin' of night into day
And the turnin' of day into cursin'

You look at me now, and don't think I don't know
What all your eyes are a sayin'
Does he want us to believe these ravings and lies
They're just tricks that his brains been a playin'?
A lover of women he can't hardly stand
He trembles he's bent and he's broken
I've fallen it's true but I say unto you
Hold your tongues until after I've spoken

I was takin' my pride in the pleasures I'd known
I laughed and thought I'd be forgiven
But my laughter turned 'round eyes blazing and
Said my friend, we're holdin' a wedding
I buried my face but it spoke once again
The night to the day we're a bindin'
And now the dark air is like fire on my skin
And even the moonlight is blinding


Lyrics submitted by whiteyjohnson

"Rake" as written by John Townes Van Zandt

Lyrics © BMG RIGHTS MANAGEMENT US, LLC

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Rake song meanings
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  • +2
    General Comment"...said my friend, we're holdin' a wedding
    I buried my face but it spoke once again
    the night to the day we're a bindin'..."

    He is not getting married, it's the night and the day that are binding together, so even the nights are intolerable now.

    It's not about a vampire, but an addict who has f'd up all of his relationships and life. A rake is like a rascal or scoundrel.
    chocablokon June 26, 2011   Link
  • +2
    General CommentFirst, it's not about a vampire and there's no actual marriage.

    Most of this song is pretty straightforward - Townes is describing a life of putting off responsibility, living recklessly for the carnal pleasures, and relying on unhealthy habits to make himself feel more sharp, more in command, more full of fire. In this song the 'night' is analogous to the pleasures he derived from that life style, and the 'day' represents the consequences.

    For a period of time this life style was cyclical: 'every cruel day had it's nightfall', 'the turnin' of night into day, and the turnin' of day into cursin',' but it turns out to be ultimately unsustainable. The confidence he had about his exploits is eventually shattered and he sees it for the destructive illusion it was.

    The final verse is where it gets interesting, he is describing Tom Waits calls the Magic Bullets (Crossroads on The Black Rider). With any addictive stimulant the user feels more powerful/creative/in charge/whatever while using the drug. It's his 'magic bullet' that allows him to hit the target every time. The more he uses the magic bullets however, the worse he feels when not using, until every day is a bad day and it's the magics or nothing. Eventually the magic bullets stop working and the user is left with nothing: 'He trembles he's bent and he's broken.'

    In the end the things that once protected him and gave him pleasure turn on him and become sources of pain. It is in fact his proud and boastful laughter that is the harbinger of his fall. The day and all the terrifying consequences that brings is fused to the night which once was his only balm, leaving him unforgiven and with out refuge.
    psfreshon November 18, 2013   Link
  • +1
    My InterpretationNo, no, no. This song is not about a vampire.

    I'm a little bit disgusted by that notion.

    This song is very straightforward in what story it tells. The only thing I find unclear is whether or not he's literally marrying a woman.
    MrDonkeyon May 22, 2011   Link
  • +1
    General CommentIt goes "I lived like a rake IN a young man". A rake is a debauched man(like adeyar wrote), an immoral person, commonly used to mean a male slut.

    In the beginning he's living this great nightlife and only having to deal with the consequences during the day: "The sun she would come and beat me back down
    but every cruel day had its nightfall
    I'd welcome the stars with wine and guitars
    full of fire and forgetful"

    He's young, lives in the moment, and he doesn't anticipate his lifestyle ever catching up with him. "And time was like water but I was the sea
    I'd have never noticed it passin'
    except for the turnin' of night into day
    and the turnin' of day into cursin'".

    Now he's old and feeble and young people are incredulous of his stories of debauchery. "You look at me now, and don't think I don't know
    what all your eyes are a sayin'
    Does he want us to believe these ravings and lies
    they're just tricks that his brains been a playin'?
    A lover of women he can't hardly stand
    he trembles he's bent and he's broken"

    He thought he would get away with it:"I was takin' my pride in the pleasures I'd known
    I laughed and SAID I'd be forgiven"

    and that at the worst he'd have to settle down someday. "but my laughter turned 'round eyes blazing and said my friend, we're holdin' a wedding".

    But it takes it's toll on his life because the consequences catch up to him:"I buried my face but it spoke once again, the night to the day we're a bindin'
    and now the dark air is like fire on my skin
    and even the moonlight is blinding".

    The marriage of night and day is the morphing of daily hangovers and nightly pleasures into a wholesale downgrading of his life.
    seanmfton August 20, 2011   Link
  • +1
    General CommentI'm a bit surprised by how many people think the "wedding" might/does refer to an actual wedding.

    The wedding here is not between the narrator and somebody else, it's between the night and the day:

    But my laughter turned round, eyes blazing and said
    "My friend we're a-holding a wedding"
    I buried my face but it spoke once again
    "The night to the day we're a-binding"
    Now the dark air's like fire on my skin
    And even the moonlight is blinding

    His "laughter" is essentially punishing him for being so irresponsible with his lifestyle, and he is no longer able to seek refuge in the night like he once was.
    midnightcarouselon December 19, 2011   Link
  • +1
    My InterpretationEnough already, with these ridiculous vampire notions! Townes wrote the song decades before "Twilight", black-clad Goths, and the current obsession with mythical blood suckers. “Rake” is a straight forward tale of a young debaucher who pays a price for his hedonism. Only the meaning of the final stanzas is truly debatable. If Townes intended a specific meaning, and he was notoriously vague on such topics, I would suggest the following: Because “he trembles, he’s bent, and he’s broken” the narrator has suffered a real physical decline. Saying that “..the night air’s like fire on my skin, and even the moonlight is blindin” sounds a lot like the rake is describing the neurological effects of tertiary syphilis. Research Argyll Robertson pupils online and note how they will not adjust to changing light levels. The dark glasses popular in the late 19th century were probably worn by more syphilis suffers than they ever were by card sharks, like the Doc Holliday character portrayed by actor Val Kilmer in the film “Tombstone”.
    willongon February 07, 2012   Link
  • 0
    General CommentThis song is about living recklessly, as he did, and aging and realizing that the vitality you took for granted is leaving you, but not without a final stubborn stand. I don't know about all of this vampire stuff... If you are an addict and a night owl, the sunshine is blinding. In the end of the song he is talking about settling down, and how the realization of that makes all of life blinding.
    kylegraybeachon January 06, 2011   Link
  • 0
    General Commentrake (rāk)

    noun
    a dissolute, debauched man; roué

    True.

    "I was takin' my pride in the pleasures I'd known
    I laughed and thought I'd be forgiven
    but my laughter turned 'round eyes blazing and
    said my friend, we're holdin' a wedding"

    This song is throw back to a different time. A wild young man, sleeping around, gets caught and is forced to marry. Probably a a shotgun wedding.
    adeyaron May 19, 2011   Link
  • 0
    General CommentThere's no real wedding, and he's not settling in to any kind of prison, marital or otherwise, in my mind. It's just a matter of the "chickens coming home to roost," the night binding to the day, the dark side catching up with him, perhaps in the form of a health catastrophe (he's about to die), or perhaps just having a mental breakdown of realizing how he's spent his life. I love this song! Nothing can match those lines, "Now the dark air is like fire on my skin, and even the moonlight is blinding," which i take to mean, now the dark air is like fire on his skin, etc. Just kidding, but really, it seems clear to me: he sees himself like the picture of Dorian Grey, rotten and poisonous, to the point where the touch of innocence or light will make him shrink or dissolve. He is too dark now even for this world.
    laurajion January 23, 2013   Link
  • -1
    My InterpretationI think "rake" in this song means "to search." The narrator spent his youth being reckless and seraching for something. Based on the subject matter of some of Townes' other songs (Highway Kind, If I Needed You, Two Girls, et. al.), I'd say it's not a huge leap to assume that the something the narrator of this song is searching for is a real human connection. And in the final verse it sounds like he's found someone he wants to "settle down" with, and he does settle down, albeit reluctantly, and leaves his youth behind.
    afbaileyon March 03, 2010   Link

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