"No Way Down" as written by and James Mercer....
Meet the son of a government man
And a pillar of salt
I was born with blood on my hands
And have all the signs of a bleeding heart

Living high on a giant hawk
On a mountain so steep
Keep your head in a hollow log
As the ruling fog are about to creep

What have we done?
How'd we get so far from the sun?
Lost, lost in an oscillating phase
Where a tiny few catch all of the rays

Out beyond the western squalls
In an Indian land
They work for nothing at all
They don't know the mall or the layaway plan

Dig yourself a beautiful grave
Everything you could want
Maybe those invisible slaves
Are too far away for a ghost to haunt

What do we charge?
Letting go of a claim so large
Oh, all of our working days are done
But a tiny few are having all of the fun

Get used to the dust in your lungs

Is there no way down
From this peak to solid ground
Without having our gold teeth
Pulled from our mouth

Make me a drink strong enough
To wash away this dishwater world they said was lemonade
Walk with me after the show
Maybe we can find a way through the minefield in the snow

What are they charged?
Letting go of a claim so large
Oh, all of our working days are done
But a tiny few are having all of the fun

Apologies to the sick and the young
Get used to the dust in your lungs


Lyrics submitted by llscience

"No Way Down" as written by James Mercer

Lyrics © Universal Music Publishing Group

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No Way Down song meanings
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  • +7
    My InterpretationBecause James Mercer is such a brilliant lyricist, it would be too easy to call this song a generic anti 1% rant. This song is a critique of the occupy movement itself. The lyrics are from the point of view of a young 1%er who identifies with the 99%, but can't figure out a way to fix the situation. "I was born with blood on my hands And have all the signs of a bleeding heart" is an obvious reference to so called "liberal guilt."
    The "out beyond the western squalls" line is a reference to the fact that even the poorest people in America are often times much better off than the average person in other parts of the world. The protagonist is pointing this out as a way of trying to lessen his guilt.
    The protagonist in the story changes his mind several times during the song because he can't quite get his head around the fact that while he sees the problem and wants to help, he is also afraid of what will happen to him as referenced in the line:
    "Is there no way down
    From this peak to solid ground
    Without having our gold teeth
    Pulled from our mouths?"

    He is expressing his fear of those who seek to balance the disparity by taking from those that have and giving to those that don't. He's asking if there is a way to help the situation, a "way down from this peak" without having everything taken from him.

    "What will they charge?
    Letting go of a claim so large
    Oh, all of our working days are done
    But a tiny few are having all of the fun.
    Apologies to the sick and the young
    Get used to the dust in your lungs"

    "what will they charge?" meaning how much will they take from us, in the end, the narrator decides that it just isn't worth the risk to his way of life and wants to maintain the status quo. While he still feels guilty about what this means for people at the bottom ("apologies to the sick and the young"), he won't risk having everything taken from him to assuage that guilt.

    I think what Mercer is trying to say here, in putting himself in the shoes of a 1%er, is that not all of them are greedy or evil, a lot of them are just scared. "Wouldn't you be?" Mercer seems to be asking, if there were thousands in the streets screaming that you have too much and they have too little? It seems like Mercer is pleading with people to calm down and talk instead of screaming because nothing will get fixed without cooperation by both sides.
    Shinsplinton March 22, 2012   Link
  • +3
    My InterpretationAs others have noted, "blood on my hands" and "bleeding heart" refer to the classic liberal guilt that often plagues those who are raised in a privelaged class as they mature and grow to discover a broad perspective of economic imbalance.

    References to the steep mountain where "only a few" soak up the rays and have all the fun is a clear allusions to the economic mountain that the poor and working class spend their entire lives attempting to ascend, usually unsuccessfully. The "giant hog" is a symbol of wealth and gluttony.

    The "oscillating phase" refers to the never ending political battles. The pendulum swings back and forth between the the parties, but the people are "lost" in the osscollation while the elite continue to soak up the rays. "How'd we get so far from the sun" put another way would ask "How did the economic gap become so large?" Not just in America but on a global scale.

    The "alien land beyond the western squalls" refers to third world countries where laborers "work for nothing at all". They aren't privy to Western faux luxaries like "malls or the lawaway plan" that afford Americans the capacity to purchase "everything you could want". The "beautiful grave" is the debt we dig ourslves into so that we can posses these beautiful things on the backs of "invisible slaves" who "are too far away for a ghost to haunt", in other words, too far away for us to really think or care about, so we aren't "haunted" by the ghosts of those exploited workers.

    "What will we charge? Letting go of a claim so large" implies that the we won't let go of our cushy lives so easily and the speaker considers the "charge" of being displaced: possibly bloodshed and violence. "All our working days are done, but a tiny few are having all the fun" references working class retirees who have reached the end of their working days but haven't built up enough wealth during their lifetimes to truly enjoy their golden years.

    "Get used to the dust in your lungs" is a summarizing sentiment that doesn't just refer to pollution, but also to a broader message that implies "you have no choice but to deal with the consequences of those in power", pollution being only one consequence of such.

    "Is there no way down from this peak to solid ground, without having our gold teeth pulled from our mouths?" contemplates if enough resources exist for huge emerging economies (like China) while still leaving us with the luxaries we enjoy today.

    "Make me a drink strong enough to wash away this dishwater world they said was lemonade" is a submission to the reality that the world isn't the pretty picture that we're told, but its easier to indulge in distractions and luxaries rather than live with the nasty taste of reality in our mouths.

    Quality lyrics on this track, great CD.
    vectorpushon April 26, 2012   Link
  • +1
    General CommentAn initial interpretation after only listening to the song twice;

    I would say it's about the western world and it's delusions. "We" come up with different rules. Invisible slaves (mortgages, loans etc) leaving only a few having all of the fun in the end. Is there no way down? Can't we find a way to see what really is without having to pull out gold teeth out? Find compassion and still keep our way of living.

    * "What have we done?
    * How'd we get so far from the sun?
    * Lost, lost in an oscillating phase
    * Where a tiny few catch all of the rays"

    "Out beyond the western squalls" it's different. (Buddhism).
    Mimiron March 16, 2012   Link
  • +1
    General Comment“I read an article–I forget where, exactly–but it was just basically about how in the United States we used to manufacture a lot of stuff, like a lot of the microphones that I buy on eBay because they’re good, high-quality microphones, but they’re old. Nobody makes them anymore because we don’t make anything, basically. So it was about that issue, and it was about the argument that they were making. It was that big-money interests that lobbied to have free trade with Asia. So we were able to buy goods made in countries that had no respect for civil rights, and the relationships with the unions [in this country] could finally be skirted around and we could end that. So now we’re in the situation today where you cannot make a living, basically. We used to make every fucking thing we used, and we lost all that. Fucked the country, saved their asses, fucked the whole economy.”

    magnetmagazine.com/2012/03/26/magnet-web-exclusive-the-shins-james-mercer-on-the-new-port-of-morrow/
    llscienceon April 24, 2012   Link
  • +1
    General CommentI interpret this is as a commentary on the current world we live in. What's all of it all been for? Just so that a few could live well at the expense of the earth, at the expense of most people?
    bakismakion July 27, 2012   Link
  • 0
    General CommentThe decline of an empire on the grounds of environmental destruction and uneven wage scales. I love the disjointed guitar "solo" in the middle. The narrator is jaded with liberal guilt about the situation. His dad being a government man and all and seemingly part of the problem with "the blood on my hands" lyric. His mother turned away or lost her faith perhaps [born of a "pillar of salt"] Imperialism, slave labor, economic inequality, pollution, who is to blame?
    summerteeth99on March 19, 2012   Link
  • 0
    General Comment...more specifically, a big commercial or government land development project is being forced on the indigenous people of wherever that specifically benefits the have's over the have not's.

    "walk with me after the show/ maybe we can find a way through the minefield in the snow"

    --the ramifications of the land development of the indigenous is covered up and unseen by them in most cases but they know it exists.

    I also feel like this is an occupying force. That's why I can't shake the imperialism part of it.
    summerteeth99on March 21, 2012   Link
  • 0
    General CommentShinsplint nailed it. one of the best from the new album, and topical!
    hromon March 22, 2012   Link
  • 0
    General CommentThe pillar of salt could be a reference to the Biblical character of Lot's wife. In Genesis 19, she and Lot are fleeing Sodom, which is being destroyed by divine forces. They are instructed by angels not to look back, but she disobeys and is turned into a pillar of salt.
    treanton March 28, 2012   Link
  • 0
    General CommentThis song is blunter in its lyrical content than many other Mercer tunes. The lyrics point fairly clearly to an unfair balance of power (1% vs 99%), shown by the "tiny few" that "catch all of the rays/have all of the fun". Meanwhile, from the point of view of the 99-percenter "born with blood on (his) hands" the song's point of view seems to be written from, the situation seems to be more dire than those in power seem to recognize ("invisible slaves").
    Floooon April 21, 2012   Link

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