The meaning of “Stairway to Heaven”: Flyin’ Brian Robinson version

When I run or hike my mind often plays songs repetitively. If I don’t like the song or don’t know enough of the lyrics to make it a pleasant experience the resulting monotony can get quite burdensome. But if I’m lucky, a beautiful ballad that I know and love will play and I can enjoy the experience. “Stairway to Heaven” is one such song. Written in 1971 by Robert Plant and Jimmy Page, performed by the incomparable Led Zeppelin, it played endlessly on the radio when I was in high school. And every time it came on, I turned up the volume and let the spell of that song carry me away. At over 8 minutes long, with lyrics scattered sparsely throughout, it’s arguable that the lyrics aren’t central to the song. It’s one of the greatest rock anthems of all time – who even listens to the lyrics? I certainly didn’t. Not until it started playing endlessly in my head. When you are forced to listen to a song 15 times in a row, you get past the awesome guitar solos and the ethereal mood of the song and you start to wonder, “What the F— is this song really about?” At least I do.

When I first heard the song it seemed to be about some rich lady who bought her way into heaven. The line “your head is humming and it won’t go, in case you don’t know” seemed appropriate to the endless loop I was experiencing. But it took a long time for the story to come together in my mind.

As I got into it, there seemed to be a lot of non-sequiturs. Consider the line “in a tree by the brook, there’s a songbird who sings, sometimes all of our thoughts are misgiven.” Where did THAT come from? We were just talking about the Stairway lady. It made me wonder.

In time I realized the song is not a linear story. It’s a series of images altered by the later context. It’s kind of like a movie that starts in the middle of the story and only later supplies the context to understand what you’ve seen.

“There’s a lady who’s sure all that glitters is gold, and she’s buying a stairway to heaven.” The lady and her stairway represent materialism. There’s also a hint that she may be misguided because all that glitters is NOT gold. “When she get’s there she knows, if the stores are all closed, with a word she can get what she came for.” Money, privilege and power. Pretty simple so far. “There’s a sign on the wall, but she wants to be sure, ’cause you know sometimes words have two meanings.” She doesn’t trust anyone. Money has cut her off from people.
Then comes the apparent non-sequitur. “In a tree by the brook, there’s a songbird who sings, sometimes all of our thoughts are misgiven.” So far the song has been about a lady and a stairway, or if we’re already on the metaphorical bandwagon, it’s about materialism and the way that cuts us off from other people. We can’t understand this line except in the context of the rest of the song, but we’ll soon see that a change from an old way of thinking to a new one is the real theme of this song. So eventually we’ll understand that this line starts the real theme of the song and everything that came before it is a metaphor for the old way of thinking.
The refrain is “Oooo, it makes me wonder.” Wonder what? The singer is rethinking something. But what?
The story takes a personal turn with the line, “There’s a feeling I get when I look to the west and my spirit is crying for leaving.” This is a lovely poetic line that boils down to “Facing death makes me think about what’s important in life.” Because the sun sets there, west has been a metaphor for death since at least ancient Egyptian times.
“In my thoughts I have seen rings of smoke through the trees and the voices of those who stand looking.” Rings of smoke denote campfires, indicating that people live there, despite being hidden. Those who stand looking are people who witness evil, but say nothing. The people in his thoughts are coming out of hiding to stand up for what’s right.
“And it’s whispered that soon, if we all call the tune, then the piper will lead us to reason.” The vision continues.The tune and the piper are musical metaphors connoting the spread of the goodness and truth seen in the vision. “And a new day will dawn for those who stand long and the forest will echo with laughter.” As the vision gathers momentum, the people are no longer hiding in the trees.
But we’re still not sure what this great vision really is. Does it have anything to do with the lady or the materialism she represents?
In the next few lines, we the listener are brought into the song somewhat ambiguously. “Your” and “you” could refer to the lady, but as we’ll see later, they don’t. “If there’s a bustle in your hedgerow, don’t be alarmed now. It’s just a spring clean for the May queen.” Very poetic again, and very British. Some translation is needed. In rural England the hedgerow is the line of shrubs denoting the property line between your estate and the next, so a “bustle in your hedgerow” means something is changing in your life or your mind. The May queen was chosen by a village to represent youth, beauty, newness, and hope for a better future. So this line boils down to “if your old ideas start crumbling, don’t be alarmed, you have new and better ideas forming in their place.” It’s also possible that the May queen is another reference to the lady, though significantly changed in her ways.
“Yes there are two paths you can go by, but in the long run, there’s still time to change the road you’re on.” This is a major clue to the still nebulous vision. It’s a vision about a change for the better, one that we the listener can make.
“Your head is humming and it won’t go, in case you don’t know. The piper’s calling you to join him.” Since the bustle, hedgerow and May queen were so mysterious, this stanza restates and clarifies the previous one. The piper, as mentioned earlier, represents the vision, now evidently an idea because it is humming in our head. It’s also a popular idea because here the piper is portrayed like the Pied Piper whose pipe magically lured rats and children to follow him.
“Dear lady can you hear the wind blow, and did you know, your stairway lies on the whispering wind.” There’s a lot going on here. Blowing wind is a metaphor for popular opinion, just as it was in many other songs from this era. Now we see the flaw in materialism, represented by the lady. Her money is only good if people accept it. And her reliance on it has cut her off from those people to the point where she may not be able to hear them at all. “Dear lady” is a clue that the lady also represents the materialist part of ourselves, one of the “two paths you can go by.”
“And as we wind on down the road, our shadows taller than our souls.”I really love this image. This song could have been about other people’s flaws, but it’s not. As time goes by, we inevitably grow more materialistic. One day we realize that we haven’t lived up to the idealism of youth. Our material selves are now more important to us than our spiritual selves.
But why shadows? A close inspection of the entire song shows a consistent differentiation between things seen and things heard. Things seen are false and misleading. Things heard are real and from the heart. This might seem strange, but remember, we’re listening to a song. The truth is coming to us aurally, not visually.
“There walks a lady we all know, who shines white light and wants to show, how everything still turns to gold.” The shadows of the previous line come from the shining white light of a materialistic point of view. If we cast a shadow, it’s because our materialism is showing.
“And if you listen very hard, the tune will come to you at last.” The tune returns. Like last time, the tune is the new way of thinking, the second path, the non-materialist way of living that is more genuine, and keeps us connected to other people.
“When all are one and one is all. To be a rock and not to roll.” It’s too bad this line is so hard to understand in the recording because it really ties everything together. If the new way of thinking is good for one person, it’s even better for a group. If enough like-minded folks get together and form a community then we’ll live in a real, solid and reliable paradise.
“And she’s buying a stairway to heaven.” If not, the materialists will take advantage of the rest of us.
So that’s how I interpret the song. It has added immensely to my enjoyment of Stairway to Heaven. I hope it does the same for you.


AC/DC at Wembley Stadium 4/7/15

Darren's music blog

“Rock is dead” pronounced Kiss’s Gene Simmons, never a man to hold back on his opinions. But that would seem a highly difficult concept to explain to anyone seeing 80,000 people flooding into Wembley Stadium for AC/DC on this hot July evening.

Five years since their last world tour ended and five years since they last played in Britain, the band’s recent well-publicised problems (founder Malcolm Young tragically forced into retirement by dementia and drummer, Phil Rudd, removed from the band following court appearances on a range of charges including murder threats) have done nothing to dim the level of interest and excitement in this latest tour.

And what a memorable night this has turned out to be. For a gig this size the sound is utterly brilliant, helped I am sure by the huge wall of Marshall Amps neatly stacked up across the back of the otherwise Spartan stage…

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A Visit from Tech Support for Hillary Clinton


The State Department. January, 2009.

TECH SUPPORT: Hi, Secretary Clinton? I’m Liz, from tech support. Your assistant said that you needed help getting Outlook on your phone?


TECH: This shouldn’t take too long. Are you working on a Blackberry or an iPhone?

CLINTON: God, who knows. I have so many devices these days.

TECH: Really? How many?


TECH: That shouldn’t be a problem. So let’s get Outlook fired up here. O.K. Hmm. It looks like you haven’t set up an account yet?

CLINTON: I’ve been using my address.

TECH: Most State Department employees prefer to use a address.

CLINTON: I don’t know that I would describe my role here as “employee.”

TECH: Right. Well, it’s sort of a best-practice thing. We can make sure that all your correspondence is secure this way, and it’ll make it easier to comply with FOIA requests.

CLINTON: Why would there be a FOIA request?

TECH: You’re right. There won’t be. But I like to say you can never be too careful.

CLINTON: I guess. Liz, between you and me, I’m not really a big e-mailer. I pretty much only use it for stuff like planning Chelsea’s wedding and chatting with my yoga instructor about whether we should impose sanctions on Iran.

TECH: It’s still good to get this set up. Go ahead and connect your device to the computer.

CLINTON: . . .

TECH: You can use that U.S.B. portal.

CLINTON: . . .

TECH: Here, it’s just this cord. O.K., I’m noticing that you have a lot of documents just saved to your desktop. It’s really safer to save them directly on the State Department server.

CLINTON: I’ll be sure to do that.

TECH: That way they’re password-protected. And again, FOIA.

CLINTON: I’m less worried about that than you are.

TECH: You’re the boss! O.K., next go to “Settings.”

CLINTON: . . .

TECH: It looks like a little gear symbol.

CLINTON: Oh! There it is.

TECH: Then to go to “General.”

CLINTON: . . .

TECH: . . .

CLINTON: . . .

TECH: It’s down next to—

CLINTON: I got it, all right? Jesus.

TECH: Follow the prompt for e-mail.

CLINTON: I’m not seeing it.

TECH: It’s right there next—

CLINTON: Please don’t point. I’ll never learn that way.

TECH: O.K., sorry. Keep scrolling.

CLINTON: Is it under Bluetooth? What is Bluetooth?

TECH: No, it’s—

CLINTON: Do I need to be in Dropbox?

TECH: What? No. Just click e-mail.

CLINTON: Got it!

TECH: Great. Let’s get you rolling with a username and a password. Feel free to really be creative here. Some people use their pets’ names, or the name of their high school.

CLINTON: How about just “password”?

TECH: That’s sort of not ideal.

CLINTON: O.K., how about “Benghazi”?

TECH: Perfect. It’s hard to spell and it doesn’t have any special significance.

CLINTON: So I’m done?

TECH: Not quite, but we’re close. Now input your username and password.

CLINTON: I am. It’s not accepting “Benghazi.”

TECH: Hmm. That’s O.K. This is a known issue. Let’s try “retrieve password.”

CLINTON: I’m hitting it but nothing’s happening.

TECH: Do you mind if I take over?

CLINTON: Fine. But I won’t learn.

TECH: Here’s the problem. It needs a number. Can we do a different password? Maybe “MrsPrez16”? That’s good, right?

CLINTON: That’s terrible, but I don’t care.

TECH: Hey, Madam Secretary, I get that this is frustrating. Believe me. Just remember that we’re on the same team here.

CLINTON: Sorry. UGH. I put in “MrsPrez16” and it’s rejecting that too!

TECH: You know, it’s probably because you’re not using a trusted wifi network. O.K., go back to Settings.

CLINTON: You know what, I’m just going to stick with my personal account. No one is going to care.

TECH: You’re probably right. Honestly, this system is so clunky; I’ve been forwarding stuff to my Gmail since 2006.

CLINTON: Can you get me set up with a Gmail?

TECH: I’m really not supposed to.

CLINTON: Fine. But while you’re here, could you help me change my Facebook picture? I want to use this one.

TECH: Oh, nice! You look so badass texting while wearing sunglasses.

CLINTON: I know.

TECH: Meme alert!


TECH: Girl, I’ll probably make that my profile picture, too. Or at least my Twitter avatar.

CLINTON: Please don’t call me “girl.”

TECH: It just makes you look like such a tech-savvy, feminist icon.

CLINTON: I am that.

TECH: Totally. O.K., here you go. It’s all set. And don’t worry about the e-mail thing.


When 21 Sikhs fought against 10000 Afghans and other facts about the Indian Army

When the rest of the country celebrates festivals like Makar Sankranthi, Baisakhi and Pongal, today is an important day for the armed forces of our country for another reason. It is Army Day in India, the dayField Marshal K M Carriappa took over as  the first Commander in Chief of Indian Army 65 years ago.

Here’s a little story about how Cariappa took over the army.

A meeting was organized to select the first Commander in Chief of The Indian Army.The then-Prime Minister Jawahar Lal Nehru said, “I think we should appoint a British officer as a general of Indian army as we don’t have enough experience to lead the same.”

Everyone agreed with the suggestion when one of officers abruptly said, “I have a point, sir.”

Nehru said, “Yes, gentleman. You are free to speak.”

“You see, sir, we don’t have enough experience to lead a nation, too.So shouldn’t we appoint a British person as first PM of India?”

The meeting hall suddenly went quiet.

Then, Nehru said, “Are you ready to be the first General of Indian Army?” He got a golden chance to accept the offer, but he refused the same and said, “Sir, we have a very talented army officer, my senior, Lt Gen Cariappa, who is the most deserving among us.”

The army officer who raised his voice against the PM was Lt. General Nathu Singh Rathore, A Lt General in the Indian Army. This anecdote is often told in variations as an example of courage and leadership.

 Siachen Glacier - The highest battleground on earth

Siachen Glacier – The highest battleground on earth

Here are some lesser known facts about the Indian Army that will make you feel proud of the fellow citizens who spend years away from their loved ones to make sure we sleep comfortably without any fear.

  1. Param Vir Chakra, the highest wartime gallantry award has been awarded only 21 times till date, and 2/3rds of these were awarded posthumously.
  2. Siachen Glacier is the highest battlefield in the world. More soldiers die here from cold than enemy attacks. The temperature drops to -50 degree celsius, at times. Siachen is jokingly referred to as a punishment posting, as over 850 people have lost their lives here due to bad weather. The official duration of the posting is three months and anything more than that can damage a soldier’s life beyond repair(Dementia, ED, frostbites are common). However, people often end up spending around six months to an year, since no one wants to be posted there and those who are already there cannot be relieved until reinforcements arrive. Even the helicopters have to be pushed beyond their limits to reach the area in order to send supplies.
  3. The High Altitude Warfare School in Gulmarg is the world’s best training institute when it comes to mountain warfare. The best forces from around the world come here to train, including the Delta Force and Marines.
  4. There is absolutely no reservation or preference, be it in matters of caste, creed, religion or race in the Indian army. The Services Selection Board for the selection of candidates as Commissioned Officers is apparently the toughest in the world as compared to selection in defense forces of any other country. Though the Indian Army faces a shortage of around 12,000 officers, there is no compromise on quality standards when selecting candidates.
  5. In terms of numbers, the Indian Army is third largest army in the world. It also has the credit of being the largest volunteer force. It has been the largest contributor to the United Nations Peace Keeping Force (UNPKF), and has taken part in huge number of missions abroad. Under the British occupation, the Indian Army had the largest number of soldiers fighting in the Second World War, numbering over2.5 million.
  6. Apart from the WWII, the Indian Army has the credit of accepting the largest military surrender in history in 1971. Over 93,000 Pakistani soldiers surrendered to India, leading to the independence of Bangladesh. It is very rare in history that an attacking party had to surrender in war.
  7. The Indian army has never initiated a first attack or engaged in a military coup with the intention of gaining power or governing a nation.
  8. Another brilliant example of bravery by the Indian army was during theBattle of Saragarhion 12th September 1897. In this battle, 21 Sikhs fought against 10,000 Afghans. All 21 Sikhs died in this battle, and there were 400-600 casualties on the Afghan side. This battle is often cited as one of the greatest last stands in history, often compared to the Battle of Thermopylae, where King Leonidas fought Persian army of Xerxes in 480 BC with an army of 300 Spartan soldiers.
  9. Talking about the regimental structure, each defense establishment has a place of worship for different religions based on the religious distribution of the army. When there isn’t enough place for all religions, asarv dharm sthalis createdwhich serves as a place of worship for all religions. A highly educated Religious Teacher of the rank of a Junior Commissioned Officer(JCO/Warrant Officer) acts counselor to soldiers and officers to help them during moral and psychological crisis.
  10. The Ministry of Defense operates five Rashtriya Military Schools and a Rashtriya Indian Military College as feeder institutions to defense forces, where students undergo a similar curriculum designed according to their age group as they would in services. The students here are generally called cadets and have an option to join Indian Defense service at the end of their schooling.

(article borrowed from