Well you sure didn't look like you were having any fun
With that heavy-metal gaze they'll have to measure in tons
And when you look up at the sky
All you see are zeros
And all you see are zeros and ones

You took my hand and led me down to watch the kewpie doll parade
We let the kittens lick our hair and drank our chalky lemonade
It's not that I just didn't care I must admit I was afraid
And I'm awfully glad my finger's resting gently on the masterfade

The masterfade
I coulda played along
The masterfade
I coulda played Mah Jongg
But it just takes too long

And I just can't remember which way the east wind blows
Does it matter if we're all matter
What's the matter
Does it matter if we're all matter when we're done
When the sky is full of zeros and ones

I saw you standing all alone in the electrostatic rain
I thought at last I'd found a situation you can't explain
With GPS you know it's all just a matter of degrees
Your happiness won't find you underneath that canopy of trees

If the green grass is 6 and the soybeans are 7
The junebugs are 8 the weeds and thistles are 11
And if the 1s just hold their place the 0s make a smiley face
When they come floating down from the heavens

You took my hand and led me down to watch a papillon parade
And we let the kittens lick our hair and drank our chalky lemonade
You squeezed my hand and told me softly that I shouldn't be afraid
'cause all the while your finger's resting gently on the masterfade

The masterfade
I coulda played along
The masterfade
I coulda played Mah Jongg
But it just takes too long

And who the hell can remember which way the east wind blows
When you're lying on the ground staring up at that inverted compass

I mean Christ, who knows


Lyrics submitted by beastiefreak00

Masterfade song meanings
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33 Comments

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  • +6
    General Commenthere's a direct quote from Andrew:

    "I wrote that one when I first moved out to my barn in the country. And I was trying to reconcile being in nature with also trying to set up a studio and struggling with technology. So I’d struggle with it and then go for long walks on the farm and I couldn’t separate the two. I kept seeing zeros and ones in everything. And also as with almost every song it’s not that simple, there’s several threads that go though it. I could also be talking about a relationship, you know. One person in a relationship has their finger on the master fade and can kind of control the reality of the other person with the fade dial. So there’s like three or four stories in that song."

    from an interview with the gothamist.
    TheNamingOfThingson January 29, 2009   Link
  • +4
    General CommentTheNamingofThings writes that AB said in an interview: "I kept seeing zeros and ones in everything."

    Which means he's referring to himself in the second person in this song. I was thinking the same thing. Here's why:

    Saw AB play earlier this year -- and very nearly bumped into him quite literally as he was getting out of a taxi w/bandmates on his way into the venue, on crutches. There was a bit of a crowd gathered and clearly a number of people were keen to approach him.

    But no one did -- he looked so angry! Thin mouth, eyebrows practically covering his eyes. And so suddenly everyone seemed to have an urgent text message to attend to or something very important to inspect on the sidewalk.

    He put on a brilliant show and was about as cheery as he ever seems, so it was some time before I realised that we'd had a little glimpse of 'the heavy metal gaze' he's written about in this song. It's a terrifically apt description! I really dont' think I've ever seen a person look quite so stormy.

    Anyway, that makes him the one telling the other not to be afraid, and in the end taking control and fading out -- which puts the merest little sinister spin on a picture of innocent fun.

    I think he uses second person as a device in other songs to refer to himself, which puts an interesting twist on things.
    kdkitchenon February 25, 2010   Link
  • +2
    General CommentI like all the comments here, and will just add that I think he's talking about the fear of entering into organic, full awareness of life.

    Hence, we reduce things to numbers. And, when we do deign to enter the flow of real life, we have our finger gently resting on the masterfade; the one slider on a mixing console that can turn up or fade every single signal coursing thru the mixing circuits. In other words, if it gets too heavy we can always return to our attenuated existences. And, conversely, we can push that booger up ... if you think you can take it!
    razajacon October 21, 2009   Link
  • +2
    Song MeaningTo me it seems like its about a guy who who is too far into technology too enjoy the real world, as in he cant let life chill or "fade" like a master fade does to a song. Then it seems a girl comes into his life and shows him the amazing world and he is afraid to go out, though sometimes it just seems he doesnt care. Then he tries to find holes with her idea of the world by trying to find something she "can't explain". He then declares she cant find happiness in the world. She then takes him down back to play with the kittens and the butterflies. (Papillion is butterfly in French)In the end she tells him never to be afraid because she can help him enjoy life because she has her own hand place "on the master fade" or essentially the off button.

    This is just what i got after listening to it all day, im not sure it is the meaning. Andrew Bird is notorious for not even having meaning in his songs. He seems to have a style that paints a picture inside your head.
    Wilhemon November 25, 2010   Link
  • +1
    General CommentI haven't decided on on what this song quite means yet, but part of it seems to be about peace, and summertime, and calmness (what is a masterfade? well, it doesn't matter) and part of it sort of seems like it's about how science and mathematics sort of miss out on a lot of beauty in the world. (I don't necessarily agree with that, but it does make a good case.)
    "well you sure didn't look like you were having any fun.../and when you look up at the sky/all you see are zeros/all you see are zeros and ones" In being so calculating you see the sky as numerals and miss out on everything wonderful about it.

    "if we're all matter/what's it matter does it matter/if we're all matter when we're done?" This could be a comment on how the idea that we're just lumps of walking, talking matter trivializes human existance, and even if there is no "meaning of life" and no god and we're just a blob of organized cells, who cares?

    "I saw you standing all alone in the electrostatic rain/I thought at last I'd found a situation you can't explain" A situation where logic fails and you have to abandon scientific reasoning.
    "your happiness won't find you underneath that canopy of trees" You won't be happy if you continue seeing things the way you do now.

    "if the green grass is 6 the soybeans are 7/the junebugs are 8 the weeds and thistles are 11" seeing things as numbers again

    I put way too much thought into that... something that is most definitely wrong, wrong, wrong.
    bobwronskion May 30, 2005   Link
  • +1
    My InterpretationI think this song is about absurdism, nihilism, and existentialism.

    The first verse seems to paint a picture of someone who is struggling with the worry that their world may not be real. If the "zeros and ones" are meant to be binary code, than this could be a reference to the theory that our reality may just be a computer program, hence not real.
    simulation-argument.com/

    I'm not fully sure about the second verse. I think its about someone trying to live their life as if there is meaning in the world though their unsure. I like pinstripesandpedals' idea that masterfade is a reference to part of a mixing deck that let's you fade everything to silence. In this case, the masterfade could represent the ability to imagine the world as unreal, or 'silence reality'. "And I'm awfully glad my finger's resting gently on the masterfade" - this particular line makes me think of a time when I used to consider my disbelief in reality as enlightenment. I was fairly arrogant in this mind set.

    "Does it matter if we're all matter when we're done
    When the sky is full of zeros and ones" - This again seems to talk about the possibility that our reality is infact unreal, while bringing into question whether or not this is even worth worrying about.

    "With GPS you know it's all just a matter of degrees" - I think the GPS represents blindly following religion. Choosing faith over rationality is one way people cope with the Absurd. Like a GPS, religion maps out a single life path to follow, and right and wrong is measured in objective 'degrees'.

    "Your happiness won't find you underneath that canopy of trees" - Again, I think this is about religion. Trying to force yourself to have blind faith, like hiding from the binary code sky under a canopy of trees, is only a superficial solution.

    "If the green grass is 6 and the soybeans are 7
    The junebugs are 8 the weeds and thistles are 11" - I think this line is about trying to impose absolute values on the world.

    "And if the 1s just hold their place the 0s make a smiley face
    When they come floating down from the heavens" - This line is about assigning personal meaning to the world.
    NemoNemoon May 19, 2011   Link
  • +1
    General CommentAndrew Bird is brilliant and, like Eliot or Joyce, extremely adept at incorporating and unifying multiple allusions and metaphors in his songs. "Masterfade" is one of my favorites of his. Rather than trying to interpret the "meaning" of this song as a whole--which, really, is a pretty challenging task, even when dealing with much less cerebral artists--I think it'd be more illuminating to examine the allusions and metaphors of which Bird makes use.

    The first metaphor in the song is that of the "heavy-metal gaze" (included on this page with a dubious hyphen), which can certainly refer to a genre of rock music but has additional meaning in reference to the class of elements known as the heavy metals. The classification itself is somewhat suspect; but it has been understood to refer to those metals essential to humans, like iron, zinc and copper, as well as to metals that can be lethal, such as plutonium, lead, and mercury. The lyric seems to suggest that the person in question in the opening verse has been adversely affected by the heavy metal (or whatever it is meant to represent), the accumulation of which will have to be "measured in tons." Of significance to the rest of the song is the fact that, first of all, certain heavy metals (copper, in particular) are the greatest conductors of electricity, which fits nicely with the later image of "electrostatic rain" and the larger motif of technological devices. Another heavy metal that fits well into the themes of the song is mercury: the Greek god by this name is the patron of messages and communication (along with travel and boundaries, in a nice connection to the GPS device of later verses), as well as the one who guides souls to the underworld. So, clearly, Bird has quite a fertile metaphor with this single lyric.

    The zeros and ones are the clear reference Bird uses to the binary language of software and electronics--they are the Other in contrast to what we believe ourselves and the natural world to be, namely organic and/or "real." The zeros and ones have the added connotation of a deterministic reality, though it might be a stretch to consider their presence malevolent in the song. The recurring lines depicting the subject looking up and seeing only these digits speaks to humanity's current inability to detach themselves from technology and the artificial constructs we navigate.

    The "kewpie doll parade" seems that it could be a metaphor for or allusion to a couple of things. The fact that these types of dolls originated in the early 20th century with illustrations from the Ladies' Home Journal points to the fact that the speaker is being led to the domestic life by his partner. Further reinforcing this idea is the fact that kewpie is a reference to Cupid, the Roman's version of the god of erotic love. So, following the earlier allusion, the speaker can be seen to turn from Mercury (the "heavy metal" god effectively dragging him down to the underworld) to Cupid (the god beckoning him to love and domestic bliss). Apart from these connections, it's interesting to note that kewpie dolls were constructed for a time from celluloid, the same material long-used to make movie film. There may be a connection between watching this celluloid parade and the idea of living out a deterministic reality that is already written and is now being played out, as it were.

    I like that Bird uses a very clear-cut and very "American" metaphor with the lemonade that the speaker and his companion enjoy: A major theme of the song, it might be argued, is that when life gives you lemons, it doesn't make much sense to brood and tremble in your existential crisis. Even if the world is a harrowing place that we might not have the capacity to understand or control, it is still within our means to make lemonade (or not make lemonade) to enjoy with the ones we love.

    The master fade is the eponymous instrument by which the speaker literally feels control over something. It seems, to an extent, to be the metaphor for free will. His finger rests on the controlling dial that can amplify, diminish, or completely silence something sensory. Here's where I think the allusion to film makes more sense, if we consider that kewpie dolls were a reference to celluloid which, in turn, is a reference to film. Watching some parade of images and sound (it's interesting to think of motion pictures' use of alternating light and darkness to simulate reality as another connection to the ones and zeroes), the speaker feels that some things are still within his power. The "I could've played along" in the chorus--though it certainly could refer to playing along with music--can thus be understand as the playing along of a part or role in a movie. It might be a stretch, but the symbolism is there.

    I also really enjoy Bird's allusions to the game of mahjong. These seem fairly straightforward in the song: It's a very intricate game that--like life--can feel like it has everything to do with strategy and skill, but which involves a great deal of chance. The discussions of where the east wind blows is a direct reference to the game, in which there are four players who each represent a different directional wind at various times, with the East Wind being the dealer. So, in effect, not knowing where the east wind blows is asking the Big Question of "Who dealt me this hand?" (It might be Christ who knows...)

    The papillon parade can refer to a few things. If we're going to stick to the possible motif of film vs. reality, it could refer to the couple watching the actual film _Papillon_, which is, fittingly, about an escape from the harsh reality of a prison. I recognize that it's quite a long shot to think that Bird was thinking about the Steve McQueen/Dustin Hoffman picture when he wrote this song, but you never know. More likely is the fact that the papillon parade refers to the speaker and his companion watching a "parade" of butterflies (for which papillon is the French term). The metaphor here is practically shouting: Perhaps the speaker has found the need to transition from a caterpillar to this more beautiful form. Perhaps it's in the cocoon stage that he cannot find his happiness under that canopy of trees. The speaker must emerge as something new.

    Finally, the inverted compass is a great image from the song, and it clearly speaks to William Blake's and a number of other artists' depictions of God's and/or Christ's measuring out of the world. It's used in Masonic symbolism, and it speaks to God as an architect, designer, and builder. So, perhaps, the speaker of this song comes to the point of recognizing that whatever the "true" nature of reality, there is Someone beyond himself that got the ball rolling and keeps it as it is, and he still has the power over his own subjective experience and understanding of this life: he may not be able to stop the show, but he and his love can adjust it to their own preferred settings.
    Nelliefoxxon May 11, 2013   Link
  • +1
    My InterpretationNice comments everyone, have pointed out much of what I would have said. Digital vs Mysterious vs Impermanence.

    2 points:
    1) A "master fader" is the most powerful audio fader, it can fade out everything and seems to symbolize the ending of the relationship, one that was like a music recording in progress which he can play along with. But here he Andrew plays with the word and spells it "masterfade" making it more poetic, a metaphor for fading out reality, or fading from digital perception and digital music to analog perception and inexact vague feeling.

    2) John Lennon comes to my mind, lots of free associations, plays with words and the sounds of words (like rhyming along with Mahjong). Thanks to Lewis Carol and Lennon for paving the way fro great lyrics like this. Sometimes it doesn't even mater to me the correct lyric. I was hearing "choco lemonade" not "Chalky" it it felt right to me. The feel and vibe of the song is almost universal.
    Boodabillon September 07, 2014   Link
  • 0
    General CommentI think the song is expressing how he feels that technology takes away from some of the simple beauty of life. He keeps referring to GPS technology, and this line:
    "your happiness won't find you underneath that canopy of trees if the green grass is 6 the soybeans are 7
    the junebugs are 8 the weeds and thistles are 11"
    is referring to how things in life can't just be categorized into numbers. Then juxtaposed into this are images of the most idyllic, simple life he can imagine ("you took my hand and led me down to watch a papillon parade
    we let the kittens lick our hair and drank our chalky lemonade"). Oh yeah, and papillon is french for butterfly, I'm pretty sure. Finally... I think by masterfade he's talking about how on sound mixing boards and things like that there's one little knob or level that controls the volume or whatever it is of the entire production... so he's saying that he's still in control of his life... if he wants to he can turn down the masterfade and leave it all behind. Really I get the feeling that he just writes songs about whatever he happens to be thinking of, and that he just has an amazingly beautiful way of wording it all. :)
    r0sesinhereyeson December 29, 2005   Link
  • 0
    General CommentI'd have to agree with the above interpretations, I'd just like to add that 1's and 0's are the language of computers (binary code) I think that's important to know while taking in the meaning of this song. Once again, technology battling nature.
    FiberOpticJesuson January 22, 2006   Link

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