“Stones,” from Western Stars, is a beautiful song. It’s a sad song. It’s a powerful song.
It’s also a song that took me a while to figure out.
The interpretation that makes the most sense to me — the only one that both fits the lyrics, and the way Springsteen sings them — is that the stones in his mouth represent the problems in his relationship, which are making his life agony.
His significant other sees through his bullshit. “Those are only the lies you’ve told me,” she says, meaning, “you’re living a lie. That’s at the root of all your problems.” (“Those” are the stones).
He gets angry (“I pulled my collar to the wind and spit them on the ground”). It doesn’t help. She sticks to to her guns. He feels the stones “gather on my tongue.”
Outside, there are all kinds of ominous symbols (“the dirt-brown winter field,” “a thousand black crows,” “the autumn wind,” “the dark leaves”). These all stem from his lying: he keeps on repeating the “Those are only the lies you’ve told me” line, over and over. It’s coloring the world around him. He can only see doom and gloom.
Even when faced with an optimistic sign, “I walk a highway washed in sun” (remember the line from “Born to Run”: “Someday, girl, I don’t know when, we’re gonna get to that place where we really want to go, and we’ll walk in the sun”), he feels that weight gather on his tongue. It’s inescapable. He keeps repeating the “only the lies” line and, after the final instrumental interlude, ends up right back where he started (“I woke up this morning with stones in my mouth”).
Typically, for Western Stars, “Stones” has a lush, cinematic sound, evoking wide open spaces. But this guy is trapped, and he knows it.
Background facts: Springsteen released “Stones” on his 2019 album, Western Stars.
On each of the 70 days leading up to Bruce Springsteen’s 70th birthday (on Sept. 23, 2019), NJArts.net will do a post on one of The Boss’ best songs of the last 30 years. We’re starting with No. 70 and working our way up. For more on the project, click here.
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Jay… this may be my favorite song on the album. The guilt and remorse of a man living with lies he created in his relationship. I hate to admit… I can relate. One of my takes is this…. the movement of “stones in my mouth “… to fields of crows…..leaves falling down. From a few lies that fill the mouth like stones…. to enough to cover a field. It’s from minimizing to seeing the reality of the impact of the lies…
Well, that’s one take. Don’t take the easy (if not accurate) road and say it’s projective. 😉
“Bread of deceit is sweet to a man; but afterwards his mouth shall be filled with gravel.” (Proverbs 20:17)
This is undoubtedly the inspiration for “Stones.” Can’t you hear the nuns of St. Rose of Lima telling the young Springsteen and his classmates, “Don’t tell lies or you’ll get a mouthful of gravel!”