“The Trapeze Swinger,” Iron & Wine

Written by March 21st, 2011 at 10:31 am

Iron & Wine’s “The Trapeze Singer,” officially released on 2009’s b-sides and rarities compilation, Around The Well, was also featured in the film In Good Company. Weighing in at just over nine minutes, Sam Beam has a lot to say about his first love.

2004’s In Good Company depicts corporate restructuring in the years before the current economic recession – a sort of less-revealing version of corporate America than The Company Men. It seems an odd place for one of Sam Beam’s hypnotic and pastoral lyrics, but the song also reflects the film’s youthful love story.

As with many of Sam Beam’s songs, “The Trapeze Swinger” is peppered with religious elements – St Peter’s, the holy kingdom, the pearly gates – but its main currency is nostalgia.

“Please, remember me,” the song’s refrain, comes at the top of every verse (there isn’t a chorus). Each section remembers a scene from the speaker’s youth, sometimes looking back (“I heard from someone you’re still pretty”), sometimes leading off into abstractions (“That season left the world and then returned”).

The song’s recurring image is the trapeze and the trapeze swinger, which is introduced about halfway through the song, and is referred to in a passing reference to the “savior.” But by the second to last verse, the speaker’s paramour has turned down his lustful advances and the image is used to insinuate the end of their relationship: “The trapeze act was wonderful but never meant to last,” she tells him.

“The Trapeze Swinger” easily falls into Greg Gaston’s definition of Beam’s “cryptic, contemporary folktales.” In American Songwriter’s March/April portrait, Beam tells Gaston: “These are the kind of characters I have in mind, my mythology. It’s a bit like a morality play… I mean characters like Lazarus have a moral weight. We all know here’s a guy who went to the other side and back, but never told us about it.”

“The Trapeze Swinger”

Please, remember me
Happily
By the rosebush laughing
With bruises on my chin
The time when
We counted every black car passing
Your house beneath the hill
And up until
Someone caught us in the kitchen
With maps, a mountain range,
A piggy bank
A vision too removed to mention
But

Please, remember me
Fondly
I heard from someone you’re still pretty
And then
They went on to say
That the pearly gates
Had some eloquent graffiti
Like ‘We’ll meet again’
And ‘Fuck the man’
And ‘Tell my mother not to worry’
And angels with their gray
Handshakes
Were always done in such a hurry
And

Please, remember me
At Halloween
Making fools of all the neighbors
Our faces painted white
By midnight
We’d forgotten one another
And when the morning came
I was ashamed
Only now it seems so silly
That season left the world
And then returned
And now you’re lit up by the city
So

Please, remember me
Mistakenly
In the window of the tallest tower call
Then pass us by
But much too high
To see the empty road at happy hour
Leave and resonate
Just like the gates
Around the holy kingdom
With words like ‘Lost and Found’ and ‘Don’t Look Down’
And ‘Someone Save Temptation’
And

Please, remember me
As in the dream
We had as rug-burned babies
Among the fallen trees
And fast asleep
Aside the lions and the ladies
That called you what you like
And even might
Give a gift for your behavior
A fleeting chance to see
A trapeze
Swing as high as any savior
But

Please, remember me
My misery
And how it lost me all I wanted
Those dogs that love the rain
And chasing trains
The colored birds above there running
In circles round the well
And where it spells
On the wall behind St. Peter’s
So bright with cinder gray
And spray paint
‘Who the hell can see forever?’
And

Please, remember me
Seldomly
In the car behind the carnival
My hand between your knees
You turn from me
And said ‘The trapeze act was wonderful
But never meant to last’
The clown that passed
Saw me just come up with anger
When it filled with circus dogs
The parking lot
Had an element of danger
So

Please, remember me
Finally
And all my uphill clawing
My dear
But if I make
The pearly gates
Do my best to make a drawing
Of God and Lucifer
A boy and girl
An angel kissing on a sinner
A monkey and a man
A marching band
All around the frightened trapeze swingers

Written by Sam Beam

  • Kellie

    I think this is brilliant!

  • pete

    This was the last song i ever played for my mom before she unexpectedly passed away. To this day theres a 70/30 chance i wont be able to finish singing it with dry eyes.

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