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The Mistress Witch from McClure (Or, the Mind That Knows Itself) song meanings
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  • +5
    General CommentI saw him perform this song live and before he performed it he said something to the extent that his parents had an unhappy marriage, his dad had a lot of girlfriends, and because they were pretty progressive the family met and liked most of the girlfriends, but they didn't like one of them who he said was a witch, i forget what he called her, but she threatened to burn them with a cigarette if they watched her in the shower, etc. and this is about her and their dad taking them to see her, leaving them in the car, etc. He said all the girlfriends had handicaps, hince the "ankle brace".
    mariantheon April 11, 2007   Link
  • +2
    General Commentthis song just resonates with me for some reason. the chord progression, the kind of surprise in the way he says "oh my god". i love this song to death.
    illinoisemakeron December 22, 2006   Link
  • +2
    General CommentTo me, the lines with "The Mind that Knows Itself" seem kind of ironic. Maybe "The mind that knows itself has a mind to serve the other" is something their father said to them about charity, and it's the first thing to pop into Sufjan's head when he sees their affair. He takes it from there, trying to fit his father's actions into what he knows about morality.
    RyGuy86on February 18, 2007   Link
  • +2
    General CommentWait, wait, wait.

    "We see it on the floor".

    WHAT do they see on the floor? I am terrified about this.
    radixon January 02, 2008   Link
  • +2
    General CommentI think most people are right- the song is about an affair, or at least walking in on their dad with a woman besides their mom. I just want to take the metaphors a little further.

    The car represents innocence/ignorance. The kids "figure out the keys" after their father locks them in the car. After walking into the bedroom, they run back out to the car and scratch at the door. They cannot go back to "innocence" now that they know the truth. "A mind that knows itself is a mind that knows much more." The narrator names two different paths for a mind that knows itself: it can serve or kill others. And it seems like their father "killed" them in a way: "he left us now for dead."

    Honestly, I can see the older brother having the fit. An older sibling may take it harder than the younger ones because he understands more what it means. Children might just be confused.

    I like the metaphorical interpretation of the traffic stopping representing his sorrow.

    areyousleeping760on November 06, 2009   Link
  • +1
    General CommentYeah they walk in while their father is having and affair and the "shuffling at the floor" is like when they catch a glimpse of their (him and his brother) father doing it with his mistress (witch). The mind that knows itself knows much more is that he didnt actually see his dad doing anything, but knowing himself he can pretty much guess what's going on. I think the best lines are when his dad comes out pointing at his throat, and his little brother has a fit in the snow stopping traffic (lol), brilliant. And "we take him by the elbow" is also great, its like both sufjan and his dad have to somehow reconcile his obviously traumatized little borther going nuts in the snow (lol). The repetitions of oh my god makes me think that he was quite traumatized by the experience, which isnt surprising for what I think is a very young sufjan stevens with his little brother in this story. Anyway all these really simple sufjan songs where he just uses his banjo-like-guitar are great like Romulus and For the Widows of paradise and the Upper Peninsula.
    hasbuleliason October 06, 2006   Link
  • +1
    General Commenthmm he said he shouldn't talk about this song cause something may be incrimination about it?
    tetsco!on May 01, 2008   Link
  • +1
    General CommentWell...considering sufjan is the youngest of his is possible that he is singing from the perspective of his older brother.....and maybe sufjan was the younger brother traumatized? Just a thought, sufjan is pretty clever and I wouldn't put it past him. I believe he is by far the most talented and original musician of our time whether you like his music or not.
    somethingaboutandrewon November 09, 2008   Link
  • +1
    General CommentThese are some of the most straight-forward lyrics I've heard by Sufjan.
    No one's touched on this line:

    "When my sister picks a fight
    With the Alexander boy"

    It sounds like she got into a fight with a boy over her dad and his "mistress." Maybe she was defending her dad before the rest of the song happened.

    "If I'm hiding in the sleeves
    Of my coat
    When my father runs undressed
    He's pointing at my throat
    And my brother has a fit
    In the snow
    And the traffic stops for miles
    We take him by the elbow"

    The visuals here are incredible. "We take him by the elbow" is interesting; either the brother and the sister are trying to drag him out of the road, or the brother and the father each have an elbow and are pulling him in different directions.

    Sufjan's songs are so personal and intense. They break my heart.
    Breedabieon February 10, 2008   Link
  • 0
    General CommentThis song made me cry the first time I heard it.

    The children follow their father, and discover that he has a mistress. Chaos ensues with the discovery and he eventually leaves the family. Sometimes there are things you don't want to know.

    But if anybody can decifer the background vocals starting at "Oh my God, the shuffling at the floor" it would be a greatly appreciated post;).
    musicforlife!on May 18, 2006   Link

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