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The Meaning of My Morning Jacket’s “Golden”

My Morning Jacket, the American rock band known for their captivating live performances, also have a softer, more introspective side, as evidenced by songs like “Golden”. One of their earliest fan-favorites, the track appeared on the breakout 2003 album It Still Moves and remains one of the the most widely-known songs in their discography.

With lyrics penned by frontman and guitarist Jim James, “Golden” is presented as a daydream that takes place during a road trip, perhaps between tour dates. During this daydream, Jim imagines his whole life and career spanning out head of him.

We see moments of deep connection, low points, and ultimately an acceptance that no matter how it all shakes out, he’s still going to lay down and die one day.

“Golden” Lyrics Meaning

“Golden” is constructed as a series of four short verses, each providing a different snippet from Jim’s imagined life ahead. There are also two distinct choruses, which provide a similar function as each of the verses — expanding upon this image inside of Jim’s mind.

The whole thing is washed over with a psychedelic aura, and a gentle melody follows a meandering path as Jim sings each of the lyrical segments. Our journey begins with the first verse:

Watching a stretch of road
Miles of light explode
Drifting off a thing
I’d never done before

First verse to “Golden” by My Morning Jacket.

There are several meanings that one can decipher from these lyrics, but we depict someone driving down a long road, with street lights and perhaps lights from other cars, and city lights bursting around him a representation of them starting to enter into this dreamlike state.

He drifts off into a daydream, while still driving down the road (living his life), and has visions of what might lie before him on this long journey through life — notably the life of a musician.

The second verse is up next, and we are presented with a concert setting:

Watching a crowd roll in
Out go the lights it begins
A feeling in my bones
I’ve never felt before

Second verse to “Golden” by My Morning Jacket.

Jim James sees the crowd roll in, and then the house lights dim and the show begins. He feels deep down within his bones a special feeling, something entirely new.

As we’ll see later on in the lyrics, when this idea is referenced again, it seems that “Golden” presents the idea of this “new” feeling resurfacing every time the band steps on stage, no matter how long they’ve been at it.

In the first chorus, we have an observation on bars, and drinking, and perhaps a reflection My Morning Jacket’s early days playing in bars:

People always told me
That bars are dark and lonely
And talk is often cheap and filled with air
Sure sometimes they thrill me
But nothing could ever chill me
Like the way they make the time just disappear

First chorus to “Golden” by My Morning Jacket.

This chorus is relatable both from the perspective of seeing live music in a bar, and drinking in a bar. While there is a certain lonely element that comes with hanging out in bars, with lots of nonsense chatter, there is often a thrill that keeps us coming back.

Whether this thrill is because of a band that captures a certain magic, and makes us forget where we are for a moment, or because of the booze we’re consuming, sometimes the time just floats away inside of a bar.

The third verse, again references a live performance, or perhaps an encounter with a deep connection in another human:

Feeling you here again
Hot on my skin again
Feeling good a thing
I’ve never known before

Third verse to “Golden” by My Morning Jacket.

We can see, Jim feels the presence of the audience again, feels their gaze “hot on his skin”. However the good feeling he has seems new and exciting, just as it did in the concert setting described earlier.

This can also be applied to an encounter with a special lover, with whom each encounter seems to maintain the magic of the first time. Either way, the meaning is the same, describing a deep bond between two entities, and a reason to keep moving forward.

The fourth and final verse presents a musing on what it means to have your dreams realized:

What does it mean to feel
Millions of dreams come real?
A feeling in my soul
I’d never felt before

Fourth verse to “Golden” by My Morning Jacket.

Here we seem to be given an existential question, as Jim seems to realize that when his dreams came true, he feels a familiar “new” feeling in his soul.

We may recall that this same feeling has been present all along, suggesting that the journey itself, from performing in bars before small audiences, to headlining festivals and large venues, is where the joy is to be found.

Furthermore, this suggests that his dreams came true just by starting to play music, and beginning along this career path.

In the final lyrics to the song, the second chorus, we see Jim reaching a state of acceptance:

And you, you always told me
No matter how long it holds me
If it falls apart
Or makes us millionaires
We’ll be right here forever
Go through this thing together
And on heaven’s golden shore
We’ll lay our heads

Second chorus to “Golden” by My Morning Jacket.

Someone special, perhaps a mentor, has often reminded him that regardless of how long his career lasts, whether it crumbles into nothing or makes them rich (P.S. – it made them rich), the moment will always be right now, and we’re all in it together, until it’s over. When we reach the end of the road, we’ll all lay our heads upon the golden shores of heaven.

Listen to “Golden” by My Morning Jacket below. Also check out their performance of the track at Bonnaroo 2004, from the recently-released MMJ Live Vol. 3 disc, below that.

My Morning Jacket – “Golden”

“Golden” (Live at Bonnaroo 2004)