Johanna's Visions

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The Best Songs: Boeing 737 – The Low Anthem


I really like The Low Anthem.

I saw them in concert a few years back, they were terrific, ethereal, just marvelous. Later this year I’m going to see them again at Bergenfest.

Between the last time I saw them and today they’ve released the album, Smart Flesh that includes the song, Boeing 737.

This is one of the best songs released in the last couple of years. When we made our lists of the best songs in 2011 I just had not paid enough attention, this clearly belong in the top 5.

BBC said: “It sounds like Bob Dylan singing lead vocal for The Arcade Fire” (or something like that), and it really does! They also said: If the Low Anthem doesn’t release it as a single they’re mad.

I’ve included four visual representations of the song.

Here’s the first (“studio” version), The Low Anthem recorded the majority of “Smart Flesh,” their 2011 Nonesuch album, in a cavernous, vacant pasta sauce factory in Central Falls, Rhode Island:

I was in the air when the towers came down
In a bar on the 84th floor
I bought Philippe Petit a round
And asked what his high wire was for
He said, “I put one foot on the wire,
One foot straight into heaven”
As the prophets entered boldly into the bar
On the Boeing 737, Lord, on the Boeing 737
Hey little bird, would you be the one
To nest beneath my Gatling gun?
There’s nothing left I call my own
Come down and build me a home


Hear Ya live sessions (the best version):

I was in a bar when they rigged the towers
Trying to leave all my sins
The barmaid asked my order
And where my mind had been
I tried to recall the high wire
Philippe and his foot in heaven
As the prophets entered boldly into the bar
On the Boeing 737, Lord, on the Boeing 737
Hey little bird, would you be the one
To nest beneath my Gatling gun?
There’s nothing left I call my own
Come down and build me a home.

This is maybe just as good, Morning Becomes Eclectic version:

The Official Video, “The guys from End of the Road Pictures are friends of ours and one day they asked us if they could do a music video for ‘Boeing 737,’” the Low Anthem’s Jeff Prystowsky tells Spinner. “They had this idea of filming actual circus tightrope walkers in the forest. It sounded great to us, and I think they nailed it. They also made the video for ‘Charlie Darwin‘ last year, which was all done in stop-time animation. (from Spinner.com):

There are two interpretations on songmeanings that rings equally true in my ears. First from dreamofpavement:

So… Philippe Petit is famous for doing a tightrope walk between the Twin Towers in the 70′s. Prophets = believers of Muhammed I guess. And Boeing 737 is a plane. I won’t bother spelling it out. But I think he does a lot of interesting things with the line about the bird and the Gatling gun. If that bird is a hawk, it’s a war thing. But thinking about the Low Anthem in general, I’m guess it’s a peace bird and if it’s nesting underneath a big gun, it either means the gun is non-operational, or if you use it the bird nest would be disturbed. So, if you’re a warmonger and your means of destruction is subverted by a bird, you’d have to find a new line of work, a new way to live. Maybe build yourself a new home. It’s funny because on the day I submitted these lyrics, my class had a lecture on Baudrillard’s essay about 9/11, the hegemon, and the Other. It seems oddly synchronic and fitting to still be thinking of all this.

Then from Joshrob06:

I think the song is contrasting two methods to find “heaven” and inspire others. The tightrope walker does something peaceful and wonderful to achieve heaven and inspire (see above comment about Petit’s tightrope walk); whereas the “prophets” (terrorists) do something violent and awful. The narrator seems to be in the bar trying to figure out his own way to achieve heaven (“I was in a bar when they rigged the towers/Trying to leave all my sins”). He seems to want to emulate the tightrope walker, but his thoughts are interrupted by the bold entrance of the prophets. That is, often our attempts to better ourselves are interrupted or stymied by the violent actions of others. This is corroborated by the fact that most people will have to google Philippe Petit’s name to get the reference to his tightrope walk between the twin towers, but almost everyone probably thought of 9/11 right away. Violence and evil imprint on our minds erasing good memories. The chorus shows favor to the peaceful way to “build a home” (which I take as a synonym for finding heaven).

I think both of them have valid points. The songs is not straight forward and it is not the easiest to interpret.

But, fuck! What a great song!

- Hallgeir

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