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The Meaning of My Morning Jacket’s “One Big Holiday”

My Morning Jacket live at Peach Music Festival 2023. Photo by Jake Katz-Nelson.

“One Big Holiday” is perhaps the most well-known song by modern rock legends My Morning Jacket. Released on their 2003 breakout album It Still Moves, the track has in many ways become synonymous with the career of My Morning Jacket — being used as a documentary title, and even as the title for their annual destination concert in Mexico.

While not a typical commercial success, “One Big Holiday” and the band themselves, have had an illustrious career during which they have created a name for themselves as a live powerhouse.

Like the Grateful Dead and Phish, My Morning Jacket have built a dedicated following based mainly on the fact that they are mind-blowingly good in the live setting.

In fact, “One Big Holiday” became one of their fan-favorite songs several years before it ended up on a studio album, making its debut as early as 1999 (Jim James formed the band in 1998).

Some fans even go as far as to speculate that the studio recording doesn’t do it justice, and perhaps it would have been better off as a “live-only” song. I don’t fully agree with this, but given that they have released several live albums that include the song fans would have heard it regardless, which makes it an interesting concept to consider.

“One Big Holiday” Origins

It’s clear that My Morning Jacket had something special, even in their early days, with the hard-hitting song “One Big Holiday” being one strong indicator of that.

Lyrically, the song depicts the career trajectory of a band that dreams of living it up with a successful career. There are the classic tropes of selling your soul to the label exec, all in the name of achieving those goals that seem so far out of reach at the start of a band’s trajectory. In this way the song has been compared to the Pink Floyd song “Have A Cigar”.

Of the song, Jim James had this to say during an interview with CMJ in September 2003:

It’s about wanting to escape the boring everyday world of jobs and headaches and just go play music and have fun, live one big holiday and be on a permanent vacation. Because we always wanted to be in a rock band and play guitar solos and jump off our amps and have fun.

Jim James on the meaning of “One Big Holiday”.

During a 2011 appearance on VH1 Storytellers, Jim James shared more details about the meaning “One Big Holiday”. He recalls being inspired by the Beastie Boys and the carefree life that they seemed to be living, and specifically by their song “No Sleep Til Brooklyn”, which contains the lyrics: “On location, touring ’round the nation / Beastie Boys always on vacation.”

Of course, once My Morning Jacket did get a taste of the good life themselves, they realized that being a band on the road was a lot of hard work, so they can’t really party like the Beastie Boys.

That full, hour-plus video is available on Youtube, with “One Big Holiday” holding up the classic spot as the final song played. Some of you may be interested in the whole video, which also includes “Golden” and other favorites, but jump to 1:07:20 to hear Jim talk about “One Big Holiday”.

In the years that have followed, My Morning Jacket’s “One Big Holiday” has taken on a life of its own, doing its part to earn MMJ the life of rockstardom that they deserve.

However, we’re also glad that they have chosen not to squander their success on partying, but rather kept the train rolling for multiple decades now, as there is no way they could have become the band they are today if they had gone too far down the rabbit hole.

“One Big Holiday” Lyrics Meaning

Now that we’ve got the backstory covered, we’ll take a closer look at the relatively sparse lyrics and see just what “One Big Holiday” is trying to say.

This begins with the opening lines, ringing out over the iconic guitar intro and building to that electric energy we’ve come to know and love from this band:

Waking up feeling
Good and limber
When the telephone it ring

First verse to “One Big Holiday” by My Morning Jacket.

Just like your average young man, Jim James sings of waking up feeling like he’s ready to take on the day. However, things take a turn when the phone rings.

The next bit of lyrics tells us of the interaction:

Was a bad man from
Telling of a stone he’d bring
I’d bring

Second verse to “One Big Holiday” by My Morning Jacket.

The specific meaning of the lyrics here has been discussed around the web, but the general consensus is that this “bad man” is a label executive, calling to offer them a deal. The “stone” could be the prize of My Morning Jacket’s music, or perhaps a feature in Rolling Stone.

Interestingly, Badman is an actual record label that My Morning Jacket signed to for the release of the Chocolate and Ice EP in 2002, as well as the initial pressing of It Still Moves in 2003.

This is likely a coincidence, but it’s also possible that someone from Badman heard this song and thought “Wow, we have to sign this band.”

Darla Records, whom the band was with for their first two albums, started in New York but had relocated to California by the time they put out MMJ’s debut album in 1999. As we’ll see later, it is possible that the song is grounded in reality by this fact.

The chorus is up next, presenting a daydream of escape:

And of
Better days
From this town
We’d escape
If we holler loud
And make our way
We’d all live
One big holiday

Chorus to “One Big Holiday” by My Morning Jacket.

Here, the band thinks about how if they work hard at it, making lots of noise, they could escape their home on the outskirts of Louisville, headed for the big city lights. They’d live this life of vacation, just like the one they heard the Beastie Boys singing about.

The final verse, when combined with context from Darla Records themselves in describing The Tennessee Fire, suggests that the events of “One Big Holiday” may be based partially in reality:

So we listened and
Up the river
And recorded all those sounds
Was some shaking and some
Record playing
All the leather kids were loud

Third verse to “One Big Holiday” by My Morning Jacket.

Clearly, they are describing heading up the river to record their songs, and doing so quite loud. Then, it shifts to a concert setting, with kids wearing leather jackets screaming loud in the audience. This means that they’ve made it in the end.

To add some additional context, we have the official description of the 1999’s The Tennessee Fire from Darla Records: “James recorded this collection of songs at home on cassette 4-track, on A-DAT at MY MORNING JACKET’S studio in an out-building at home in rural Louisville, and we hired Chris Koltay to record four songs on 2″/16 track analog at The Afghan Whigs studio, Ultrasuede, in Cincinnati.”

So, the band listened to the label executive, who invited them up the river (to Cincinatti), to record the album with Chris Koltay.

Other versions of the lyrics say that rather than “Up the river”, Jim may be singing “Up the reverb”, which would again make sense as a suggestion from a label executive. Especially considering the amount of reverb that washes over MMJ’s early recordings.

Looking at “One Big Holiday” today, almost three decades since its first conception, we see a career that has brought the band to heights they may have never thought possible, but that they always dreamed out.

Standout performances at early Bonnaroos (2003 & 2004) put them in front of large crowds in the formative years of the festival scene as we know it today, with “One Big Holiday” and more bursting out of speakers before wide-eyed audiences looking for the next big thing.

Anyone who has seen one of their shows knows that their reputation for being one of the best bands around is fully warranted. A steady companion by their side, throughout their entire evolution, has been “One Big Holiday”, a song that stands among the classics of the modern era.

Listen to the studio version of “One Big Holiday” below, and check out the live version from Bonnaroo 2004 below that (which was recently given official release).

My Morning Jacket – “One Big Holiday” (It Still Moves, 2003)

My Morning Jacket – “One Big Holiday” (Live at Bonnaroo 2004)