I found a little plot of land
In the Garden of Eden
It was dirt and dirt is all the same
I tilled it with my two hands
And I called it my very own
There was no-one to dispute my claim

Well, you'd be shocked
At the state of things
The whole place
Had just cleared right out
It was hotter'n hell
So I laid me by a spring, for a spell
As naked as a trout

The wandering eye that I have caught
Is as hot as a wandering sun
But I will want for nothing more
In my garden
Start again
In my hardening to every heart but one

Meet me in the garden of Eden
Bring a friend
We are going to have ourselves a time
We are gonna have a garden party
It's on me
No, sirree, it's my dime
We broke our hearts
In the war between
St. George and the dragon
But both, in equal parts
Are welcome to come along
I'm inviting everyone

Farewell to loves that I have known
Even muddiest waters run
Tell me, what is meant by sin, or none
In a garden
Seceded from the union
In the year of A.D. 1?

The unending amends you've made
Are enough for one life
Be done
I believe in innocence, little darling
Start again
I believe in everyone
I believe, regardless
I believe in everyone

Lyrics submitted by kitteh, edited by sethbrown, random_monkey, Spiderland

'81 Lyrics as written by Joanna Newsom


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'81 song meanings
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  • +1
    Song Meaning

    This song is about Joanna Newsom's birth and the religious implications it has/had on her life and the life of her mother. It also talks about her return to her roots from the fame she's received.

    "i found a little plot of land in the Garden of Eden"

    She took her place in the world - her mother's womb. She "tilled it" with her very own, and no one could take that place from her.

    "the whole place had just cleared right out it was hotter'n hell, so i lay me by the spring for a spell, as naked as a trout"

    In the womb, it was "hotter'n hell" - thus she was born "as naked as a trout".

    "the wandering eye that i have caught is as hot as a wandering sun but i will want for nothing more in my garden; start again"

    The "wandering eye" could be the fame, or where she's gotten since leaving the "Garden of Eden". It's time to "start again".

    "we are gonna have ourselves a time we are gonna have a garden party it's on me no siree, it's my dime"

    I assume she's talking about giving back, in my opinion, to her mother, who put up with a lot in the process. Perhaps she also means to the people who have helped her get to where she is.

    "we broke our hearts in the war between St. George and the dragon,"

    This is a story about St. George saving the princess from the dragon - the result is that the city in the story converted from paganism to Christianity. Read about it here: en.wikipedia.org/wiki/St._George

    "but both in equal parts are welcome to come along i'm inviting everyone"

    No matter what side people are on (believing that innocence is lost with making love OR the lack of such belief), Joanna is accepting.

    "tell me, what is meant by sittin' alone in a garden"

    Again, getting out of the spotlight. After all, she's succeeded in this (for the most part) for over two years...

    "a garden, seceded from the Union in the year of '81?"

    Joanna Newsom was born in January, 1982, meaning that she would have been conceived in 1981. At that time, her mother "seceded" her innocence by no longer being a virgin (assuming Joanna was a first-born). I assume she was the first child, but either way, this is the only tie I can make to 1981, and it's a rather personal one at that.

    "the unending amends you made are enough for one life; be done"

    Enough beating yourself up about it...

    "i believe, regardless i believe in everyone "

    She places a belief on the human being, not the belief within.

    That's what I think, at least. Regardless, this is a gorgeous song. I preordered the 3xLP the day it opened, and I will never regret that $25.

    jkdeaditeon January 28, 2010   Link
  • +1
    General Comment

    one could spend an eternitiy interpreting her material :)

    caits420on March 24, 2010   Link
  • +1
    General Comment

    The year AD 1 is not a reference to the garden of Eden. The year AD 1 is around the time that Jesus is supposed to have been born, although it is thought that he was actually born 2-3 BC. The line in the song, 'what is meant by sin, or none, in a garden seceded from the union in the year of A.D. 1' most likely refers to the hope that came with the birth of the Messiah. Looking at the rest of the song, 'dirt' in the garden, is probably a reference to Adam being made from the dust of the Earth. The imagery of working in the garden and tilling the land reminds me of life's struggle to create your own meaningful existence. The rest of the song is the story of redemption. After being created, the world became 'hotter than hell'. But in the year AD 1 the garden (paradise) seceded from the rest of the world. Joanna seems to be talking about the redemption story as a way of calling people to action. In the last chorus, she asks the listener to stop worrying about their past mistakes and to start again by accepting the salvation which is already available. And this salvation is for everyone. The part about St. George and the dragon is an obvious allusion to good triumphing over evil, but Joanna makes it clear that both are welcome in her garden. Possibly this is because they are both inevitable to life, but I think that she believes that together they make life meaningful.

    whether or not this is a full analysis, or even correct at all, this song is inspiring

    thedoweron March 28, 2010   Link
  • +1
    General Comment

    Okay I still wish someone would pose an idea about my last post.

    But here is something else, much more concrete:

    "I lay me by the spring for a spell as naked as a trout" is absolutely positively without a doubt taken from Milton's "Paradise Lost," the great epic about the fall of man and original sin in the Garden of Eden. It's definitely one of those books that all English or Literature majors have to read, and I am positive Joanna would have read it. Plus, how many books would write about someone in Eden lying down beside a stream? I just wrote a ten page paper about gender roles in the poem, and knowing that Joanna is a bookworm and a literary freak, I think I can add some useful insights.

    So the story goes that after having been created, but before meeting Adam, Eve wakes up under a tree. She wanders around, clueless, and lies down beside a stream (I freaked out when I read this and connected it to this song - it was one of those "AHA!" lightbulb-going-off moments). As she's lying there, (this gets kinda weird) she sees her reflection and, like Narcissus, is strongly attracted to her image in the water. She lies there for a while until God comes and says, "Hey! Get up! You are not meant to be with this shadow of an image, you are meant to be with Adam! Here, I will lead you to him." (excuse the paraphrasing)

    She leaves the stream, but when she sees Adam (again, kinda weird and kinda funny), she says,"Eh, he's not that cute, I'd rather go back to the stream and admire myself," so she turns and tries to run back to the stream. Adam catches her arm and she submits and BAM they are husband/wife.

    This story has a lot to do with sexuality, self-love, and the relation/power dynamic between man and woman, all things we know Joanna is fond of grappling with in her songs (especially the last).

    In addition to adding these new facets to the song, I think it makes the first four stanzas clear - she is comparing herself to Eve.

    The first stanza, she wakes up under the tree and plays around in the dirt, thinking she's alone in the garden, wanders to the stream and lies down. Then the wandering eye could be God, who leads her away, or Adam. In either case, while she is not happy about having to be with him, like Eve, she submits and "hardens her heart to every heart but one," Adam's. (But it could be God too).

    All this would mean that the song is, as many have already suggested, a questioning of sexuality. Why MUST sexuality come into the picture when she meets Adam? Why MUST she harden her heart to everyone but him? Couldn't they just be friends? Why is there so much pressure on all of us (esp. women) to find a sexual partner? Maybe we're happier playing alone in the Garden of Eden, blissfully ignorant as children. Is sex like a repetition of the Original Sin? Are we impure and hurting our relationship with God every time we have sex?

    I'm not trying to argue like this is the only interpretation - but I think it is a useful way to dredge up a lot of the issues and questions Joanna is grappling with. Reply if you feel compelled!

    sanfordcon May 14, 2010   Link
  • +1
    General Comment

    Just to clarify: Joanna was born in '82, not '81. The civil war was 1861-1865. However, the American revolution effectively ended in 1781, with the surrender of yorktown. So among the many other things this song is about, it is very possible that we're talking about America ("seceded from the union" here being intentionally misleading, more accurately seceded from the commonwealth). Which makes "Sr. George and the dragon" almost hilarious, being both St. George and George III of England. And as the song is about rebirth, even though we "broke our hearts in the war", she's welcoming "both, in equal part," loyalist and rebel. Which all flows nicely into the strange, ambivalent patriotism of "Good Intentions Paving Company"

    America has long been a metaphor for rebirth, new jerusalem, from Blake through the romantics. And the wordplay here plays with the religiousness of it, A.D. 1, novus ordo seclorum.

    atnrydelon October 02, 2010   Link
  • 0
    General Comment

    This song was just called '81 in Melbourne, so maybe On a good day/'81 was a mashup of two new songs...

    It's one of my favorites from the new ones, an instant classic. I still have to think about the lyrics, but I love the Saint George reference. And maybe "union in the year of '81" means "Joanna Newsom" (she was born in 1982, so her parents "created" her in 1981).

    Marjoramon January 22, 2010   Link
  • 0
    General Comment

    It's streaming from Drag City's website now. The official title is '81.

    jkdeaditeon January 27, 2010   Link
  • 0
    General Comment

    First off, I think "in my heart and into every heart but one" should be "in my hardening to every heart but one" To me this stunningly sweet and beautiful sad song is about starting over again, rebuilding a paradise that was lost in heat and confusion. It is about reclaiming innocence and simplicity. I love Joanna's voice in this one! Though I always enjoyed her quirky and emotional voice her singing has really matured.

    sprout13on January 27, 2010   Link
  • 0
    My Interpretation

    It sounds like it's definitely about rebirth, for me too, rebirth and starting anew and accepting those things that happened (bad, good, whatever), and getting on good terms with the memories of what you had done and, and forgiving if have to. (to yourself and to everyone else -- 'I believe in innocence, etc')

    I don't know about the idea, that it's all about her birth though, I may have to chew on it a little more to accept it, But, well, I don't think, that we here could ever come close enough to what she means by her words, or understand each phrase and say this is this and that is that, like it was that easy!.. but that's why we love her, right?:) I love how after months a segment of her song would just pop in my head, and I enlighten, that a-ha! so that was what she meant by it! probably :p

    Also, I need a lot more time to realise and take in her lyrics than since the song was released, so all I have is just some fragments of thoughts to share. -- At first, it may have absolutely nothing to do with the song, but the first stanza reminds me of something I read.. it doesn't really connect well, but hey^^ That Adam when in the Garden fenced in a plot of land and called it his. He was alone in the garden then, so hence there was noone to dispute his claim. Although these masculine themes don't really fit well with Joanna and her music, but still, there is this instinctive urge in basicly all humans to <own>, and posess something, and have something to call all their own. But then, 'you do lose what you don't hold' -- and the whole place just cleared right out..

    I understand it may not fit well with the rest of the song, and I can't really interpret the spring-part with it...

    -- So next up there's the war between St George and the dragon. To me it looks like they are the 'two loves that she has known', she loved both the dragon and knight.Or do you think I am completely off the track? And since this is a garden of recollections-and-redeeming-thoughts-and-getting-over --- they both get invited to that party. Where they can finally heal themselves from what's been done and over, and start again, from blank.

    Midoon January 28, 2010   Link
  • 0
    General Comment

    The booklet for the album reveals some interesting changes:

    "Tell me, what is meant by sin, or none,"

    and "in the year of A.D. 1" being chief among them. That's some very interesting wordplay there.

    Mr. Fahrenheiton February 22, 2010   Link

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