Once upon a time there was a nuclear family,
And we lived in a family time,
And we'd unite in a family way.
And off in the ancient mountain,
They were splitting every nucleus.
They said, "Don't be alarmed,
Just don't try this at home."

And they were the mystery that made the world run
And we had the power, 'cause they were the sun
And we called them our heroes, and the future had come.
They said, "Look at the light we're giving you,
And the darkness we're saving you from."

Soon they were bringing it into our showroom,
And they'd unveil it with it's title,
Bring your family, bring your family,
It's the great unknown.
You can look, but you can't fathom,
It's the Great Unknown.

I'm no ordinary princess,
I was born in the Cold War,
And my team is the Rockets,
Go team, it's a dangerous time
And I dream of the moon and building lunar clone colonies.
And I build my peace with strength,
That's the best weapon you've got.
Oh, I am the brainchild, I am the mortar,
With a plastic trophy and an eating disorder,
And vision as big as a great big wall,
And they tell me that I'll move forward
For the good of us all,
And the good of nuclear families all.

And they think I think I am important.
I know I never was, no, I wasn't.
No, I never, and how could I be?
It's the great unknown.
Now we've built it, now it's ticking,
It's the great unknown.

And I am your children, I am millions
And I wanted to sell out, I wanted to try,
But the sky got too low
And the ocean got too high.
And I tried to take God into my own hands
Am I too late? Is it over?
Have I sacrificed my family to the great unknown?
There's a war between my conscience and the great unknown.

So I walked out into the gamma fields
Out in Mercury, Nevada.
Where I stood in circle,
And that circle started to pray.
And the wind at the nuclear test sites
Floats the data of the radiation.
From the underground testing,
Cross the line, you'll get arrested.
And we came from all over in a silent appeal
As the drill comes down like a presidential seal.
And we stand for the living, and we stand for the dead,
And we looked out to see your enemies,
And we see that you're looking all at us instead.

And you think I am being disruptive?
But no, I'm running home, I'm running,
'Cause I'm trying to put the atom back together.
It's the great unknown.
I'm just trying to put the atom back together.
It's the great unknown.

Lyrics submitted by aur0ra

The Great Unknown Lyrics as written by Elvis Costello

Lyrics © BMG Rights Management

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The Great Unknown song meanings
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  • +1
    General Comment

    This song is about growing up during the development of the atom bomb. It mirrors the changes in society and the splitting of the atom to the changes in families. Divorces are the splitting of the atom; there is no way to "put the atom back together" in an atom bomb, and she feels that there is no way to regain what our society has lost in its marriages. Thinking about how her verses are playing off of each other to create this beautiful analogy has really helped me grow as a writer.

    dartishaon May 20, 2007   Link
  • 0
    General Comment

    putting the atom back together...does she mean the atomic bomb?? didn't they split the atom??

    i like this song. even though i'm not sure exactly what it's about. i think it's amazing.

    cupcake5on June 22, 2006   Link
  • 0
    General Comment

    I think this song is about the double edged sword “advances” in society and technology can be. The most obvious example in the song is nuclear research.

    It starts out with the excitement of an accomplishment: "Look at the light we're giving you, And the darkness we're saving you from."

    They had harnessed a renewable, clean, seemingly endless supply of energy. This was going to end our dependence on fossil fuel. The world’s dependence on non renewable resources was over!

    Then comes the realization: "Now we've built it, now it's ticking" The narrator is trying to protest continued research because it has become apparent this development could be the end of mankind. She is attempting to “put the atom back together”, or to undo what the splitting of the atom has done.

    verondaon June 26, 2008   Link

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