I Know Why the Free Bird Cries

Notes on the song lyrics

The title and chorus is a twist on the Maya Angelou book, 'I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings'. It is the narrative of a carer, as she or he sees a partner or parent reach the end of their life, or they are no longer able to look after themselves any longer. I am intrigued how scent triggers distant memories so, with the help of my wife, we made long lists of scents we remembered from our past and I weaved as many as I could into the song.

The reference to a 'Hopper painting' is to Edward Hopper, the American Art Deco painter, who had a fantastic grasp of long shadows in sunlight in his pictures. I have a romantic image that we all somehow end up in a Hopper painting when we eventually die.

I tried to capture the trapped feeling that some carers might feel; set against their love for the person they care for. There has recently been much talk and consideration of assisted suicide and I had the idea that the carer might finally choose to end both their suffering "With my conscience by my side I apply the cyanide", as a final epitaph to their plight.

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The hint of your sweat in the heat,
The sandalwood, car leather seat,
The liniment before a game,
My scented memories remain.

God let your bones feel one more summer
Let me guide that fragile frame,
To take in that perfumed garden,
With the man, the man that shares my name.

I know why, I know why, I know why,
The free bird cries.
I know why, I know why, I know why,
The free bird cries.

The Autumn colours of your skin,
The sepia that fades so thin,
The musty faint tobacco hue,
At God's waiting room we queue.

The stench of disappointment,
The sweet aroma of success,
That faint lingering bouquet,
Of a wine, a wine that's past its best.


Take hold of me,
Muster all will,
Get out that old coat,
Sweeten this pill,
Walk with me now,
Down that slippery hill,
We're facing 'gainst the wind.

My bars of guilt that can't be seen,
That misery can't slip between,
With my conscience by my side,
I apply the cyanide.

Now you appear in Hopper paintings,
And long shadows form behind,
While I dream of foreign meadows,
Grim Reaper he's, he's no longer mine.