Only Shadows

Sara’s an extraordinary lyricist. She doesn’t just write songs, she tells well-crafted miniature stories with profound lasting effect. Perfect example is the song Only Shadows.

Currently not on any studio album, the song was broadcast live on September 10, 2012 over the online concert in order to raise money for the organization called Playing For Change. On this broadcast Sara states that she was inspired to write this song while on a jog in Brooklyn, NY. After her run she sat down at the piano that was inside her apartment and began to write.

When I hear this song I get the sense it’s about someone who just can’t let go of a loved one who is about to move on from this world. Perhaps a parent, aunt or friend, child or spouse. In any case, I think Sara’s lyrics are pen to paper what most people are thinking when faced with the reality that they may only have hours, moments or breaths left with a loved one. In those last moments of their suffering or pain, she’s selfishly hoping for more time. She’s not ready to let go. Even though she knows it’s inevitable and certainly for the best.

Give me one more night then I’m ready
To let go, to know we are only shadows.

Babe, I’m so sorry to ask
I’m ashamed but tonight I just can’t give you up
I shackled myself to the past and my will has gone missing
Let’s call our shadow selves out for the evening
And watch them remember our love
Tomorrow will come and I know they’ll be leaving
That our time is up

Sara’s character understands this family member has suffered enough, but she’s not ready to say goodbye. She want’s more time before that loved one rises, and becomes “Only Shadows”, leaving her with the harsh reality that she must continue on without them. It’s a poetic and painful sentiment that all of us will have to identify with one day if we are fortunate enough to live a long a prosperous life.

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  1. I love that you begin with this song! I found you by googling Sara Bareilles and Only Shadows. I have an obsession with a single word in the lyric. All the online transcription have the song starting thus: “Babe will you save me a dance by the river”. But it sounds to me like “again” not “dance”! It would make sense that one would want to picture a relationship that still had a dance left. But I think the focus is on saving. Not dancing.

    1. musicislove

      Elizabeth, this is such a heartbreaking song. I understand your obsession! The opening line sets up the theme of prolonging having to say a final goodbye to a love one. The river is a well documented metaphor for passing on to a higher place. The dancing is but a small fraction of the overall message and it’s there to remind us of a happier time before the inevitable sorrow. Thanks for the comment!

      1. Makes sense! Also would go with the classic image of shadows dancing on water. I love that song and her heartbreaking performance.

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