Though your confidence may be shattered, it doesn't matter.
December 19, 2009 7:18 PM   Subscribe

I love the Neil Young track "For the Turnstiles." It's a great performance of a great song. I walk around the house singing it, annoying my wife and frightening my children. But I've got to come to grips with the fact that I can't quite decipher whatever the literal meaning of the lyrics might be. Can you help me?

All the sailors with their seasick mamas
Hear the sirens on the shore,
Singin' songs for pimps with tailors
Who charge ten dollars at the door.

You can really learn a lot that way
It will change you in the middle of the day.
Though your confidence may be shattered,
It doesn't matter.

All the great explorers
Are now in granite laid,
Under white sheets for the great unveiling
At the big parade.

All the bushleague batters
Are left to die on the diamond.
In the stands the home crowd scatters
For the turnstiles,
For the turnstiles,
For the turnstiles.
posted by e.e. coli to Media & Arts (11 answers total) 11 users marked this as a favorite
 
Which lyrics do you not understand literally? "turnstiles" refers to the turnstiles through which people pass when entering or leaving a baseball stadium. Bushleague is a term that means sub-par or amateur baseball player.

What else?
posted by billtron at 9:10 PM on December 19, 2009


You have fabulous taste in Neil Young songs. This is one of his best. But I don't think you're going to get a good answer here; I suggest you just love the openness of the lyrics (and the power of their piecemeal imagery) instead of looking for an overall meaning. So much of On The Beach (and the other albums in the so-called "Ditch Trilogy") is a brilliant, murky retreat from the success of Harvest, and the fact that Young was consuming "Honey Slides", a goop of sauteed marijuana and honey, while recording the thing tells me the best you're going to get is whatever evocative pictures you come up with yourself. Here's what Rolling Stone's 1974 review said about it:

"See the Sky About To Rain" and "For The Turnstiles," tremulous, fatalistic ballads, encompass images of violence, corruption and disintegration, their meanings contained in their cryptic titles, each a slogan, a mantra, a scrawl of graffiti.

Find your own meaning in the scrawl. For what it's worth, this fan analysis of On The Beach lyrics throws up its hands at "For the Turnstiles," too:

FOR THE TURNSTILES A song i have absolutly no understanding of !!! even after 26 years of listening to the track. please send all ideas, opinions and comments to Colin Young at this web-Site

Bottom line: relax and let your mind think of Honey Slides while you head for the exit of a big stadium.
posted by mediareport at 9:18 PM on December 19, 2009 [5 favorites]


Young had lost Danny Whitten, his lead guitar to a heroin overdose in the aftermath of the album "On the Beach".

Pimps with tailors who charge ten dollars at the door. ----Record industry pimps like Geffen and Graham.

Bush league batters to my mind refers to lesser famous musician like Whitten who are ignored and trampled in the fame crush.


Sirens would be a play on singing and the police sirens, which is a metaphor Young explores repeatedly during this period.

He is so wasted you can at times hear him fall off the stool as he sings.

I agree with mediareport, the trilogy is some of his best work.
posted by effluvia at 9:24 PM on December 19, 2009 [3 favorites]


Pimps for tailors -- seamstress is slang for prostitute....
posted by nomisxid at 9:34 PM on December 19, 2009


I don't know, it seems almost straightforward to me.

He talks about three kinds of people: sailors, explorers, and baseball players, who travel and risk their lives for the thing they do. (Ok, with baseball players it's a little abstract.) The sailors are lured onto the rocks by sirens, the explorers die and then are displayed to the public in a parade, and the baseball players die on the field and the crowd goes home.

Sounds like it's about performing and being a musician on the road to me. Also a bit of the public never appreciating you until you're gone, like Nick Drake's "Fruit Tree."
posted by drjimmy11 at 11:56 PM on December 19, 2009 [5 favorites]


fantastic analysis in this thread of one of NY's best ever tracks. i've always looked at this song as a musician caught in the heartless whirling gears of the entertainment machine.

also, check out MV/EE (Matt Valentine and Erika Elder)'s cover of 'Turnstiles,' recasting it as utterly bleak free folk. My favorite Neil cover ever.
posted by porn in the woods at 2:35 AM on December 20, 2009


All the great explorers
Are now in granite laid,
Under white sheets for the great unveiling
At the big parade.

Explorers die, are buried in shrouds and ressurected.

All the bushleague batters
Are left to die on the diamond.
In the stands the home crowd scatters
For the turnstiles,
For the turnstiles,
For the turnstiles.

For whatever reason I have always connected this verse with the sniper from film The Manchurian Candidate.

I don't think these Ditch Trilogy songs have a single set literal meaning as such. The tumbling many layered imagery and multiple allusions can lead one in many different directions.
posted by Dr.Pill at 5:49 AM on December 20, 2009


I always thought it was pretty clear, at least compared to a lot of other Neil Young songs. drjimmy11 is basically right. People attempt great things but they fail, and even if they succeed, they die; all good things end. This only depressing if you're the kind of person who likes to ignore it.

Ludwig Wittgenstein:
It seems to me that, in every culture, I come across a chapter headed ''Wisdom.'' And then I know exactly what is going to follow: ''Vanity of vanities, all is vanity.''
posted by k. at 8:12 AM on December 20, 2009


Wow, people sure do like to lock down meaning in pieces of art.

The tumbling many layered imagery and multiple allusions can lead one in many different directions.

Amen; it's a deliberately open song about much, much more than "being a musician on the road." *shivers* Why on earth would you want such an achingly beautiful gem to be about one particular thing like that? It couldn't be more clear that Young was working heavily in smoke and metaphor at this point in his career, and almost certain that he was alluding to human mortality, say, at least as much as the already clich├ęd idea that "Golly it's hard being a musician on the road."
posted by mediareport at 9:25 AM on December 20, 2009


Years ago I saw a bar band do this song with a rock beat and heavy Hammond organ. It was a rather nice cover.

Later I was in a band that did 'Revolution Blues'. Ditch trilogy songs tend to have depressing lyrics (understatement?) but often strong melodies. People should cover them more.
posted by ovvl at 10:29 AM on December 20, 2009


None of Neil's better songs have the same satisfying meaning for any two people it seems.

After the Gold Rush is one that I keep coming back to, for example. I have this very complicated theory that it's about Kennedy, the Cold war, and the associated space race. It makes perfect sense to me and I keep getting more out of it thinking of it that way, but I've never seen anyone else espouse that particular interpretation.

It's ok. That's why Neil Young is so great.
posted by cmoj at 11:40 AM on December 20, 2009


« Older Cool, easy tattoo parlor website template?   |   It's not the soreness that bothers me. It's the... Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.