Song of the Day #282: ‘Dreaming with a Broken Heart’ – John Mayer

mayerThis is a song that I’ve always liked a lot from John Mayer’s last album, Continuum. It’s soft and sweet with a nice melody and an emotional bridge. Your basic John Mayer broken heart song… solid through and through.

But I’m not featuring it today because I dig it. I chose it because I recently read something about it that intrigued me and I’m curious what others think.

In an Entertainment Weekly capsule about favorite “heartbreaking” songs, a reader named Jenn wrote this about ‘Dreaming with a Broken Heart’:

‘I thought it was about someone leaving and the other person having to deal with that. But then I realized it’s about having someone die and having to wake up every day knowing they aren’t there anymore.”

That was the first time it ever occurred to me that the song might be about a deceased lover rather than an ex. And yes, the song becomes a lot more powerful when read that way.

So the question is… does Jenn have it right? Is that what John Mayer intended? Or did she just take a good break-up song and turn it into a powerful song about grieving, all on her own? And either way, should I credit Jenn for her astute comment as much as Mayer for actually writing the thing?

Because, thanks to Jenn, I like this song even more now.

When you’re dreaming with a broken heart
The waking up is the hardest part

You roll out of bed and down on your knees
And for a moment you can hardly breathe
Wondering was she really here
Is she standing in my room?

No, she’s not
Cause she’s gone, gone, gone, gone, gone.

When you’re dreaming with a broken heart
The giving up is the hardest part

She takes you in with her crying eyes
Then all at once you have to say goodbye
Wondering could you stay my love
Will you wake up by my side?

No, she can’t
Cause she’s gone, gone, gone, gone, gone.

Do I have to fall asleep with roses in my hand?
Do I have to fall asleep with roses in my hand?
Do I have to fall asleep with roses in my hand?
Do I have to fall asleep with roses in my, roses in my hands?
Would you get them if I did?

No, you won’t
Cause you’re gone, gone, gone, gone, gone.

When you’re dreaming with a broken heart
the waking up is the hardest part.

9 thoughts on “Song of the Day #282: ‘Dreaming with a Broken Heart’ – John Mayer

  1. Dana says:

    Well, after my discovery of lyrical meaning for yesterday’s song, I thought I could strike gold twice using Wikipedia. No such luck. So, left only to my own interpretation, I see this as simply a breakup song. I don’t really see a single line that suggests that it is about a dead lover.

    Oh, and by the way, I maintain that there is nothing less boring about Mayer than James Taylor:) This song could put me right to sleep….goes on way too long.

    I’m gone, gone, gone, gone, gone….

  2. Amy says:

    I don’t find this song boring at all. I actually find it quite poignant. While I don’t think Mayer necessarily intended to limit either possible interpretation, the line “She takes you in with her crying eyes” leads me to lean toward the break-up theory. The enigmatic roses in the hand in the last verse might be the best evidence for the alternative (aka Jenn’s) theory. Regardless, any song about a heartbroken lover who has lost his partner can likely work for a heartbroken lover who has LOST his lover, in a far more permanent, devastating sense. I don’t see why Mayer’s song would be any different.

  3. Clay says:

    I wonder if he meant it to be ambiguous in that way. Because he could easily have added a line about her moving on with somebody else, or about her “last breath” (or something like that) depending on which way he wanted to go.

    Or maybe it never occurred to him at all. I guess that’s what interpretation is all about… that point where it no longer matters what the writer intended and the thing takes on a life of his own.

    As for the whole “boring” argument… I think it’s as simple as music that’s boring to one person isn’t necessarily boring to another. And replace boring with pretty much any other adjective and the same is true.

  4. Dana says:

    Well let’s substitute “boring” with “alterna-safe” and call it a day.

    I have never heard a Mayer lyric that I found particularly deep, complex or insightful. I doubt he was intending for these lyrics to work on 2 levels. It’s just a breakup song. Period.

  5. Clay says:

    Tell that to Jenn. 🙂

    I don’t think it’s safe to say any song is “just” anything, regardless of the songwriter’s intent (which we don’t even know most of the time). If, to somebody else, a song means something beyond your interpretation, well, that’s what the song means. Period!

    John Mayer is definitely alterna-safe… that I agree with.

    I don’t know that any of his lyrics are “particularly deep, complex or insightful” but I don’t think the two possible meanings of this song require them to be any of those things.

  6. Kerrie Rueda says:

    I have never thought that this was anything but a break-up song (one that I like a lot, by the way). But I can definitely see the alternate interpretation working, too.
    His song “Say” is similar. They used it in the movie “The Bucket List” where the interpretation is pretty clear. It could be interpreted as a break-up song as well (I think), but when I hear it, I have one very clear understanding of it in my mind and I cry every time in spite of myself.

    Interpret away – I’m with you, Clay; meaning is in the ear of the listener. 🙂

  7. pegclifton says:

    Interesting discussion–I read that dreaming of roses means that a joyful occasion is nearing, and you will possess the faithful love of your sweetheart. So maybe he’s hoping to have his dream come true??

  8. Amy says:

    Nice research, Peg 🙂 I like that idea. And I’m with Clay and Kerrie. We definitely should never limit our interpretations to those the author/songwriter may have had in mind when writing.

  9. Ben says:

    I’m not sure what John’s intent was but I admit I didn’t give the song much thought when I first heard it. Now that my wife has cancer and liver issues and our time together is short, when I hear this song I hear my future self.

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