“The road of life twists and turns and no two directions are ever the same. Yet our lessons come from the journey, not the destination,” says American writer Don Williams Jr. “Drops of Jupiter,” by pop rock band Train, is definitely a song about the journey, the voyage of self-discovery inevitably undertaken when setting out on the open road.
The US has more than 46,000 miles of interstate connecting East to West in a network of snaking asphalt. Road tripping is a long-standing tradition and in some ways a rite of passage. Literary classics like Jack Kerouac's On the Road, and the title-sharing songs “On the Road Again” by musical legends Bob Dylan and Willie Nelson, bear testament to the human fascination with the road, as does the story of Christopher McCandless, who left everything to traipse into the Alaskan wilderness in 1993, a story documented by Jon Krakauer in his book Into The Wild. Whether traveling to find yourself, or lose yourself, the state of transition inherent to travel gives us purpose, albeit temporary. It is this sense of self-discovery which Train's “Drops of Jupiter” conveys.
The rock 'n roll lifestyle isn't only about glitz and glamour, screaming fans and luxurious hotels. It's also about the long hours spent in a bus touring the country, even the world, traveling from gig to gig. The band's 1998 tour saw the conception of the song that would become “Drops of Jupiter.” Train front man and singer/songwriter Pat Monahan spent the majority of that tour in payphone booths calling home to speak to his mom, who was dying of lung cancer. After his mother's death, Monahan returned to his childhood home in Erie, Pennsylvania. It was here that the snatch of lyrics “back in the atmosphere” grew into the hit song “Drops of Jupiter.”
The somewhat esoteric lyrics of the song have always had fans and critics guessing at the inspiration behind it. A jilted lover, perhaps? A young woman trying to figure out who she is? Some interpretations came close by connecting the line “one without a permanent scar” to Monahan himself, since he bears a permanent scar on his chin. Few guessed this song was about his connection to his mom or the journey of healing he had to take after losing her. “It was an obvious connection between me and my mother. “Drops of Jupiter” was as much about me being on a voyage and trying to find out who I am. The best thing we can do about loss of love is find ourselves through it," says Monahan, reiterating the sentiment of journey particular to this song.
While deeply personal to Monahan, the obscure lyrics of this song, making numerous references to the stars and planets, lends itself for individual interpretation, which is perhaps one of the reasons why this song became so popular. The lyrics juxtapose the seemingly banal - deep-fried chicken and soy lattes - with the sublime - “dance along the light of day” - inviting the listener to make up their own story. That this song touched the hearts of so many comes as no surprise, and neither does its 2001 Grammy Award for Best Rock Song.
The opening piano chords, combined with the raw emotion of Monahan's folksy voice, fill this song with poignancy and, despite the more upbeat chorus, the inclusion of strings maintains the underlying tone of melancholy. Unsurprisingly, “Drops of Jupiter” won the 2001 Grammy Award for Best Arrangement. The third track on the eponymous album, this song melds the upbeat rocking sound, typical of tracks like “She's on Fire,” with the more sombre introspection of songs like “Mississippi” and “Hopeless.” The seamless blend of classical strings, with rocking guitars maintaining that raw, sometimes edgy, always bordering on folksy, sound can be attributed to producer Brendan O'Brien, who worked on projects with Pearl Jam and Neil Young.
Our yen to head towards the horizon is ever-present and “Drops of Jupiter” provides a fitting soundtrack for that voyage of self-discovery. ~ Suzanne van Rooyen
Suzanne is a tattooed storyteller from South Africa. She currently lives in Finland and finds the cold, dark forests nothing if not inspiring. Although she has a Master’s degree in music, Suzanne prefers conjuring strange worlds and creating quirky characters. Her published novels include Dragon's Teeth, Obscura Burning, and The Other Me. When not writing, she teaches dance and music to middle schoolers and eats far too much peanut-butter.
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