Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Tom Waits' "I'M THE LAST LEAF ON THE TREE": An Analysis

There's a wonderful Charlie Brown comic where Snoopy watches a lone leaf fall toward the ground.  Well, the first falling leaf of the season, he thinks.  The first leaf to make the courageous leap!  The first leaf to depart from home!  The first brave leaf to plunge into the unknown.  As he walks away, another thought comes to him:  The first leaf to die.

The fall season is well-named.  Fall is the end of the life cycle, the dying of the light, the twilight of our days before we are kicked out of paradise, in a metaphorical and biblical sense.

This song, like Waits' "November," is a last stand against the darkness.  It is a positive thinking, a reaffirmation of life  and consciousness that, by the end, becomes ethereal:  If they cut down the tree, I'll show up in a song.

I'm the last leaf on the tree
The autumn took the rest
but they won't take me.
I'm the last leaf on the tree.

When the autumn wind blows
they've already gone.
They flutter to the ground
cause they can't hang on.
There's nothing in the world
that I ain't seen.
I greet all the new ones
that are coming in green.
I'm the last leaf on the tree.

The autumn took the rest
but they won't take me.
I'm the last leaf on the tree.
They say I got staying power
here on the tree.
I've been here since Eisenhower
and I've outlived even he.
I'm the last leaf on the tree.

The autumn took the rest
but they won't take me.
I'm the last leaf on the tree.
I fight off the snow.
I fight off the hail.
Nothing makes me go.
I'm like some vestigial tail.

I'll be here through eternity
if you want to know how long.
If they cut down this tree
I'll show up in a song.
I'm the last leaf on the tree.

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