"Montezuma" as written by Ralf Stemmann and Michael Holm....
So now I am older
Than my mother and father
When they had their daughter
Now what does that say about me?
Oh, how could I dream of
Such a selfless and true love
Could I wash my hands of
Just looking out for me

Oh man, what I used to be
Oh man, oh my, oh me
Oh man, what I used to be
Oh man, oh my, oh me

In dearth or in excess
Both the slave and the empress
Will return to the dirt, I guess
Naked as when they came
I wonder if I'll see
Any faces above me
Or just cracks in the ceiling
Nobody else to blame

Oh man, what I used to be
Oh man, oh my, oh me
Oh man, what I used to be
Oh man, oh my, oh me

Gold teeth and gold jewelry
Every piece of your dowry
Throw them into the tomb with me
Bury them with my name
Unless I have someday
Ran my wandering mind away

Oh man, what I used to be
Montezuma to Tripoli
Oh man, oh my, oh me

Lyrics submitted by rockisgroovy, edited by Rannoch

"Montezuma" as written by Robin Noel Pecknold

Lyrics © Kobalt Music Publishing Ltd.

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Montezuma song meanings
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  • +18
    General CommentFirst of all I just want to say that I've been visiting this website quite often for a long time now, yet this is the first I actually create a user and post a comment. I think it has a lot to do with how stunningly beautiful this song is.

    On to the song itself… this is going to be quite long detailed, but it might be worth it :)
    I think the lyrics are about growing up and realizing what's really important in life. The speaker is reflecting back on 'what he used to be' from a new perspective.

    "So now I am older than my mother and father when they had their daughter.
    Now what does that say about me?"

    He starts by posing a question - now that I've reached the age where my parents already had a child, what does that mean? I am no longer a child myself, being taken care of constantly and free to be completely selfish and self centered. I am in the next phase of my life.

    "Oh how could I dream of such a selfless and true love
    Could I wash my hands of just looking out for me?"

    In direct relation to the previous line, the selfless and true love is that of a parent to his or her child - changing our priorities and truly putting someone else above ourselves — but it also pertains to any ideal of unconditional love. The speaker is asking himself if he can even dream of something so noble and pure at this point of his life, and wonders if he could actually change his ways: 'wash his hands' of being selfish and thinking only of himself.

    "Oh man what I used to be Oh man oh my oh me"

    This is such a simple line yet it has so much depth and emotion in the context of the song and its melody. We've all said this to ourselves before in one way or another when thinking about our past, especially our childhood. The speaker is evolving and maturing, and from this new perspective he can look back on what he used to be with this beautiful mix of sorrow, compassion and longing that I get when I listen to this tune.

    "In dearth or in excess
    Both the slave and the empress will return to the dirt I guess
    Naked as when they came"

    Beyond any ego, material possessions, wealth or status (as exemplified by the comparison of an empress to a slave) - we all leave this world just as we came into it, naked and without anything at all. He is realizing that his endless pursuit after these things is meaningless and empty.
    What is important then? Here it comes:

    "I wonder if I'll see any faces above me or just cracks in the ceiling
    Nobody else to blame"

    When it's our time to die and leave this world, will we be surrounded by our loved ones or will we be staring at the ceiling all alone? The answer to this question is totally up to you and how you live your life, hence there is 'nobody else to blame'. This is just as relevant to the empress as it is to the slave, and all the money in the world can't change that.

    "Gold teeth and gold jewelry, every piece of your dowry
    Throw them into the tomb with me, bury them with my name
    Unless i have someday ran my wandering mind away"

    This part is a bit trickier. I take it almost as a confession, showing how he is still very connected to his ego: wealth (gold teeth and jewelry), selfish love (symbolized by the dowry, the 'price' of a bride, unlike the priceless, selfless love in which there is nothing specific to gain) and his status or reputation in the eyes of society, his 'name'.
    He wants all of these things to be buried with him, unable to let them go even when he dies and they become of no use. This is beautifully contrasting his earlier realizations, and shows how he is still unable to actually live by them... unless he will someday ‘run his wandering mind way’.
    To me that means silencing the voice in your head that is never satisfied, that constantly wants more and always wanders off instead of being present and grateful in the moment.
    We're almost done now when this line totally throws me off:

    "Oh man what i used to be
    Montezuma to Tripoli"

    As far as I understand this is reference to the "Marines' Hymn", the official hymn of the United States Marine Corps. In the original piece the line goes:

    "From the Halls of Montezuma to the shores of Tripoli
    We fight our country's battles in the air, on land, and sea"

    I see it delivering a double punch: the first is a metaphor for the entire process the song talks about in the form of a battle. The Halls of Montezuma represent his current self-centered state of being and the shores of Tripoli are the promised land of unconditional, selfless love. He is fighting the battle, so to speak, of conquering himself.
    A second meaning could be that the song serves both as a personal account and a political one, where that same process is relevant for the US as a nation: ‘washing its hands’ of looking out only for itself and realizing that it's not as important if you're the emperor or the slave as it is that you are good to others, to the world at large.

    I would love to hear your guys' opinions on this line, as it's quite open ended. Personally, as far as the impact and meaning the song holds for me go, I choose to basically disregard whatever political aspects and stay with the soulful, spiritual and intimate confession of a man.

    That’s it for now. Congratulations for making it this far!
    Have a beautiful day and don't forget to smile :)
    Maitenon April 13, 2011   Link
  • +5
    My InterpretationI too find this song to be an introspective exploration on the meaning of one's life where the consequence of one's selfishness is realized and debated.

    My only modification to the interpretation would be to re-think what is going on in the 6th verse

    Gold teeth and gold jewelry
    every piece of your dowry
    throw them into the tomb with me
    bury them with my name

    I think in this verse he is pleading with the rest of the world, with all of society, to throw away its selfish habits with him when he passes. Asking that he would be the last to have to suffer with these lonely realizations.

    Really sets the mood for the rest of the album, no?
    poetogethron August 06, 2012   Link
  • +4
    General Comment"Endure foreign excess" = "In dearth or in excess"
    mrtscon March 28, 2011   Link
  • +2
    General Commenti love how no one comments except to correct everything, which is okay, but seriously, this is song meanings lets delve into some meaning.

    i think it's pretty clear that this is about the USA. how we've outgrown the european way of life and really changed the world with out american ideology. we have a dream that is just and good but it is hardly ever realized anymore.

    i think the part about foreign excess is from his point of view. since america is the queen of excess, the foreign part is every other person who lives excessively and he shall endure it as he sees it making slaves of people and he hopes to return to an agrarian way of life. he and all people who think similarly.

    there's the possibility of regaining honor and prestige for our nation (the faces on murals on church ceilings) and it's also possible that it will continue to deteriorate away and form cracks. and whatever happens it will be due to the people of america, whether they work to redeem it or do nothing.

    but it's probable the latter will happen, and in the process people will lose everything. and the people in power will take it all with them to their graves, and they will also take all the good that america once stood for.

    unless of course the "wandering mind" of america is run away and it gets its shit together.

    the montezuma to tripoli put me on this train of thought, and although its pessimistic, i think the song supports it and its also pretty realistic. thoughts? comments?
    Spartan3500on March 31, 2011   Link
  • +1
    General Comment"i wonder if I'll see any faces above me
    or just cracks in the ceiling
    nobody else to blame"

    when i first heard these lines, i immediately thought of heaven. questioning if it exists at all.

    this songs resonates with me as just a reflection of how he used to be and how he is now, whether that is good or bad. just a change. ive often reflected on my life and have been in awe of all that has happened - the good the bad the mediocre, and questioned what is before me.
    rockisgroovyon April 09, 2011   Link
  • +1
    General CommentThis is introspective, about life and time, love and pleasure and passion, and the eventuality of death. It's a musing on the finite and tragic. I really think that Robin is a bit too developed to be commenting on current or political events. If anything, this is about politics in the ancient sense. That is, people of this and that kind, with our differences and our similarities. How do we live together? From Montezuma to Tripoli, we're all temporary, confined to something or someone, prisoners to time and place. I think there's a kind of idealistic hope here too.
    aristopheron May 07, 2011   Link
  • +1
    General CommentWow this song gives me goosebumps. It's amazing.
    ripitupon May 13, 2011   Link
  • +1
    General CommentThis song represents exactly why Fleet Foxes is one of my favorite groups. Robin's lyrics are prolific poetry, coaxing the listener to slowly chew on the words for a while...

    That being said, I believe Robin was commenting on the selfish nature of both man and society in today's world. Technology has led us to this narcistic place, but in the end we still end up in the earth the same way as our ancestors.
    patticakeson September 17, 2011   Link
  • +1
    General CommentCome on people! This band has said time after time that they try to provoke feeling and images rather than hiding cryptic and unnecessary lyrics in their songs. Usually, the simplest interpretation is spot on with their songs.

    This song is about death. He's saying he's older than his mother and father when they loved each other and had a child, an obvious declaration that he's still alone. The next verse simply says that he's selfish in the way that he looks out for himself, and doesn't need a girl to over complicate his life, or for him to fall hard for a girl and get his heart broken. The next verse is saying we all die, rich or poor, and he wonders if he'll see his loved ones looking over him when he dies or if he'll be alone simply staring at the ceiling. The next verse he states he wants to be buried with his wealth, unless "he has someday ran my wandering away" meaning he settles down and finally has a significant other or children to pass those belongings to.

    Dont over complicate it with retarded comparisons so some random movie you watched when you were ten, or some book that you just finished reading and want to brag about, bringing the illusion you're well read. You dont understand music if you do.
    ItsAMouthfulon March 05, 2012   Link
  • +1
    Song ComparisonAs in tiger mountain peasant song, Robin includes a few lines about being afraid of dying alone. In Tiger Mountain Peasant Song it was the line, "Staggering through premonitions of my death, I don't see anybody that dear to me". In this it's, "I wonder if I'll see any faces above me, or just cracks in the ceiling". I think this is reflected in a lot of his music; not being loved by anyone in the end.
    dingbobberon October 15, 2012   Link

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