Album Spotlight: Porcupine Tree – “Deadwing”



1. Deadwing

Deadwing.  What a word, right?  And, yet, I think it makes so much sense.  There are many interpretations of this album, and I’ve decided on one that you might not like or agree with completely.  That’s okay.  Keep that in mind, though.

The first track is the title track.  “Deadwing” is an important piece to the album’s puzzle, and something happens here that gives light to the setting for the rest of the album.  “And something warm and soft just passed through here/ It took the precious things that I hold dearer”.  Something warm and soft?  What does that sound like to you?  It’s a woman, obviously.  I know I know, men are strange, and we think in terms like these.  Women are warm and soft, and men are tough and cold.

This man speaking, then, seems to be on a train: “And from the yellow windows of the last train”.  It seems that he meets a woman on this train, and is taken with her immediately.  Yet, she won’t give him the time of day.  Or, perhaps, she never knew he was there.  Perhaps this guy is nothing more than an introverted dreamer.  Either way, “And in the morning when I find I have lost you/ I throw a window open wide and step through”.  In my interpretation, this poor soul kills himself for the loss of this woman he never knew.  What kind of life did he have before this?  What kind of person would do such a thing?  The rest of the album sheds light on this.


2. Shallow

So his life is over.  This possible creepster, or maybe just a hopeless romantic, has killed himself over the loss of this woman he saw on a train.  Quaint?  Idiotic?  Or simply human?  “I don’t remember/ Did something in my past create a hole?/ Don’t use your gender/ To drive a stake right through my soul”.

Our friend is not well.  Something somewhere in his past has ruined his perspective on life and on relationships and sexuality.  He tries his best to avoid meaningful relationships and even tries to make excuses for why none of that matters anyways.  He knows that something created a void inside of him—-a dead wing, so to speak—that has crippled him.

“I live to function/ On my own is all I know/ No friends to mention/ No distraction, nowhere to go”.  And so our friend lives a very miserable life.  He is afraid of relationship; afraid of commitment to something.  He’d rather focus on himself and his own little world.  His shallow life, however, cannot outlast his deep soul for long.


3. Lazarus

He’s stepped into another world.  In the third track off of “Deadwing”, we learn our friend’s name: David.  His name is David.  David is the center of many a forum post, as Steven Wilson seems to have made comments about this album (and song), and many come off as contradictory.  Some say this about incest.  Some say that David is alive the entire time.  Some say he dies.  So, basically, I just have to pick, right?

I’ve decided something.  I’ve decided that “Lazarus” is about David talking to himself, or, rather, the voices in his head talking to him.  He’s walking on cobwebs in life, and doesn’t know if he can live anymore without true love, such as that feeling he felt on the train so long ago.  Perhaps it was his mother, as some say, but I doubt it.  This isn’t Joe Dirt or something.

“Follow me down to the valley below, You know/ Moonlight is bleeding from out of your soul”.  David’s voices, then, are taunting him to give up.  The song can come across as encouraging; but, really, it’s offering him a trip out of this life with promises of care and strength.  It’s eerie.  It’s almost like Death itself is promising a warmer place than the real world.  And, yes, it’s obvious that Lazarus of the Bible is the inspiration here, and this makes sense, as if Death is calling Lazarus back to the grave.


4. Halo

“God is in my fingers/ God is in my head/ God is in the trigger/ God is in the lead.”  Porcupine Tree takes us on a bit of a detour in their fourth track on “Deadwing”.  This track, “Halo”, is incredibly groovy and even convicting at times.  While other tracks on this album are rather vague or amorphous in meaning, this track is about one thing and one thing only: self-righteous religious people that think that they know everything.

Yet, it’s a little deeper than that.  These people have a self-established halo on their heads, looking down on others that have not been “enlightened” or “saved”.  “I’m not the same as you/ Cause I’ve seen the light”.  Even more than this, though, these people somehow make their spiritual convictions into something to bully others, to excuse their own behavior, and to hold as a banner over everything they do, even if it is against their own supposed convictions.

Obviously, we’ve seen this in our day and age.  We’ve seen this in every belief system in every part of history, honestly.  This song is a bit shallow in a way, as it’s very one-sided, especially since non-religious people are often just as arrogant or condescending.  Yet, this song still has much truth to it.  I’m ashamed of much of what my fellow Christians have done throughout history, though I see it as further proof of our fallen condition.  In addition, these actions were not in accordance with Christ’s teachings; and, so, it seems that the most arrogant, condescending believers are the ones that ignore Christ’s teachings the most.  No one has all the answers, and to believe that you do shows most decidedly that you really have none at all.


5. Arriving Somewhere But Not Here

“All my designs, simplified/ And all of my plans, compromised/ And all of my dreams, sacrificed”.  Death.  Death comes upon every single soul that has existed or that even ever will.  What is it like to remember your death?  What is like to be able to remember the pain, the tertiary sounds, or the utter emptiness?  Sometimes, though, life can feel like Death.  What does it feel like to experience living death?

David knows.  And he sympathizes with others that feel the same in this track “Arriving Somewhere But Not Here”.  He compares it to beginning an adult life.  Yet, sometimes, starting an adult life never seems to happen because of the poison you’ve been fed your whole life.  “Ever had the feeling you’ve been here before?/ Drinking down the poison the way you were taught/ Every thought from here on in your life begins/ And all you knew was wrong?”  It doesn’t really matter what you’ve planned, it’s all compromised by the agenda-ridden indoctrination you received as a child.

David is a messed up individual.  It seems like the woman he so loved on the train may have been his mother.  Maybe.  Does that mean that he was incestuous?  Not necessarily, as some males think of their mothers as the women in their lives.  He can’t seem to break away from her, however, even though she’s dead and he’s been given a second chance at life.  His adult life, then, has literally been death.  He’s envious of other sons with mothers; but, somehow, his mother blocks his path still.  Whatever his feelings, he cannot seem to break away on his own.  His mother’s ghost haunts him.  She is yet another deadwing in his life.


6. Mellotron Scratch

The scratching of a mellotron/ It always seemed to make her cry/ Well, maybe she remembers us/ Collecting space up in the sky”.  The sixth song on “Deadwing” might be the hardest to interpret.  This isn’t because it is completely vague, but because it is just vague enough to have several different possible interpretations.

On one hand, this track could be related to the previous ghost story, whether that be an actual ghost or just the feelings of our protagonist.  It could be David trying to reach out to his mother; yet, she can’t see or hear him.  Something about the sound of the mellotron, however, makes her cry, which leads me to believe that the sound of the mellotron reminds her of David.  Maybe he was a prog fan, eh?

Yet, there’s something that tells me that this track is unrelated to the ghost story.  Probably the best explanation I have seen, then, is that this is the picture of a father writing a eulogy for his deceased daughter.  I say “best” simply because I like it best.  This father isn’t sure what to say: “And I’m looking at a blank page now/ Should have filled it up with words somehow”.  Yet, he has hopes that she will remember him while she lives on in heaven: “Well, maybe she remembers us collecting space up in the sky”.

It is interesting to note, though, that a mellotron only “scratches” when something is wrong with it.  So, perhaps this girl was very sensitive, and the shame of lost beauty was too much?  Who knows.  There is, of course, the standard explanation about a man whose relationship has gone to hell, and he is now regretting having never fixed things with his lover.  Perhaps she had even died after they split, too.  Either way, though, this song is about regrets, wordless emotions, and memories that haunt your very soul.  And the mellotron scratch:  Is that a ghost trying to reach out to us?


7. Open Car

“What do we do now?”  This might be the most obvious song on the whole album.  “Open Car” is about  empty, loveless sex that doesn’t satisfy the way the lovers thought it would.  “Hair blown in an open car/ Summer dress slips down her arm/ Hair blown in an open car.”  There’s something magical about this woman: the way she makes him feel is something special, he thinks.  She has all the looks he could ever want, and she has a flair to everything she does.

Yet, it’s not love.  Why do we always pursue those shiny new toys rather than relish what we have?  We always tend to look for the greenest pasture, not realizing that we may be in it already.  Countless men and women have thrown away loving, meaningful relationships for brief, indulgent affairs of fantasy; and then they are left feeling even more empty as they lose both the lover and the family they once had.  This applies to everything, really.  Modern society teaches us to press for the best toys, the most money, and the most impressive lifestyle.

There is a commercial out right now for Sprint where a group of women discuss the new deal from Sprint giving “unlimited everything” for the iPhone 6.  They then scream and shatter all the glass in the area from their sheer excitement.  Why do I mention this?  Everything single time I see this ad, I cringe.  Have we really come to the point where “unlimited iPhone” is the best thing in life—so important that we get giddy and excited?  Are our toys really what make life great?  There are kids on the other side of the globe that simply wish for food for the next day, their family members to be well, and maybe a ball to use in a game with other kids.  How far have we fallen?  Do we really take that much for granted?  Are we really that naive?  How can we not see that we are actually slaves to things that simply won’t satisfy us?

All of this does indeed connect with our protagonist.  He is living a shallow life of empty sex without any true connection to people or the world around him.  Sometimes, he purposefully avoids thinking about anything important, and so his actions become naive and selfish.  Is this really living?


8. Start of Something Beautiful

Have you seen the overall theme yet? Have you seen what a “deadwing” really is? Well, I’ll leave that for discussion in the final track. This second to last song on “Deadwing” is a beautiful ode to the lovers out there—the lovers that unfortunately never find their love returned to them. “Start of Something Beautiful” is rather tragic, actually. “I’m going to show the way I feel unless I find you give a damn/ The more I get to know the less I find that I understand”.

I think even the married couples out there can relate to this song. Imagine being incredibly in love with someone else, thinking that a fantasy—-a paradise—is finally yours. And then, one day, it all falls apart under your feet. You find that you were never really loved. You find that you were being used. You find that you were foolish to trust in love.  This does happen, unfortunately.

The poor soul in this track seems to have this as a trend in his life. “Mother lost her looks for you/ Father never wanted you”. Sure, he lost the love of his life, but he’s never really been loved, has he? Is it something about him? Or is it something about the people in his life? Again, we always tend to look for the fantasy life, but does it really exist? How can it exist with all the hurtful, cruel people out there?


9. Glass Arm Shattering

“Feeling all your love”. We have finally come to the end of “Deadwing”; and, honestly, I’m just as confused as when I started. Yet, I think I’ve learned quite a bit along the way. This final track, “Glass Arm Shattering”, sounds like an appropriate end to the theme of people with “deadwings”, as the deadwing seems to be shattering, finally. But what is a deadwing, really?

On one hand, I feel that a deadwing is simply a character flaw, though I think it relies completely on perspective. In fact, the primary deadwing in this album seems to be insecurity, or an inability to find satisfaction within yourself. Think back: Again and again, these people have thrown themselves at others. They were hoping and praying for returned love, or for some sort of recognition and care. Again and again, however, it was denied, and they slunk back to their melancholy holes.

On the other hand, I believe we all have a deadwing: a void inside of us that needs filled in one way or another. Some people fill this void rather early in life, almost to the point where they never knew they had one. Others find some sort of false fulfillment in material things or in hanging onto the skirts of others. Yet, I believe the people in “Deadwing” are looking for something more; something far more satisfying. They are on the right track, looking for spiritual intangibles like love. However, can humanity ever really give you what you seek?

So, what is a deadwing?  It’s all of the above.  It’s anything that drags you down and takes you out of the equation of life.  It’s what keeps you from flying.  It many times is something bestowed upon you by unloving parents, awful tragedies, or even just your own personality.  No matter where it came from, however, it becomes a personal struggle for us and we try to transcend our circumstances and truly fly someday.

In a way, the people portrayed in this album have less of a void than others. What it comes down to, then, is perspective; and, many times, those with heightened spiritual understanding or longings are often labeled as sad, depressed, etc. They often fail in this world. Yet, is that really failure? Failure by society’s standards is pretty one-sided, right? In my book, having all the shiny toys in the world doesn’t even come close to the importance of a lifetime of spiritual inquiry and longing. Who really has the deadwing: the shallow oblivious or the depressed informed?



4 responses to “Album Spotlight: Porcupine Tree – “Deadwing”

    • Yeah, I’ve heard that. As I said in the post, SW has made plenty of remarks about the song, and many times he contradicts himself. I simply had to pick one version. I chose the one that I felt went with the flow.

      Liked by 2 people

  1. How does the extra bonus track “Shesmovedon” fit into the story line? It’d have to be placed between Track 1 Deadwing and Track 2 Shallow, if not within Track 1 itself.


  2. Pingback: Personal Favorites: Sad Albums | The PROG Mind·

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