Meaning in Songs

I’ve heard the song “Home” by Edward Sharpe & The Magnetic Zeros twice in the last 2 weeks, both times showing up in one of my Spotify Daily Mixes.  It got me thinking about meaning in songs, because “Home” holds a special meaning to me.

Intended vs Derived Meaning 

I’ve written before about how I sometimes have trouble identifying with music; specifically because I don’t focus on the lyrics.  So a lot of the time, I miss out on the intended meaning of a song.  Even then, sometimes I’m a little obtuse when it comes to metaphors in songs and I get surprised at the “real” meanings.

So most of the time, I put more importance into the derived meaning of songs.  What I mean by that is the feelings and thoughts I associate with that particular music.  For some things – like The Barenaked Ladies’ “Maroon” or Our Lady Peace’s “Spiritual Machines” – I associate them with a particular time in my life (high school).  They bring back some memories of when I first listened to the albums and songs, but I don’t really find a deeper “meaning” to them.

But then there’s a seemingly simple song like “Home”, by Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros (released in 2010 I beileve).


I call it simple but it works just fine for me.  I can’t remember when I first heard this song, but I do know that it hasn’t always held a significant meaning for me.  The main lyric of the chorus says it all about the song:

Home is wherever I’m with you.

I always liked it because the beat is great and the vocals are fun and light.  But two years ago, my wife took a job in another city; for a year and a half we lived apart.  For the first year or so, we kept our house we were renting.  It made sense – the job was at the time just on contract.  Then when her job turned permanent, it didn’t make sense anymore to keep the house, and we moved out, marking the time until I could figure out how to move my job to be with her.

In the end, it all worked out – but in that period of time that we were apart, I listened to this song a lot.  Even when I was still in our house, I didn’t feel like I was at home.  It was that point that the song started to mean a lot more to me than being a catchy pop tune that I really liked.

So now whenever it comes on at random, I try to take some time to just listen to the song.

For me I think the derived meaning of songs is much more important than the intended meaning.  I’m sure that artists are always thinking about the meaning in their music, and that’s good, but just like writing, being able to put your own spin on a song when you hear is what makes it a more personal experience.

Yeah, sure, I always have time for songs you just crank up the volume for when you drive.  But when I can infer a deeper meaning in songs, it makes the experience that much more enjoyable.