I was giving the movie One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest another try the other day and I couldn’t come up with the last line of the book, which flipped my wig in high school. The first line is easy. They’re out there. But the last line I blanked on. Mike came back with it: I been away a long time. A very good last line. I started thinking about this last line/first line business in music. It should be looked at. So, I’ve decided to fight the dead hours coming up with my favorite last lines to albums, and even a couple songs because they are that good.
The first last line I want to look at is the last line of a song you know. “Life is but a Dream” is the last line to Row, Row, Row Your Boat. What a fucking great last line to a song. By far the best kiddie song ending lyric. A lot of people know this song/sing this song, but few look at the implications of that line. It’s not like the other, I would say, one dimensional popular nursery rhymes (twinkle mary rock a bye mice). Yea, they have social implications like Ring Around the Rosy being about the plague, but none of them are as complicated as the line Life is but a Dream. Here we have an image of a regular dude, rowing his boat, gently down a stream, merrily on his way somewhere, but then BAKOW- Life is but a dream. What? The rhyme hides the fact that this line is very fucked up, summing up a very complicated feeling of the world. The first three lines are about the physical world, the third line is about his happy feeling with the physical world and the last line jumps off the boat, off the stream and lands you inside the man’s head where the pleasantness of the world has caused the man to disregard reality and feel as if he is living a dream.
The most interesting word of the last line is But. Life is BUT a dream. The mind over reality hogwash is one thing, but that word But is even more interesting to me. Life is but a dream could also be understood as life is merely a dream. Merely. Only. It’s not as if he’s saying that life is a dream la la la, how pleasant. The narrator, because it might be a narrator- not the main character speaking this line, is saying life is merely a dream. That’s it. Just a dream, completely disregarding the very concrete reality of the first three lines. A concrete reality that exists in all the other nursery rhymes, but is destroyed here. And then, because the song’s a round. We start it again and build up the reality, only to destroy it with every concluding line. When others join in and starting points and ending points are fuzzed, reality is being built up and destroyed on a cycle. It’s beautiful.
Now, one could argue the last line is not actually the last line because the song is a round and is supposed to go on forever, disturbing the mental functions of first those listening (to annoyed angry madness) and eventually to those singing (to a more blissful braindead madness). This, however, is a different battle. It does end and this is the last line, but why fight? This is America. If you have a problem with this, take your copy of Finnegan’s Wake, begin reading and never stop til you die. Killed by Joyce it can say on your sad little gravestone.
There is another way of looking at it that is a little different. If we take the line as the rower’s thought on the world, not the narrator’s thought on the rower, we have to think bout what type of man would say that. The man’s life must suck balls. He must have a very shitty life, because he can appreciate it when things are good. He may have gone thru monsoons and rapids to get to this point, so he is grateful and is so grateful he really thinks it. He doesn’t just say this is nice, he says this is but a dream. Again, if we look at the word But, we find out more. Thinking about the word But pushes this interpretation further. Life is But a Dream because this is not really life. Life is harsh. Life is not merrily rowing your boat down a stream. That’s fuckin’ work and he’s smart enough to know that and say it.
One last way which is outside this entire realm is the existential listening. Life is insignificant. It does not matter what you do. What you accomplish. How many streams you row down merrily, it does not amount to anything in the end. A phantasm. Delusion. Hallucination. Phantasm. A fuckin’ dream.
I will end this with this: This post has 46.34 (rounded) times more words than the entire song.