The man of a thousand faces
Sits down at the table
Eats a small lump of sugar
And smiles at the moon like he knows her

He begins his quiet ascension
Without anyone's steady instruction
To a place with no religion
He's found a path to her likeness

His words are quiet like stains are
On a tablecloth washed in a river
Stains that are trying to cover
For each other
Or at least blend in with the pattern

Good is better than perfect
Scrub till your fingers are bleeding
And I'm crying for things that
I tell others to do without crying

He used to go to his favorite bookstores
And rip out his favorite pages
And stuff 'em into his breast pockets
The moon, to him, was a stranger

Now he sits down at a table
Right next to the window
And begins his quiet ascension
Without anyone's steady instruction
To a place with no religion

He's found a path to her likeness
He eats a small lump of sugar
Smiles at the moon like he knows her

Lyrics submitted by just_old_light, edited by DDWWW, nickireland7, Alanner, Aether, LianaLizard, dirky, Delira, drmstx94, sodafat, cesium14, LukeUs, Kow

Man of a Thousand Faces Lyrics as written by Regina Spektor

Lyrics © Sony/ATV Music Publishing LLC

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Man of a Thousand Faces song meanings
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  • +9
    General CommentI think this song is about ACCEPTING what you cannot know, and being content to not know.

    The man in the song has tried really hard to find out the meaning of life (he used to burrow through book pages and stuff them in his pocket, he's tried on a thousand faces and beliefs), but no matter what religion or philosophy he tries out, no matter how much he bleeds his fingers by his strenuous efforts, no matter what "sturdy instruction" he seeks out, a full understanding of life is still BEYOND his reach.

    The moon is a symbol of the unknowable, an ancient Goddess worshipped by people gone by, and even today, visited by only a handful of humans. The moon represents our yearning for understanding of the universe, and the moon landings are still the most awesome attempt ever by mankind to reach out and explore what we do not know, explore the places we have not seen, know things we don't yet know.

    The lump of sugar represents those few sweet facts we can establish about our reason for existence, but the bulk is unknowable.

    Religion ("sturdy instruction"" tries to explain everything, but ultimately cannot quell all a human being's doubts. This is why the man who ACCEPTS DOUBT, the unexplained, the mysterious moon goes to a "place where no religion has found a path to or a likeness." Though he cannot know "the moon" (the metaphor for the meaning of life), the man still "Smiles at the moon like he knows her," embracing the mystery of life, and quitting his 1000 faced fruitless search for THE "answer".

    It reminds me of the moment in Shakespeare's Hamlet, when the retionalist, Horatio, stuggles to explain the mysterious appearance of Hamlet's dead father, and Hamlet tells him to just accept what he cannot know:

    "O day and night, but this is wondrous strange!"

    "And therefore as a stranger give it welcome.
    There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio,
    Than are dreamt of in your philosophy."

    (William Shakespeare, Hamlet Act 1, scene 5, 159—167)

    yhtrownuon June 29, 2009   Link
  • +6
    General CommentIt could be about someone who was raised in a religious family and had been religious all of his life until he found that he doesn't really feel connected to his beliefs, which make him do things in a certain way and feel guilty about not doing them perfectly.
    "And I’m crying for things
    I tell others to do without crying"
    Things like happiness and feeling good about yourself. Religion doesn't see these things as something important.
    He starts seeing the beauty in small and simple pleasures and starts feeling connected to the world due to just being.
    He finds his meaning in being. Very existential;
    This man of a thousand faces - religious on the outside but free from religion on the inside - reminds me of Camu's happy Sisyphus.
    (Sorry for any grammar mistakes, English is not my mother tongue.)
    leanbhon June 19, 2008   Link
  • +3
    General Commentoh, and also "now im crying for things I tell others to do without crying" not "now i'm crying with insight..."

    sorry about all the corrections, I can't help it =]
    aliboongaon September 06, 2007   Link
  • +3
    General CommentI'm going to be obvious and annoying, but I think this song is about a man who has given up on religion. I think he's given up on trying to be perfect according to how the bible tells him, and is just going to focus on being a good person instead. I think when he was younger he held a lot in store by the bible, going to bookstores, ripping out his favorite pages. But I think now he's wizened and found his own connection to god.

    By the way, it's so nice to have a studio recording of this song. I think the new album is amazing, a good mixture of soviet kitch and begin to hope.
    HaverchuckTheStudon June 18, 2009   Link
  • +3
    General CommentI got the same impression as lika21.
    Also I think its funny that the man with thousand faces is taken as man with multiple personalitytypes/ ways of acting or something. Couldn't it also mean that this song isn't about one man, but about an experience, an emotion or an idea that can be found in a thousand of men; in people in general? A man of a thousand faces could be an allegorical person like Elckerlijc/Everyman (… )
    Whether this is a Mikhail Bulgakov reference I couldn't say because I haven't read the book, but maybe I should. Regina Spektor does have a habit of using literature as a source of inspiration...

    Anyway the idea I get is that this person is a whole new level of lonely, he tries to live unobtrusively. his words are quiet like stains are: I really love this line because it feels like he wants to speak but sees his personal words/thoughts as something objectionable to others, so he tries to make them seem inconspicous, covering for eachother, hoping to be indistinguishable in the patern of everything else. (great wordplay, miss spektor)
    Good is better than perfect
    Scrub till your fingers are bleeding
    And I'm crying for things
    I tell others to do without crying
    god... best stanza ever, pointing out the schism between what you expct from others and what you (don't) allow yourself. The last line is just so full of sorrow and understanding...
    Also going to bookstores and ripping out favorite pages is so interesting, because your destroying for others what you hold closest, making yourself less knowable, creating your own world of fragments and things you love, idosynchratic and making no sense to any outsider.
    What the moon represents I don't really know, multiple things probably. To me; cold milky light from far away shining when most people are unaware, asleep, means he feels close to the moon because its as isolated and far away as he has become.
    Quiet ascension: the slipping further away into yourself, maybe death? i dunno.
    place that no religion / has found a path to or a likeness: something completely his own, no rules made up by other people to follow but a transcendence nonetheless.
    small lump of sugar: could be illustrating an understated lifestyle, just taking what he needs, not bothering anyone, could be drugs.. who knows.
    The song probably has more to do with religion than I associate with it, but thats the fun of poetry interpretation. no ones right :D
    Ridderhalfrijmon July 29, 2009   Link
  • +2
    General CommentI think this song is about a man with a personality disorder, maybe he is schizophrenic- "the man of a thousand faces."

    He could also be obsessive, as the lines:
    "Good is better than perfect,
    scrub till your fingers are bleeding."

    As a schizophrenic can have many personalities, it is suggested here in the song that the man makes a "friendship" with the moon:
    "And smiles at the moon like he knows her"
    yet later in the song it says
    "The moon to him was a stranger"

    This song to me is the story of a man with a split personality who struggles to fit in with the rest of the world- "Or at least blend in with the pattern."
    Lozelion April 29, 2007   Link
  • +2
    General CommentLozeli: Actually, split-personality disorder and schizophrenia are two entirely different disorders. It's a common misconception that the symptoms of schizophrenia include multiple personalities.

    I think this song is about a man that feels he has to be something different for everyone he knows, he's never himself and wears a thousand faces, He's lost because he doesn't know who he really is because he's always being what other people want him to be. He feels everyone is a stranger, even the moon. Everyone is kept at a distance and he feels lost and alone because of it. I think kaysntees is right, the small lump of sugar is a drug reference,
    The second and fourth stanzas sound like they have something to do with obsesive compulsive disorder, self-harm and thoughts about going to heaven.
    I'm not sure the exact intent of this song, but i think we've put a lot of pieces together. I'm not sure Regina even knows the exact intent of every word in this song, that's what makes it absolutley lovely though. It just makes so much sense and there's so much feeling without it having to make complete sense or be at all clear.
    love_is_freeon January 18, 2008   Link
  • +2
    General CommentAnd I’m crying for things
    I tell others to do without crying

    oh man
    that line
    pocketvisionon August 13, 2008   Link
  • +2
    My InterpretationI think it is about a man who has fought in a war, not a specific war, but a fairly modern one.
    It was a war based on religious reasons or beliefs (as wars often are) which explains why he finds a place without religion because it has given him so much pain and has watched terrible things happen in the name of religion.
    I can imagine him sitting at a cafe, after the war, or at least in a Country away from the war (maybe he has fled his country), and staring out of the window, remebering life before the war, smiling at the moon because he does not trust humans anymore after what he has seen, and knowing that he can trust her to always be there.
    His ascension is him losing track of time and the things around him, and thinking of this and that.
    He believes he shares a likeness with the moon in that they both are alone and don't need religion.
    The stains trying to cover for each other seems to me to talk about how he tries to cover over the truth with lies but then he needs to lie more and more to cover those up because he does not want to tell others of what he has seen.And wants to blend in with the pattern (normal people).
    Good is better than perfect is his conclusion that there is no such thing as perfect, a perfect world or race or whatever he was told he was fighting for.
    He cries over what he saw, when at the time he told others not to cry about it.
    And he remembers when he was young, before the war, when he went to the bookstores and ripped out the pages and that was the worst thing he had done, but now he has killed in the name of religion. And at that time he had friends and family so he didn't share a lonesomeness with the moon so she was a stranger, he had never been alone enough to take much notice.
    I think this song tells a sad story of a man cought in a conflict that fought in the name of religion and came to nothing but pain and suffering and how he tries to enter normal society but finds it difficult and tries to cover up his past experiences but is lonely and so spends most of his time remembering life before the suffering and also imagening a world without a reason to kill innocents.
    JemDuckyon August 31, 2012   Link
  • +1
    General CommentFor some reason this song reminds me of John Lennon. Maybe it's the awesome piano and the fact there's the line of "no religion"...Does that make sense? I have no idea.
    clardion October 18, 2008   Link

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