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The Meaning of Tyler Childers’ “Bottles and Bibles”

As the title track to Tyler Childers’ 2011 debut album, “Bottles and Bibles” is a song that often goes overlooked when discussing his vast catalogue of excellent songs. Bear in mind, he is still a young songwriter today, 32 years of age at the time of my writing this.

“Bottles and Bibles” chronicles the story of a preacher who struggles with alcoholism. The song presents a juxtaposition between religion and addiction, presenting us with a character who has both. It paints a vivid portrait of his life.

The version of the song that most people know is the live acoustic one off Red Barn Radio, a compilation released in 2018, though the recording itself was at least a year or two earlier.

Press play on the Red Barn Radio version of the track below, and read on to learn about the lyrics and their meaning.

Tyler Childers – “Bottles and Bibles” (Live on Red Barn Radio)

“Bottles and Bibles” Lyrics Meaning

While this may be an old song, it contains many of the themes that Childers expanded upon in the years that followed. Substance abuse, religion, and relationships are all things that are very present in his music to this day (less so the substance abuse, now that he’s sober).

I’ve picked out a series of lyrics from the song to analyze below.

“Bottles and bibles / Litter the floor”

Childers gives us the image of a messy room, littered with both relics of drunkenness and religious texts. The following lines reveal that the preacher had been up drinking until 4am.

“Now the preacher’s been drinkin’ / But it’s hard not to do / Since she ran out the screen door / And swore they were through”

He reveals that the preacher has recently been abandoned by his lover, and is now drinking as a coping mechanism.

“Oh Lord, if you care, send a spirit down here / Cause the preacher’s been drinkin’ again”

Childers expresses sympathy for the preacher, asking him to please send help. This could also have a double meaning, from the preacher’s perspective, needing more alcohol.

“But it’s a hard way to go, on the straight and narrow / When everybody in town points a finger at you”

The preacher struggles with living up to the example that he is expected to be by the people in town. Everybody is always watching him, and they’re now blaming him for the loss of his lover.

“But they ain’t had to walk with the weight that you’ve hauled / They don’t know you at all, but they think that they do”

The other people in town pass judgements, but they don’t know him.

“He didn’t believe her / He just knew she’d come home”

He was in denial about the loss of his lover, but she never came back.

“And he’d call up to heaven / And he’d hope and he’d pray / But the line’s always busy / Since he went astray”

Ever since the preacher went down the path to alcoholism, he has lost touch with God. Where he once felt a connection and the ability to communicate with the higher power, now, he gets nothing. God is too busy helping somebody else.

“Oh Lord, if you care, won’t you answer his prayers”

Childers’ perspective returns, again expressing sympathy. He encourages God to help the preacher out.

“Now the bottles and bibles / Broke out in a fight / The whiskey fought hard, son / And took the victory that night”

Torn between booze and religion, the preacher tried his best to stay on the side of God. But the liquor was more powerful.

“They found him a’ layin’ / Face down by the stairs / Dressed up for a sermon / Nobody would hear”

The preacher fell down the stairs and died that night. He was dressed for a sermon, suggesting he was trying his best to keep hold of his religion, but he didn’t make it through.

“Oh Lord if you care, send an angel down here”

For the final chorus, Tyler no longer requests a spirit to guide the preacher in life. He’s asking for an angel to guide him in death.

Tyler Childers’ “Bottles and Bibles” serves as a compelling deep dive into the harrowing interplay of faith and addiction, themes that he masterfully evolves in his later work.

Hear the original recording from his 2011 debut album below.

“Bottles and Bibles” (2011)