Songs are like tattoos
You know I've been to sea before
Crown and anchor me
Or let me sail away
Hey Blue
And there is a song for you
Ink on a pin
Underneath the skin
An empty space to fill in
Well there're so many sinking
Now you've got to keep thinking
You can make it thru these waves
Acid, booze, and ass
Needles, guns, and grass
Lots of laughs
Lots of laughs
Everybody's saying that hell's the hippest way to go well
I don't think so, but I'm
Gonna take a look around it though Blue
I love you

Here is a shell for you
Inside you'll hear a sigh
A foggy lullaby
There is your song from me

Lyrics submitted by wingedsorceress, edited by 2014

Blue Lyrics as written by Joni Mitchell


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Blue song meanings
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  • +10
    My InterpretationAfter three decades of familiarity with this song, its depths and its haunting maritime imagery, some fog still swirls around its solid centre for me. But here's my understanding of it so far...

    First of all, the song's addressed (assuming it's Joni Mitchell doing the addressing, paragon of autobiographical songwriters that she is) to something called Blue - is Blue a person, or does Blue represent general melancholy? It works as both. And the way she lingers over that first word.

    'Songs are like tattoos' - songs get under your skin, they occupy a place where previously there was nothing, they stay with you. They're full of detail, can be pretty much anything, and you develop a relationship with them. In these ways both songs and tattoos have the qualities of love affairs. Which is what this song is ultimately about ('Blue, I love you').

    After assuring Blue that she knows she can survive on her own, because she's done it before ('I've been to sea before' - and there's an overtone here that she'll be 'all at sea' without Blue), she asks Blue to either commit to her ('Crown and anchor me') or release her ('let me sail away.'). That Crown and Anchor imagery is striking - as a nautical tattoo motif, and an entreaty to Blue to both exalt and stabilise her (if Blue's a person, it might even mean 'marry me').

    'Hey Blue, here is a song for you' - trying to get Blue's attention, by making this song an offering

    'Ink on a pin' - both the tools of tattooing and of writing songs (this song) down using pen and paper

    'Underneath the skin, an empty space to fill in' - both an unoccupied place for a tattoo, and conveying the hollowness inside herself (or Blue?) for this song to occupy.

    After this there's an examination of the ways and costs of trying to avoid these periods of melancholy ('these waves') - the casualties ('so many sinking'), the methods (drugs, loveless sex, violence), and ending with the compelling sadness of the lines 'lots of laughs, lots of laughs' - is this another method (obviously failed)? A reflection on the hollowness of the these pleasures? The memory of better times now all over?

    'hell's the hippest way to go'/'I'm going to take a look around it though' - People are telling her that indulging in the distractions listed, although these are abhorred by religion, is the best way to live. Or the best way to die? She doesn't think they're right, but she's going to think about what they're saying.

    'Blue, here is a shell for you, inside you'll hear a sigh' - she's offering Blue a hollow thing which, if you listen, produces a sad sound. Sometimes a shell is just a shell, but not here. I think it represents both herself and the song. This line also echoes the earlier 'Here is a song for you', but now she's offering an empty structure for Blue to fill with his/its own meaning.

    'A foggy lullaby' - is there a better description of this song itself?

    'There is your song from me' - she's turned the shell of herself into a song, used her own melancholy to create this gift for Blue.

    And there is your interpretation from me. Tread with care.
    TrueThomason April 18, 2012   Link
  • +2
    General CommentOne of my favourite songs ever - so being played at my funeral to make everyone cry....well, gotta get a tear out of them all some how.

    The song is indeed about depression and "the blues". More specifically the song is about the blues felt due to the end of the hippy era. This song was the title track of Joni's first album released after a long draught of iconic Hippy music.

    Acid, booze, and ass
    Needles, guns, and grass
    Lots of laughs, lots of laughs

    These lyrics confirm the idea. Hippies had great plans and a great dream but it ended up lost in hedonism.

    I think the shell Joni refers to at the end is herself - there was a great depression in the hippy culture at the end of it, spurned on by a few high profile drug overdose cases of iconic singers. The shell is herself, she still believes in "hippy" but she's been left a shell of her former self seeing where her culture and people got themselves.

    Ultimately the song is written to the "end of the hippy era" as though it were a tangable being - which is why she offers up herself "here is a shell for you" - "i still believe in you hippy era"

    Rant over
    k.i.don September 23, 2008   Link
  • +1
    General CommentThis is such a sad song, and I too interpreted the use of tattoo imagery to be a metaphor for her blues. It also shows that through her blues, she has a strength that stops her conforming like a tatoo, and how she doesn't become part of the scenery:
    Everybody's saying that
    Hell's the hippest way to go
    Well, I don't think so, but I'll take a look around it, though

    And the fact that she proclaims her love for Blue personalises it also, so her blues may be love-induced. Amazing song
    Stoned Immaculateon February 27, 2006   Link
  • +1
    General CommentThough initially i think this song can be taken as one that just describes depression, upon closer inspection, it is actually so beautiful in it's description of the relationship, the give and take nature of being depressed - the depression becoming like a person, an exterior force, and it's unshakable grip on your life.I think in this song, she has personified her depression as a person, giving it a name, reffering to it as 'Blue'.
    She's saying how this depression has marked her for life, like a tattoo, and how though at some moments she wished it wasnt there anymore, and at some she loves it, she can not remove 'Blue' from her.

    I think in the first verse, she is commenting on how the depression has had such an effect on her, and how perhaps she wished she could have that effect on 'Blue'. She is using the song to effect 'Blue', shown by the lines, "Songs are like tattoos," "Here is a song for you, ink on a pin", and then finally, when she sings 'Here is your song from me." These indicate she wants to mark 'Blue' the way that it marked her through her song, saying that songs in their way can be as equally lasting as a tattoo.

    In the first verse, it describes the grip it has on her. "Crown and anchor me, or let me sail away." It has such a hold on her, it can either trap her or free her.
    The second verse details how lasting it can be, how depression fills emptiness in you that you never knew you had - "an empty space to fill in."

    The next section talks about brief moments when she has thought she can beat it - "there are so many sinking now you gotta keep thinking you can make it through these waves." It then lists these exterior forces, "acid, booze and ass, needles guns and grass", one after another in quick succession like waves.
    "Every body's saying that hells the hippest way to go ... i dont think so but i'm gonna take a look around it though." This is could be again reaffirming her occasional need to break free of it's chokehold. Hell could be reffering to the above substances, the popular poisons such as sex and drugs.
    But then she cries, 'Blue, i love you!' as if to say, "No, i didnt mean it, i could never leave you."

    But it is not until this final verse that we realise how much it has affected her, how much she truly relies on it - "Blue, here is a shell for you, inside you'll hear a sigh." She has become a shell, filled with unhappiness. She is surrendering her emptiness over to the depression.
    cloovyon May 29, 2010   Link
  • +1
    General CommentI have no idea what Joni would say herself but I think the meaning is really different to what others have written. Listen again! I think she's trying to reach someone who has drifted away into drugs and fast living to avoid dealing with their pain. The emptiness she's singing about is someone else's. She says she will look around hell "the hippest way to go" "I don't think so" but she's not staying. She holds a shell, a beach shell to "Blue's" ear so they can hear the real song...the message...a foggy lullaby. She sounds so sad because she feels fairly sure they can't hear what she wants them to hear...they won't be following her out to live a better life. "Blue, I love you". Much more profound love than romantic love. Sad, I mean, I know exactly what she's saying.
    rubygemon April 13, 2013   Link
  • 0
    General CommentIs there a sadder song than Blue? What a metaphor...the blues (grief and sadness) under you skin so much get can't rid of it, in fact it's filling an empty space because without it the gaping space it would be just too unbearable. Just like Joni though she'll make up her own mind:"gonna take a look around it though."

    All that's left is an empty shell.
    Almost Famouson July 06, 2003   Link
  • 0
    General Commentfuck off about sarah mclachlan's version being better

    this song is amazing, and sarah mclachlan's version is adequate, but NO WAY does it exceed the original
    artlesson July 16, 2006   Link
  • 0
    General Commentshe also connects songs to be like tattoos, and I think that, like in a lot of her songs, her choices about music have both given her purpose and made her lonely. The business is tempting her into its traps like 'Acid, booze, and ass, needles, guns, and grass', but in proclaiming her love for Blue she is trying to stay in touch with her love of music and reality.

    Blue, here is a shell for you
    Inside you'll hear a sigh
    A foggy lullaby
    There is your song from me

    I think this is referring to making an imprint on the music scene and being properly understood, perhaps some self-doubt in 'a foggy lullabye'?
    zoefaceon November 02, 2007   Link
  • 0
    General CommentBeautiful song, but every time I hear it, I can't help but be reminded of Tom Wait's song, 'Lonely', whenever she does that minor scale climb. They're both great songs though.
    Phrogexon August 28, 2008   Link
  • 0
    General Comment
    chan marshall sings it best
    TheBeastInsideOfMeIsGonnaGetYaon October 27, 2009   Link

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