"Cowtown" as written by John Linnell and John Flansburgh....
I'm going down to Cowtown
The cow's a friend to me
Lives beneath the ocean and that's where I will be
Beneath the waves, the waves
And that's where I will be
I'm gonna see the cow beneath the sea

The yellow Roosevelt Avenue leaf overturned
The ardor of arboreality is an adventure we have spurned, we've spurned
A new leaf overturned
It's a new leaf overturned

And so I'm going down to Cowtown
The cow's a friend to me
Lives beneath the ocean and that's where I will be
Beneath the waves, the waves
And that's where I will be
I'm gonna see the cow beneath the sea

We yearn to swim for home, but our only home is bone
How sleepless is the egg knowing that which throws the stone
Foresees the bone, the bone
Our only home is bone
Our only home is bone

And so I'm going down to Cowtown
The cow's a friend to me
Lives beneath the ocean and that's where I will be
Beneath the waves, the waves
And that's where I will be
I'm gonna see the cow beneath the sea

Yes I'm going down to Cowtown
The cow's a friend to me
Lives beneath the ocean and that's where I will be
Beneath the waves, the waves
And that's where I will be
I'm gonna see the cow beneath the sea
Yes I'm gonna see (I'm gonna see)
The cow (the cow)
Beneath the sea


Lyrics submitted by davewoody

"Cowtown" as written by John Linnell John Flansburgh

Lyrics © Warner/Chappell Music, Inc.

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Cowtown song meanings
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14 Comments

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  • +3
    General CommentOverall, I see the song as one about disillusionment with the human race. (Not an unusual theme for TMBG.) The speaker is seeking to depart from the land where people live, to go as far away as possible: to a land populated only by benign vegetarian animals (cows), or a land beneath the sea, or BOTH, if possible. That's where he will find friendship ("Cow's a friend to me"). Reasons for his disillusionment:

    (1) We were once primates living in the trees, but we evolved "intelligence" that caused us to abandon that life of simple joy and exploration in the trees, and eventually create our present existence ("the ardor of our arboreality is an adventure we have spurned"). [Note the nice word here, "aboreality": rather like a joining of "arboreal reality".] "The yellow Roosevelt Avenue leaf overturned" is a symbol of leaving that aboreal world behind: like a leaf in Autumn, we fell from the trees at the end of a "summer" in our evolution, and the green leaf is now fallen and dead. Winter is approaching. We think we've made progress (turning over a new leaf), but in fact we've gone backwards.

    (2) "We yearn to swim for home, but our only home is bone." We're looking for a unity, a home, but can't find it. We left that behind us in the trees. Now all we see in our future is death (bone = the lifeless skeleton), at the end of life's futile existence. It's a troubling thought (sleepless), that even in our infancy (as eggs), where we'd like to think we're full of new possibilities, we are doomed to this end. Even though we think we're powerful and dominant, able to control our destinies by being tool-users and weapon makers, in fact we can see that death is the only thing waiting for us ("that which throws the stone forsees the bone").

    This same theme is echoed in the Bible's Genesis, with our ejection from the Garden of Eden, and the subsequent slaying of Abel by his brother Cain. Christians believe that we're doomed to death by our original sin. However, they see hope through salvation; TMBG sees no hope.
    wdfarmeron March 30, 2003   Link
  • +3
    General Commentlol, you guys r so stupid.
    Its none of that
    he is going to see some cows who live underwater
    "I'm gonna see the cow beneath the sea"
    I'm(refers to the singer) gonna (will in the near future) see (visit) the cow (a cow)beneath (under) the sea (the ocean)
    learn to read
    joebanjoon June 07, 2009   Link
  • +1
    General Commentwdfarmer...

    Wow. I agree with your overall interpretation 100% completely! About how we humans have left nature behind and such, as we've evolved, and the singer wants to go back to the simple natural state. Spot on! However, you got one thing wrong, I think. In your number (1), the line "The yellow Roosevelt Avenue leaf overturned"... your whole thing about yellow and green leaves falling in autumn and winter and all that, I think is mistaken and way off. If that were right, then what is "Roosevelt Avenue"? But I have the answer to that.

    TMBG are from New York City. Brooklyn, specifically. It's a reference that I think only native NYCers (I was born and raised here in NYC, in Queens) would catch and get. Roosevelt Avenue is a subway stop in Queens, NY. From there, you can get the E, F, or R trains. In NYC, each train line has a color. E is blue, F is orange... and the R is yellow.

    mta.nyc.ny.us/nyct/maps/…

    The E only goes from Queens to Manhattan. But, the F and the R go from Queens, through Manhattan, and into Brooklyn. Yellow... Roosevelt Avenue... it's the R train here in NYC. Which probably the guys in TMBG have ridden quite often to get around NYC.

    So when you said...

    "We were once primates living in the trees, but we evolved "intelligence" that caused us to abandon that life of simple joy and exploration in the trees, and eventually create our present existence"

    you were completely right.

    And when you said...

    "We think we've made progress (turning over a new leaf), but in fact we've gone backwards."

    You are ABSOLUTELY right! Because the line refers to making progress in terms of the subway. i.e. the big city life. Technology and advancement and all that the Big City is. So you were right, but had one of the reasons wrong.

    I hope that helps!

    :)
    FilmScorpioon September 02, 2005   Link
  • +1
    General Commentthe line \"the yellow roosevelt avenue leaf overturned\" is kind of 3 wordplays folded in on each other. The yellow rose (of texas), roosevelt avenue, and \"turn over a new leaf\".
    destroyalltacoson May 08, 2006   Link
  • +1
    General CommentActually, TMBG is from Lincoln, MA. I'm from this town, and anyone else who is knows that is commonly refered to as "cowtown" due to large amount of farm land and livestock there. It is possible then that this song is a tribute to this aspect of Lincoln, especially considering the album name. Just a guess.
    ifyouwanttoon October 20, 2008   Link
  • 0
    General CommentThis isn't really an interpretation of the song, but I've always liked this one a lot. I feel a connection, because I'm from Oklahoma, and sometimes I call small towns "Cowtown, Oklahoma." Whenever I go visit some little podunk place, I always sing this song.
    LittleBriddieon March 05, 2003   Link
  • 0
    General CommentThe cows beneath the sea:Manitees. "the ardor of arboreality (arbor=tree reality=reality, a life in trees) is an adventure we have spurned". Manitees can't live outside of water, let alone in trees. "we yearn to swim for home but our only home is bone" The manitees want to be free from the motorboats that pollute their home and endanger them, but the only relief they will ever find is in death (bone). "how sleepless is the egg, knowing that which throws the stone forsees the bone?" The manitee has been made paranoid, much like an egg in a nest in a tree (ironic because manitees can't live in trees) with a predator beneath.
    Idsaysgoon January 28, 2005   Link
  • 0
    General CommentI think this song has no real meaning, but was sung for the fuck of it. There are a lot of overanalyzers out there who thing everything has a deep spiritual meaning. Hey, maybe you guys are right and I'm wrong, but it's just an opinion.
    Malkavianon September 29, 2006   Link
  • 0
    General CommentOh. And WDFarmer.

    Yes, the overanalyzer line was aimed at you, but no hard feelings.... I just think the song in nonsense. Go ahead and tell me what you think of my opinion, and I'll take it with a grain of salt. I hope you do the same with mine.
    Malkavianon September 29, 2006   Link
  • 0
    General CommentI agree with Malkavian. So much (but not all) of TMBG's imagery is just for the sake of wordplay, for the image itself. It doesn't necessarily have to be a metaphor for anything, and any connotation is applied arbitrarily by the listener, like an auditory Rorschach.
    PlutoniumBosson October 24, 2006   Link

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