"Source Decay" as written by and John Darnielle....
Once a week I make the drive, two hours east
To check the Austin post office box
And I make the detour through our old neighborhood
See all the Chevy Impalas in their front yards up on blocks

And I park in an alley
And I read through the postcards you continue to send
Where as indirectly as you can, you ask what I remember
I like these torture devices from my old best friend

Well, I'll tell you what I know, like I swore I always would
I don't think it's gonna do you any good
I remember the train headed south out of Bangkok
Down toward the water

I always get a late start when the sun's going down
And the traffic's thinning out and the glare is hard to take
I wish the West Texas Highway was a mobius strip
I could ride it out forever

When I feel my heart break, I almost swear I hear it happen, in fact, clean and not hard
I come in off the highway and I park in my front yard
Fall out of the car like a hostage from a plane
Think of you a while, start wishing it would rain

And I remember the train headed south out of Bangkok
Down toward the water

I come into the house, put on a pot of coffee
Walk the floors a little while
I set your postcard on the table with all the others like it
I start sorting through the pile

I check the pictures and the postmarks and the captions and the stamps
For signs of any pattern at all
When I come up empty-handed the feeling almost overwhelms me
I let a few of my defenses fall

And I smile a bitter smile
It's not a pretty thing to see
I think about a railroad platform
Back in 1983

And I remember the train headed south out of Bangkok
Down, down toward the water


Lyrics submitted by fuckedupdog, edited by subwoofer

"Source Decay" as written by John Darnielle

Lyrics © PACIFIC ELECTRIC MUSIC

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Source Decay song meanings
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  • +2
    General CommentThe line about the Austin post office box isn't about the narrator's earlier travels with his former companion. It's about his weekly trips to Austin to check for the postcards she sends there - to the post office box they once shared when they lived in the city together - the last address she has for him.

    Clearly, the couple lived together in Austin. Although the song doesn't say so explicitly, one gets the feeling that the person sending the postcards split up with the narrator and left him in Bangkok. There's a powerful image of him standing on a railroad platform, watching her train leave, as she continues her travels without him - perhaps in some effort at escapism.

    She continues to send him postcards as she travels - and, sifting through the postcards - a list, essentially, of the destinations she's passed him up for - he wracks his brain looking for a rationale: a reason for her to have left; a motive. He despairs at never finding one.

    The song never actually says that the narrator and the postcard-sender were in a romantic relationship. But I think we're justified in inferring that they were: he feels his heart break, his bitter smile at having been deserted, his promise always to be honest (to 'tell her what he knows') - and the fact that her absence so obsesses him that he describes himself as a 'hostage', and wishes he could escape by driving on a never-ending freeway. (I think the only line that suggests they were anything but romantic - 'from my old best friend' - merely alludes to the relationship's familiar closeness.)

    There's also evidence that the sense of malice, or at least careless teasing, that he detects in her correspondence (though it's more of a respondence, to steal a line from Lionel Shriver) is well-placed: in the intervening decades, she's never communicated in a method that would allow him to reply. One imagines that she mails him either to delude herself into thinking she hasn't deserted him, or because she thinks that his hearing from her might comfort him - either way, she can't quite bear to hear back from him. And surely she must know that the postcards - in which she invites him to reminisce (she asks what he remembers) - are, indeed, torturous.

    Whatever her motive, I'm always transported back to the image of him on the railroad platform, watching her receed toward the sea. I wonder if he has an inkling that she'll haunt him forever. I wonder if he already knows that he'll let her.
    masterchalkon March 29, 2008   Link
  • +1
    General CommentIve always got the impression that the two people in the song used to travel together (as many young friends do). They were both living in west Texas, and decided to pack up and see the world "to check the
    austin post office box, and i take the detour, through our old neighborhood".

    Anyway, they travel around for a long time, and backpack around the globe (including Thailand of course). The main character after a while decides its time to "grow up" and leaves the other person, moving back to west Texas", the other person wants to keep travelling. They leave on good terms though, and agree to keep in touch "well i'll tell you what i know, like i swore i always would"

    The traveller tries to keep in touch, sending postcards from various places they visit, sending them to the PO Box.

    On the trip home, the main character realises how much misses the one who keeps travelling, and longs to return to them again (his "heart breaks"). He trys to figure out where he could possible rejoin his friend by looking at the postcards that they sent, to see if he can predict where they will be next "i check the the picture, and the postmarks, and the captions and the stamps, for signs of any patern at all". Soon, he realises that it is impossible "when i come up empty handed, the feeling almost overwhelms me" and becomes incredibly bitter as he realises that all that he has left are his memories "and i smile a bitter smile, not a pretty thing to see, think about a raileroad platform, back in nineteen eighty three"

    This is perhaps my favourite MG song (for this week at least). I heard a live boot of this. Only John could do a live version recorded on a palmcorder that has better production values than he album version.

    If you dont know what a mobius strip is, look it up, it adds a lot of depth to the song.
    dagwoodon April 30, 2005   Link
  • 0
    General Commentgod damn this song is so descriptive. you really get to go through what this guy is doing. it seems he really really misses this other person. i've cirtinly heard the sound of heart breaking. it'd be cool to know who the person who took the train is and where they went. they haven't died apparently cuz they keep sending him postcards. fuckin shit i really love this song.
    fuckedupdogon April 15, 2005   Link
  • 0
    General CommentThinking about it again, Cyrus and Jeff from the best death metal band out of denton could be the two people in this song. And it could also be the couple in Jenny. Most of it this album makes me think that Denton is a lonely town that he has captured into one album through all these stories of dreams that people had.
    kozmikon August 28, 2006   Link
  • 0
    General CommentI think we're all missing the point, but on the right track (no pun intended for the train). The issue that is still unresolved with this discussion is why is she (I'll accept it is a she AND a past romantic relationship) asking him what he remembers? And why does it matter? The rest I agree with. It makes sense. And it rings true. But why does she not remember and why is it important? And if she is asking him what he remembers, clearly he has to have a way (or at least she BELIEVES he has a way) of communicating with her.

    Could she be in prison?
    noydbyjon May 05, 2008   Link
  • 0
    General CommentFor some reason, this song has always reminded me of Slaughter-House Five. The lyrics have nothing to do with the text at all, but somehow the feeling of emptiness and old memories strikes a chord that makes me think of Billy Pilgrim every time I hear it.
    mmmmeghanon November 06, 2008   Link
  • 0
    General CommentI couldn't tell you why, but I always thought the "train headed south outta bangkok down towards the water" had crashed and someone important to the narrator and his friend died. Even after all of these years, the friend still feels like the narrator is holding something back, but he's sending the postcards "where as indirectly as you can / you ask what i remember." This is a sore spot for the two of them, maybe even what drove them apart: "i like these tourture devices /from my old best friend." This also relates to the lines "I can tell you what I know / like I swore I always would / i don't think it's going to do you any good"; the narrator has gone over his a thousand times and nothing new is going to come up.

    It seems like both are haunted by whatever happened and can't let it go. One stays in a single place and the other roams the world, both they're both dealing with the pain of the past.
    discordian555on June 01, 2011   Link
  • 0
    General CommentI tend to lean towards masterchalks interpretation, but when I first heard this song, I felt like it was from the perspective of a guy who'd been through a terrible train accident that caused him to lose his memory. Just think about it. Fits doesn't it?

    Most likely not the "real" meaning, I know, but it's interesting to think about.
    Aquarius121on August 11, 2012   Link
  • 0
    General CommentJohn Darnielle's comments on this song:

    "Well, there are two stories in the song: the present-day one, in which a person relates how he makes a weekly trip to Austin from somewhere two hours west, which he does specifically to retrieve mail from a P.O. box. He takes a long route there so he can drive through a place where he used to live - “our old neighborhood” - presumably the “our” is him & whoever he’s talking to, though that’s neither explicit nor certain. Then he drives home, brews some coffee, “walks the floors” (this is a reference to an old Ernest Tubb tune; Tubb was from north Texas) to sort out his thoughts, and, adding the one he just brought back from Austin, examines an ever-larger pile of postcards on the table, trying to put together the story he hopes they’re trying to tell. That this story, the backstory, the ones the postcards don’t tell, is obscure and uncertain — that’s kind of the point of the song. The backstory blurs and won’t cohere, the evidence mounts and is available but it just won’t gel into a satisfying narrative, which is a longstanding theme of mine, this way you sometimes really deeply and desperately need to get a clean narrative line through some story in your life, and when life won’t give you that, you finally have to smile about it, but it’s a pretty bitter smile, not the kind you smile when you’re feeling good about something.

    The second story in the song is the one that refuses to come clear; the above is just a parsing-out of the extant detail in the song, but to fill in the outlines of the second story would be very uncool of me because the song is about how those outlines are like blurry shapes in fading light that you eventually have to just accept as they are. "
    debaser__on August 22, 2014   Link
  • -1
    General CommentThis is a wonderful fucking song. i love it
    kozmikon February 17, 2006   Link

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