"Ladder Song" as written by and Conor Oberst....
No one knows where the ladder goes
You're gonna lose what you love the most
You're not alone in anything
You're not unique in dying

I feel a strange day every now and then
Fall asleep reading science fiction
I wanna fly in your silver ship
Let Jesus hang and Buddha sit

It's on now
The days are long now
The ups and the sun downs
And a twisting mind

If I gotta go first
I'll do it on my terms
I'm tired of traitors
Always changing sides
They were friends of mine

Don't hang around once the promise breaks
Or you'll be there when the next one's made
Kiss the feet of a charlatan
Some imagined freedom

All the rest is predictable
You can say you're the first to know
Bought a mantra to concentrate
Car alarm or hissing snake

I know now
How it's gonna turn out
You've got to calm down
Or I'll lose my place
Got to get to the center
Got to get to the concert
Run off with a dancer
Gonna celebrate

We'll welcome the new age
Covered in warrior paint
Lights from the jungle to the sky
See now a star is born
Looks just like a blood orange
Don't it just make you want to cry?
Precious friend of mine

Will I know when it's finally done?
This whole life is a hallucination
You're not alone in anything
You're not alone in trying to be


Lyrics submitted by disparu, edited by Mellow_Harsher

"Ladder Song" as written by Conor M Oberst

Lyrics © SONGS MUSIC PUBLISHING

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Ladder Song song meanings
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29 Comments

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  • +10
    General Commentsomeone finally managed to rhyme with orange. hahaha booya!!!
    nyukkaboomon February 02, 2011   Link
  • +4
    General CommentOne of the big themes in this song is death. The ladder he is a metaphor for death. No one knows what happens after death, but you can be certain that you're gonna die. I feel like he mentions that "you're not alone in anything" in reference to someone who is thinking about death and is depressed. I agree with the last poster, it sounds as if he is saying that Buddha and Jesus can do their thing, he isn't paying attention to them. He would rather read science fiction.

    That first chorus seems to imply that all of this talk of death is dealing with suicide. Ups and downs and twisted minds are all things that go back to depression and other things dealing with a mind that is confused.

    The second verse is a bit more abstract, but I feel it has an air of betrayal. This could also go with the talk of traitors at the end of the first chorus. A charlatan was somebody who deceived people for money. When he says "be the first to know...", I think he means that if he dies, he'll be the first to know what is up the ladder, what happens after death. I don't know much about mantras but I believe that they have to do with prayer and meditation, an object of focus that can help one attain their spiritual goal. So possibly this is the person trying to work things out, get on the right track.

    Here's where the song gets a bit confusing. He says he knows now...Possibly he meditated with the mantra and found some deep answer? Perhaps he finds out that what he really enjoys is music? He meditated and figured something out and then talks about a concert? I feel like the new age could be that thing that he figures out is what he is living for. He is going to embrace it and go all out (warrior paint). He opens his eyes and his mind and he appreciates life and sees it differently. A star is born may represent new hope, new life. He is emotional, and he wants to share it with someone that he finds precious, possibly somebody that he now embraces.

    That last little bit seems like a reassuring statement. Perhaps he has decided to stick with the world, and he is asking himself when it will be done now that he is not going to end his own life. The world is a hallucination, it's a confusing place to live in sometimes, and it's hard to make sense of certain things at times. My favorite line of the song: "You're not along in anything, you're not alone in trying to be." That's chilling. That's what I would want to hear when I'm upset, depressed, etc. You're not alone, even when you feel alone, because there are others like you who are alone (I actually used a similar line in one of my songs so I really relate). I said "You're not as lonely as you feel that you may be, you see there's others just like you, who have a hard time dealing with their lives."

    Beautiful song, let me know if you agree/disagree with anything I said. I interpreted it this way and I want other peoples' insight to help me understand it better.
    Maelglonon February 01, 2011   Link
  • +2
    General CommentI'm really not trying to sound dickish, although it will certainly come out that way, but why is it that hardly anyone who submitted the lyrics to this song on any lyric site could recognize that he is saying "estranged"? It's really not that difficult to decipher and I think it's a pretty important line to this song if you believe it's about suicide, which I do. It adds a dimension, that Conor--or the narrator he is speaking as--did something to lose or damage his friendship with the person who took his own life. Maybe it was about becoming more distant ("Gotta get to the center / Gotta get to the concert") a girl ("Run off with a dancer / Gonna celebrate"). In the end I feel like he was trying to make amends ("We'll welcome the new age" and everything after that), but it was too late.

    To me, Ladder Song not only exemplifies overwhelming sadness; it is also riddled with guilt.
    arrstaron March 18, 2011   Link
  • +2
    Lyric CorrectionNo one knows where the ladder goes
    You’re gonna lose what you love the most
    You’re not alone in anything
    You’re not unique in dying

    I feel estranged every now and then
    Fall asleep reading science fiction
    I want to fly in your silver ship
    Let Jesus hang and Buddha sit

    It’s on now
    The days are long now
    The ups and the sundowns
    And a twisting mind

    If I got to go first
    I’ll do it on my terms
    I’m tired of traitors
    Always changing sides
    They were friends of mine

    Don’t hang around once the promise breaks
    Or you’ll be there when the next one’s made
    Kiss the feet of a charlatan
    Some imagined freedom

    All the rest is predictable
    You can say you’re the first to know
    Bought a mantra to concentrate
    Car alarm or hissing snake

    I know now
    How its gonna turn out
    You’ve got to calm down
    Or I’ll lose my place

    Got to get to the center
    Got to get to the concert
    Run off with a dancer
    Gonna celebrate

    We’ll welcome the New Age
    Covered in warrior paint
    Lights from the jungle to the sky
    See now a star is born
    Looks just like a blood orange
    Don’t it just make you want to cry?
    Precious friend of mine

    Will I know when it’s finally done?
    This whole life is a hallucination
    You’re not alone in anything
    You’re not alone in trying to be
    ThatGouletKidon February 02, 2011   Link
  • +1
    Lyric CorrectionInstead of covered in war, your pain.
    It's actually "covered in warrior paint"
    hiddeninromanceon January 30, 2011   Link
  • +1
    Song MeaningThe thing that made me fall so in love with this song was hearing "I'm tired of traitors, always changing sides, they were friends of mine" as simply grief over friends who've died. The betrayal is that irrational feeling you have of being left by the deceased.

    What's beautiful is he's warning himself against caring for more people who could leave, but has to distract himself with everyday life to keep from thinking of death (Starting with "Bought a mantra.."). In the process he finds some sad beauty and accidentally (tragically) meets a new "precious friend." The star is a throwback to "Jejune Stars", and is a symbol for the way we're connected to each other and everything else.

    It's a sad, hard, losing battle, but the message of the song and album is "you're not alone in fighting it"
    ahhnevermindon February 10, 2011   Link
  • +1
    General CommentBasically conclusion the narrator comes to is existential, even Nieschean ‘Thus spake … etc’. And so if that’s the case you might as well ‘go to the concert, run off with a dancer’ because all you have got and the most you can be is ‘to be’, and that is the same for everyone. There’s also a line in there about ‘when the promise breaks’, and this is an intra-textual reference to most of the content of the album. Ie religion, alternative views of reality, science fiction etc offer promises that tempt you to think you can escape from the never ending cycle of life. But it is false hope. Then again hope can and must exist because by connecting hope to ‘being’ you can really truly make the most of life by choosing ‘to be’

    For eg, compare the first song with the last song. First song, an alternative reality powers you up to escape, be a star, lion of Judah on your motorbike, roar etc. Last song, by ‘being’ you can see a star born ….
    MrJefferson March 10, 2011   Link
  • +1
    General CommentI agree that the song is about death and afterlife. In these lines:

    "See now a star is born
    Looks just like a blood orange
    Don't it just make you want to cry?"

    It reminds me of the scientist Tycho Brae; he discovered a "new-born star" (it was acually dying) in a time when it was normally believed that everything above the moon (stars and planets) were unchanging. This disproved the old paradigme and gave therefore people a reason to doubt God and the afterlife. I think that this is what he has in mind when saying "don't it just make you want to cry?" because this is (was) a proof that maybe the afterlife wasn't what we thought it was after all.
    sarahbrightershadeofblueon April 22, 2011   Link
  • +1
    My InterpretationI think this song is about the mind set of someone who is pondering the end of life. And being scared and clueless, but at the same time, there's nothing you can do.

    "No one knows where the ladder goes
    You're gonna lose what you love the most
    You're not alone in anything
    You're not unique in dying"

    No one knows what happens after death until you die, and everything you've built up on earth worthless in the end. Everything you feel "love" for will be gone.

    "I feel estranged every now and then
    Fall asleep reading science fiction
    I want to fly in your silver ship
    Let Jesus hang and Buddha sit."

    One of my favorite stanza's, as I can really relate. I believe in Jesus Christ as my Savior. But the sick thing is I'm so jaded with it all. I pray every now and again. But mostly I'm going through the motions. I'm not angry with God. I just lack enthusiasm and motivation to do... anything really. I sit at night and tell myself I should be praying and reading my Bible or something... but I usually just read some science fiction and go to sleep... It's really messed up I know, but I suppose other struggle with it too. That's how I intemperate this stanza. He feels estranged to God and the idea of focusing on Him. So he just lets religion chill out and he just reads. I feel you Conor... ha

    "It's on now
    The days are long now
    The ups and the sun downs
    And a twisting mind"

    Basic apathy, going through the motions. Lack of emotion. Lack of concern.

    "If I gotta go first
    I'll do it on my terms
    I'm tired of traitors
    Always changing sides
    They were friends of mine"

    Here I think it's talking about how he'll die on his own terms, how he doesn't feel that life can or should be taken away without warning. A confused and frustrated though for sure.

    "Don't hang around once the promise breaks
    Or you'll be there when the next one's made
    Kiss the feet of a charlatan
    Some imagined freedom"

    Promises don't mean I thing, this could relate to the promise that God saves us if we believe in him. Maybe he's frustrated because he feels he hasn't lived up to the expectation that he believes God has? Either way, it's a warning to stay away from promises. Kiss the feet of a fraud (charlatan) And imagined freedom (redemption?) I think this stanza is overall about being frustrated with religion.

    "All the rest is predictable
    You can say you're the first to know
    Bought a mantra to concentrate
    Car alarm or hissing snake"

    Death is predictable, but everything else has to be a mind game, so it's obviously disheartening. Bought a mantra (used for meditation) to try and get an answer.

    "I know now
    How it's gonna turn now
    You've got to calm down
    Or I'll lose my place
    Got to get to the center
    Got to get to the concert
    Run off with a dancer
    Gonna celebrate"

    Sorta a sign of hope in the song. A sigh of relief that he may understand and he's going to live life for the moment right now.

    "We'll welcome the new age
    Covered in warrior paint
    Lights from the jungle to the sky
    See now a star is born
    Looks just like a blood orange
    Don't it just make you want to cry?
    Precious friend of mine"

    This stanza almost sounds like the turning point, a new age for him in life, he'll fight this war of depression and apathy and see light. A new star is born (a metaphor for him being reborn) Maybe he does it for the friend that he lost? "Don't it just make you want to cry? Precious friend of mine"

    "Will I know when it's finally done?
    This whole life is a hallucination
    You're not alone in anything
    You're not alone in trying to be"

    Will he truly understand when everything's over? I think this stanza represents self examination. The fact that even though he's afraid he may be wrong, he's got to put his faith in something. And finally, no one's alone in this. We all have these thoughts and struggles.

    Freaking incredible song. I love it so much. People's Key is an incredible album. Who cares if it doesn't sound like their old stuff? The more diversity a band brings to me the happier I am!






    musicismyfavorite777on June 27, 2011   Link
  • +1
    General CommentI love the final line, "You're not alone in trying to be." It's great
    username123on August 10, 2013   Link

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