Song of the Day #1,350: ‘Playing to the Firmament’ – Dar Williams

My latest Random Weekend selection is the opening track of Dar Williams’ 2000 album The Green World.

As a follow-up to the sublime Mortal City and End of the Summer, The Green World falls a bit short but does contain a few great tracks. The best of them is ‘After All,’ one of my favorite songs.

‘Playing to the Firmament’ is sonically interesting, evidence of the better production values Williams introduced to her work around this time. But it doesn’t quite hold up lyrically. Williams’ lyrics are generally very straight-forward and at the same time very poetic. This one is a little too abstract for my taste.

What exactly is she saying here? Biblically, the firmament is the division between our world and the world above, which God called Heaven. What does playing to the firmament mean? Living our lives for the greater good rather than for selfish purposes?

And who’s Mr. Red? Come on, people, I want answers!

There are kids, lots of kids, who put the law inside a circle
As they jump, I hope that you will up and down, up and down
When did you cave into this role that you were cast in
When did dress-up turn to fashion, throw your gown up and down

There’s always the sky, let it hear what you’re saying
For all that you are saying
And let it take you apart, to the elements of praying
Till we are only playing to the firmament
Till we are only playing to the firmament

In the rain, in the rain, people rush around on cold streets
Here’s a shell to hear their heartbeats very loud, very loud
Where’s the pain, it’s only rain, it’s only slowing down a work day
Only singing happy birthday to a crowd, very loud

So turn on the sky, let it hear what you’re saying
For all that you are saying
And let it take you apart, to the elements of praying
Till we are only playing to the firmament
Till we are only playing to the firmament

And when did sex get so mean, when did crime get so clean
You know I just can’t seem to find the soul in this striving
Why not play to a dream, cause the world is too green
For all this bad driving

What’s the rush, dip your brush into this twilight
There are leaves upon the skylight, trace your hand, trace your hand
Mr. Red, he shot ahead, he shot ahead inside a circle
On a bad day, who would you kill, take a stand, trace your hand

There’s always the sky, let it hear what you’re saying
For all that you are saying
Let it take you apart to the elements of praying
Till we are only playing to the firmament
Till we are only playing to the firmament

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3 thoughts on “Song of the Day #1,350: ‘Playing to the Firmament’ – Dar Williams

  1. Dana says:

    I am Mr. Red.

  2. pegclifton says:

    Dana is feeling better 🙂 I’m not sure who Mr Red is (maybe from Reservoir Dogs); but what I get from the lyrics is the cynicism that occurs as we grow older???

  3. Amy says:

    Well… while I can’t say I begin to understand it fully, I do find myself loving it after just one listen.

    First we must decide how we want to interpret the kids who “put the law inside the circle/ as they jump,” so we can better understerstand what to make of the singer “hop[ing] that you (the listener?) will” do the same. And, also, of course, what to make of Mr. Red shooting ahead inside that (same?) circle as the song comes to a close.

    The last two lines of the first verse – “When did you cave into this role that you were cast in/ When did dress-up turn to fashion” remnd me of “When I Was a Boy” and cause me to think of the entire song, then, in that light. What is the “law” that makes sense as we are children but becomes distorted as we allow ourselves to “cave into this role [we] were cast into”?

    So… perhaps playing to the firmament is not about the divide between physcial life on earth and spiritual life in heaven but the divide between the pure/spiritiual life of childhood and the increasingly corrupted life we live as adults (Peg’s growing cyncism interpretation! 🙂

    A crime is a crime when you’re young – if you cheat or you steal, you get caught and face consequences. As you get older, you’re encouraged to find ways to evade your responsibility to pay taxes or to engage in white collar “crime” that will benefit yourself and your clients. Sex, i would argue, can be just as “mean” to teenagers engaging in it, but sexual politics certainly become more complicated as you age.

    That’s what I’m thinking after a single listen anyway. I’ll ponder on it some more and see if I come up with anything more interesting.

    (Oh, and Mr. Red, would then, perhaps, symbolize that child/adult who advances within the circle by/despite following the “law” — maybe?)

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