I'm a Ticking Time Bomb

Name: Hannah Kirkell

Twitter Handle: @h_kirk6

Current Favorite DMB Song: Rapunzel

Current Favorite DMB Lyric: “Shut up I'm thinking, I had a clue now it's gone forever.”

Song(s) referenced in your post: [Time Bomb]


My favorite thing about music is that the same song could be played to a group of five people, and all five of them could interpret the song in a completely different way. Ever since I started listening to music, I've always tried to analyze the lyrics to figure out what the hell the singer was so passionate about. I've thoroughly enjoyed attempting to analyze Dave Matthews Band songs because of how vague and beautifully written they are. Out of all the DMB songs I've tried to tackle, Time Bomb is by far my favorite.


Even though the lyrics are about as simplistic as DMB gets, it still feels complicated. It appears that general consensus is that Time Bomb is just another song about loss, or an anti-war song, or a religious song. Respectfully, I disagree. This may be a stretch, but here's my take: Time Bomb is about a seemingly normal man who one day snaps and goes on a shooting spree. This may be completely incorrect. But that's the beauty in art, right? I can hazard a guess, you can disagree, and we can go to sleep convinced that we're right. But I'm nothing if not thorough, so here's my complete analysis, line by line.


"I'm a ticking time bomb

Waiting to blow my top.

No one would ever know,

Not until I blew up."


The subject of Time Bomb appears to be your everyday schmuck. It's not stated why he thinks he's a ticking time bomb. Maybe he's got anger issues. Maybe he's been dealt a bad hand with life. Whatever the case may be, he's on edge, he's angry, and he feels that this anger is justified. No matter how much rage he keeps bottled inside, on the outside he seems like a normal man. Most onlookers aren't going to see the rage inside him, and that's why he's so dangerous.


"No one would believe it,

He was such a normal man,

Shake their heads and wonder why."


This stanza refers to the aftermath of the tragedy. The people who knew him are learning about what he did, and they're in the denial stage of processing it. They're looking around at the damage that this man they thought they knew has done, and they can't believe it. They're thinking 'He seemed normal and harmless,' and 'How did I not see this coming?', and shaking their heads in disbelief and horror.


"If Martians fell from the sky,

What would that do to God?

Would we put the weapon down,

Or aim it up at the sky?"


The first line is fairly confusing, but here's how I break it down: I like to think of the 'Martians' as the thing or event that sent the man in question off. Martians are aliens, and in this case, I like to refer to Merriam-Webster's second definition of alien-- differing in nature or character typically to the point of incompatibility. The 'Martians' are things or events that he didn't plan for, and to an already unsettled and disturbed man, that sets him off. And in this case, he isn't putting his weapon down.


"No one would believe it,

Except the fucking nut jobs,

They laugh and cry, 'we told you so'."


Similar to it's earlier counterpart, this verse again refers to the aftermath-- but the second line takes it a step further. There are always people that predict a seemingly impossible event, but because the event seems so unlikely, they're written off as crazy, or 'nutjobs.' But when they are proven correct, they're torn in how to react. They'll naturally feel content, and maybe have a gloating "told you so!" moment because they were deemed insane-- but because they predicted such a horrible and tragic event, they're in mourning, and they wish they weren't right,


"Baby, when I get home,

I'm gonna believe in Jesus.

Hammer in the final nail,

Help me pick up the pieces."


This stanza feels like it should be split up to be properly analyzed. The first two lines-- "Baby, when I get home, I'm gonna believe in Jesus"-- seem to be from the man's point of view, right before the event takes place. He's saying that he doesn't think he's going to-- or maybe he doesn't want to-- survive, and because of that, he wants to believe in some sort of afterlife. The third line-- "Hammer in the final nail"-- sounds like it's referencing the popular idiom 'final nail in the coffin,' which basically refers to an event that is ultimately responsible for a previously inevitable demise or failure. This man was already barely hanging on, and because of that, the event that triggered him just pushed him off the edge earlier than expected. The final line-- "Help me pick up the pieces"-- is again about the aftermath. It's over for him, but the people around him? Their lives are in shambles. Even though he's been stopped, the damage has been done.


"When everything starts to fall,

So fast that it terrifies you.

When will you hit the wall?

Are you gonna learn to fly?"


This paragraph is about the tragedy itself. When he finally snaps, it's fast. He went from being 'normal' to being dangerous in a matter of seconds, and everyone around him is terrified. This verse affected me the most. As a kid who grew up in the age of school shootings, I've done too many lockdown/intruder drills to not be affected. Ever since I was in second grade, I participated in at least one a month. That's at least once a month, for nine months, for ten years-- roughly ninety drills. And that's not counting the real ones. Thankfully, there was never a weapon in the building, but on two separate occasions, it wasn't a drill. Once, there was an unauthorized person in the building that broke in through the back entrance. In my junior year of high school, we were in lockdown for over an hour because there was an active shooter in the area around the school. During that time where everyone is just sitting there hiding in the spot we were directed to, we can act tough, but what we're really thinking is 'Is this it? Am I gonna die today?'. To me, that's what "When will you hit the wall? Are you gonna learn to fly?" is about. It's about feeling like a bad outcome might be inevitable.


"No one would believe it,

Except for all the people,

Watching as you fly away."


This verse is, again, about the aftermath, but this time, it's about the people who are having survivors' guilt. They're realizing that, looking back, they could have predicted this. They're thinking '...Huh. Maybe I did see that coming,' and 'Maybe if I paid more attention, this could have been prevented.'


"Baby, when I get home,

I want to pick up the pieces.

Hammer in the final nail,

And leave me up against Jesus."


The subtle changes in this verse really make me think. The use of "I want to pick up the pieces" might refer to the guilt the man feels afterwards, or it could mean that he wishes life could have been different. I interpret the final line, "Leave me up against Jesus", as the end of the road for the subject of this song. The damage is done, and he's looking around at the havoc he's caused. He's still shaking his fist at the shy, and he's thinking 'Only God can judge me now.'


That last verse is repeated twice more in the song, with no new variations until the last line: "I want to believe in Jesus." This line might be hammering in the point that the subject of Time Bomb is feeling guilty about all the lives he's ruined, but I don't think so. I think he's having second thoughts way too late, and that he's finally realizing that he's afraid to die himself. He's turning religion in his last moments in an attempt to comfort himself. The line itself, combined with how much desperation is in Dave's voice when it's sung, is a haunting end to the song.

Again, this take could be completely incorrect. Time Bomb could actually be about a bad acid trip, or it really could be a song about struggling with one's religion. But I like to think that Time Bomb is trying to shed light on-- and speaking out against-- a tragically common issue. I'd also like to think that someday, picking up the pieces won't be necessary. I know how it feels to live in fear of an incident like this, and I'm holding onto hope that maybe, just maybe, future generations won't.


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