"Ahead By A Century" as written by Robert Baker, Gordon Downie, Johnny Fay, Joseph Paul Langlois and Robert Gordon Sinclair....
First thing we'd climb a tree
And maybe then we'd talk
Or sit silently
And listen to our thoughts
With illusions of someday
Cast in a golden light
No dress rehearsal,
This is our life

And that's where the hornet stung me
And I had a feverish dream
With revenge and doubt
Tonight, we smoke them out

You are ahead by a century
You are ahead by a century
You are ahead by a century

Stare in the morning shroud
And then the day began
I tilted your cloud
You tilted my hand
Rain falls in real time
And rain fell through the night
No dress rehearsal, this is our life

But that's when the hornet stung me
And I had a serious dream
With revenge and doubt
Tonight, we smoked them out

You are ahead by a century
You are ahead by a century
You are ahead by a century

You are ahead by a century
You are ahead by a century
You are ahead by a century
And disappointing you is gettin' me down


Lyrics submitted by black_cow_of_death, edited by bulldog728

"Ahead by a Century" as written by Johnny Fay Gordon Downie

Lyrics © Peermusic Publishing

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Ahead By A Century song meanings
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  • +2
    General CommentFor me, this song is about a man being nostalgic about the early part of his relationship. Now, however, he is no longer happy. His wife is consistently disappointed with him. The hornets represent the realities of life in the paradise dream of sitting in a tree. Reality produces regret and doubt and a want to get out.

    Not really sure what smoking the out is about. Not sure if he wants to clear the air (smoking out revenge and doubt), or he is realizing that they're headed for another fight (smoking the hornets out of the nest so they can be stung again).
    Redhawk30on December 24, 2009   Link
  • +1
    General Commenti always saw this as being about a guy and a girl being in love, the guy is remebering when they were kids while the chick is all in the present.....meaning she is ahead by a century......
    Millioon April 24, 2003   Link
  • +1
    General Commenti can relate to this song alot. my view would be that it is infact a story of love between this young boy and girl. their lives are chaotic and hard to deal with,most likely because of their parents as seen in the video.("no dress rehersal, this is our lives"). as in what they are experiencing is no act, it's harsh and real. their escape is to be with eachother, they can talk about anything..a way of healing and getting through. ("with illusions of someday casting a golden light")..this to me means that they one day dream to be someone, something successful and important..unlike all the shit they are witnessing in the present. and to be "ahead by a century" is they have learned from what they have seen, they are wise and ahead of there time. although, as they get older they slip unable to deal with the pain... turning to pot, with a sense of gulit.("with revenge and doubt tonight we smoke them out")..but i dont think it takes them under, only a temporary relief because talking just didnt do enough anymore.
    penny.laneon July 19, 2006   Link
  • +1
    My InterpretationMaybe a bit of a different interpretation but...I believe this song is about the AVRO Arrow, an advanced fighter jet built in Canada. It was, really, ahead of it's time, and almost shifted the balance of air superiority to Canada in the Cold-War.

    "First we climb a tree" - Kind of the childish dreams we have, exploring trees and reaching new highs - The AVRO Arrow was a project that showed that Canada could accomplish ANYTHING we tried. It was our childhood dreams come to life.

    "That's when the hornet stung me." The United States threatened to place missiles in Canada if we didn't abandon the AVRO Arrow project (also, the US has a fighter jet nicknamed The Hornet).

    "With revenge and doubt" The Americans had doubted the Arrow project from day one, believing Canada could not build such a huge project without their aid.
    Skizemon September 19, 2009   Link
  • +1
    General CommentThe protagonist is a junkie (that's when the hornet stung me - needle). It's hard to maintain a life when you're a junkie. And you tend to disappoint people when you're on the fix. He's a f*&k up and there's nothing he can do about it.
    falangon September 18, 2011   Link
  • +1
    General CommentI always thought of this as a father's voice to his son or daughter. He's singing about the simplicity of their life, and the largely uncomplicated existence that they've lead, "First thing we'd climb a tree, and maybe then we'd talk, or sit silently, and listen to our thoughts". But then as the kids grow older, they over complicate their existence, "you are ahead by a century, you are ahead by a century, and disappointing you is getting me down", and he's keeping them on level ground, by reminding them that they arrived where they are, in doing simple tasks [like tree climbing], and they aren't above the basic tasks, or from the future, as much as they may want to believe.
    CLHon February 11, 2014   Link
  • +1
    My InterpretationPart of Gord Downie's genius, of course, is that you can love a song like this without *really* getting it. It's a poetic masterpiece. And he doesn't talk about it, of course, instead letting the work speak for itself - part of the mark of a true artist.

    The first thing to pay attention to is the overall dichotomy between dreams and reality. "Illusions of someday cast in a golden light" versus serious and feverish dreams, all in opposition to the rain that "falls in real time".

    The hornet sting, followed by nightmares of 'revenge and doubt', is a pretty straightforward symbol of what Hamlet referred to as "the heartache and the thousand natural shocks which flesh is heir to" - getting pulled away from optimistic hopes and dreams by the various pains and challenges of life, some internal (stirring up "doubts") and others external (triggering thoughts of "revenge"). Smoking them out (as in, how people used to try to drive out hornets) is a way of trying to refocus on the good dreams, without getting sidetracked by the difficulties of life - which are just as illusory (dreams) as the original 'illusions of someday'.

    The first verse is easy - it's a recollection of two young people (perhaps romantically involved; perhaps not; I don't think it matters) dreaming together about an optimistic ('golden light') future that would never come ('illusions of someday').

    But the second verse is much more difficult to interpret, because it has layered meanings. Pay attention to the 'time' references in the second verse - real time, morning, day, night. This isn't accidental, and I think there's some intentional confusion of the timeline, interspersing current reality with memory.

    Superficially, there seems to be an element of finding one's way in the real world, contrasting against the dreams of the first verse (and chorus). The 'morning shroud' is the fog or mist in the morning obscuring vision. The day begins and the mist clears, and we can see, but the rain isn't quite what we had dreamed in the first verse.

    But it runs deeper than that. The word choice of 'shroud' is potent, because it carries other meanings - namely, as a piece of cloth laid over the deceased's face at a funeral in some traditions. So staring in the morning shroud is, I think, a death image. (I've pondered other interpretations here. Could it be a specific shroud? The shroud of Turin? There's no other religious imagery to support that. Or sometimes the mist rising from the Horseshoe Falls is referred to as a 'shroud' - given TTH's propensity for alluding to Canadian landmarks, could this be a Niagara reference? Perhaps 'ahead by a century' could be a reference to the erosion of the falls? With all the water references, it seemed worth considering, but ultimately it's too disparate from the rest of the imagery in the song.)

    Death imagery isn't always literal. Sometimes it's about change, new beginnings out of a loss - and given that 'morning' is also a 'new beginning' image, the 'morning shroud' seems doubly so. But in this case, I think there's a literal element to the death. The friend passed away, leaving me to navigate the real world and its challenges on my own.

    But there was conflict. The tilted cloud/hand lyrics are perhaps the toughest lyrics in the song to grasp, because we're getting outside of any recognizable metaphors, but I think we're talking about conflict. The friend remained a dreamer - in the clouds, and the narrator tried to knock him or her into reality by tilting the cloud. The 'tilted hand' is, I suspect, an inversion of the image of the even hand (for fairness and cool tempers) - basically an acknowledgement that I was unfair to you, but you pushed my buttons to get me there.

    This makes the most, and the best, sense of the title lyric: It's an acknowledgement of having been wrong all along. All this time has passed, and only now am I figuring out what you knew all along: Shed revenge and doubt, and pursue your dreams.

    (The alternative interpretation I've been weighing a little bit is that the friend's death *is* the hornet sting, both shaking the narrator from youthful naivete and simultaneously crystallizing the memory of the optimist friend. I can still make sense of the tilted hand in much the same way - I deal with others with less of an even hand because of my anger at what happened to you - but I have a much harder time figuring out the cloud lyric.)

    So there's a sense of hope, of moving back to optimism, of pursuing one's dreams ("tonight we smoke them out"), but also a sense of frustration, that it's so hard to do, when it seemed to come so easily to that childhood friend who died while still an optimist. ("disappointing you is getting me down")
    NorthernHickon August 05, 2016   Link
  • +1
    General CommentThis may seem far-fetched, but I think this song has a connection to the native genocide that has happened within North America, specifically within in Canada, from the arrival of the Europeans until now. The first nations people (the hornets) were viewed as less than human and a barrier to the idealistic view of the future and, therefore, "stung" or interfered with the goals and current situation of the newcomers. As a result, they would be smoked out (slaughtered, controlled, etc.). It sounds like a romantic relationship with a woman, but I see it was an overly-romanticized connection with a new land that is willing to eliminate any potential barriers. However, music is like art, and any interpretation is valued.
    tristan119on August 31, 2016   Link
  • +1
    General CommentSaw them perform this song in Winnipeg years back. Before beginning to sing Gord said the song was about young love. Particularly being the more infatuated person in the relationship and ultimately being dumped by the other person. The other (a girl) being more mature than the boy and expecting more from him. Ultimately, the disparity leads her to seek someone else.
    Hip_hipster_with_broken_hipon September 05, 2016   Link
  • 0
    General CommentWhat the hell, no comments??? sick ass song!
    Jinxon September 26, 2002   Link

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