Issue #289 / June 2024

Listening to Frogs on the ol’ Spotify so spend that 0.001 pence wisely, but got thinking: I have no fucking idea what this song is about. I love it, but its lyrics are meaningless to me. So, my question is this: what makes you decide whether a lyric is great or should be dumped cos it’s utter shit, cos, and I mean this in the nicest possible way, you walk a very fine tightrope between the two, my man. Anyway, best go, nice catching up, love to you and yours and all that.

BARRY, LEATHERHEAD, UK

Spoiler Alert: If, like me, you prefer to arrive at your own interpretation of a song, please do not read further.

Dear Barry,

The melancholy image of you sitting in Leatherhead, perplexed by the lyrics to Frogs and unable to find meaning in them, kept me awake for much of last night. And so this morning I want to try to shed some light on the song so that you can feel your 0.001 pence investment has been better spent. Here we go.

In Frogs, a couple (most likely my wife and me) walk through the rain on a Sunday morning. An alert listener will deduce that they are walking home from church because bells are ringing, and a reading from the Bible, the story of Cain and Abel, is still rolling around in their heads.

 

Ushering in the week, he knelt down

And crushed his brothers head in with a bone

 

The murder of Abel by his brother, Cain, is the first human interaction outside of the Garden of Eden, and this image of sin and suffering establishes an atrocious baseline for the Bible itself and also for the song, Frogs. We enter the song at this point of human iniquity and brokenness, yet what the couple see before them as they walk, hand in hand, on this rainy Sunday morning is not in the slightest bit despairing. Indeed, the world is teeming with life.

 

The frogs are jumping in the gutters

Leaping to God

Amazed of love and amazed of pain

Amazed to be back in the water again

 

Those little frogs, Barry, are you and me, and all of humanity – momentarily leaping toward love, wonder, meaning, and transcendence, only to land in the gutter again. It is a lovely image and, in my opinion, well worth your 0.001 pence.

In the next verse, we find that-

 

The children in the heavens

Are jumping for joy

Jumping for love

And opening the sky above

 

By this I mean the many dead, those no longer with us, those that death makes like children (again, that’s you and me, in time, I’m sorry to say) are like the frogs, jumping happily among the weeping clouds. Once again, our joys erupt from our various sorrows. Simple words, Barry, but not without their beauty!

But then, in true Caveian style, the song changes direction. It cries out-

 

Take that gun out of your hand!

 

Reflecting on the original image of Cain and Abel, it asks for an end to conflict, for humanity to stop killing each other and, Barry, to be kind. It is a call to love, as we realise the couple are heading home to the marital bed, another image of joy nested within its attendant woes-

 

Frog-marching you home, babe

To a bed made of tears

 

And the song builds and builds-

 

Hop inside my coat! Hop inside my coat!

 

And as it reaches its stunning climax, the narrator, entirely lost to the moment and completely extemporising, implores-

 

Kill me! Kill me!

 

He asks to be killed by God, to be killed by love, to be delivered from the human condition, to be reborn into something transcendent, as the singers cry out and the strings and horns do their ecstatic thing. Kinda cool.

The song reaches its orgasmic climax, then folds in upon itself, those spasms of joy falling away, landing ‘back in the water again’ as a depressed-

 

Kris Kristofferson walks by, kicking a can

In a shirt, he hasn’t washed for years

 

Country music fans will understand this refers to Kris Kristofferson’s great song of spiritual desolation, Sunday Morning Coming Down, in which its narrator wakes up on Sunday morning, spent and hungover, and puts on ‘his cleanest, dirty shirt’. Barry, check it out.

Frogs is a laudatory and epigrammatic paean to the cosmos as we sometimes find it, a cosmos tilting towards love and revelling in its own insistent beauty. The Bad Seeds captured beautifully the feeling of the joyous leap of the frog, its flippered feet and hands splayed, jumping Kermit-like toward God, only to wind up back in the gutter. Even though acts of human brokenness begin and end the song, the delighted dance of life is played out upon this substratum of suffering, the one eternally entangled with the other. This is, if you like, the meaning of the song.

Barry, you asked how I tell if a lyric is good. I find that out when I first sing the song in the studio. Frogs spoke to me through a series of deceptively simple proclamations, and as I sang it, it moved me profoundly with its meaning. Are they good lyrics? I don’t know. But they feel special, urgent, and entirely new. This is why I write to you, in earnest and with respect, so that you know.

Love, Nick

 

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