Eleven years. Eleven years of waiting. I know you’re a busy guy, Jack White, but I (and thousands of others) have waited so long. And then like the sun bursting through an endless grey sky – you and Benson and Lawrence and Keeler have delivered. And just like the first two The Raconteurs albums – it’s fucking awesome.
Help Us Stranger is the junior album from The Raconteurs and hot off the June press this year. And while I genuinely love every song on it (I’m obsessed with this band, truly), I decided on doing a little write up on “Thoughts and Prayers” – a title that carries some irony as a modern throwaway phrase as Jack White put.
Starting off with a very quiet and short piano bit that is then answered by a guitar, “Thoughts and Prayers” is one of the slower tracks on the album but carries more weight than most. Guitars continue to echo, creating a layering effect that is both eerie and calming. A deep synthesized bass joins in shortly, putting a solid base against the moving strings.
The lyrics then branch into some thoughts on the grim reaper without time, a sunless sun, a sleepless man who doesn’t own a clock, and the absence of friends. The first three verses finish with a useless prayer of hoping for another way to feel OK – but no action to resolve it.
A brief interlude of the melody with a new introduction of a screeching, down spiral of a mandolin and violin (via the Richie Sisters) follows as the next verses play out. Again we reach into someone’s thoughts on how people live, how to grow money, and writing letters. The latter referencing Sullivan Ballou who used to pen eloquent letters to his wife, one being only two weeks before the battle of Bull Run in 1861 – in which he was killed. In 1862, his wife would have received the letter and been in mourning (a good reason to be blue).
The lyrics then seem to get a little more desperate, being our protagonist thinks himself a cast away, led astray, and very much alone. Is there even any worth in making it to the end if you are the only one left?
Then the song dips into a very frantic and wild build with the mandolin and violin taking front and center. The trills and runs are building force pushing the song to its end.
The last verse is loud and present, reminiscing in a sense of what was and the gray that now is. Again, a prayer is said for a better way – asking God (notably a her) for assurance that there are reasons why it is this way. The song ends quietly on those last words, dropping to nothing.
So many meanings can be pulled from this one. For me there are two. The first is an apocalyptic scenario where the protagonist is the only surviving person on Earth. Everything (and everybody) has been destroyed by some unknown force and he is trying to find a positive outlook on this grim world that he must get through alone.
The second is the tinging of a person’s outlook on life, perhaps after a catastrophic and senseless event. They are counting the sad things in life, wallowing in the gray. They see the future as bleak and even death doesn’t seem to matter. It seems impossible to get back to even a sliver of happiness. Thoughts and prayers are just as useless, and they don’t change anything.
No matter how this song speaks to you, I hope you enjoy it just as much as I do. Please take a listen of this charged tune via whatever your music provider may be. Don’t forget to check out the full lyrics below.
“Thoughts and Prayers” by The Raconteurs
How can the grim reaper creep
If he really doesn’t have the time?
And how long would you sleep
If the sun decided not to shine?
There’s a man who lives up the block
He doesn’t even own a clock
Sometimes he stays awake for days
He’s doing it his own way
I used to give my friends a call
Now there’s no one left at all
I think my father used to say
There’s got to be a different way
To make myself feel OK
Or maybe that’s just how he used to pray
And who cares how people live
If living’s all they got?
And who knows how money grows?
Drop a nickel in the pot
I wrote a letter down to you
Like I’m Sullivan Ballou
It’s a recipe for blue
Like it’s 1862
Maybe I’m just a cast away
Or a poor boy led astray
There’s no one left here to betray
The only child of the earth
Nobody left here to give birth
It’s hard to tell what that’s worth
I used to look up at the sky
Up at the beautiful blue sky
But now the earth has turned to gray
There’s got to be a better way
To talk to God and hear her say
There are reasons why it is this way