Thursday, October 28, 2010

Meaning of Only the Young Lyrics

"Only the Young" is easily the most powerful song on Flamingo.  

I know BF says you can’t be cool and be Mormon, but he’s making a run at it.  This album is far more religious than most suspect.  Sorry to stomp on his coolness now, but "Only the Young" is a song about one of the most uncool things, the Christian walk.  It’s a witness song.  Christians "witness" to non-Christians when they tell their story about their coming to God or some struggle in their walk with God.  This is both.  One source on the web says that this song is a hymn, too.  I haven’t found the authority for that, but it is.  A hymn is a typically a song to God, while a gospel song is about us or worldly things.  (Another track about prayer, On the Floor, is a gospel song.)

"Only the Young" is an ongoing conversation between Brandon and God.  To explain I’m going to add what I imagine BF left out.  I don’t know if he would structure it exactly as I have, but this should help it make sense.  I’ll treat the chorus last.


The first verse is about the first time one questions all that is wrong in the world.  We’ve all done it.  Why is there bad in the world? Imagine BF praying before he really accepted God.  This is how the conversation goes:
God: Look back in silence; the cradle of your whole life. There in the distance, loosing its greatest pride.
BF: Nothing is easy, nothing is sacred. Why? Where did the bough break?
God: It happened before your time.


God says to look back and long ago you will see the Fall.  Why is everything hard?  Man disobeyed.  God told them not to eat the fruit, but once they disobeyed, then they knew shame.  Think of a dog that sneaks the food off the table.  They always seem to know they have done wrong.  So it was with Man.  They had innocence, and God provided everything for them.  But when they disobeyed, they ran and hid.  From that time life has been difficult for Man because from that point we knew we could choose—in fact it was our need to choose that prompted God to give us the rule about the tree—to do wrong, that we could walk away, that we could ignore God.  In the video the dancers fall and the light from above fades out.  The bough could be a reference to the old lullaby "Rock a Bye, Baby" about how the cradle falls when the wind blows and breaks the branch or about the branch from the tree of life, the apple tree in the Garden of Eden. 


BF: There were people there, lovely as you've ever care.
God: Tonight. Baby you can start again./Laughing in the open air; have yourself another dream./Tonight.
BF: Maybe we can start again?


This is about BF's acceptance and baptism.  For Mormons and many other Protestant faiths, baptism is done when you become a believer, not when you are born.  I don’t know exactly how it runs for Mormons, but I suspect similar to Baptists.  At the end of every service there is the invitation period when the preacher asks for anyone who wants to accept the Lord to come forward.  At the front there are people waiting for you, people to pray with you.  You repent for your sins and ask for the redemption provided by Christ’s death on the cross when he stood in for us.   The baptism is arranged for the near future.    After a little Mormon research, it sounds like other members of the church lay hands on you after you are baptized.  So there are people all around you when you come to the Lord, helping you start your walk.   Then, once you are listening to the light of the Lord in you, you start over.  New Christians feel joyous, happy.  Newly bathed in the light of the Lord, it’s all happiness and puppies.  You have hope.  Check out BF’s poses in the video during the verse.  His arms aren’t completely outstretched but the first “Tonight” could be the minister’s open arms calling you to faith.  In the next sequence BF has his arms wide and his legs crossed at the ankles with a black stage, conjuring death on the cross imagery.   A few shots later the lights are brilliant white above, suggesting the Resurrection, and perhaps Pentacost. (Look it up if you’re curious.  This post is long already.)

BF: Mother its cold here. Father, thy will be done./Thunder and lightening are crashing down. They’ve got me on the run.  Direct me to the sun.  Redemption keep my covers clean.
God: Tonight, Baby, we can start again. 


But life is still hard.  Soon the glow seems to fade.  As a believer, you keep having to ask for God’s help.  Frankly, you don’t know how strong temptation is until you try to resist it.  In many ways, life gets harder.  It is easy to lose your focus, especially when the the bad comes knocking...like when your mom dies.  I think this verse is about his struggles with his mother’s death.  “Mother it’s cold here” refers to the empty space in him that she occupied.  He’s sad, cold, and lonely.  “Father, thy will be done.”  This is the most significant lyric.  In the Christian walk the hardest thing to accept is that we don’t always get what we want, that we don’t know what is best for us, that it is God’s will, not ours, that matters.  Logically this makes sense.  God is all knowing while we are not, so He has more perspective to see what is right, which path to take and so on; he sees us together at the end so temporary separations are just that, temporary.  This is easy to accept when our life is going well or when a problem is someone else’s.  But when hurt comes knocking on your door, ‘Father, thy will be done‘ is damn difficult to say and to mean.  ‘I don’t want her to die.  I want her here with me.   I miss her.  I’m lonely. Why did you let this happen?‘  In questioning and doubt, and often anger, we lose sight of God.  Then comes the storm, the mistakes.  In the video people are flailing in the air.  The stage is dark.  The rain pours down.  In some shots he seems to be throwing things away, almost absentmindedly.  Like, ‘there go the years,’ toss, gone.  This must have been a very difficult time for him.  Everything seemed in chaos.  When these times come, we have to seek God again and ask forgiveness.  In the video he is almost always looking up, except when he hunches over asking for redemption.  God forgives you, and then you have to pick yourself up, dust yourself off, and try again.

God: And the sun will shine again./And the sun will shine again./Are you looking for a sign?/Or are you caught up in the lie? [I’ve seen lie and light for this.  I think lie. Either works though.] 


Once you turn back to the Lord, once you look for Him, the light shines upon you.  Notice in the video that BF is looking skyward, reaching skyward, and the globe light goes on.  He doesn’t turn it on.  Because he reaches for it, it shines on him.

BF’s lament to God: Only the young can break away, break away and they are Lost when the wind blows; 
God: on your own, ohh... 


BF does a great job writing lyrics and singing lyrics that people are able to take completely differently.  I found this chorus the most difficult to translate.  It might refer to a Mormon belief that I am not aware of.  I think that I’ve got it, though.  Most people hear "break away" to mean something good, some sort freedom.  Today most people think that freedom to do whatever pleases you is best.  Be true to yourself.  Do your own thing.  Break away.  For BF ‘breaking away‘ isn’t a good thing.*  In fact, throughout this album references to breaking away, flying high, out on a wire, in the wind are all bad.  (I wouldn’t be shocked to find similar phrases in the Book of Mormon.)  The phrases are all about loneliness and being at the mercy of the whims of the world.  This chorus, which shows people flailing about in the air, is no different.   


Only the young can break away, means that only people with life stretched out before them, only they can blissfully ignore God.  When you are older, you still can ignore God, but then the consequences come.  

God didn't create moral rules because he likes watching us struggle against our baser nature.  Moral rules exist to guide us to a happy and full life.  A common example these days that I am sadly too familiar with: when you are a 25 year old woman, it is easy to live your life for the moment--have casual sex as you please, avoid marriage and motherhood, go all in on your career, etc.  The consequences don't come until later, years later, when it is often too late to get all the things you only recently realized you wanted.  I know far too many women who are lost and lonely as they approach 40 because of choices that they made in their 20's.   

As for BF, in the past 5 years, he has become a husband and a father and has lost his mother.  He’s determined to stay the course, because when life gets hard, when the wind blows, those who break away are lost.  They are helpless.  
*While breaking away isn’t a good, the ability to break away is essential.  Saying that people should come to God, is black from white different from saying that people must come to God.  It is nonsense, first of all.  People can be forced to go through the motions but not to think a certain way.  Chesterton says it better, “The free man owns himself. He can damage himself with either eating or drinking; he can ruin himself with gambling.  If he does he is certainly a damn fool, and he might possibly be a damned soul; but if he may not, he is not a free man any more than a dog.”  This is why God gave us the choice in the Garden, so we could choose to love him.  It would mean nothing if he created creatures that had to love Him.  CS Lewis covers this topic well in Mere Christianity, in case you are interested. 

16 comments:

Anonymous said...

Great synopsis!

Anonymous said...

My real question is what does the change from his black suit with white shirt to the white suit with black shirt mean?

AHLondon said...

Re: suit changes, I don't know. I'm checking email in bed at 11. Now I have to watch. Hope I don't wake Yasha. Hold on a sec... After finding earbuds and two quick viewings, my guess is that the white jacket is symbolic of becoming clean in the presence of the Lord. The presence of the Lord is symbolized by--I just love this--the disco ball. God as a disco ball. Only in Vegas. The white jacket, and still white shirt that I could tell, is only used in the scenes with the disco ball, that is, after seeking God and asking for redemption then God's light shines upon him, and he's in white.

Anonymous said...

Amazing analysis/interpretation! I think you are spot on, and your thoughts just make me enjoy the song even more. Eevn as a sworn atheist (raised and educated in a christian society), I can appreciate everything the song tells us about the human condition and finding meaning and purpose in life, in times of toil and hardship. Thanks!

AHLondon said...

Glad to help. And I agree that the song works even for an atheist. Obviously I am not, but the idea that long term consequences are easy to ignore when you are young is just reality not religion. That is basically my point that moral rules aren't rules for the sake of. They are guides. (Sorry I just found your comment today. For a while I didn't have my email notification on.)

Anonymous said...

I have just discovered Brandon Flowers and I have been stuggling to understand this particular song's lyrics. Thank you for sharing your interpretation. This analysis is truly enlightening.

AHLondon said...

Glad to help. Your comment brought me back to this post after not reading it for a while. I need to tweak it a bit as I've now had another year to ponder the song, and this is a post that constantly gets a trickle of hits.. Same basic point, but I can see new angles now. I've got a few others posts on Magdalena and Crossfire. I always meant to do Playing with Fire, but haven't gotten to it yet.

Anonymous said...

I really like the way you interpret the song of Brandon Flowers. I would like to publish it in my blog. Obviously I would mention your blog. I hope it's not a problem for you. Just let me know.

AHLondon said...

Anon, 11.1.12, with credit and link to original, that's fine. Your blog name?

Anonymous said...

I've just started it with a friend. It's called La Pluma de Eli (http://laplumadeeli.blogspot.mx/) It's in Spanish. I live in Cancun, Mexico but I'm not Mexican I'm French.
By the way, I didn't think about that. I will have to translate it to Spanish haha! And of course, I will put your link.
Thanks a lot!

AHLondon said...

Hey, Eli (I know that's not your name, but I have a handle habit) you might want to see this too, from a recent Flowers interview in Sweden: http://pjmedia.com/lifestyle/2012/11/03/the-world-is-against-the-christian-man/?singlepage=true

Anonymous said...

Hola! My name is Céline haha!
Yes I saw it the interview before. This interview is interesting, too! Thanks for telling me!

Anonymous said...

thank's a lot for sharing this, i feel quite enlightened now! and i find the song even more beutiful now that i know the meaning although i'm an agnostic.

utahcanadian said...

There are a lot of references here to Mormon theology that you don't understand. This is a song about the restoration of Christ's true gospel to the earth in the last days. It is a depiction of The First Vision of Joseph Smith. Many of BF's poses are iconic to Mormons in portraiture of Joseph Smith, including the style of clothing. Although I believe you are right that there is also a crucifix pose (will have to rewatch!) And yes, the presence of God is represented as a disco ball!

Joseph 5mith was only fourteen years old when this vision occurred. During his work on earth, he was the means of revealing much new knowledge that broke away from centuries of Christian tradition.

Tonight, I realized that the Mother comment is most likely a reference to a unique Mormon doctrine about heavenly parents.

The phrases you mentioned being used in many other BF songs are not common in the Book of Mormon, though perhaps you should look to Shakespeare for some of his inspiration!

utahcanadian said...

There are a lot of references here to Mormon theology that you don't understand. This is a song about the restoration of Christ's true gospel to the earth in the last days. It is a depiction of The First Vision of Joseph Smith. Many of BF's poses are iconic to Mormons in portraiture of Joseph Smith, including the style of clothing. Although I believe you are right that there is also a crucifix pose (will have to rewatch!) And yes, the presence of God is represented as a disco ball!

Joseph 5mith was only fourteen years old when this vision occurred. During his work on earth, he was the means of revealing much new knowledge that broke away from centuries of Christian tradition.

Tonight, I realized that the Mother comment is most likely a reference to a unique Mormon doctrine about heavenly parents.

The phrases you mentioned being used in many other BF songs are not common in the Book of Mormon, though perhaps you should look to Shakespeare for some of his inspiration!

Leslie Loftis (AHLondon) said...

Old post that I could update. I know more now. This song is part of the reason why. Gave me a framework and interest when new details came along. Went looking for a few, too. Later albums helped as well. But I'm certain you know more than me on this. I'd love it if you refined or corrected some of my Mormon details.

Frankly, I should do lyrics more often. They really are great learning opportunities.