Song of the Day #1,606: ‘Fall of ’82′ – The Shins

The Shins’ most recent album, Port of Morrow, is chock full of excellent songs about a wide and fascinating range of topics. One in particular, ‘Fall of ’82,’ stands out for me because it’s an ode to singer-songwriter James Mercer’s older sister.

These lyrics remind me very much of my relationship with my own sister, who was always my first and best confidant. It’s a relationship I see mirrored in her own children, who are also five years apart, a younger brother and older sister.

The song’s bridge contains its central message, one with which I can certainly identify: “Had you never been my friend, I wouldn’t be quite what you see, I wouldn’t be the man I am.”

I’m a little perplexed by the final verse of this song. The Halloween lines make sense, though it’s unclear exactly how they relate to the rest of the song. But the final two lines lose me.

I’m hoping my sister (an English teacher) can come to the rescue once again and chime in with an interpretation.

I do relate to you in so many ways
But I didn’t go through what you must have in those early days
You had to be strong at such a very young age
A new life on Lima Lane

So won’t you listen to me now
There’s something I never told you
And I’m about to try
See you were my lifeline when the world was exploding

You moved back in with us in the fall of ’82
I fell into dark times and you were there to help me through
You told me that a downturn would eventually improve
And you were right, so I’m thanking you

So won’t you listen to me now
There’s something I never told you
And I’m about to try
See you were my lifeline when the world was exploding
Footholds eroding

Had you never been my friend
I wouldn’t be quite what you see
I wouldn’t be the man I am

Sister you’ve known me
Lost in a strange world
What has it shown me
What has it unfurled?
Sister you’ve known me
Been lost in a strange world
What has it shown me
What has it unfurled?

October chill in that old dusty town
Halloween came, I was still feeling down
Mom, I lost my sweet tooth
What’s the point in going ’round?
Your boy is losing count
Maybe try the lost and found

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5 thoughts on “Song of the Day #1,606: ‘Fall of ’82′ – The Shins

  1. Dana says:

    Aw, very sweet! Hopefully your sister will see this post before the weekend when she usually catches up on the blog. :-)

    My take on the last line: he is having continuing issues as he moves through adolescence and the “lost and found” is his reminder that he can turn to his sister for that continued guidance.

    But I look forward to hearing the interpretation from your English teacher sister. :-)

  2. Andrea Katz says:

    What a lovely homage to an older sister.Someone who connects with you and helps you through a lost, troubling time of life. I think that the end is a slight change in viewpoint which doesn’t hang together organically with the rest of the song. Rather like me, waiting tenderly for an homage that did not come from someone…!?!#*!

  3. Amy says:

    While your English teacher sister doubts she will be any help at all with those final two lines, she is, nonetheless, quite moved by today’s post (even if she is “catching up” with it a few days after the fact!)

    My best guess is that the last lines refer to childhood itself. There are few more powerful indicators that childhood is passing (or has passed?) then those transition years when it is no longer a given that you will go trick-or-treating on Halloween. I clearly recall wrestling with that feeling that I was too old to go out – which, let’s face it, I probably was… being five years older than my younger brother, I likely was still trick-or-treating well into my teens. This year I saw that conflict mirrored in my own daughter, who just turned 17 a month after Halloween. Like last year, she wondered whether she should go. Like I often did, she opted to go for it.

    Still, I know there will be a day not long from now, when Daniel turns to me and says, “What’s the point in going ’round?” At that point, perhaps he, like the singer, will turn to the “lost and found” for the memories and the reminders.

    Or maybe it means nothing at all. ;)

    I very much agree that the most compelling lines in the song are

    “Had you never been my friend
    I wouldn’t be quite what you see
    I wouldn’t be the man I am.”

    And what I love about those lines are how true they are for each sibling in a family. I have read many research papers on birth order over the years (it’s a topic that fascinates many students, just as it fascinates me), and it strikes me as obvious and awe-inspiring each time I reflect on the fact that each sibling, despite sharing parents, is born into a different family, each shaped tremendously by whether he is born into a family with an older sister or brother, as an only, or as the only until morphing into an oldest when a new baby joins the clan.

    So, for the record (as you know how I love to use your blog as an opportunity to codify important information in the “record”), I wouldn’t be the person I am had I not had such an amazing baby brother.

  4. peg says:

    Lovely blog and comments, and I wouldn’t be the person I am if not for my two beautiful children :)

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