Song of the Day #1,200: ‘Slow Dancing in a Burning Room’ – John Mayer

My wife and I were listening to this song in the car the other day and I remarked that it was a lovely metaphor. Slow dancing in a burning room… what a neat way to describe a relationship that is clearly ending despite either party wanting to accept that fact.

We started kicking around other songs that use metaphor effectively, and I decided to dedicate this week to five of them. This is what happens when you’re married to an English teacher.

I’m starting with the song that inspired the theme. I know John Mayer has a long list of detractors, and I’m no fan of the man as a human being, but I’ll eagerly defend his songwriting, and particularly his lyrics.

In addition to the evocative title phrase, I love “the storm before the calm” and “I’ll make the most of all the sadness, you’ll be a bitch because you can.” He paints a vivid picture of these two circling each other as they circle the drain.

The frustration is summed up in the final repeated lines, “Don’t you think we oughta know by now? Don’t you think we shoulda learned somehow?” Some lessons people just don’t want to learn.

It’s not a silly little moment,
It’s not the storm before the calm.
This is the deep and dying breath of
This love that we’ve been working on.

Can’t seem to hold you like I want to
So I can feel you in my arms.
Nobody’s gonna come and save you,
We pulled too many false alarms.

We’re going down,
And you can see it too.
We’re going down,
And you know that we’re doomed.
My dear,
We’re slow dancing in a burning room.

I was the one you always dreamed of,
You were the one I tried to draw.
How dare you say it’s nothing to me?
Baby, you’re the only light I ever saw.

I’ll make the most of all the sadness,
You’ll be a bitch because you can.
You try to hit me just to hurt me
So you leave me feeling dirty
Because you can’t understand.

We’re going down,
And you can see it too.
We’re going down,
And you know that we’re doomed.
My dear,
We’re slow dancing in a burning room.

Go cry about it – why don’t you?
My dear, we’re slow dancing in a burning room

Don’t you think we oughta know by now?
Don’t you think we shoulda learned somehow?

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6 thoughts on “Song of the Day #1,200: ‘Slow Dancing in a Burning Room’ – John Mayer

  1. Dana says:

    Don’t like Mayer, the person or, for the most part, his music. I find this metaphor to be rather simple, obvious and trite.

    Hoping the rest of the week has some more interesting (and better) metaphor themed songs.

  2. Clay says:

    There’s no need to sugarcoat your opinion, Dana. ;-)

  3. Amy says:

    I don’t mind the metaphor and think that it has potential to rise past trite, but I do wonder why Mayer doesn’t extend it more effectively than he does. When he warns that they’ve “pulled too many false alarms,” he begins to explore some of the more intriguing facets of his metaphor. However, the chorus – “We’re going down…” suggest, as you clearly indicate in your post, Clay, that they’re “circling the drain.” Why mix those metaphors? Stick with your burning room, Mayer. There’s plenty of rich material to develop in that metaphor alone.

  4. Clay says:

    I don’t know that he’s mixing metaphors (although I was with my drain comment). A room that burns burns down, after all, so them “going down” with it isn’t inconsistent. He also describes her as “the only light” he ever saw, hinting that that light turned into a flame.

  5. Amy says:

    I don’t think one would use the phrase “going down” to describe being engulfed in flames, which is what is going to happen if they don’t stop slow dancing in that burning room!

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