Many a hand has scaled the grand old face of the plateau
Some belong to strangers, and some to folks you know
Holy ghosts and talk show hosts are planted in the sand
To beautify the foothills, and shake the many hands

Nothing on the top but a bucket and a mop
And an illustrated book about birds
You see a lot up there but don't be scared
Who needs action when you got words

When you've finished with the mop, then you can stop
And look at what you've done
The plateau's clean, no dirt to be seen
And the work, it was fun

Nothing on the top but a bucket and a mop
And an illustrated book about birds
You see a lot up there but don't be scared
Who needs action when you got words

Many hands began to scan around for the next plateau
Some said it was Greenland, and some say Mexico
Others decided it was nowhere except for where they stood
But those were all just guesses
Wouldn't help you if they could

Lyrics submitted by bonj

"Plateau" as written by C. Kirkwood


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Plateau song meanings
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  • +7
    General Commenthey, um dmbfan14, this song wasn't written by kurt. it's by the meat puppets. it's still a really good song though
    MrSkaPunkon May 11, 2002   Link
  • +7
    General CommentI'm not too sure what it means myself, but if I had to take a guess, I'd say this song is about personal moral/spiritual cleansing.

    I think the plateau symbolizes inner peace or attaining personal salvation, but not the type of salvation that an organized religion aims for (i.e. heaven) with the holy ghosts (blind acceptance of religion) and talk show hosts (people trying to convince others to believe in something new and possibly immoral) as obstacles to salvation. When it comes to the bucket and the mop, I feel they are just the tools one would use to cleanse themselves through attonement. Two lines later, the writer admits that this process is hard and scary, but if you can convince yourself that what you've done is ok or that you regret what you've done, you'll be in good shape for salvation.

    The last stanza can kinda go along with this idea as other people who have seen what you have achieved yourself will start looking for their own places for salvation with some being successful and realizing that salvation can occur no matter where you are as it's more of a mental/spiritual thing that a physical one while others will be unsuccessful thinking that the process is totally physical (those looking in Mexico or Greenland).

    But hey, this is just a thought since I can't come up with meanings for all the metaphors including the book about birds (images in the person's mind of others who have achieved the salvation they're trying for?). No matter what it means though, this song owns.
    IntoTheAsheson July 08, 2002   Link
  • +6
    General Commentthe plateau is happiness, whatever people desire. everyone scales it, but they disagree on what it is. its different for every person, and once youre up there. its not as good as you thought
    gunsnroses74on April 11, 2005   Link
  • +6
    General CommentThe selfish cowardice and insatiable desire for mediocre achievement that humans possess causes a regression to a flat social mean. This song expresses this.

    This song is about the middle class. The middle class is the social plateau, or flat middle ground of life. Holy ghost and talkshow hosts chaperon people on their way to mediocrity. What are probably the tow most prominent influences in a middle class life? I would guess religion and television. Who needs action when you've got words points out complacency when it comes to taken action to solve/read your problems/aspirations. Instead, of doing something we clean it up with a bucket and a mop. The illustrated book about birds tells of the vain attempts to acquire useless knowledge to impress the other lifeless souls on the plateau. Go into many average middle class homes and you can find an illustrated book about birds sitting on a bookshelf(my grandparents and my father come to mind). It's a depressing song because its a true warning of where average aimed, structured aspirations(wife and kids, house and a yard, median salary) take us. Once we begin to realize the mundane life we lead we search for the next plateau(midlife crisis).

    InfiniteDefiniteon April 27, 2009   Link
  • +3
    General Commenti think this song is about fame and fortune.... it seems great until you're there
    el scorcho9on October 06, 2002   Link
  • +3
    General CommentI think I get this one. I had to think about it for awhile but I finally got it. I think you guys read too much into Kurt's lyrics (or in this case, the Meat Puppet's lyrics). I think it just represents trying too hard and getting nothing out of it. He says when he gets to the top of the platea, all he finds is a bucket in a mop. I think this symbolizes the same old routine, nothing better than the last plateau he was just on. Then he hears about some other plateau (greenland, mexico) that he can climb to to find something else better than this, although he seems to enjoy it (he sounds satisfied with his work mopping the plateau).

    What this means to me personally is about moving to different places to try to find something better. You get bored with your life and job (mopping) on top of your plateau (the city or town you live in) and you heard about a plateua that could be nicer. You go and climb the next plateua, struggling to get to the top and all you find is the same mop that was on the last plateua, nothing being all that better.

    The only difference with my feelings about this is the narator seems to be happy with this and mops the whole plateau (doing the same job as before).
    DuncanIdahoTPFon June 18, 2004   Link
  • +2
    General Commentawesome song....the whole unplugged album rocks
    incubus421on June 30, 2002   Link
  • +2
    My InterpretationPLATEAU - my interpretation

    I'm going to take the approach of understanding poetry which uses four categories or lenses, if you like, for interpretation: Plain sense, tone, feeling, and intention.

    PLAIN SENSE: Beginning with the title "Plateau", a plateau is not a mountain peak nor is it necessarily that high. It is quite high. It also means a state of little or no change. This meaning is more negative. However, it is possible that the writer, having grown up in Phoenix, Arizona, may have had the spectacular rocks and plateaus in Monument Valley in mind.

    Verse 1: The use of "hand" instead of person is intriguing. A hand can mean a low level worker, i.e. Not someone important but an ordinary Joe like you or me. "has scaled", obviously means has climbed. It has an added meaning of has weighed or measured. I can not help recalling the land surveyor, K. in Kafka's "The Castle" and his arduous and unsuccessful attempts to scale The Castle and meet the mysterious, authoritative, pre-eminent but unreachable official, Klamm, which in Czech significantly means illusion. "The grand old face of the plateau" is clearly positive and expresses admiration and sounds like a challenge. The similarities with Kafka's unfinished novel are considerable and very interesting.

    The other references e.g. "Holy ghosts and talk show hosts are planted in the sand / to beautify the foothills and shake the many hands", must all be referential, all symbolic, and refer to the illusions of religion, and television. These illusions are unstable (you can't build on sand), temporal (sands of time), shallow (not much grows in sand), cosmetic, decorative, entertaining, distracting but also gratifying.

    Verse 2 and chorus: "A bucket and a mop" are clearly for cleaning, but for cleaning what? And why is there nothing else on the top? Again, this must be symbolic, so cleansing might be a more appropriate interpretation and that might be connected to the idea of the soul. The "Illustrated book about birds" might be some kind of guide (like for example a bible) to help understand the world maybe as it is. But why "don't be scared? Hitchcock's film "The Birds" comes to mind but it does not make sense here, especially if we are talking emblematically. It might refer to there being too much information which is too complex and we will never understand what we are doing here. Birds are the largest living tetrapod species numbering about ten thousand. However, birds are also a symbol of the souls of the dead. In this case, "don't be scared" might be a very oblique reference to the fear of death.

    "Who needs action when you got words". What is this? Is it an observation or a criticism. A reference to complacency, a reference to freedom or ideals etc all being a dead letter? The state of being so caught up in discussions, thoughts and talk that we do not act any more? There seems to be strong irony here. It might refer to personal life, society or even politics. More in general, who can deny that some important things are just never done.

    Verse 3: "finished with the mop then you can stop... and the work it was fun", refers to rest and satisfaction from some kind of useful action, however simple, however commonplace and unglamorous. Nothing is hard if done willingly, it can even be enjoyable to do something that is useful.

    Verse 4 (last verse): again, "many a hand scanning around looking for the next plateau". Sense of restlessness of dissatisfaction, a search for new challenges, other avenues of research or perhaps, a wish to colonise new places. "However, others decided it was nowhere except for where they stood". Some people prefer to look into themselves, look at consciousness for the answers and consider agitation and change useless or counter productive.

    "Those were all just guesses, wouldn't help you if they could" seems to refer to the impossibility of really getting to the bottom of the sense of things.

    TONE Here this is conveyed by the music, especially the beat, which is plodding and hypnotic. This gives a sense of relentlessness, labour, hard work, drudgery.

    FEELING is communicated perhaps more by Kurt Cobain's voice which becomes very emotional, intense, desperate almost hysterical in the chorus. The feeling conveyed by his singing of the words is existential, surreal, agonised, heart-wrenching. It would be almost absurd unless he is singing about something of vital importance, a question of life or death.

    Cobain's voice with its high-pitched intensity in the chorus conveys disbelief and anguish. That is, after all the hard work of scaling the plateau what is found on top is so banal, so confusing, so unsatisfying. The voice returns to its normal pitch in the following verse when the work has been done and satisfaction is expressed.

    INTENTION: Given the amount of symbolism in the words, the intention of the song must be to wish to explain reality and interpret life. Is it a search for inner peace, salvation, knowledge, ideals, understanding, meaning, or perhaps even just a wish to get high? The latter is extremely unlikely because there are just too many symbols. The Plateau of the title now perhaps symbolises ideals, or at least something higher and more meaningful than the surrounding desert or foothills, something beyond the everyday, the mundane.

    Is all we can expect from life practical work, the need and the chance to maintain some order and cleanliness in our personal lives, in society? Is that all there is in the end, practicalities and some management? Is that life's lesson looking down at things from up above? Probably!

    Sergio Savioli
    Seron January 26, 2017   Link
  • +1
    General Commenti believe any song will mean different things to different people and no one is wrong because they can provide answers or meanings in any context to any one at any time or cirumstance.
    this is how i interpret it now its kinda shakey but hte best i can do for this un usual but absolutely brilliant song. I believe that the plateau can be representing a higher level of understanding of our selves, a higher sense of clarity or mind and clarity of soul. Hopefully this will be justifies in my pick session :P

    Many a hand has scaled the grand old face of the plateau Some belong to strangers and some to folks you know.

    i take this section as alot of people are trying to feel their way or searching for something of great valuable or of supreme value to us all because of the "GRAND OLD FACE" this can be seen as old and valuable on a higher level. This being the higher level of clarity and understanding whether it be religion, knowledge, self respect, human morals so on so forth.

    "many a hand scaled" they are searching blindly, not sure what they are looking for, but they are looking closly because they are "scaling" the plateau.
    and these people are among us because they are strangers and folks we know, so secretive and confidential could be anyone and everyone but they are plentiful in numbers. Adding to this I believe they are favoring that not everyone found what they was searching for.

    Holy ghosts and talk show hosts are planted in the sand
    To beautify the foothills and shake the many hands

    i believe this section is refering to the many commercial bodies and religious bodies that have found this "plateau" or are aware of it, because they are "planted in the sand" they werent orignally there they were planted and they arent going any where. The fact that they are in sand shows that they are not supposed to be there, you don’t generally plant in sand but soil.

    To beautify the foot hills tips me off that they are not on top of the plateau but at the very base of understanding or the foot hills of the plateau, and to beautify shows they are altering the image of the appearance of this plateau to pretty it up and decorate it, tweaking the truth a bit. Also keeping in mind that to beautify is a personal taste and religious and commercial bodies are beautifying the foot hills and using the plateau as the attraction. This gives a hint of confusion because religion and business in essence search for different things but yet they’re are planted together.
    Shaking the many hands gives a hint of introduction, meeting, greeting because a hand shake is traditionally used as an agreement between human beings, whether it be an agreement of greeting or communication. So they are greeting and people are agreeing with their beautification.

    Nothing on the top but a bucket and a mop And an illustrated book about birds
    You see a lot up there but don't be scared Who needs action when you got words

    A different voice (kurt) comes in and presents the chorus, which gives a hint of a different point of view, and uses more direct and less presumption language and is telling us something directly maybe a clarified voice. There is nothing on the top but a bucket and the mop, I interpret this as the means of those who make it their to clean the plateau and keep it clean unlike the foot hills or they may find themselves in a position to clean. So this may be keep the clarity of mind to reach that plateau and don’t be scrambled by the many different opinions out their search your own truth and be true.

    the illustrated book about birds, this is a good one but I believe it to be this, its hard work to reach that plateau its an up hill run all the way till you reach that soft smooth plain where the hard work is done and you have reached your goal. The illustrated book about birds is only needed if you need pictures to see the animal, and you only want to see it in the book if you are searching for it in reality right, and birds is a relaxing past time for a lot of people, so I believe it mean that once you have reached that plateau, that smooth soft point, you can reap the benefits of your or journey and that higher level of clarity you find guidance. And a bird is a free roaming creature, you can start observing the paths and things you couldn’t before because of your new found guidance (clarity of mind)

    You see a lot up there but don’t be scared, Who needs actions when you got words

    This is a difficult one I work out too. I believe this, men fear the unknown, and this plateau is strange to us and through this clarity we see a lot of things that we didn’t know existed before, and suddenly we are aware of it. So he this alter clarified voice is saying don’t be scared you might not be able to act on these new truths but you now have the words ( and with words TRUE words comes knowledge)and the knowledge of these things to understand them enough to not fear them.

    When you've finished with the mop then you can stop And look at what you've done
    The plateau's clean, no dirt to be seen And the work it took was fun

    So when you have finished with the cleansing of mind, or clarity of soul you can observe and go over what you have done, re-evaluate your situation, check that the jobs is done. When the you see that you have thoroughly cleansed your mind and soul and clarity is reached you have true feeling of relief thus the fun a happy positive response to your journey. This stanza is a post evaluation of ones self after the tasks have been completed and an appreciation of the path and the “plateau” this calm mellow state of clarity.

    Many a hands began to scan around for the next plateau Some said it was in Greenland and some in Mexico
    Others decided it was nowhere except for where they stood Those were all just guesses, wouldn't help you if they could

    I believe this to be those who have find that higher level of clarity, some begin to search for the next level of clarity and they are searching in a place far from the original plateau I believe this because they name places which are countries stating a great distance from the current plateau. Maybe a higher sense clarity people better themselves once they have reached that goal and look for a different plateau to fulfill and reach and others find peace at where they are and believe that this is the only plateau to be found.

    Then it states those were all just guesses, wouldn’t help you if they could, this shows uncertainty and shows me that as high as we go as cleansed and clarified as we think we can be their will always be something we don’t know and more then likely wont reach thus the wouldn’t help you if they could. There is always some where to go there is no end to life there is always a path to find and always choices. You just might have to find it yourself and not rely on third party help to get there. Make the effort your self, reap rewards of your own effort, might be hard work to reach your goals, but in the end its worth it. The hardest things achieved are the most beneficial.

    Well guys this is my opinion of the song and as I said every one gets their own out of a song and seeks their own meaning, and I believe my interpretation can cover all the different opinions brought up here and reinforce their value.

    Any opinions guys cause I am very keen on feed back.
    genkwanon October 12, 2005   Link
  • +1
    General CommentI dont wanna know abt meaning of this song........
    Its a special song........
    I like the line
    nothing on the top but a bucket and a mop
    And an illustrated book about birds
    See a lot up there but don't be scared
    Who needs action when you got words
    kalpanaon June 13, 2009   Link

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