“Lungs” is Grace’s curve-ball in her song catalog. Whereas the majority of her self-penned songs are themed, or tell a story with a goal in mind, “Lungs” seems to be more of an impressionistic abstract painting, more concerned with firing your own imagination to try and make sense of the riot of imagery being thrown at you.

I said to friends when this song first came out that it reminded me of some of David Bowie’s songs, specifically from the Let’s Dance album. It doesn’t have the same sound, at all, but the trippy non-linear sequence of images she throws out there seems like it might have had a similar style. Back when Bowie wrote China Girl, for instance, he wrote on dozens of strips of paper one or two lines of poetry “You shouldn’t mess with me I’ll ruin everything you are”, or “I’ll give you television, I’ll give you eyes of blue, I’ll give you a man who wants to rule the world” “I hear her heart beating, I see the stars crashing”. Once he’d written all that he could on these strips of paper (like fortune cookie predictions) he put them in a bowl, shook them and then randomly drew from the bowl to create songs. Of course he filled in certain parts to flesh out somewhat of a narrative, but you get my drift.

“Lungs” has that similar vibe of randomness to it, but, like with Bowie’s China Girl, Grace does have themes she sticks to, though they are not immediately obvious or literal.

Let’s do this…

“Dancing flames into this glass castle
And underground wax world
Rushing water at the park
Takes you to a different world

[Chorus]
And the air was filling my lungs
Autumn was filling your lungs
We’re just trying to be young
But little do we know that trying to be young
Is what is making us grow old
The air was filling my lungs
Autumn was filling your lungs
We’re just trying to stay young
But little do we know that trying to stay young
Is what is making us grow old

[Post-Chorus]
That’s what
That’s what is making us grow old

[Verse 2]
A puddle of rain puddling on my window
Makes me smile and feel refreshed
But then I’m walking down the street
In the middle of the night
Singing these lyrics to me
Kind of starts messing with my head

[Chorus]
And the air was filling my lungs
Autumn was filling your lungs
We’re just trying to be young
But little do we know that trying to be young
Is what is making us grow old
The air was filling my lungs
Autumn was filling your lungs
We’re just trying to stay young
But little do we know that trying to stay young
Is what is making us grow old

[Bridge]
Listen to the breath of my voice
And just close your eyes and go oh-oh-oh
Let’s just live life as we are
‘Cause we only have limited ti-i-ime

[Chorus]
And the air was filling my lungs
Autumn was filling your lungs
We’re just trying to be young
But little do we know that trying to be young
Is what is making us grow old

[Outro]
I just wanna let go
Ooh, ooh”

Okay, first two lines…

“Dancing flames into this glass castle
And underground wax world”

WHAT?!
Grace, what kind of trip are you taking us on? I do love it, though.

It’s very possible, however, that Grace may have been inspired, as she says she often is, by books and movies. “The Glass Castle” exists as both. The story begins from the perspective of a 13 year old girl being raised by two very mentally ill parents who are living in a dilapidated home with no running water and little shelter from the weather. To say that the household is dysfunctional is a massive understatement. The delusional father promises his children that on the land upon which the shack barely stands he will build them a glass castle. It, of course, never happens and things spin wildly out of control.

Knowing this let’s look at those lines again…

“Dancing flames into this glass castle
And underground wax world”

She could be describing the flames of insanity that both fuel her father’s fevered dreams of building an impossible glass castle and that what they are left with is an ugly world in which to live, like an underground wax world.

Again, Grace may have never seen the movie, or read the book, but this is me trying to make sense of what might otherwise seem nonsensical.

Next lines…

“Rushing water at the park
Takes you to a different world”

In order to escape the ugly formless “Underground wax world”, Grace goes to the park to listen to the rushing water of what we assume to be a river.

“And the air was filling my lungs
Autumn was filling your lungs
We’re just trying to be young
But little do we know that trying to be young
Is what is making us grow old”

Whoa, there’s some striking imagery, but beyond imagery Grace is making us feel what she’s saying, making us suddenly aware of our own breathing, how it feels to take in and expel air from our lungs. She’s really taking us on a journey suddenly outside of our usually comfortable position of existing within our mind’s eye and into our bodies. This is a technique Grace hasn’t used before and it’s all the more striking for it.

Also, “air was filling my lungs”, but “autumn was filling your lungs”. It sounds very much like what she is describing are two people, one (her), living in the moment, in reality, while the other (again, I’m going with the concept of her addressing her father as the character depicted in “The Glass Castle”) autumn was filling your lungs, he’s not living in the moment, he’s already in his autumn, or decline. Rather than being present for his children and family, he’s already succumbed to his ruin.

“We’re just trying to be young
But little do we know that trying to be young
Is what is making us grow old”

Suddenly, these lyrics make sense. The “We’re” in this case, I believe, is Grace and her siblings in the dilapidated house simply trying to be young, to be children, but they are trying to be young in a household that demands they grow up in order to take care of themselves because of their parent’s inability to do so causes them to mature more quickly than they should have to.

Grace then repeats the chorus, but with a little more urgency and desperation.

“The air was filling my lungs
Autumn was filling your lungs
We’re just trying to stay young
But little do we know that trying to stay young
Is what is making us grow old”

Moving on…

“That’s what
That’s what is making us grow old”

Suddenly, the urgency in her vocal is replaced by a feeling of resignation: “but this is my lot in life…I am growing old, I am not permitted to be a child”

Next…

“A patter[?] of rain pattering[?] on my window
Makes me smile and feel refreshed”

Full disclosure: I have no idea if Grace is saying “patter/pattering”, “Peddle/Peddling”, “Puddle/Puddling” or God knows what else. She’s having a Sia moment on that line. LOL

I’ll assume it’s patter/pattering. Essentially invoking the theme established earlier that she views the sound of nature borne water movement as a soothing force in her life of chaos.

She then gets meta for a moment as she did in Darkness Keeps Chasing Me and refers to herself as the writer of the song she’s both singing and living in…

“But then I’m walking down the street
In the middle of the night
Singing these lyrics to me
Kind of starts messing with my head”

Meaning, the more she thinks about her circumstances described by the lyrics, the more lost and adrift she feels, which of course brings us back to the chorus…

“And the air was filling my lungs
Autumn was filling your lungs
We’re just trying to be young
But little do we know that trying to be young
Is what is making us grow old
Air was filling my lungs
Autumn was filling your lungs
We’re just trying to stay young
But little do we know that trying to stay young
Is what is making us grow”

And now the bridge, a beautifully constructed one at that…

“Listen to the breath of my voice
And just close your eyes and go oh-oh-oh
Let’s just live life as we are
‘Cause we only have limited ti-i-ime”

And here Grace’s life philosophy finally reveals itself more plainly than it has in the song thus far: take a deep breath, wake up to reality, all we have is today, make the most of it you can because we’re not hear forever, stop wasting your life.

We then get to hear the most plaintive version of the chorus thus far and then the haunting outro…

“I just wanna let go
Ooh, ooh”

The outro can be taken two ways: despite knowing she has to live for today she just wants to give up, or contrastingly, she’s going to let go of this life of madness and move onto something greater. As usual, Grace leaves it up to us to determine our path.

Yeah, 13 when she wrote and sang this.

This article was first posted on VanderVault’s YouTube channel: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XydnaaaaSnE&lc=Ugyin0aZZf7IrKxwIbp4AaABAg