The Meaning of Jason Isbell’s “24 Frames”

Jason Isbell live at the Ryman in Nashville, March 2019. Photo by Erika Goldring.

Jason Isbell’s “24 Frames” is a creatively written song about troubling times within a marriage, told through a layer of imagery that gives the song a strong visual element. Track two on Isbell’s fantastic 2015 album Something More Than Free, “24 Frames” makes a metaphor out of the idea of a film reel to craft a lens for his storytelling.

A film reel typically spins at 24 frames per second to mimic the way that the human eye perceives things. This is done so that when you watch a film, it seems natural. Digital movies are also typically shown in this standard rate of frames per second.

Isbell not only named the song after this, but the lyrics are also written as little replays of scenes from his life and his relationship with his wife. He watches these reels as he considers his part in the deterioration of his marriage, wondering how the pair drifted apart.

These scenes are written in the third person, with the first verse recalling the changes that have taken place in his life and the appreciation that he has for the love of his wife. He touches upon memories of wanting to be closer with family members, understanding now how he could have done it, and even upon the darker days of his past struggles with alcoholism.

This is how you make yourself vanish into nothing
And this is how you make yourself worthy of the love
That she gave to you back when you didn’t own a beautiful thing
And this is how you make yourself call your mother
And this is how you make yourself closer to your brother
Remember him back when he was small enough to help you sing

First verse to “24 Frames” by Jason Isbell.

Next up is the chorus, which presents the popular image of God as an architect, or the grand creator who crafts the universe with precision and care. However, Isbell finds himself at a point of such chaos that he can only see God as “something like a pipe bomb ready to blow.”

The meaning here is that he finds himself unable to trust even God for a source of stability in his life at this point, and the memories he retraces are part of his coming to terms with and understanding that.

This is how you see yourself floating on the ceiling
And this is how you help her when her heart stops beating
What happened to the part of you that noticed every changing wind
And this is how you talk to her when no one’s else is listening
And this is how you help her when the muse goes missing
You vanish so she can go drowning in a dream again

Second verse to “24 Frames” by Jason Isbell.

In the second verse, Isbell zooms in on a time when the pair had been losing connection. He begins with remembering an out of body experience that probably happened during an argument, when he saw himself “floating on the ceiling.” Then he recalls trying to “help her when her heart stops beating,” meaning when she feels a loss of inspiration or a coldness towards the relationship.

He then wonders how they got to this point, and “what happened to the part of you that noticed every changing wind”, referring to a time when he felt in-tune with the way that his wife was feeling. Finally, he remembers times when the two were able to connect, only to bring us back to the current reality of disconnect with the image, “you vanish so she can go drowning in a dream again.”

This image also ties the song into Jason Isbell’s own life, as his wife Amanda Shires is also a musician. The song is about two people chasing their dreams while also trying to manage their own problems and connect within a relationship.

Jason Isbell with Amanda Shires at the Ryman in Nashville, March 2019. Photo by Joshua Weichman.

The final chorus makes further commentary on the music industry, presenting God not as a pipe bomb but rather a figure “in a black car ready to go”. This God is not the friendly kind of God, but rather one with power and connections whom you sign your life away to in order to achieve success.

You thought God was an architect, now you know
He’s sitting in a black car ready to go
You make some new friends after the show
But you’ll forget their names
In 24 frames

Closing lyrics to “24 Frames” by Jason Isbell.

Meeting new people after the show is common in the music world, but those people come and go. When you look back at the replays of your life, the ones who stand out in the important moments are the ones who you need to focus on in the present. This is the lesson that Isbell seems to be learning with “24 Frames,” and it is a lesson that feels relatable to anybody who has ever taken the time to reflect on their life.

Listen to “24 Frames” by Jason Isbell below.

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