Song lyrics and meaning: “Grey Seal” by Bernie Taupin (performed by Elton John)

Got me an ear worm.  Heard this on the stepper at t’gym on Sun 18th January.  Googled it, read about it, loved it. Lyrics in italics, my version in square brackets.  Apparently Taupin says he doesn’t know what the song means.  I think his unconscious was hard at work…

Why’s it never light on my lawn
Why does it rain
And never say good-day to the new-born

[Why is nature unfair to me? Why am I not recognised?]

On the big screen they showed us the sun
But not as bright in life as the real one
It’s never quite the same as the real one

[Crucial to understand the distinction that Taupin sets up in the song between “life” (what actually is) and the “real” – what the state/society version is.  Think William Blake on this too.  And think U2 – “even better than the real thing”. Think “nulture“. The “real” is the state/society sanctioned version. They “steal your dreams and sell them back.” In Leon Rosselson’s words, “The clergy dazzle us with heaven or they damn us into hell.”]

And tell me grey seal
How does it feel
To be so wise
To see through eyes
That only see what’s real
Tell me grey seal

[The seal, – his school teacher, a performing preforming seal – barking, will get his fish. The word  “wise” is (at least semi- ) ironic. The seal can perform, he can clap and bark and he’ll get the fish. But he can only see (and force others to “see”  what is “real” – the state/society sanctioned version.  “How does it feel?” See Dylan from 1965.  Or this from Pink Floyd]

I never learned why meteors were formed

[Declares his ignorance, his inability to jump through the hoops.]

I only farmed in schools
That were so worn and torn

[Autobiographical line- Taupin’s parents were itinerant farmers, not wealthy.]

If anyone can cry then so can I

[Declares his actions and emotions as valid as those with state-sanctioned educations]

I read books and draw life from the eye
All my life is drawings from the eye

[He declares his skills. He draws life (the second use of the word, earlier contrasted to “real”) without the goggles that the seal wanted him to wear.]

And tell me grey seal
How does it feel
To be so wise
To see through eyes
That only see what’s real
Tell me grey seal

Your mission bells were wrought by ancient men
The roots were formed by twisted roots
Your roots were twisted then

[The music (bells) you (the seal and those who obey the seal) answer to are ancient, twisted. You are twisted.  (then again, crooked timber and all that).]

I was re-born before all life could die

[Religious line – I am my own saviour.]

The Phoenix bird will leave this world to fly
If the Phoenix bird can fly then so can I

[I will create my own mythology. To hell with your state/societal salvation myths. I prefer the phoenix.]

This song, to me, is a declaration of independence, a “ya basta” to those who had sought to crush him and conform him into a box, and to grey seals everywhere…

There is a real tie-in with William Blake, and the whole songs of innocence/experience thing here.

15 thoughts on “Song lyrics and meaning: “Grey Seal” by Bernie Taupin (performed by Elton John)

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    1. Hello Miss Kitty, for *you* this song is about God, and that’s fine. But I would be surprised if you can provide a reference from Mr Taupin saying that, so surely “my interpretation of…” is the safer way to go?

  1. How bout maybe he smoked a joint and thought man, wouldn’t it be cool to not have a care in the world and see things as simply as one of nature’s creatures?

    Dude, for real.

    1. Thanks!

      Re-reading it I think I missed some stuff, and may write about it further. The combination of Bernie’s lyrics and Elton’s voice … I never get tired of it…


  2. It seems to me that since the lyricist says he doesn’t know what this song means, you or no one else does either. To try to is almost a form of stealing. Write your own goddamn song!

    1. You really need help, but I suspect you won’t get it. I suspect the Dunning-Kruger effect is hard at work in your case.

  3. Spare your breath replying, I won’t be back to read it. A goldfish is more intellectually challenging and interesting than you, Marky.

  4. I noticed you didn’t approve the post in which I accused you of being a pseudo-intellectual. I don’t care that is your site, I hate censorship. So UNLESS YOU APPROVE THE POST AFTER THIS ONE,,I’m going to randomly post all over your site, Mr. Censorship, and keep you so busy you won’t have time to misappropriate art and diminish it with pseudo-intellectual interpretations. BTW, I’m female, so I can’t be your “son.”

    1. “Spare your breath replying, I won’t be back to read it”

      Oh dear. I have had my share of trolls, but never ones so easily triggered. It’s not even funny, now is it?

      I do apologise, so very sincerely, for assuming you were a man. Women in my experience usually have some small amount of self-awareness (the patriarchy forces them, from self-preservation, to be able to read other people). Please do comment to your heart’s content. Odd that you have nothing better to do with your life. You do know that everybody has a finite time on the planet, right? I mean, somebody has explained to you that life is short, right?

      1. Dear D,
        I haven’t approved your more recent comment, simply because I don’t believe that this interaction is healthy for either of us. You will surely disagree, but I do not believe this is “censorship” or any infringement of your human rights. I cannot march into a publishing company and demand that they append my review of a book to its future printings.

        I regret now responding to your hostility and ridicule with my own. I think that was a poor and selfish choice, which I am entirely responsible for.

        I do not know what you are going through, have gone through in your life, that makes you so angry that somebody has chosen to do an interpretation of a song that clearly means a lot to you (it means a lot to me too, but clearly means more to you). I would point out that you are under no obligation to remember my interpretation. You don’t like it, that’s fine: I’m under no obligation to defend it further, and I won’t.

        I hope you already have people in your life with whom you can talk stuff through, rather than attacking strangers on the internet or that you find those people.

        Best wishes (meant sincerely, without sarcasm or snark).

        Marc (with a c, as you know).

  5. Fair enough. I don’t claim to be blameless here– I shouldn’t have
    told you to write your own song. That said, Taupin DID say the
    song didn’t mean anything. It’s like Cream’s “Badge.” It doesn’t have
    any extrinsic meaning either. Sometimes there are things so
    sublime they don’t need further explaining. In fact, they suffer from the attempt.
    In any event, sorry for my(I’m the main culprit) part in this little dust-up. I’m off to troll Donald Trump on Twitter. He’s about as far from sublimity as one can get, the old bastard. Cheerio!

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