Song of the Day #309: ‘Star Witness’ – Neko Case

nekocase‘Star Witness’ was the first song that really hit me on Neko Case’s wonderful Fox Confessor Brings the Flood. As the second track, it sets the tone early on for what’s to come — it’s my favorite song on one of my favorite albums.

Because my kids have chosen to listen to this CD on the way to school for more than a year now (with some Rihanna, Duffy and M.I.A. sprinkled in), I have heard this song probably more than 100 times, give or take. And yet I’ve never tired of it. Even now, tracking it down on YouTube for this Song of the Day post, I’ve listened to it all the way through more than once.

Case says the song was inspired by a murder scene she witnessed in Chicago. A young black man had been shot dead in the streets and a crowd gathered as the cops worked the scene disinterestedly and the victim’s mother quietly mourned. She reimagined that scenario as a car accident.

At least that’s what seems to be happening in the first verse. The rest is all very abstract and impressionistic. The last verse seems to return to the scene of the fatal accident, and the image of a woman watching as her “nightgown sweeps the pavement” crying “Please don’t let him die” brings to my mind that devastated mother in Chicago.

I like the references to the indifference of the establishment to human suffering. The deadly car accident involved a 1969 sedan, but “the paper said ’75.” As for the non-print media, “this is nothing new, no television crew.” And when the police or ambulance come to the fatal scene, “they don’t even put on the siren.”

Where I can use some help in deciphering this song (yeah, even after 100 listens) is in the other verses and the chorus. The second verse, with its reference to a thermos and skinned knees, sounds like childhood to me. A young girl watching fireworks fizzle on the 4th of July. Is this a flashback brought on by the accident?

The verse about going to her sister’s to watch the baby… perhaps another remembrance of times past? I do love the line “the look on your face yanks my neck on the chain.”

And finally, the chorus. “Hey there, there’s such tender wolves ’round town tonight.” Who or what are the wolves? And why are they tender? Perhaps these are the young men shooting each other in our city streets, dangerous as wolves but vulnerable as children?

My true love drowned in a dirty old pan of oil
That did run from the block of a Falcon sedan, 1969
The paper said ’75
There were no survivors, none found alive

Trees break the sidewalk
And the sidewalk skins my knee
There’s glass in my thermos and blood on my jeans
Nickels and dimes at the 4th of July
Roll off in a crooked line to the chain link lots
Where the red-tails dive
Oh, how I’d forgot what it’s like

Hey, when she sings, when she sings
When she sings like she runs
Moves like she runs
Hey, when she moves, when she moves
When she moves like she runs
Moves like she runs
Hey there, there’s such tender wolves ’round town tonight
‘Round the town tonight
Hey there, there’s such tender wolves ’round town tonight
‘Round the town tonight

Hey pretty baby, get high with me
We can go to my sister’s if we say we’ll watch the baby
The look on your face yanks my neck on the chain
And I would do anything to see you again
So I’ve fallen behind


Go on, go on and scream and cry
You’re miles from where anyone will find you
This is nothing new, no television crew
They don’t even put on the siren
My nightgown sweeps the pavement
Please don’t let him die

Oh, how I’d forgot…

2 thoughts on “Song of the Day #309: ‘Star Witness’ – Neko Case

  1. Amy says:

    Yeah. Um. No frakkin idea 😉 Why don’t you ask Fiona and Sophia, who have heard the song the same 100 times and likely have more insight than their father 🙂

    Seriously, after just one listen – and at 6ish in the morning – the best I can come up with has nothing to do with childhood memories. Could the shooting/accident have taken place on July 4th? Or perhaps she wants to set it then? She has a thermos, but there’s glass in it – presumably from the accident. Her jeans are blood-stained, from the body or from falling to her knees on the sidewalk in mourning? Beats me.

    When she’s suggesting tending to the baby it’s as a ruse to give her and her – lover? – a place (her sister’s house) to get high. I’m thinking all of the verses connect to the same night. But who is running, and why she’s running, I have no idea.

    By the way, love how you throw out these “could you help me decipher the lyrics” posts to suck me right in 😉

  2. Dana says:

    I tend to agree with Amy’s interpretation that this all relates to the tragic scene she witnesses. I suspect that she witnessed it as a young teen, which explains some of the imagery regarding the thermos and also the age of the car she describes.

    That’s about all I got. Good song though.

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