Deep Dive: The National’s “Light Years”
Diving Deep into the Meanings of Your Favorite New Releases
The rock band, The National, have an innate way of demanding your attention and emotion through every glorious track they release. This was proven (for the umpteenth time) on the morning of April fourth when they released their song, “Light Years,” from their upcoming album, I Am Easy to Find, because for a brief moment the world stopped turning (and has yet to start turning again for me.) “Light Years” is a deeply, haunting moving song that begins with a delicate, yet masterful piano riff. The piano alone could bring you to your knees with tears in your eyes all before Matt’s voice even starts in. Once it does, his voice commands the tender lyrics as he articulates the pain of being human all too well.
Here is the song:
The title of the song itself, “Light Years,” implies great distance, thus setting the tone of the track. The song can be interpreted in various ways, which, to me, is what truly makes it as brilliant as it is. Upon listening to it (thousand times over at least), I have found numerous meanings within the lyrics.
Two of the most prominent ideas conveyed, in my opinion, are death and estrangement. I found that I either listened to it and heard the story of somebody who has lost someone to death, and they are speaking of the distance between them— but it’s impossible to reach them since they have passed on. On the other hand, I found that I heard the story of two people (significant others, close friends, or what have you,) who are far estranged and disconnected from one another with a great irreconcilable distance between them.
The song starts off on a light, comforting note. The first two lines paint a warm, radiant picture as we imagine somebody waiting, lying in the grass and basking in the warmth of the sun. Shortly after, a more sorrowful, dark tone seeps in as the last line of the first verse paints a somber picture; one that implies some sort of loss or separation.
The chorus lyrics, “Oh the glory of it all, was lost on me, ’till I saw how hard it’d be to reach you,” implies taking somebody and time spent with them for granted whether they are still living, or no longer here. They are now realizing what has been lost because of the absence (physically or mentally) of the other person, and the finality of never being able to speak to or connect with them again.
“And I would always be light years, light years away from you,” continues to instill the theme of this tremendously painful, immeasurable distance.
The lyrics go on to talk about possibly seeing someone’s mother in the park, but it could have been anybody because it was after dark. Walking around in the park after dark by your lonesome seems like a very despairing thing to do, although it can be quite peaceful at times. The tone that has been previously set makes the lyrics seem more despondent— much more lonely, which plays into the sorrowful theme.
Fast forward to the lyrics, “You could’ve been right there next to me, and I’d have never known.”
In the story where a loved one has been lost to death, it could mean that they are a ghost and could literally be standing right next to you (as a spirit or something of the sort), and you’d never know. In the story where two people are estranged, it could mean that you could be standing right next to somebody, and yet you’d never know (figuratively speaking) because of how distant and removed you both are. Maybe you’ve fallen out of love or grown so far apart that you feel like you don’t even know them anymore— like you can’t understand one another anymore. Quite possibly, you’ve even taken one another’s presence for granted and overlooked them as they were right in front of you.
The song finishes with a few repetitions of “Light years, light years away from you,” and then the piano plays its delicate melody a few more times over until it softly ends.
This melancholic track is a beautiful heartbreaking representation of distance, of loss, and of being human.