The Trapeze Swinger from Iron and Wine: Everyday Transcendence #1

The Trapeze Swinger from Iron and Wine: Everyday Transcendence #1 May 12, 2011

Variety, they say, is the spice of life.  It’s also an essential ingredient in all my favorite blogs.  So as I’ve been ramping this blog up, I’ve been considering the kinds of posts I would like to offer.  I am launching several series — “With Distinction” will offer philosophical or conceptual distinctions that can help us sift through current events and debates, the resuscitated “Morning Update” will include links to interesting pieces elsewhere around the interwebs, and today I’m launching “Everyday Transcendence,” which will point to glimpses of the sacred found on the internet, be they songs or videos, pictures or stories.

I cannot help but begin the Everyday Transcendence series with my favorite musician, Sam Beam of Iron & Wine, and my favorite song from Mr Beam, “The Trapeze Swinger.”  When Iron & Wine first appeared, it involved a guy who looked like Zach Galifianakis from The Hangover playing acoustic guitar and singing in a pure, sweet voice that was barely louder than a whisper.  Sam’s musical style has never stayed the same for long, but some of my favorites from his oeuvre are early works like “Each Coming Night” and “Naked as We Came” (I’m a hopeless melancholiac).

Here is a performance of the song (warning: there is one obscenity and some silly cheering after it is uttered) at the Green Man Festival in 2008.  Not that there is no chorus and no bridge.  Just a series of poetic stanzas, a lovely chord progression and some astoundingly beautifully-crafted lyrics, a story of a relationship that blossoms and withers and is left for memory, and a performance that – to my mind – resonates with the sacred.  Listen to the words (lyrics posted below the embedded video) and rest with them, particularly when Sam moves into the achingly slow final stanzas that tie together all the symbolic threads.

Please remember me, happily, by the rosebush laughing
With bruises on my chin, the time when we counted every black car passing

Your house beneath the hill and up until someone caught us in the kitchen
With maps, a mountain range, a piggy bank, a vision too removed to mention

But please remember me, fondly, I heard from someone you’re still pretty
And then they went on to say that the Pearly Gates had such eloquent graffiti

Like ‘We’ll meet again’ and ‘Fuck the man’ and ‘Tell my mother not to worry’
And angels with their great handshakes but always done in such a hurry

And please remember me, at Halloween making fools of all the neighbors
Our faces painted white, by midnight we’d forgotten one another

And when the morning came I was ashamed, only now it seems so silly
That season left the world and then returned and now you’re lit up by the city

So please remember me, mistakenly in the window of the tallest tower
Call, then pass us by but much too high to see the empty road at happy hour

Gleam and resonate just like the gates around the Holy Kingdom
With words like, ‘Lost and found’ and ‘Don’t look down’ and ‘Someone save temptation’

And please remember me as in the dream we had as rug-burned babies
Among the fallen trees and fast asleep beside the lions and the ladies

That called you what you like and even might give a gift for your behavior
A fleeting chance to see a trapeze swinger high as any savior

But please remember me, my misery and how it lost me all I wanted
Those dogs that love the rain and chasing trains, the colored birds above their running

In circles round the well and where it spells on the wall behind St. Peter
So bright on cinder gray in spray paint: ‘Who the hell can see forever?’

And please remember me, seldomly, in the car behind the carnival
My hand between your knees, you turned from me and said the trapeze act was wonderful

But never meant to last, the clowns that passed saw me just come up with anger
When it filled with circus dogs, the parking lot had an element of danger

So please remember me, finally, and all my uphill clawing
My dear, but if I make the Pearly Gates I’ll do my best to make a drawing

Of God and Lucifer, a boy and girl, an angel kissin’ on a sinner
A monkey and a man, a marching band, all around the frightened trapeze swinger

* * *

I’m sure I’ll feature other songs from Sam Beam in future posts in this series.  For now, What do you think of this song?  What is the story it tells?  How do you interpret the graffiti written on the walls around the Holy Kingdom?


Browse Our Archives

Follow Us!


TRENDING AT PATHEOS Evangelical
What Are Your Thoughts?leave a comment
  • Christina

    Hi Timothy,
    I am a new reader, and although you made this post a while ago, I want to thank you for pointing to this beautiful – and certainly spiritual, as you suggest – song. I’m an Iron & Wine fan, too, but had never heard this one before.

    My initial take on its meaning is that it speaks to the power that our memories hold over us, and our natural urge to live in the past. The graffiti are signs of this; even at the entrance to eternity and fulfillment, people look back longingly, or resentfully, or regretfully, at what they must leave behind. For the trapeze swinger caught between heaven and earth, it feels important to grasp onto the vivid details and feelings of his experience in the world, and even to send back a drawing to be remembered by.

    That is just my read, but very powerful no matter how it speaks to you. Looking forward to more Everyday Transcendence posts!