We're sailing at the edges of time
We're drifting at the waterline
Oh we're floating in the coastal waters
You and me and the porter's daughters
Ooh what to do not a sausage to do
And the shorter of the porter's daughters
Dips her hand in the deadly waters
Ooh what to do in a tiny canoe

Black water
There were six of us but now we are five
We're all talking
To keep the conversation alive
There was a senator from Ecuador
Who talked about a meteor
That crashed on a hill in the south of Peru
And was found by a conquistador
Who took it to the emperor
And he passed it on to a Turkish guru

His daughter
Was slated for becoming divine
He taught her
He taught her how to split and define
But if you study the logistics
And heuristics of the mystics
You will find that their minds rarely move in a line
So it's much more realistic
To abandon such ballistics
And resign to be trapped on a leaf in a vine

Lyrics submitted by planetearth

Backwater Lyrics as written by Brian Eno

Lyrics © Universal Music Publishing Group

Lyrics powered by LyricFind

Backwater song meanings
Add Your Thoughts


sort form View by:
  • +2
    General CommentWell, given the situation at the beginning, where 6, errr, 5 people are floating in open water in a raft. One apparently died when she "Tipped her hand to the deadly waters" (a poker euphemism)

    So, to escape their fate, they talk. And they talk and talk and much like a session of linkjumping on wikipedia, they soon find the conversation completely transports them from their current situation into talking about all sorts of abstract science and theory. Eno is an intellectual, and sometimes acknowledges the barrier between the achievements of good intentions and the limits of mortality.
    thezpnon April 17, 2007   Link
  • +2
    General CommentI challenge anyone to find a song that makes you want to hit the "repeat" button more than this one does.
    velmaxcorganon June 11, 2007   Link
  • +2
    General CommentBefore and After Science pretty much has some of the sickest bass and synth interplay *ever*
    Elegnaimon October 25, 2007   Link
  • 0
    General Commentthis song is mad cool

    I don't know what it means right now
    floating_eyeon December 07, 2006   Link
  • 0
    General Commentthezpn's version sounds very satisfying! i love this song.. truly!
    carrotkinson September 26, 2007   Link
  • 0
    My InterpretationOkay, this analysis is going to be a total potshot, but I think the general impression I have is accurate. I owe a bit to thezpn.

    "Backwater" connotes rustic ignorance and rural unsophistication. It also connotes a lack of motion and a separation from the mainstream. The denizens are having fun, but they are sort of tumbling around in a comedy of error. Motion becomes stagnant (first "sailing," then "drifting," and finally merely "floating"), and Eno and his raftmates are up a creek without a paddle, I guess.

    They have nothing to do and are lost. There is no food (sausage) and possibly no sexual activity either (not a sausage to do [?]). This seems like a metaphor for pre-scientific society -- we are no longer in the alienated "metal days" of the first track, but this backwater ignorance is hardly any better. One of Eno's raftmates dips her hand into waters known to be deadly, and it is implied in the next verse that she does indeed lose her life (6 becomes 5). Idiot.

    It seems like the rest of the raftmates create aimless conversation to escape the dire situation at hand -- perhaps a metaphor for mankind's desperate attempts at scientific innovation to escape the menace of untamed Nature. Aimless chat spurs escape (perhaps into a prototype of Scientific thought, to flee the mindless wilderness). Thus the next few verses seem to be entirely nonsense, but taken quite seriously by the conversants.

    If I had to break down the "nonsense" bit, I would guess that Eno is showing us the exchange of information that leads to Scientific progress: objects and ideas are traded and modified by various entities, finally culminating in the last narrative twist to focus on the female progeny of a "Turkish guru" (perhaps Eno's term for a scientist -- Eno seems to distrust Science on some level, or desire to move past it or at least bring it down a few pegs, comparing it to mysticism, magic, or some sort of transient fad rather than the current popular opinion that Science and its Method is the end-all be-all because it has given us our current technologies [although it still has yet to catch up with Nature, our own brains, our own hearts and bodies and sense of being]).

    The twists and turns of the exchange are recorded with mock-scientific detail and are intentionally ridiculous. We aren't able to see *why* any of this is important as it appears to be to the characters in the song. Thus Eno puts us in the position of aliens observing human history from a distance (as he did with the car [?] in "No One Receiving").

    The culture remains mixed up to the end -- "slated for becoming divine" juxtaposes boilerplate bureaucratic language with notions of divinity. She gains some sort of sway over Scientific thought (she learns to "split and define"), but Eno immediately dismisses the importance of this concept, because "the logistics and heuristics of the mystics" simply don't hold up (as I stated before, I think Eno equates hardline Science with a sort of modern, culturally-accepted Mysticism).

    Basically, humanity achieved Scientific reasoning to escape his backwater origins, and began to classify and organize reality along his own lines of thought -- but Eno reminds us that our minds, being part of Nature, "rarely move in a line." Abstraction and conceptualization are castles of sand.

    Eno urges us to "abandon such ballistics [a Science of the relatively unpredictable motion of flight] and resign to be trapped on a leaf in a vine." To Eno's thinking, this acceptance is "much more realistic" -- thus he appears to dismiss the arrogance of Science touted as "truth" because the human mind is simply a product of Nature, so the search for dominion and mastery is a pointless one. Everything returns to silence, eventually, and this is important to Eno.
    msmoxwilliamson April 25, 2014   Link
  • 0
    General CommentThe first verse establishes the material, for no reason, since the others will soon demolish it. Apart from the edges of time bit, very charming in its inexplicability, there is not much to say.
    The second one is a typical Eno raving (cf. e.g. the last stanza of The Fat Lady of Limbourg or the last one of Driving Me Backwards), not of the worst kind. Consistently enoesque (and, I would add, with no more meaning that the meaning of using language) is also the subtle shift from backwater to black water.

    The last verse sums up the whole before and after science problematic as a direct and dense comparison, or maybe juxtaposition, of two paradigms, both in a way close to Eno's thought: mysticism and science.
    Divinity is here reached by conquering math, which is an axiomatic system (*the* axiomatic system), therefore moving in a line -even if producing arboreal structures. Here lies the first problem: if divinity is reached this way, why would the mystics have a problem with that? I guess it is the wrong kind of divinity, the one involving the subjugation of nature and man (possibly conquered, let me remind you, through a meteor that traveled from Peru to Turkey). Studying the logistics (in some anachronistic manner, evidently) and heuristics (accurate) of the mystics will reveal that they don't work axiomatically (interesting to note here that historically mysticism has always kept a cordial relationship with math, e.g. Pythagoreans, Kabbalah, Plotinus).
    While the stanza is one of his best, his argument is faulty: why would it be more *realistic*, of all things, to leave ballistics (part of physics, the birthplace of modern science) behind because of the above? First of all, linking mysticism to some sort of utilitarianism, connoted by realism, doesn't sound right. Even if this could stand, why would it be realistic for anyone apart from an already convinced follower of mysticism (whatever this entity is)? Realism could also be evoking philosophical realism, of course, in which case things could get more complicated, but it is already quite late (3 a.m.!) to delve into that.
    Resigning to be trapped in god, in fate, is where we are finally lead. One could prefer, though, surpassing both fatalism and positivism and link necessity to freedom, being sovereign of nothing but entering a thousand small worlds at each glance...
    bVon October 11, 2015   Link
  • -1
    General Commentit doesn't mean anything but it is a sick sounding song
    crutexon March 30, 2007   Link

Add your thoughts

Log in now to tell us what you think this song means.

Don’t have an account? Create an account with SongMeanings to post comments, submit lyrics, and more. It’s super easy, we promise!

Back to top