I recall when I was small
How I spent my days alone
The busy world was not for me
So I went and found my own
I would climb the garden wall
With a candle in my hand
I'd hide inside a hall of rock and sand
On the stone an ancient hand
In a faded yellow-green
Made alive a worldly wonder
Often told but never seen
Now and ever bound to labor
On the sea and in the sky
Every man and beast appeared
A friend as real as I

Before the fall when they wrote it on the wall
When there wasn't even any Hollywood
They heard the call
And they wrote it on the wall
For you and me we understood

Can it be this sad design
Could be the very same
A wooly man without a face
And a beast without a name
Nothin' here but history
Can you see what has been done
Memory rush over me
Now I step into the sun


Lyrics submitted by Nightvoice

"The Caves of Altamira" as written by Walter Carl Becker Donald Jay Fagen

Lyrics © Universal Music Publishing Group

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The Caves of Altamira song meanings
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  • +2
    General CommentI think this song is really about art. Specifically about how art has changed through the millenia. The song is about a man reminiscing over a secret spot he would visit as a boy. He was awed and impressed by cave drawings he saw there. We flash to a modern day art gallery where the man is viewing works of "a woolly man without a face and a beast without a name"; a postmodern take on those classic cave drawings. The art of the cave had a real power and connection to the viewer that the modern work lacks. The cave artist created because he had to, it wasn't some "cool" thing to do, it was much deeper than that; he heard the call and he put it on the wall.
    "For you and me we understood"-it is an art that we can all realate to on an almost visceral level, not some highbrow concept laden bullshit that you need years of art history scholarship and modern art savvy to understand.
    My favorite line is, "Could it be this sad design could be the very same?" The viewer can't believe what passes for art these days and how far removed it is from those early primeval sketches.
    Sleepy LaBeefon January 16, 2008   Link
  • +2
    General CommentThis song is about early man's call to be creative and expressive. He talks how early in life he recognizes that "Busy world was not for me so I went & found my own", his imagination was sparked in his solitude studying , reading IMAGINING CREATING. The story of the Caves of Altamira, cave dwelling paintings by Neanderthals in Spain "BEFORE THE FALL WHEN THEY WROTE IT ON THE WALL WHEN THERE WASN'T EVEN A HOLLYWOOD THEY HEARD THE CALL"... He answered his creative call.
    joeo78501on April 27, 2009   Link
  • +2
    General CommentFor a while I was confused about the seeming contradiction between "wasn't even any Hollywood", implying he thinks Hollywood is a good thing, and "before the fall" implying the opposite.

    What I just now figured out is that he's contrasting art done for its own sake, before the fall, and art done for profit, Hollywood.

    In the last verse he's pointing out that the quality of the Hollywood stuff is often better, at least from a craft point of view. But the tone of the rest of the song - even the fact the song exists at all - suggests that the shiny hollywood-quality art isn't all that matters.
    DanFan1625on January 21, 2018   Link
  • +1
    General CommentProbably the most off-the-wall thing anyone ever wrote a song about: cave paintings. Altamira is the site of the oldest known cave paintings. This song does a nice job of describing the feeling of seeing written communications from thousands of years ago.
    Nightvoiceon December 20, 2007   Link
  • +1
    General CommentSuch a fantastic horn arrangement in this song. The bit at the end of each chorus reminds me of a phrase from composer Jean Langlais' "Te Deum".

    The lyrics surprise me because they're relatively cynicism-free.
    ErikRobsonon December 30, 2007   Link
  • +1
    General CommentThis song is about a child's imigination(possible Fagen's when he was a youngster)
    kamakiriadon February 15, 2008   Link
  • +1
    General CommentFagan is using the Cave Paintings or Altamira as a metaphor for youth/ ancient man vs. adulthood/ modern man.

    A young child in verse one - so young he didn't even know of the marvels of Hollywood movies - spent his time and imagination drawing pictures on the rocks with what is probably a crayon.

    When he goes back as an adult he looks at the lost treasures of his young creation as 'sad designs'. But the memories rush upon him unexpectedly - like an physical reaction.

    The chorus pulls it together - 'They heard the call and wrote it on the wall'. Who are 'They'? Prehistoric mankind? The children we were and are inside us? What "they wrote on the wall" conveys man's need to create and document his world around him. Or - as some anthropologist's could argue - the images that pop inside your head after being in a dark cave for a while. There is a connection between ancient and modern man that is made in art. That is Fagen's point. It's 'understood'.

    Stepping into the sun is the movement into adulthood, the modern age.

    bobcatclayon March 29, 2010   Link
  • +1
    General CommentThis one has been bugging me so I'll give it a shot:

    Fagen and Becker have a history of simplifying their explanations like most artists.

    You've got three verses and the final one is extremely complex to figure out.

    The first verse he talks about going into the cave as a kid. He's exploring doing what kids do.

    The second verse he talks about the cave paintings he found.

    The verse explains they were written because they were aware of their mortality and they wrote it for us to see and for us to understand them.

    The last verse he has visited the cave as an adult and he is the cave paintings. He's aware of his mortality. He's become them. Now I step out in the sun he leaves the cave.
    bkabbotton December 19, 2013   Link
  • +1
    Song MeaningI actually recently was able to listen to a very early recording of this on the Android Warehouse (The Early Years) CD. It turns out that there's another verse that never made it into the song as we know it, I've transcribed it below:

    Many years had come and gone,
    and many miles between.
    Through it all, I found my way
    by the light of what I'd seen.
    On the road as I returned
    was a green and yellow sign,
    saying "See the way it used to be",
    and I took my place in line.

    This verse is before the very last one ('Can it be...'), and makes the song's meaning take a different shape, in my opinion. I think it becomes about the loss of innocence of childhood and how things change as we age... but feel free to make your own meanings of it. I just thought it was amazing to hear another complete verse and had to share it with everyone.
    nisrochon April 20, 2011   Link
  • +1
    General CommentAltamira (Spanish for 'high views') is a cave in Spain famous for its Upper Paleolithic cave paintings featuring drawings and polychrome rock paintings of wild mammals and human hands.

    The Altamira cave, now famous for its unique collection of prehistoric art, was well known to local people, but had not been given much attention until in 1868 it was "discovered" by the hunter Modesto Peres.

    Marcelino de Sautuola then started exploring the caves in 1875. He did however not become aware of the paintings until 1879, when his daughter Maria, nine years old at the time, incidentally noticed that the ceiling was covered by images of bison. Sautuola, having seen similar images engraved on Paleolithic objects displayed at the World Exposition in Paris the year before, rightly assumed that also the paintings might be dating from the stone-age. He therefore engaged an archaeologist from the University of Madrid to help him in his further work. (wiki)
    truegriton June 26, 2012   Link

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