Enlightened Lyrics : How to Save a Life

Welcome to the 21st century, this week’s enlightened lyrics comes from the year of 2005. Which is really recent in comparison with my other posts. I have to admit that I was aware of this song, but I hadn’t thought about it for a while until I was reminded last week by Ashe in G12, I may not know who you are (yet), but I thank you nonetheless. As for Sun, I won’t do “Baby” by the Biebs, but I’ll do the song about Lincoln some other time. Well then, allons-y.

This week’s song is brought to us by the band known as “The Fray”. It’s their title track off their 2005 album “How to Save a Life”. The song itself reached number one on the US “Adult Top 40” and the “Adult Contemporary”. It reached platinum certification in the UK and 3x platinum in the US, I guess after platinum they don’t have a commodity as valuable (even though per ounce (35.3 oz to 1 Kg) , gold is more expensive).

Anyway, let’s begin.

Step one, you say, “We need to talk.”
He walks, you say, “Sit down. It’s just a talk.”
He smiles politely back at you
You stare politely right on through
Some sort of window to your right
As he goes left and you stay right
Between the lines of fear and blame
You begin to wonder why you came

The song is very much related to the title. The song is about one person trying to comfort a man that seems troubled and eventually ends up taking his life, which the first man tries to prevent, although can’t, because there’s no instruction manual on how to save a life. In order to make this easier for me to explain, the “one person” will be referred to as A, and the “man that seems troubled” is B (You=A, Him/He=B). The song seems to start off just like a list would, with the first line starting with “step one”. But there are no other steps, this might mean that it’s impossible to write a “how to” text on “how to save a life”, somewhat rendering the concept of the title null. And usually, when you have “a talk” or say “we need to talk”, the connotations of these phrases tend to relate to bad news (all the people in relationships, I presume you know what I’m talking about) or one person asking the other person  questions. The next line shows that B seems reluctant to talk to A, but A tries to reassure B that it’s just a talk. The polite smile, may be more than that, and in fact “polite” implies “forced”. This forced smile that B gives to A is received with another forced glance. These two lines seem to have an air of discomfort and awkwardness to it, much like when first visiting a therapist (you are reluctant to open up).

Regarding the next line, I’m slightly hazy on the idea of the “window”, but notice the placement of it. The window is on the right and so is A. A possibility is that this window is a window into the mind of B. A wants to look through it, but as B goes left, it might refer back to B being hesitant and reluctant to open up (what else do you open? WINDOWS). The final lines of the verse are quite interesting. I’d presume that the “lines of fear and blame” are coming from B, as he is the one who A wants to talk to. And then (because “You” is “A”) A starts to question the reason why A wanted to talk to B in the first place. It might be because A isn’t getting what he wants, and instead of figuring out answers to B’s troubles, he’s just getting more problems. And people do this, they have this moment of “Why am I doing this!?”, goodness knows I’ve felt this (for example, why do I write these analyses every week? Well, because I… I actually have no idea).

Let him know that you know best
‘Cause after all you do know best
Try to slip past his defense
Without granting innocence
Lay down a list of what is wrong
The things you’ve told him all along
Pray to God, he hears you
And I pray to God, he hears you

Moving on, now to explore the character of A. We’ve already established that B is troubled and reluctant to open up about it, but when B does, it’s just more problems. Though in the second verse it seems as if A isn’t new to talking to troubled people. It says that A should let B know that A knows best, because A does know best.

It’s similar to:

A,”Trust me”.


A,”Just trust me”.

It’s not exactly the most reassuring statement, but it seems as if the writer of the song (Isaac Slade) is trying to tell the listeners something about A. If Slade knows A this well, then I think we can trust Slade’s description of him. But you might think, “But A is just an imaginary character, of course he knows who he his, Slade made him up”. Well, thanks to a quick google search about Slade’s life, and I found out he was a counsellor at a camp for troubled youth. With this new information, I’m going to go out on a limb and say that this song is written on his experiences. With Slade represented by A, and B as all the people who needed his help. In order to be a counsellor, I’d presumptuously say he had to go through a training course before starting. Therefore, if Slade is A, he did know best (because he had training).

In the next line, A tries to “slip past his defence”. (I know it says “defense”, but I spell it differently). I believe humans are wired to defend themselves (it goes back to the neolithic period, when humanity was just starting out), it’s not just through entering “Fight Or Flight” mode, but it’s also through lying. If this is true in this case, then B is hiding something and A want’s to get through to him. The next line is slightly confusing, this idea of innocence just seems to pop out of nowhere. But think about what other phrases are said with the word “innocence” or “innocent”. “Innocent until proven guilty”. Yes, y’know that thing you hear in the court scene from that movie you like. I’m not saying B is guilty of a crime or anything like that, but it seems as if he may be guilty of something. And if A tries to get through his defence, but does a poor job of it, it might cause A to be the bad guy in this situation (there isn’t one, but just go with it) and rendering B “innocent”. Possibly laying the blame for B’s troubles on A’s misdemeanour in his inability to get into B’s head without B knowing.

I’ll do the next four lines fairly quickly. In summary, the next four lines are about A trying to, once again, get through to B. When you “pray to God” about something, you know it’s a big deal. It goes: I hope, I wish, I pray, I pray to the Flying Spaghetti Monster (I can’t believe Pastafarianism is a thing, it’s insane) and then I pray to God. The list that has been lain is of what troubles B is facing. And the line after that seems to show that A has been warning B of this for a while, but it seems as though B doesn’t listen. He doesn’t listen, and that’s why A prays to God that he will. See, “fairly quickly”, honest advertising guys, you don’t get much these days.

As he begins to raise his voice
You lower yours and grant him one last choice
Drive until you lose the road
Or break with the ones you’ve followed
He will do one of two things
He will admit to everything
Or he’ll say he’s just not the same
And you’ll begin to wonder why you came

The final verse brings an end to the story of A and B. B starts become enraged at A, and it is seen that B raises his voice. A, to calm him down, lowers his own voice and then gives B an ultimatum (B doesn’t stand for Bourne by the way, I can never understand those movies). B has two choices, to either keep going until he eventually falls into madness or stop and be here with the people that he cares about. When you “lose” something, it can refer to “losing your marbles” or “losing a screw”, you get the point. The idea is, that B has put himself on a road that will cause him to spiral into a life that is uncontrollable. But, according to A, if B stops at this point on his road, he can be with the “ones you’ve (he’s) followed”. If the people he’s followed have pulled the breaks, they must have sensed danger if they were to continue. But B has a choice here, to either leave them behind (in safety) or journey on, in a path that will most likely lead to imminent danger.

Finally, B is now in a situation where he will do one of two things. He will either admit to everything that he’s been trying to hide from A or his other way out is by saying the thing that people with identity issues say. Saying that “he’s just not the same”, is redundant, none of us are the same. But we all react similarly to stress and discomfort in life (it is these two that are most likely the root cause of his troubles) and so does B. But he won’t agree and will continue to keep hiding everything from A, and A will once again ask himself “why am I doing this?”. It’s a good question, if someone’s being so uncooperative, why continue to try and get through to them? We’ve already established that A could represent Slade, and Slade was a camp counsellor, so it might have been out of duty.  

HANG ON! Where’s that catchy chorus that I like?

Don’t worry, I’ve got you covered.

Thanks man, d’ya wanna go for tacos tonight?

Nah, Tuesday was yesterday.

Where did I go wrong? I lost a friend
Somewhere along in the bitterness
And I would have stayed up with you all night
Had I known how to save a life

The chorus is the key (in my opinion) to the premise of the song. A lost a friend, who can be presumed is B. The bitterness, the bitterness of life? This is the only thing I could think of that made sense in the current situation. It’s the last two lines that really drive the meaning home. B was lost during the night, when A was unaware of it. A goes onto say that he would’ve been there with B, but he did not know how to save a life. A life. B is not lost in the woods or anything like that, but he’s lost his life. And we can only presume, but I believe that the exchange between A and B was the day before the night B lost his life. And all those things that B might have been “guilty” of could’ve been signs of depression that leads to suicide. Suicide is one of those things that you might be able to prevent if you notice the actions of the individual early on. It’s also one of those things that can come out of the blue, suffice to say that A couldn’t figure out what B was thinking because he was being so defensive and now A seems to blame himself as he asks, “Where did I go wrong?”. If any of you have any feelings that are similar in nature to the subject matter discussed here, do let someone know, be it a friend, parent or other trusted adults.

To end on a lighter note, 9th Grade Bake Sale next Monday (SHAMELESS PLUG!!!). So bring your money as we will bleed you dry using what can only be named as “capitalism” (can’t fight the system that runs everything). Until next week, Major Tom singing off.

Featured Image: http://us.napster.com/artist/the-fray/album/how-to-save-a-life


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