"Calamity Song" as written by and Colin Meloy....
Had a dream
You and me and the war at the end times
And I believe
California succumbed to the fault line
We heaved relief
As scores of innocents died

And the Andalusian tribes
Setting the lay of Nebraska alight
'Til all the remains is the arms of the angel

Hetty Green
Queen of supply-side bonhomie bone-drab
If you know what I mean
On the road
It's well-advised to follow your own path
In the year of the chewable Ambien tab

And the Panamanian child
Stands at the Dowager Empress's side
And all the remains is the arms of the angel
And all the remains is the arms of the angels

And you've receded into loam
And they're picking at your bones
Will call cold
We'll come home

Quiet now
Will we gather to conjure the rain down
Will we now
Build a civilization below ground
And I'll be crowned
The community kicked it around

And the Andalusian tribes
Setting the lay of Nebraska alight
'Til all the remains is the arms of the angel
'Til all the remains is the arms of the angels

Lyrics submitted by Tinneal, edited by highbeam2004

"Calamity Song" as written by Colin Meloy


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Calamity Song song meanings
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  • +4
    General Comment"When I was writing 'Calamity Song,' Sarah Palin was talking about how everybody was going to move to Alaska when the end times come." — Colin Meloy, Decemberists frontman

    Apparently this song was inspired by one of the crazy ramblings Sarah Palin graced us with during the 2008 presidential campaign. While there are a few references to the the then-upcoming election, the lyrics mostly have fun with the concept of the "end times," as eagerly awaited by Christian fundamentalists like Sarah Palin.

    Colin Meloy is, of course, a firmly left-wing progressive (anti-war, gay rights, healthcare reform, etc.) Naturally, he supported and campaigned for Democratic candidate Barack Obama in 2008.

    Some explanations and elucidations:

    "California succumbed to the fault line" = The natural disasters of the "end times" evidently include massive earthquakes along the San Andreas fault in California.

    "And the Andalusian tribes / Setting the lay of Nebraska alight" = "Andalusian" refers to southern Spain, usually in reference to the Vandals, a barbarian tribe that once occupied that region. In the context of the song, the "Andalusian tribes" are likely roving gangs of desperate and violent savages, roaming, burning, and pillaging across the wasteland in the aftermath of the apocalypse.

    "Hetty Green" = An early 20th-century businesswoman known for her greed and stinginess
    "Hetty Green / Queen of supply-side bonhomie bone-drab / You know what I mean" = Sarah Palin (Queen of pro-rich [supply-side economics] folksy [bonhomie] bone-grey dullness [bone-drab])

    "And the Panamanian child" = John McCain (Born at a US Army base in Panama)

    "Stands at the Dowager Empress's side" = Cindy McCain (Always wears heavy make-up and elaborate clothing, like a Dowager Empress.
    blindparadoxon August 10, 2011   Link
  • +3
    My InterpretationHere's my take on the song:

    The Narrator is telling his friend about a dream he had that they had been part of, in which the following situation was the case:

    Following a large earthquake that takes out California, the united states is plunged into a post-apocalyptic state of being, where people form tribes that operate independent of the whole (like Andalusia and Panama).

    During the chaos, the upper-crust Wall-street types (like Hetty Green) attempt to establish their dominance, but they can't manage to keep control in a world where their old ways no longer apply. That short lived empire fails and is swallowed up by the Earth(receded into loam). Now, the narrator and his friend are coming back to their former home to start a new society. In the end he's making suggestions as to how to go about just that.
    TheCatalystPoeron March 16, 2011   Link
  • +2
    General CommentThe year of the chewable ambien tab is probably an allusion to David Foster Wallace's infinite jest, where years are named after products (most of the book takes place in the year of he depend adult undergarment). I feel like that's too similar to be coincidence.
    positive_tensionon January 23, 2011   Link
  • +2
    General CommentI sincerely doubt that The Decemberists dislike California since they seem to have been making a point to play this song in California. They wouldn't hate on a state in that state; they aren't assholes.
    I think the "heaved a sigh of relief line" is meant to be a bit callous because people tend to be that way. They feel bad when disasters happen to other people, but at the same time they are glad that they don't have to suffer.
    Madam333on February 15, 2011   Link
  • +1
    General CommentSuccumbing to the fault line doesn't necessarily mean that California falls into the ocean, just suffers a large earthquake.

    I think that the 'heaved relief' line means that they were relieved that they survived, or that they were not in California when it happened.... You might see a disaster on TV, and you are horrified by the violence of it and at the same time, you feel relieved that you and your family are safe... That is what this song brings out in me...
    heavenscloudrmon January 19, 2011   Link
  • +1
    General CommentI thought Dhamp had some good points. Here's some other stuff I noticed:

    In addition to references to natural disasters, there are references to war and anarchy: "the war of the end times", the "Andalusian tribes", etc. The whole "Hetty Green" bit seems to be about how you can only trust yourself in these times and look out for your own interests. The verse that begins with "Quiet now" suggests that the disaster(s) may have resulted in some kind of post-apocalyptic future with a handful of survivors. It's suggested that there might be some kind of drought ("Will we gather to conjure the rain down?") and/or nuclear fallout ("Will we now / Build a civilization below ground?"), or at least that the surface of the Earth has been made inhospitable in some way. Not sure what "the arms of the angels" refers to - it could be that the last thing left to hold onto is religion, or perhaps just human kindness.
    treanton January 19, 2011   Link
  • +1
    General CommentI think Panamanian Child and The Dowager Empress might refer to John Mcain and Sarah Palin. John Mcain was born in Panama and ironically (because of Obama's birth questions) would not have been eligible to be president at the time of his birth. The Dowager Empress was a powerful and charismatic figure who became the de facto ruler of the Manchu Qing Dynasty in China for 47 years from 1861 to her death in 1908.
    b767on April 08, 2011   Link
  • 0
    My Interpretation"And I believe
    California succumbed to the fault line"

    The first part of the song is about the theory that the next big earthquake will snap the San Andrea's fault line and send California to the sea.

    "We heaved relief
    As scores of innocents died"

    The singer of this song clearly doesn't like Californians.

    "And the Andalusian tribes
    Setting the lay of Nebraska alight
    'Til all the remains is the arms of the angel"

    Then it says that after California slips into the ocean, Mexico is going to attack Nebraska until there is no American left in the midwest.

    Petty green = cash?

    Not sure who the queen is. Maybe a politician?

    Basically the premise of the song is a guy dreaming of Mexico conquering America while a conservative politician lady is trying to fix things, but the public doesn't give a damn about the entire situation... Or at least that's what I got out of it...
    Tinnealon January 06, 2011   Link
  • 0
    General CommentThis song is a premonition of sorts of the fall of an empire.

    Its about a dream. Its not an alternate reality.

    "Heaving relief as scores of innocents died" isnt disliking Californians, its saying that people were throwing relief efforts into saving the victims of the Big One mentioned. It doesnt say "heaving A SIGH of relief", which would be negative.

    The Andalusian Tribes are a reference to the Vandals, a tribe from Andalusia who sacked Rome at the fall of the empire, and where we get the word vandal and its associations from.

    Its not Petty Green, but Hetty Green, the first woman to make an impact on Wall Street. She was also incredibly stingy, and miserly. She is "The Queen of supply-side bone-drab.", and that verse seems to be about not being tied to the strings of accepted economics.

    Presumably the idea of the panamanian child and dowager empress is there to suggest this calamity shows people that money cant save you reality - supported by the choice of California with its incredible weath gap between the richest and poorest.
    Dhampon January 17, 2011   Link
  • 0
    General CommentAre these lyrics official or just transcribed? Because I really thought the line was "I'll be crowned the community cake giver-out", and I'll be extremely disappointed if that's not true :)

    For what it's worth, the line would make sense with the interpretations of the song as a bit of a farce/jab at the fundamentalist christian view of the "end times": Giving out cake suggests a levity at odds with the seriousness of the situation (i.e. that all civilization had to escape to below ground), ala Marie Antionette, rather like the way some christians talk about "end times" as though it would be a joyful, somehow beautiful event to have the world torn to pieces and nearly everyone tormented and killed. Anyway.
    nsteinmeon August 23, 2011   Link

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