Song of the Day #3,747: ‘A Higher Place’ – Tom Petty

It’s bittersweet to see Tom Petty pop up as a Random Weekend selection, just a few days past the one-year anniversary of his death. ‘A Higher Place’ is an appropriate title, I suppose, even if the song is not about heaven but rather a flood.

This is Petty at his Byrds-ian best, all jangly guitars and sweet harmonies. ‘A Higher Place’ is a standout track on one of Petty’s most special albums, Wildflowers.

The first two verses of this song are rather straightforward, describing the urgency to escape a coming flood. Perhaps it’s a metaphor for the piling up of troubles.

The last verse takes a turn, though, toward the memory of a former love. The song ends on a perfect Tom Petty couplet: “When I add up what I’ve left behind, I don’t want to lose no more.”

We gotta get to a higher place
And we gotta leave by night
Before that river takes us down
We gotta find somewhere that’s dry
We gotta run like we’ve never run
Or we’re gonna lose the light

If we don’t get to a higher place and find somebody
Who can help somebody, might be nobody no more

Well, I fool myself and I don’t know why
I thought we could ride this out
I was up all night making up my mind
But now I’ve got my doubts
I got my eye on the waterline
Trying to keep my sense of humor


We gotta get to a higher place
And I hope we all arrive together
We gotta get to a higher place
If we want to survive the weather

I remember walking with her in town
Her hair was in the wind
I gave her my best kiss
She gave it back again
When I add up what I’ve left behind
I don’t want to lose no more


4 thoughts on “Song of the Day #3,747: ‘A Higher Place’ – Tom Petty

  1. Dana Gallup says:

    I’ve always seen the flood as a substance abuse metaphor, which certainly takes on an ironic twist given how Petty died. A “higher” place could be interpreted as both a drug high, but also a sober state of a “dryer place” where Petty can function and help others who are struggling. Read in that context, even the last verse suggests a relationship that Petty may have lost because of excessive drinking or drugs.

  2. Amy says:

    Hmmm… Dana often says that I put more emphasis on lyrics than he does, but I can honestly say (with just a bit of embarrassment) that I’ve never spent a second thinking about what these lyrics mean the many times this song has come up in rotation over the years.

    I wasn’t thinking along the lines of substance abuse when I first approached the lyrics today, but it’s the interpretation that works best with the final, otherwise deeply enigmatic, verse.

    I’m also intrigued by how the reader response theory of literary criticism can apply to song lyrics. Though I doubt Petty intended this, and I doubt I would have ever interpreted the song in this manner before today, this morning I found myself initially finding the “higher ground” as a symbolic place of moral clarity, much like Michelle Obama’s much quoted adage that “when they go low, we go high.”

    Regardless, it’s nice to have Tom Petty show up today with his jangly guitar and mellow voice that always soothes this soul.

  3. Peg says:

    Interesting commentary but maybe there really is a flood or high tides are coming 😊

  4. Bill says:

    I never interpreted the lyrics as metaphoric, but as a first person accounting of an actual flood disaster. “Wildflowers” was released in 1994. Hurricane Andrew ravaged south Florida in 1992. I always believed the lyrics had to do with that storm, in the same vein as “Hurricane” (2011) by Band of Heathens tells a tale of N.O. during Katrina. The recurring lyric “…find somebody who can help somebody, might be nobody no more” brings to mind the people in N.O. stranded on high ground (like rooftops) looking for somebody who could help…else there may be nobody left to rescue.

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