I Don’t Get This Song: Regarding Why?’s "Sanddollars"

Lyrics below quoted directly from songmeanings.net (another copy of this commentary is on last.fm where it was originally published):

Your illegal name in watercolor
On a piss stained Frisco truck
Hoping some camera’d catch your face
And the rain came down
And the fat worms show up like seared shut
Half clotted blood vein sections
Fast fossil drying up
You’ve got no Godhand in the when of a raindrop
And the paint that you use was waterbased

The sound of light rain and burning leaves is the same
The hound in night’s brain learning dreams is untamed

There’ll be a time for drying up and dying on sidewalks
Years for beards in the bushes in someone’s backyard
Dead dog in the shade
Like an empty old seed pod

Ironically enough, this part of Why?’s “Sanddollars” I think I get, even though there are a million images thrown at us and the speaker is talking about someone other than himself. He’s addressing a “you,” a someone with dreams, who literally is washed up and burnt out. It’s like as if the only thing he could do for fame was paint his name on a crappy truck, but then the rain came and washed it all away.

When the rain came, it made the landscape resemble him and his demise: he’s both alive (half-clotted blood-vein sections) and dead (fat worms, burning leaves).

Alright. So we maybe have a grip on “you.” What about the speaker of this delightful song?

I’ll no longer be the whit. or gaylords heavy
The glasses, beard and big wig must go
I did not play bigger bank in the backseat
Of the cheese that seemed risky
But my jeans were called huskys
I wrote this one on chipped dead elephant ivory
When they come I close the closet door

I wanted to breathe on beat
And go a fifth higher
Than my physical voice was coined for
I wanted to serve with hunger
But my gut split
And the hunger man poured into war

The first word that jumps out at me is “beard.” That seems to bring us back to the three dead images which nearly close out the first half of this song – “beards in the bushes of someone’s backyard,” “dead dog in the shade,” “an empty old seed pod.”

Before I continue, I guess I need to address how sexual these lyrics are. Given the stanza right before the chorus in the first half of this song –

Did you stay up all night
Sprawled out over a xerox enlargement of my placecard
Weeping backstage
With the pretty plus ones ignoring you

And the constant references to things like “bush” and “cheese” it’s pretty easy to come up with a really gross interpretation for this song (I know, I feel like throwing up just writing that). I’m gonna try to keep those ideas away, because the primary question seems to be that of doing something to get noticed in life before you wither away. The question of getting laid is entirely secondary: it looks like some people want to get laid just to feel like they belong, at least in this song.

So let’s go back to “beard.” Our speaker/singer has “glasses,” “beard” and a “big wig,” and that doesn’t correspond at all to “beards in the bushes of someone’s backyard,” “dead dog in the shade,” “an empty old seed pod.” Even playing with the order doesn’t help – there’s just too much disconnect.

But it does correspond to some of the elements in the first stanza – glasses/camera; beard/face; veins (brain)/wig. I’m purposely stretching a bit here to make a point: the speaker talking about himself in the second part of the song is on the same quest as the dude in the first part.

Our speaker handles his quest differently – he doesn’t try to get fame like those who hang out in the limos of big cheeses do, like Diddy’s crew or something. Rather, he tells us he “wrote this one on chipped dead elephant ivory” and hid from people.

Our speaker wrote his own songs – tried to use his talent, not some cheap stunt, to get something. Did he succeed? He was too “hungry,” his voice gave out, and we see the fatal link between him and the first dude: too much ambition triggers the fall.

Yet somehow, the speaker made it, it seems. When talent broke apart, he declared war. He’s got a stage now, with copies of him all over the place.

Our speaker is an asshole. He taunts his talentless internal audience, even while knowing the link between them – the dude backstage didn’t declare war, didn’t rip through people like a dog. Does that make the backstage dude wrong?

Shellfish dimes and sanddollars – that doesn’t count for anything. And the first guy sung about isn’t tormented, there is no fatal conflict.

When rap first started, it was just people dissing each other, trying to get as many creative disses as possible per “song” in. I think this might be a comment on that sort of tradition: anyone who really cares to see can see just how inevitable some things are, how much luck is involved, and how much we have to trump stepping on others as a virtue to get ahead.

Selfish times, indeed. Thank God there are only Sanddollars at stake.


  1. WTF?

    Ashok, you are usually right on with your choice of music for dissection and analysis, but this? I mean, it sounds like a cat being run over then peed on. Maybe I’m being over the top here, but it may be the worst song I have ever been in the misfortune of hearing.

    I really had high hopes for this week, but now I know that my life is abysmal. Thank you for posting a song that has the ability to make on instantly contemplate suicide. I have to go because I think this is the song that Heath Ledger was listening to. I have to go because the bottle of aspirin I swallowed is interacting with the bottle of Smirnoff I drank.

    Good bye cruel world!!

  2. I know that this is 2 years too late, but I just happened across this, and I would say that you got this song pretty wrong.

    The beard in the bushes part is about stalking someone.

    The dead dog in the shade is a reference to an older song by Yoni Wolf about wanting to die in a car crash and the unreal sight of seeing dead dogs.

    The part about weeping backstage is actually someone talking about Yoni, since Yoni is missing someone while all sorts of groupies and such ignore him after shows.

    And the part about the glasses, big wig (his hair was huge at this point in time), and beard needing to go is just about needing to start fresh.

    The half-dead imagery stuff you talk about all seems right though.

    But really there is only one dude in this song.

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