She was pregnant in May
Now they're on their way
Dashing through the snow
To St. John's, here we go

Well, it could be a boy
But it's okay if he's girl
Oh, these things that grow out of
The things that we give

We should move to the west side
They still believe in things
That give a kid half a chance

When he pulled off the road
Step in a waltz of ted moon-beams
Said he fit an APB,
A robbery nearby

And he go for his wallet
And they thought he was going for a gun
And the cops blew Bird away

Some kids like watching Saturday cartoons
Some girls listen to records all day in their rooms
But what do birds leave behind, of the wings that they came with
If a son's in a tree building model planes?

Skeletons
Skeletons


Lyrics submitted by just_old_light, edited by mkyoung

Skeletons Lyrics as written by Rickie Lee Jones

Lyrics © Kobalt Music Publishing Ltd., Reservoir Media Management, Inc.

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Skeletons song meanings
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    General Comment

    I am genuinely fascinated by this song's last verse — reinforced by its title. I had hoped that someone might have an explanation here, because I always wondered about it.

    .

    Bereaved Mom brings up a fatherless son and daughter in some garden suburb?

    .

    But how do the son's "model planes" threaten bird "wings" — and in what sense does that leave skeletons?

    .

    On the album, the mood immediately switches to the sheer, vibrant be-bop freedom of "Woody and Dutch on the Slow Train to Peking," rappin' the fat scat.

    .

    Well, a lot of her songs to date had been autobiographical. By the time Pirates was recorded, Tom Waites, The Troubadour's other remaining latter-day beatnik (they both loved the music, fashions and lifestyles of the thirties/forties/fifties), had split to rebuild his career in New York, Chuck E Weiss was getting his own act together, and RLJ was desolate. I think this accounts for a lot of the bittersweet memories of the old gang in many of her songs — the perpetual lurch between joy and aching sadness.

    .

    Did she know a "Bird" to whom this had happened? Might there perhaps have been a news piece about a police shooting which made her think? Chances are that RLJ's "Bird" was also black — gunned down by police in a case of mistaken identity; the hoped-for "move to the West Side" (of Chicago, perhaps, or New York's Hudson? At any rate, somewhere removed from the snowy February streets), an escape from the ghetto to "give a kid half a chance." Guns are scientifically refined killing machines — widely available wherever there is street life.

    .

    Of course, one never forgets one's first sight of a bird's forlorn skeleton, its skin and feathers rotted away bleaching in the sun. In the legend of Icarus, to escape imprisonment, the master designer Daedelus fashions wings for him and his son. Icarus, captivated by the sheer beauty of flight, ignores his father's warning not to spiral too high: he ascends so close to the sun that the wax melts, detaching feathers from frame, and he plunges to his death.

    .

    The name, Bird, inevitably makes jazz fans think of Charlie Parker, who did not die from shooting — but from shooting up: the abuse of alcohol and heroin, which had ravaged his 34 year old body so badly that, at autopsy, his age was at first estimated as between 50 and 60. Having been free of heroin more often than not during his stay in LA (though prone to alcohol), Parker had been devastated by the sudden death of his three year old daughter, Pree. His attempts at suicide following this tragedy landed him in a mental institution. He left that clean of his addictions and healthy — but quickly returned to New York and total self-destruction.

    .

    Imagine Chan Parker attempting to bring up son Baird among all of that heartbreak and terrible loss. She maintained that Parker was a free spirit with mammoth appetites that no one could contain. His music made him — and everyone around her — soar. But, by the eighties, son Baird's addictions were clearly leading him down the same drug spiral which had taken his father.

    .

    [Morphine, a super-concentration of the opium drug, was developed and refined progressively from the Civil War right through to WWII; diamorphine (heroin), was its even stronger post-war refinement. The boomer generation and Gen X messed with opioids perhaps because of the rapid development of medical know-how occasioned by increasingly scientific warfare: we had the false sense that science's increased understanding of biochemistry made it somehow safer to experiment with drugs' effects on our systems. And, besides, jazz men returning from Europe, the Pacific, Korea - and rock stars' sympathy with vets from Viet Nam - lent heroin the cool reputation of being a musician's drug.]

    .

    Rickie Lee Jones, the daughter of an artistic, trumpet playing addict from Chicago, born to an orphan mother (eight months after Parker's death), was quite aware, by the eighties, that she — unlike her best buddies — was also dicing with addictions she could not control. She had moved to LA to escape the destruction and confusion of her peripatetic childhood. Now her closest, coolest, wildest friends were drifting away from the place which had become their stomping ground and her home. She holed up at the Tropicana with a spiralling cocaine habit.

    .

    So, I don't know. What do you guys think?

    .

    Although the rest of the song may be a straightforward, perhaps imaginary, story of tragic loss, the last verse is surely about what a bereaved mother must face in attempting to cope with all that heartbreak whilst nurturing a child.

    .

    The model planes of our youth also tended to be replicas of war planes; children of my generation and earlier were fascinated by war — WWII, Vietnam, all that mechanised destruction.

    .

    So, for this left-behind mother, perhaps, there are fond memories — the protective, life-nurturing "wings" of love (perhaps, for Rickie also, the freedom and nourishment offered by music's "wings"); hope for the future. How to maintain those, when confronted with your son, already climbing trees, toying with flying instruments of death? How to keep the skeletons in the closet, focus on the child's need for protection, freedom, growth and love, stay positive?

    .

    The album's solution is only temporary — a blazing night out with Woody and Dutch.

    [Edit: ]
    EricMCon September 10, 2023   Link

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