I was raised up believing I was somehow unique
Like a snowflake distinct among snowflakes, unique in each way you can see
And now after some thinking, I'd say I'd rather be
A functioning cog in some great machinery serving something beyond me

But I don't, I don't know what that will be
I'll get back to you Sunday soon you will see

What's my name, what's my station, oh, just tell me what I should do
I don't need to be kind to the armies of night that would do such injustice to you
Or bow down and be grateful and say "sure, take all that you see"
To the men who move only in dimly-lit halls and determine my future for me

And I don't, I don't know who to believe
I'll get back to you Sunday soon you will see

If I know only one thing, it's that everything that I see
Of the world outside is so inconceivable often I barely can speak
Yeah I'm tongue-tied and dizzy and I can't keep it to myself
What good is it to sing helplessness blues, why should I wait for anyone else?

And I know, I know you will keep me on the shelf
I'll come back to you Sunday soon myself

If I had an orchard, I'd work till I'm raw
If I had an orchard, I'd work till I'm sore
And you would wait tables and soon run the store

Gold hair in the sunlight, my light in the dawn
If I had an orchard, I'd work till I'm sore
If I had an orchard, I'd work till I'm sore
Someday I'll be like the man on the screen


Lyrics submitted by zaphod488, edited by WanderMan

Helplessness Blues song meanings
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62 Comments

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  • +26
    Song MeaningI think the socialism vs. capitalism interpretation is very clever but wrong. Here's why.

    At the beginning of the song, the conflict is introduced: Is it good to be so unique that you cannot find your place in society, or is it better to find a station in life, a definite niche in the Grand Scheme of Things? The hero of the song decides in his maturity that the latter is more satisfying.

    "And now after some thinking
    I'd say I'd rather be
    A functioning cog in some great machinery
    Serving something beyond me"

    What's beautiful, however, and is that Robin avoids singing for a specific ideology or social structure. In fact, he deliberately makes the hero sing that he does not yet know his purpose in life is, that he's still working on it.

    "But I don't, I don't know what that will be
    I'll get back to you someday soon you will see"

    In a way, Robin tells us, "I am searching my own purpose, I am working on my life's meaning. Don't ask me what your life's meaning is. You must work on it too."

    Those two lines are simply beautiful both aesthetically and philosophically. From the philosophical point of view, Robin is saying that searing for meaning in life should not be done hastily, that one should mull over it patiently. Finally, Robin also tells us that one should not be ashamed that one's meaning in life is still under construction. In short, when someone asks you what your purpose in life is, do not be embarrassed to say, "I don't know what that will be, I'll get back to you someday soon you will see." (I can only wish I had Robin's voice when saying -- nay, singing -- that to someone.)

    Now, although Robin sings through his hero that having a station in life is better than having no direction, he immediately dispels the listener's fear that he is endorsing a collectivist mentality. On the contrary, the hero states that those who will seek to control his destiny are surely his enemies. Although he wants to have a permanent station in life, he does not want the herd or the hive to lord over him.

    Also, knowing Robin's capacity for literary allusion, I think the orchard part is a reference to those beautiful last phrases of Voltaire's Candide, where Candide declares that the best way to make a positive impact in society is by tending one's garden. "Tend your own garden," Voltaire says over and over again through the mouth of Candide in the final chapters of the short novel. The garden, of course, is both a literal and a metaphorical garden -- the best metaphors can also be interpreted literally without loss of meaning or beauty. It is the same with Pecknold's orchard, it can be interpreted both literally and metaphorically, either way it is as beautiful and as valid.

    BTW, this is my first post. Yay!
    Pecieron July 13, 2011   Link
  • +11
    General CommentI agree with what most people have said; that he talks about moving away from having an individualistic ideology, to a more communal one, and that it is better to help others than just to serve the self. But I think that, as the title suggests, this song is more about the helplessness of not knowing how to do that.

    He says that he doesn't know what he should do, or who he should trust; which i think is perhaps an examination of those in power; he feels disillusionment with his position in life, because there is so much wrong with the world, that he doesn't know where to fit in. He doesn't know what he should do, and he doesn't trust anyone to tell him what to do.

    Because of this, i think the end represents a desire for simplicity. The image of working in an orchard is quite a romantic one; with its links to nature, and its promotion of life. If he had something that he knew was completely good, he would work til he was sore. But he doesn't.

    And yet, I don't really get the impression that it is a pessimistic song in particular. He still seems to have a belief that things will work out eventually.
    bernie2003on March 31, 2011   Link
  • +8
    Song MeaningTo me, it's pretty clear: this is a folk song about living in our times, and how a lot of folks my age, who were too young to get in on a good life, are feeling now as the problems deepen. Robin Pecknold is only about 2 years younger than me and has probably seen this firsthand at some point.

    "I was raised up believing I was somehow unique
    Like a snowflake distinct among snowflakes, unique in each way you can see"

    This is what we were fed as kids back in the 90s, the idea that we were all special, and that all we had to do was hold onto our dreams and work for them and we'd be rewarded. Times were good and optimism ran high.

    "And now after some thinking, I'd say I'd rather be
    A functioning cog in some great machinery serving something beyond me"

    This is the reality we face now. Those of us who get anonymous, low-wage jobs in call centers or factories as a "functioning cog" are the lucky ones.

    "What's my name, what's my station, oh, just tell me what I should do
    I don't need to be kind to the armies of night that would do such injustice to you
    Or bow down and be grateful and say "sure, take all that you see"
    To the men who move only in dimly-lit halls and determine my future for me"

    This is about our dilemma: we can either keep trying to ingratiate ourselves to the banks, the government, and the police state (the "armies of night") that have let us down, or we can be left asking "just tell me what I should do?"

    "If I know only one thing, it's that everything that I see
    Of the world outside is so inconceivable often I barely can speak"

    We're watching our freedoms erode at a rate that we often find difficult to accept or express, but we still feel the need to speak out.

    "If I had an orchard, I'd work till I'm sore
    Someday I'll be like the man on the screen"

    These two lines say a lot. "If I had an orchard..." I've found myself thinking that a lot. Just a few thousand dollars for a plot of land and some cherry trees. It's a response to the Baby Boomers and Gen-Xers who had it made while the pickings were good, who think that my generation's misfortunes are because we don't have their work ethic, and blame us for being broke.

    "Someday I'll be like the man on the screen," as in all these successful, happy career men with a McMansion and 2.3 children. The American Dream, now seen mainly on TV screens and played by actors for the sake of propaganda.

    I think the meaning of this song is crystal clear to anyone who has actually lived it.
    OneCalled3on July 27, 2012   Link
  • +6
    General CommentHere's a stab: He grew up with certain ideals and thought he would single handedly make the world a better place. However, he's come to peace with the idea that he can play a vital role in society through finding a calling (albeit a pedestrian one such as a farmer) and work hard at that calling. While his life may not be as romantic as the one he had planned for himself, he does not have to give up all of his ideals (about good and evil). And although life's busyness and hard work may require his full attention, he can always fall back on those ideals when he needs them.
    carolina64on February 20, 2011   Link
  • +6
    General CommentI feel like this song is about the struggle between pursuing one's passions (trying to do something unique, artistic, etc) or settling down to a life of just plain old good, hard work.

    When he's being raised, his parents tell him, "you can be what you want to be", "follow your dreams", etc, but now that he's older and has actually followed the dream of being a musician, he feels like it might actually be best to just work a 9-5 job and contribute to a practically functioning society. He wants direction in this struggle between the artist and the common man, because there are aspects of both of those vocations in his character. He's asking, "Do I keep writing songs, recording them, touring, and living a life that stretches and struggles, where I have to sacrifice so much of what constitutes a normal life just to be successful at it?"

    It's so tough to maintain relationships and be rooted in the world when you're constantly traveling and holing yourself up to write and record, only to go travel and tour again. Apparently this record actually cost him his relationship with his longtime girlfriend. So in the end he comes to this sort of conclusion: "If I had an orchard, I would totally content to just work it all day, work til I'm raw and sore, because I know I could come home to you, and you'd run the store, and we'd have this normal, functioning, healthy and fulfilling lifestyle, instead of this scattered, stretching, difficult life I've lived as an artist."

    I see this song as him looking back and being like "it could have been different". But in the end, what good is it to sing helplessness blues? So he keeps doing what he's clearly so incredibly gifted at, and he puts out an album that totally rocks me.

    Sidenote: the documentary "On a Carousel of Sound, We Go Round" by The Snake, The Cross, The Crown really deals with this struggle, particularly in regards to the band lifestyle.
    Also: I think there's a lot of validity with the communist/capitalist interpretation. These sorts of questions are the very kind that the two ideologies deal with.
    ta_selleson May 10, 2011   Link
  • +5
    My InterpretationI think this song is kind of about finding yourself. Everyone is told that they're unique and special when they're young, and a lot of people dream of changing the world and becoming household names. But the reality is that that happens to very few people, and I think the singer is starting to accept that. He doesn't want to be famous anymore, he just wants to do what he loves while contributing to society in a small way - working in the orchard.

    At the same time, he's struggling with what everyone else around him is telling him to do ("What's my name, what's my station, oh, just tell me what I should do" and "And I don't, I don't know who to believe"). He doesn't know if he should listen to them or do what he wants for himself.

    The last line could mean that he wants his life to have a happy ending, like a character in a movie.
    bluelephanton May 14, 2012   Link
  • +3
    Lyric CorrectionI was raised up believing
    I was somehow unique
    Like a snowflake distinct among snowflakes
    Unique in each way you can see

    And now after some thinking
    I'd say I'd rather be
    A functioning cog in some great machinery
    Serving something beyond me

    But I don't, I don't know what that will be
    I'll get back to you someday soon you will see

    What's my name, what's my station
    Oh just tell me what I should do
    I don't need to be kind to the armies of night
    That would do such injustice to you

    Or bow down and be grateful
    And say "Sure take all that you see"
    To the men who move only in dimly-lit halls
    And determine my future for me

    And I don't, I don't know who to believe
    I'll get back to you someday soon you will see

    If I know only one thing
    It's that every thing that I see
    Of the world outside is so inconceivable
    Often I barely can speak

    Yeah I'm tongue tied and dizzy
    And I can't keep it to myself
    What good is it to sing helplessness blues?
    Why should I wait for anyone else?

    And I know, I know you will keep me on the shelf
    I'll come back to you someday soon myself

    If I had an orchard
    I'd work till I'm raw
    If i had an orchard
    I'd work till I'm sore

    And you would wait tables
    And soon run the store

    Gold hair in the sunlight
    My light in the dawn
    If I had an orchard
    I'd work till I'm sore

    If I had an orchard
    I'd work till I'm sore

    Someday I'll be
    Like the man on the screen
    rudolphtheredon January 31, 2011   Link
  • +3
    General CommentI think the song talks about communism, or some sort of socialism.

    "I was raised up believing
    I was somehow unique
    Like a snowflake distinct among snowflakes
    Unique in each way you can see"

    In a capitalist society, humans are alienated. We initially feel uniqueness, humanness, but later we're degraded into dispensible labors and consumers.


    "And now after some thinking
    I'd say I'd rather be
    A functioning cog in some great machinery
    Serving something beyond me"

    The protagonist then rejects capitalist values such as the stressing upon individual gain, greed, etc and wishes to be part of a more collective, communal society.

    "What's my name, what's my station
    Oh just tell me what I should do
    I don't need to be kind to the armies of night
    That would do such injustice to you
    Or bow down and be grateful
    And say "Sure take all that you see"
    To the men who move only in dimly-lit halls
    And determine my future for me"

    So the protagonist is ready to fight against the capitalists, the bourgeois, and their army. He won't be kind to them due to the injustice they carry out against the worker, determining their future as wage slaves, etc

    "If I had an orchard
    I'd work till I'm raw
    If i had an orchard
    I'd work till I'm sore"

    He's talking about the means of production being at the hands of the farmer back again. So when he gets back the means of production ie the orchard, he's willing to "work till he's sore". Just like Marx said, "from each according to his ability"

    "And you would wait tables
    And soon run the store"

    So the worker gets to run the store now, not the capitalists, not the middle man. The proletariat runs the show now.



    The biggest reason why I think it's about communism is the "orchard" verse.
    macroimagingon February 18, 2011   Link
  • +3
    My OpinionOne thing I love about music and art in general is the beauty of how everyone interprets it differently and takes something unique and personal to just them away from it. Art nurtures many souls in this manner and allows each individual to relate to the subject matter in their own way.

    As for my own thoughts and interpretation, it seems to me that song's opening is a perfect reflection of the recent "Hipster" mentality that has swept our nation. Everyone buying into this attitude is obsessed with their own uniqueness and the belief system that the best place to have in the world is no place at all. Many of my friends have become infected with this mentality starting out with harmless choices like "going green", becoming "vegan", getting rid of superfluous possessions (which-there is no problem with any of these things alone) but have then chosen to take things to an unbelievably unhealthy extreme and now live as homeless individuals. They live out of their cars and on other people's couches and all by their own choice--not by necessity. This mentality is a life style choice for them and it has served to degenerate my generation into such an uninvolved, selfish, self-focused society that masquerades as "minimalist" and "environmentalist". To have a steady or well paying job is the cardinal sin for the Hipsters as is owning a decent automobile or home. This idea is so backwards from the American Spirit and the kind of attitude America was founded on that it is embarrassing and pitiful.

    What I love most about this song is that, it seems to me, the singer may once have believed as the Hipsters do, but now see's that he does not have to chose between his own uniqueness or a drab life, but he can be a unique individual who is ALSO a unique "cog in some great machinery serving something beyond me". He is singing the truth of a life of true balance, one that is unique and special and useful to everyone and also ultimately his Creator, not just himself any longer. The music seems to pick up and get happier as he sings this because he knows this is the truth and somewhere within THIS idea is what he has always searched for.

    He has not found his defined place yet, but he is realizing what he was made to be is also where he was made to go. He leaps out into this adventure with eyes becoming unhazed with every word and he gets excited about finding his unique place in the working world that will not be as a heavy burden to him but rather a pleasure and a needed service to the world around him.

    The next stanzas talk about how he is angry at the warring injustice and threatened freedoms he see's in the physical and political world and that he knows he is right in his anger. At the same time, he realizes that these injustices and threats do not call for a with drawl from society, but rather a continued sense of pushing forward, of fighting for what he knows to be true and remaining firm.

    As he goes farther along this journey, he sees the good mixed with the bad, sometimes so mixed that it is nearly impossible to decipher which, so he does not always know who or what he can believe, but he remains vigilant in his commitment to keep searching and not allow himself to be dragged down by others. I hope he will soon realize that his Creator is the only one he can ALWAYS believe in and trust. In this there is unimaginable security and lasting true purpose.

    In the stanza where the music changes again and he sings "If I had an orchard, I'd work till I'm raw..." he is dreaming of the simple life he deeply longs for...untainted by the politics and lies and hurts of the world--the only hurt in this life would be the sore muscles and raw hands acquired from the life of peacefully tending his own apple orchard. He dreams of having his wife run a quaint restaurant or store and her deriving the same pleasure from it that he does with his orchard.

    In the last line, "Some day I'll be like the man on the screen..." he is holding on to his dreams of what his own true personal completeness means to him, whatever that may be. In the same way, we all hold on to that picture of ourselves we see in our head and long to be like because we know, in our heart, it's who we truly are. This is where the singer's journey finds it's momentary resting place, caught still between where he used to be, and where he has yet to go.
    soundmeouton March 15, 2012   Link
  • +2
    General CommentI think this is one of the most astounding songs I've heard in a long time and even surpasses the quality of their first album. I believe the song is about a guy who, having grown-up with a degree of idealism, is encouraged by what he sees on television to go to war to protect his wife/girlfriend and the way of life he believes in. He says 'I'd rather be a functioning cog in some great machinery, servin' something beyond me' and 'I don't need to be kind to the armies of night that would do such injustice to you, or bow down and be grateful and say "sure take all that you see" to the men who move only in dimly-lit halls
    and determine my future for me'. There is a line that says 'I don't know who to believe' suggesting he has second thoughts...?

    The slower-paced ending has him dreaming and hoping of going home to the girl he loves and imaging a more beautiful place than the one he currently inhabits.

    The final line is something of a conundrum - perhaps he concedes that he will 'be like the man on the screen' meaning the older voice who encourages the young to war?

    Sensational.
    snaggerpusson February 16, 2011   Link

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