Little birds born without a mother or a father
I can feel their feathers forming in the running water
Now there is another in the middle of my mouth
A hundred altogether inside of me now
Little birds, little birds, come into my body

Mother, they're within me every moment I'm awaking
Bodies multiplying till they finally overtake me
Put your ears up to my mouth and you can hear them singing
Put your hands within me and you'll know what I am feeling
I just want to swallow up and promise to protect them

Daddy, come towards me, I could see his hands are shaking
Put his hands against me, he could feel their bodies breaking
Pushed me to the floor and put his hands up for a beating
"I don't want to hear it anymore" he kept repeating
"Do you really want the burning hell to come and get you?"

"Did you see the burning hell? It took your baby brother?
Did you see how far he fell and how he made us suffer?
Another boy in town at night, he took him for his lover
And deep in sin they held each other

So I took a hammer, nearly beat his little brains in
Knowing God in heaven no could never could forgive him
So I took a hammer, nearly beat his little brains in"

Little boy born without a mother or a father
Taken to the river and then pushed into the water
And the priests are singing that the hell was getting hotter
La, la-la la la

Father, Son and Holy Ghost, the only ones to save him
From the thing he loves the most but we know will betray him
Father, Son and Holy Ghost, the only ones to save him

And here beneath the water
I can see how the light
Distorts so strange
And this is how
I would like to leave my body
And start again

Lyrics submitted by subverted0, edited by danzase6, kirkweigensber, putainan

Little Birds [Demo - 1998] Lyrics as written by Jeff Mangum


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Little Birds song meanings
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  • +8
    General Comment
    This song is an anomaly. It is not only a much more straightforward narrative than any other Jeff Mangum song, but also the only one to surface after the trauma he faced in the wake of Aeroplane's success. Though very little exists in the way of biography on Jeff, recordings of song explanations like this one point to the obvious fact that in the years preceding his much-obsessed-over musical career, he was living his life on the ropes. At the beginning of “Wishful eyes” he states “I wrote this song when was getting out of Seattle …when I first got back … that was … my life was coming apart at the time.” He pauses and chuckles ruefully. “I was really bad then. I was fucked.” Anyone familiar with Jeff’s art, lyrics and life knows that his entire existence has been riddled with trauma. Everything he produces comes out as a fermented, childhood fever-dream, bottled up for years and allowed to grow into something strange, terrible, and not-a-little beautiful too. As such, most of his material seems to be autobiography, thickly shrouded in hallucinatory extended metaphor. “Little Birds” was created at a time in his life where he felt very exposed, which does much to explain its uncharacteristically direct approach. However, what immediately jumps out at me about this song is something that didn’t occur to most of my friends, probably because I’m the only one who’s gay. “Do you really want the burning hell that we believe in?” is a question directed at the boy in the song who is having a new, wonderful, strange feeling welling up inside him like little birds. This question is followed by a lecture on the evils of homosexuality and its consequences, namely that his father was so grieved by his son’s sexual alignment that he killed him with a hammer. I think this is the same father who hurled a garbage can at Jeff’s mother when she stabbed him with a fork, while Jeff and his brother would “Lay and learn what each other’s bodies were for.” Two brothers, clinging on to each other for dear life, trying to survive a “not-so-very-nice situation,” inseparable, like a two-headed boy. Most importantly, on Jeff addresses “Two-Headed Boy part two” directly to his father. After listening to “Little Birds” I read the lyrics with a sickeningly clear eye: “Love to be with a brother of mine How he'd love to find your tongue in his teeth In a struggle to find secret songs that you keep wrapped in boxes so tight Sounding only at night as you sleep In my dreams you're alive and you're crying, as your mouth moves in mine soft and sweet, rings of flowers around your eyes and I'll love you for the rest of your life... Brother see we are one in the same And you left with your head filled with flames And you watched as your brains fell out through your teeth Push the pieces in place Make your smile sweet to see Don't you take this away I'm still wanting my face on your cheek” Jeff watched his dad do it. Jeff watched his brother’s brains fall out through his teeth, then pushed the pieces of his head back together in an effort to fix him. Wanting his face on his cheek … God, it makes you cry. One online reviewer observed: “While the lyrics to "Little Birds" are certainly unsettling, Mangum's voice on the recording is perhaps even more so. Mangum has always pushed the limits of his vocal range, but on "Little Birds," the high notes are so pregnant with pain that one can barely listen to them without wincing. It's a powerful song, and not difficult to see why Mangum chose not to release any of his post-Aeroplane material-- it's too purely despondent to be nearly as affecting as his more emotionally complex material.” Assuming Jeff’s father is still alive is at all aware of his musical career (neither of which are very likely, all things considered) I can’t even imagine the ruin his life is. He killed his own son because he loved him; loved him so much that he couldn’t stand to see him as a homosexual – something he hated deeply enough to kill, “knowing God in heaven could have, never could forgive him.” This does much to explain the death and sex motif found through Jeff’s catalog. I might also point out that Jeff grew up in Louisiana, and that Louisiana Baptists are somewhat famous for their … uncompromising … outlook. Which brings me to the end of the song; where Jeff’s father, after giving his son vigorous but fortunately non-lethal beating, subjects him to a forced baptism – during which Jeff speculates that drowning might not be such a bad way to go. Jeff’s thoughts on suicide are a whole new can of worms. See “Song Against Sex” for starters. God, I’m going to go throw-up or something.
    mrwuggson December 16, 2005   Link
  • +2
    General Comment
    Mr.Wuggs, your analysis of "Two Headed Boy Pt. 2" is stunningly sad. In fact the part about Jeff trying to put his brothers face together brings me to tears when I hear it now. However, Jeff Magnum's father is still alive and Jeff keeps close to him. In fact I read an interview of Jeff talking about living at his dads house when he wrote "Oh Comely" and being amazed and playing it for his dad. So while your interpretation is the best I've ever heard for Two Headed Boy Pt. 2, I very much doubt it applies exactly to Jeff's life. It's much more likely to be based on someone else.
    Lu Stubbson March 20, 2006   Link
  • +2
    General Comment
    when i listen to 'in the aeroplane', i see the whole album as a cohesive work about the 'white light' (as jeff puts it in the inlay) that appears from all people including the most fragile of us, like anne frank or the ‘communist daughter’ or the girl falling from the burning building in new york or the goldaline twins (starving in a siberian forest) etc. to me there seems to be one more character though, a brother. he's mentioned most namely in two-headed boy pt 2 and holland 1945, previously i thought this to be anne franks brother having never read the book, but after a small amount of research i can see that this clearly isn't true. after sifting through a series of b sides and live recordings i came across this song (little birds), here is a story of a young boy who was being overcome by beautiful birds and tried to explain this to his father - the father that had attacked his homosexual brother with a hammer. as mentioned by 'mrwuggs' this song is an anomaly - it is the 'most straightforward' song lyrically jeff has ever produced and is also the only song to emerge from a post 'in the aeroplane over the sea' world. i also agree that it seems jeff has made this piece as an explanation for those, like me, trying to understand more of the album. in it there seemed to be a very direct link with two-headed boy pt 2 (as previously mentioned by others) in particular, with themes of homosexuality, death and the separation of father and son. it seems important to note that both of these songs are addressed to the father of both of these two boys, the mother is absent from the text - i believe that this is because they don't share the same mother and they are in fact step brothers, which is also supported by the absence of the word 'your' before the word father in 'king of the carrot flowers', despite 'your' having been used before the word mother. although reading the lyrics of both two-headed boy and king of the carrot flowers with the themes of incest, implied by this idea, seem a bit twisted, it seems to me, more of a case of them trying to discover themselves and in the mean time build an emotional connection through the chaos that surrounds them. jeff added on the 'little birds' recording that the boy lived in a 'not so very nice situation', seemingly beyond that of his brother's death that had gone before because of the use of the present tense - possibly the violence mentioned in the king of the carrot flowers (?). as 'whitepoett' has just explained jeff's father and his mother had a lot of problems and this may explain why, that out of all the characters mentioned, jeff only ever chooses the older brother of the two to narrate – jeff seems to relate to his situation in some way. i cannot say whether these characters are based on fact or fiction, although i presume the latter to be true. but i don't see any real significance in debating that - especially since it's only jeff that could ever tell us. another detail that seemed to link the characters of 'little birds' with 'in the aeroplane..', is a quote about the 'brother' in holland '1945', being 'wrapped in white', which if the boy did drown in the water of his baptism (which is what i take from the ending of little birds), would be the case. there are still more ways in which this idea fits with the album, that i'm struggling to put down in words, like i believe that the 'two-headed boy’ is jeff's imagining of a reincarnation of the two main characters of the work: anna and the older brother (the one that the bird's are entering). i probably should have put quotes up here to speed up your referencing – but i didn’t want it to be too long :) as with everyone else, this is only an opinion that i thought i'd include because it helps me to understand this amazing lyrical work - so don't shout at me if you disagree.
    SidedPanicon May 31, 2007   Link
  • +1
    General Comment
    I just stumbled upon this and thought it might be an interesting insight: Apparently the Yiddish slang word for 'homosexual' is 'faygele', which literally means 'little bird'.…
    theodoresorrowon April 01, 2012   Link
  • 0
    General Comment
    This is a rare neutral milk hotel song that i found out about at a site ( it's available for download in the sounds page. its only available live as far as i know. jeff offers and explanation before playing, but i feel that there is more to the song. a boy is born into a christian family, and begins doing something that they view wrongfully as evil. the boys father threatens him with the christian concept of "hell." the parts that mention "the burning hell that took your baby brother" seem to be about the boy's brother, who was a homosexual, and commited suicide by jumping from a high place, because his family couldn't accept him. the second last paragraph involves a forced baptism, and the family's strong belief in their holy righteousness. "here beneath the water i can see how the light distorts so strange" may be a reference that through the eyes of a christian, he sees things don't make sense. an ironic reference to suicide and reincarnation by drowning ends the song. i don't mean to offend christians. this is the song as i see it. i apologize for the long entry. by the way, i don't know what i'm talking about.
    subverted0on May 27, 2002   Link
  • 0
    General Comment
    Deep man.
    hourafterdarkon May 27, 2002   Link
  • 0
    General Comment
    spooky and deep...
    vespaon May 01, 2003   Link
  • 0
    General Comment
    I agree with subvert over there. The idea of ending your life being baptized is darkly ironic, juxtiposing suicided (impure) with an important religeous ritual (pure). very funny kinda. in a dark dark way.
    Theosepiphaneson April 07, 2004   Link
  • 0
    General Comment
    no the song is not funny. The conceptual irony is what's funny, but in a dark way as I stated before. Darkly funny, Darkly ironic.
    Theosepiphaneson April 09, 2004   Link
  • 0
    General Comment
    Subverted, I don't think "how far he fell" is literal, I think it means they believe he fell into sin. If the brother is in fact supposed to be dead, it would be at the father's hands (beating his brains in with a hammer).
    yossarian23on September 26, 2004   Link

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