Song Stories: Coffee & Lighthouses

Album: a november life

Track Number: 2


I still work at the coffee shop on the shore Twenty years have gone by, I've seen a thousand waves burst forth

Like all the dreams we used to have while sitting in the lighthouse We saw the ships go sailing past that never knew about us The heavens gave a glorious light that cut right through the harbor A hundred times we held our breath as we began to wonder

What on Earth are we here for? Is there really something more?

I still have the bleached blonde hair we wore back then The world fit in our palm, we had to only play pretend

And nothing was beyond our reach, we only had to dream it The county lines, the city streets, until we reached our limit The years went by so aching fast, the ground began to tremble The seagulls flew, the angels fell, the world it was unstable

And now we're sitting on a road Talkin' 'bout the things unknown: What on Earth are we here for? Is there really something more?

These are the questions asked when we are getting older These are the questions asked by all sooner or later Do we have time to weigh the signs, map out our options? Or do we take a leap of faith and always wonder?

Do I dare to question you? Is it wrong? What must I do?

I remember the summer days away from home We’d wander to the field where we could be alone

The clouds came down around us, and the silence turned to thunder The maple tree we lay beneath provided too much cover We wandered to the open field to feel the raining come down Our clothes were drenched, our smiles wide as we departed the ground

And now we’re sitting in a car Saying how we’ve come so far We haven’t figured it out yet We’re past just getting our feet wet

These are the questions asked when we are getting older These are the questions asked by all sooner or later Do we have time to weigh the signs, map out our options? Or do we take a leap of faith and always wonder?

We've been told since the age of two that the Earth was round But now we find ourselves just staring at the ground I've always listened to everything I'm told But I am growing farther as I'm growing old

I've only got so many times around this sun Will I have time to find it out before I'm done? Do I doubt you? Maybe, but I can't help myself A growing heart will always look at something else

Could I ever deny you? That's the point we're coming to Do any other options work? I want to know before I'm in the dirt

I still work at the coffee shop On the shore

Story: I wrote the first two verses of "Coffee and Lighthouses" as a letter to my friend Nick. It's a 16-year-old's daydream of an idealized future self looking back on a golden past. The future self still lives where he always has and is writing to his friend who moved away, recounting the "glory days of their youth." At 16 I was already nostalgic about my "younger years" (cue "Bastard" by Ben Folds), so how better to express that than pretend I was nearly 40 and looking back on my youth? At the time I wrote the song, I wanted to work at a coffee shop, bleach my hair, and live near the ocean. I also wanted to be happily in love, so the third verse is directed at a hypothetical a teenage love who enjoyed sleeping under trees and dancing in the rain. I thought those things would make both a happy 16-year-old and a happy 40-year-old.

I never ended up bleaching my hair (my sister talked me out of that), my jobs at coffee shops didn't pan out (other stories for other days), I never moved/still haven't moved to the ocean, and my teenage love didn't last long enough to sleep under trees, but the song's sentiment remains: let us never lose our sense of adventure. And if we've lost it, let us find it again.

The song also asks the questions that pop up again and again on a november life: Why are we here? Does God exist? If yes, is It the Christian God? Does only one road lead to an afterlife? Can we trust what we're taught or must we find things out for ourselves? This song takes a hopeful view of those questions, believing that even if we don't yet have answers, we'll one day find them. (The song derives its hopeful outlook from the assumption that the answers to be found are what I at 16 (and still at 27…) considered to be "positive" answers -- i.e. We're here for a reason. Yes, there is a God. No, it's not the "Christian" God; It's just God, whatever That may be. No, not only one road leads to the afterlife. We can both trust what we're taught and adapt those teachings as we find things out for ourselves -- not "negative" answers, i.e. There's nothing after this. Everything is absurd. We suffer and we die for nothing truly matters.

Fun facts:

  • In the second verse, the line "The years went by so aching fast" was originally "The years went by so fucking fast." I changed it because I wanted the song to be more accessible to more audiences -- and because my parents would be hearing it and I didn't want to get in trouble.

  • In the third verse, the "maple tree" was inspired by Gavin DeGraw's reference to "maple leaf" in his song "Chariot" as well as the artwork on his album of the same name. (Gavin DeGraw was a major inspiration at the time.)

  • At the risk of ruining a poetic line by over explaining it: "We've been told since the age of two that the earth was round/But now we find ourselves staring at the ground" plays on the idea that earth looks flat to our eyes, so we take on faith that the earth is actually round (like we're taught). In the same way, we can't see God but we take on faith that It exists (like we're taught).

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joe sorensen

piano | guitar | vocal | songwriter

joe sorensen | des moines, ia |

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© 2020 Joe Sorensen/All the Losers Win (ASCAP)