"A Machine Spiritual (In the People's Key)" as written by and Conor Oberst....
The people's key
Ringing through arena seats
The black machine
Played it all from memory
A fever dream
Well, I'll come back eventually
To wade into the water
Another and another

We go
Form some kind of code
The bodies float
And form some kind of code
The bodies float
Someone's out to know

Papa hobo
Don't hide your eyes
Mother mountain
Don't kill your unborn child
His day is coming
His day is coming

A question burns
Beneath the centuries of dirt
That voice you've heard
Well, every head's a different world
Well, mine's concerned
I boarded up the windows
A catatonic plateau
A backwards black-faced minstrel show
So just let me go
The prisoner moans
Oh, just let me go
The prisoner moans
No one has to know

Eva Braun went to dye her hair
Little Hitler sighs in his giant's chair
And dreamed of nowhere
And dreamed of nowhere
And dreamed

The people's key
Ringing filling everything
The theme repeats
Thinner than the galaxy
Impart to me
Your wisdom and eventually
I'll float into the ether
Another from another

We grow
Form some kind of code
Of flesh and bone
We form some kind of code
Of flesh and bone
No, you're not alone

History bows and it steps aside
In the jungle there's columns of purple light
We're starting over
We're starting over
We're starting
We're starting


Lyrics submitted by robotbears

"A Machine Spiritual (In the People's Key)" as written by Conor M Oberst

Lyrics © SONGS MUSIC PUBLISHING

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A Machine Spiritual (In the People's Key) song meanings
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18 Comments

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  • +2
    My OpinionCyberghost - you are all over the place and reading a little to deeply into individual lines, imo, but I think you are in the ballpark regarding 'emptiness/nothingness' as a theme here.

    The song does refer to the inherent destructive nature of man, be it inward (self-destructive: drowning yourself in water, emotional imprisonment) or outward (mass destruction: like Hitler and those tyrants who've followed and preceded him). Both regard a goal or motivation of nothingness.

    The first verse refers to a piano (black machine) or rather the pianist at the piano, playing a tune without feeling, but I think the song (and really the album) is about the literal earth and all living things as a collective machine (which, scientifically, it really is) and the spirit (or 'voice') that inhabits it, even when we try to shut it out.

    If you consider that voice as the People's Key - something which we all hear, most noticeably through music - it really ties everything together.

    How many fans of Conor (and countless other musicians) find some sort of connection with a song even when the words don't make sense? There is some subconscious connection/understanding we all share in all things good and evil. That would be the spirit in the machine that we know as life on earth.
    lostatlimboon February 16, 2011   Link
  • +1
    General CommentThe song brings to mind the Firstborn, in Arthur C Clark's Space Odyssey books.

    The "code" is DNA, compared to binary code. Maybe realistic androids?

    Paranoid androids???
    Elphineason January 07, 2011   Link
  • +1
    General Commentwell eva braun was hitlers wife and she killed herself by drinking cyanide after only like 2 days of marriage, i don't think they had a child... that would be widely known. maybe in this song he's trying to say that even if you have evil parents or lovers, the child that comes won't necessarily have the same demeanor? hmm.
    nyukkaboomon February 02, 2011   Link
  • +1
    Lyric CorrectionThe People’s Key ringing through arena seats
    The black machine played it all from memory
    A fever dream, well, I’ll come back eventually
    To wade into the water, another and another we go

    Form some kind of code
    The bodies float
    And form some kind of code
    The bodies float
    Someone is out to know

    Papa Hobo don’t hide your eyes
    Mother Mountain don’t kill your unborn child
    His day is coming
    His day is coming

    A question burns beneath the centuries of dirt
    That voice you’ve heard, well, every head is a different world
    Where mine is concerned, I boarded up the windows
    A catatonic plateau, a backwards, black-faced minstrel show

    So just let me go
    The prisoner moans
    Oh just let me go
    The prisoner moans
    No one has to know

    Eva Braun went to dye her hair
    Little Hitler sat in his giant’s chair
    And dreamed of nowhere
    And dreamed and dreamed and dreamed

    The People’s Key ringing filling everything
    The theme repeats, thinner than the galaxy
    Impart to me your wisdom and eventually
    I’ll float into the ether, another from another we grow

    Form some kind of code
    Of flesh and bone
    We form some kind of code
    Of flesh and bone
    No, you are not alone

    History bows and it steps aside
    In the jungle there are columns of purple light

    We are starting over
    We are starting
    We are starting
    ThatGouletKidon February 02, 2011   Link
  • +1
    My InterpretationThere are a few key lines I'd like to point out as they relate to my interpretation above...

    "Form some kind of code of flesh and bone"

    Consider how our interactions can be expressed like a computer software code interacting with the hardware (the earth). A computer chip is a series of on/off switches (good/evil? light/dark?) by which the software and the hardware speak.

    "History bows and it steps aside" "another from another we grow"

    In previous songs, Conor speaks of the innate instinct most animals have to let themselves die so that others may live and at the time he pondered the purpose. I think he expands on that idea with this song - that the cycle of birth to death and the progress made between each is part of that spiritual machine.

    "The theme repeats, thinner than the galaxy"

    This is particularly important, because while it initially appears as a contradiction or contrast, if you listen to songs like "Singularity" or are familiar with the concept (as well as quantum theory), the galaxy can be viewed as something very 'thin'.

    "Papa Hobo don’t hide your eyes
    Mother Mountain don’t kill your unborn child"

    I'm not sure about 'Papa Hobo', but I'm fairly certain that "Mother Mountain" refers to the theory that life originally began from volcanic vents during the early stages of earth's existence.

    If I'm correct, he's basically saying that the 'unborn child' is mankind and that our day is coming when we will be enlightened or 'born' and then, having finally heard that 'voice', fully aware of the depth of our existence.

    These are some huge concepts he's working with, and I marvel at his ability to write about them in simple human terms, but that's always been Conor's specialty. You look at his body of work and there's a whole library of philosophies within, but this one really is a masterpiece.
    lostatlimboon February 16, 2011   Link
  • +1
    General CommentI think this song fits in with the other sci fi themes on the album. In this song i think he's looking toward a future, in with our souls, or consciousness are embodied in computers.

    In the song " i got a reason #2 ", he alludes to a similar idea, that the satallites are the " last noah's ark ", containing what's left of a dead earth.

    I also think the " columns of purple light " in the jungle, might be this noahs ark concept again, where spaceships are collecting species from the jungle, to preserve for the future.

    Conor sings " I'll come back eventually ", suggesting that biological life will resurface again and again.
    zippoboy5446on April 28, 2011   Link
  • +1
    General Commenti know the people's key is c. the song's in the key of c
    poopzilla3on October 27, 2012   Link
  • +1
    General Comment"History bows and it steps aside
    In the jungle there's columns of purple light
    We're starting over
    We're starting over"

    Makes me think of Lost.
    Mymelodykoalaon April 22, 2015   Link
  • 0
    General Commenti had to pause this song halfway through to think about these lyrics:
    "mother mountain, don't kill your unborn child
    his day is coming, his day is coming"
    it seems pretty openly anti-choice to me.
    mumblecoreeeeon January 31, 2011   Link
  • 0
    My InterpretationThe mysteriousness of abiogenesis?
    Anilandon February 02, 2011   Link

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