"The Pretender" as written by and Jackson Browne....
I'm going to rent myself a house
In the shade of the freeway
Gonna pack my lunch in the morning
And go to work each day
And when the evening rolls around
I'll go on home and lay my body down
And when the morning light comes streaming in
I'll get up and do it again
Amen
Say it again
Amen

I want to know what became of the changes
We waited for love to bring
Were they only the fitful dreams
Of some greater awakening
I've been aware of the time going by
They say in the end it's the wink of an eye
When the morning light comes streaming in
You'll get up and do it again
Amen

Caught between the longing for love
And the struggle for the legal tender
Where the sirens sing and the church bells ring
And the junk man pounds his fender
Where the veterans dream of the fight
Fast asleep at the traffic light
And the children solemnly wait
For the ice cream vendor
Out into the cool of the evening
Strolls the Pretender
He knows that all his hopes and dreams
Begin and end there

Ah the laughter of the lovers
As they run through the night
Leaving nothing for the others
But to choose off and fight
And tear at the world with all their might
While the ships bearing their dreams
Sail out of sight

I'm gonna find myself a girl
Who can show me what laughter means
And we'll fill in the missing colors
In each other's paint by number dreams
And then we'll put our dark glasses on
And we'll make love until our strength is gone
And when the morning light comes streaming in
We'll get up and do it again
Get it up again

I'm gonna be a happy idiot
And struggle for the legal tender
Where the ads take aim and lay their claim
To the heart and the soul of the spender
And believe in whatever may lie
In those things that money can buy
Thought true love could have been a contender
Are you there
Say a prayer for the Pretender
Who started out so young and strong
Only to surrender

Say a prayer for the pretender
Are you there for the pretender
Say a prayer for the pretender
Are you there for the pretender
Are you prepared for the pretender


Lyrics submitted by szulc

"The Pretender" as written by Jackson Browne

Lyrics © Jackson Browne/Swallow Turn Music/Night Kitchen Music/Open Window Music

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The Pretender song meanings
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  • +4
    General CommentI may only be 19 soon turning 20 but I'll tell ya. I work at a gym and I see many walks of life, and I see the 'pretender' type every damn day of my life. They'll come in with kids, a wife he may have loved many years before but they became bickering fools without as much as a glance at each other, eyes that wish he was somewhere else.

    It's scary thinking my life could be what the song is about. Giving up my dreams to settle for a conditioned comfortable life in which I make enough to live in middle class suburbia. The song really strikes a chord because I think it's scary. Some people find love songs sad and all that, but I rank this up there as one of the saddest songs I have ever heard.

    Simply, it's about being that guy with nothing but mediocrity surrounding him. A wife and kids is all he has, his dreams never fufilled. So he is left with a job he doesn't love, a wife he doesn't love and a life he wishes he didn't have.

    Say a prayer for the pretender folks. We all know them and can only pray we don't become one.
    bearfan34on June 11, 2008   Link
  • +3
    General Comment

    It is interesting to hear such different views of this song. I don’t get some comments about yuppies (JB born in 1948), herds, lousy kids, military engagements, expectations etc. Over the years I have constructed a different take on this song. Great album. Listen to the upwelling at the beginning. This is a tenuously hopeful song. There is some urgency. This is a guy who doesn’t count himself among the junk man, the veteran and others who have watched their dreams sail out of sight, but he realizes he will be soon if he doesn’t snap out of it. He is aware of the time going by. This guy has chosen a living over a dream of being a fireman or an astronaut or a rock star. This is not some poor shlub that worked his way to asst manager at Taco bell at the age of 47. This is you. Are you doing what you dreamed of all your life? The Pretender feels the urgency of time going by. He’s not a kid anymore and the dream is eating at him. He has to choose to abdicate what is left of his dream and be able to rest OR run down the dream. I get the feeling he’s not sleeping much so he strolls “Out into the cool of the evening…He knows that all his hopes and dreams Begin and end there.” In these restless evening walks he is building to a decision. It would probably be easier if he just fell in love like those laughing lovers as they run through the night. Fall desperately and madly in true love (contender) and he won’t have to choose off and toil with the decision between a meaningless existence and possible failure chasing a fading dream. It would be easier to just fall in love. (Holy crap, isn’t that every mid-life crisis you have ever heard of?) Are you prepared for the Pretender? If it’s not you now, it will be. This is a very human song but it is not depressing to me. I am pulling for this guy. I’ll say a prayer for the Pretender. Come on man, it ain’t over.
    (By this post, you would think I have a bunch of time on my hands.)
    djm19on August 11, 2009   Link
  • +3
    Song MeaningThis song is about settling for less than what was envisioned and the resulting diminished expectations of the promises that were made about "free love", peace and the fulfillment that these were suppose to provide to a generation of people growing and living through the 1960s. Jackson Browne, an artist who was certainly influenced by the hippie culture, wrote the song in the mid-1970s after the crux of the hippie movement of the 1960s abated.

    The hippies believed that love and the resulting peace stemming from love would conquer all that ails in the world. One of society's ailments included the abject materialism during the 1960s which was greatly spurred by "Mad Men" who "take aim and lay their claim to the heart and the soul of the spender." America was becoming wealthier and many consumers were nonchalantly buying material goods while ignoring the body bags of mostly economically poor soldiers coming back from Vietnam. The hippie movement wanted to highlight that the pursuit of material comforts is distracting people from what is important in life and preventing them from seeing the injustices done in the world.

    As a backlash to consumerism, many hippies rejected material comforts and some even opted to live in a "bare essentials" world where food was self-sufficiently grown in communes and pursuit for materialism was shunned. This lifestyle was thought to provide inner peace, give valuable introspection, and freedom from being a slave to what one owned. The idea is similar to what Thoreau believed in his day. That is, the pursuit of a materialistic life was thought as a hindrance to mankind.

    In "The Pretender", Browne is singing about the unrealized dreams of a fulfilling peace brought forth by "true love" and ironically has "surrendered" to a life he was protesting against just a decade ago. As a result the character in the song feels like a "pretender." That is, he doesn't wholly believe that the suburban and material-driven life he is leading is actually fulfilling, but he is resigned to this life now.

    The pretender understands and knows in his heart that there is more to life than "the struggle for the legal tender," but nevertheless is mundanely resigned to "believe in those things that money can buy." His hopes of a life of love leading to true and lasting happiness and fulfillment is becoming dimmer and further away in the material wasteland of suburbia. Thus, "the ships bearing their dreams sail out of sight" and all the pretender's "hopes and dreams" from a decade ago "begin and end" in his suburban existence. "Veterans" of the hippie movement, such as himself, who "dreamed of the fight" against the pursuit of material comforts, are now "fast asleep at the traffic light" in their purchased cars somewhere in suburbia.

    He is aware that the ingredient that makes life fulfilling is missing from his and so he hopes to find himself a girl who too feels the emptiness he does. He hopes that as a couple they can fill the void each other feels by filling "the missing colors in each other's paint-by-number dreams." The "paint-by-number dreams" refers to their abandoned dream of happiness through true love and peace. He plans to make love to this woman and thereby try to fill the emotional void through physical contact with someone he loves.

    However, the pretender is doubtful that this in and of itself will be sufficient to quench his restlessness and disappointment with his suburban material-driven existence. He "thought true love could have been a contender." Meaning, true love could have been sufficient to truly make him happy, but he made the compromised decision to put faith in the pursuit of material comforts which now dominate his life and to some extent imprison him.

    The pretender only "pretends" to believe that this routine suburban life in pursuit of creature comforts is fulfilling, but he is not fooling anyone, least of all himself, since he knows that the unrealized dream was supposed to be much better. As Thoreau has said, "most men lead lives in quiet desperation," but the "desperation" stems from compromising your own belief, in the pretender's case "true love", and putting faith in "those things money can buy."
    ginoleeon October 18, 2012   Link
  • +2
    General CommentPhlebas the Phoenician, a fortnight dead,
    Forgot the cry of gulls, and the deep sea swell
    And the profit and loss.
    A current under sea
    Picked his bones in whispers. As he rose and fell
    He passed the stages of his age and youth
    Entering the whirlpool.

    -TS Eliot
    montresoron August 11, 2008   Link
  • +2
    General CommentInteresting comments. I'm a female in my mid 40's and have been a HUGE JB fan since I was about 12 and my brother introduced him to me. I love how my own interpretation of lyrics that have been with me for so long evolves as I get older.

    I too agree with many others comments about this song being about "leading lives of quiet desperation" but I often wonder, what is the realistic alternative? What is on the other side that people think will make them happy? Not having someone to love? Not having a job? Not having a roof over their head? Knowing that JB wrote this when he was in his late 20's makes sense, but not sure he would write the same lyrics 30 years later.

    I'm also struck by how many people think that men are the ones who are trapped in these lives (but perhaps it's only men on this forum who comment). I can guarantee you that is not the case.
    mrsmonkeyon January 02, 2010   Link
  • +1
    General CommentThis is a song about giving up and joining the crowd. Renting a crappy house, slaving away at a dead-end job, and spending life in pursuit of money. Even love is to blame, because we compromise our dreams to stay with our mate and try to lead a "normal" life. That part is ironic, because at first, as he points out, it seems like the love we find is that missing piece in the puzzle of our lives, and we think it will solve everything. But it ends up dragging us down with all the rest.
    A rare song for Jackson Browne, because instead of pining for love, he's lumping it in with the rest of the things that cause our dreams to fizzle out.
    Kafzielon June 18, 2003   Link
  • +1
    General CommentIt's just about America, and the silly charm eveyone has. How funny it is that we spend every day wanting something more, and the more we want and the more we believe in our pursuit of happiness...the more we turn ourselves into people who are only half aware.
    itsALLprogramMUSICon February 18, 2005   Link
  • +1
    General CommentI think this is a song about a guy who only wants to be part of the crowd, just to blend in and be nothing special - no fame, no blame, so to speak. He just wants a nice girl, a modest house, and e decent job. the pretender is the guy who exalts himself and thinks he's better than everyone, only to be taken down later.
    stevebufoon April 13, 2005   Link
  • +1
    General Commentpinkfloyd: I think the "veterans" part is referring to soldiers coming home from war and having to face civilized restrictions (traffic light) that are boring to them compared to a military engagement.
    tgh86on January 18, 2008   Link
  • +1
    General CommentWhat the song says to me is that everyone starts out with grand dreams about life and how it's supposed to be, but when we get older, it's so easy to fall into the mundane routine of getting a job to pay for all the crap we don't need.

    The line about the veterans, as I saw it, was probably referring to aging WWI and II veterans dreaming of past battles of their youth, while on the other end of the spectrum, children are concerned only with getting their ice cream.

    In the end, most people fall into that trap of working and buying, and although "love" wasn't the solution to all problems, and not much of a contender in the face of greed, it makes things bearable. We settle for love just as we settle for the daily grind.

    As for justicehawver's comment on the ability of someone to understand this song based on age, I'd have to disagree heartily. Yes, the song involves getting old, and some might argue that it speaks of a specific era, but come on, not everyone has to experience something to understand it.
    LivinLegendon April 13, 2008   Link

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