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Title: ‘Stay’
Where to find it: ‘The Morning’ (2014, Warner)
Performed by: Lewis Watson
Words by: Lewis Watson

Most of the time, I’m not a singer/songwriter type of girl. The thought of a man (or woman for that matter) sat atop a stool with a guitar and a microphone makes me want to go to sleep. As I have mentioned in previous analyses including the last one with a song also written by someone from Oxfordshire, I tend to be hypercritical of singing voices due to my previous vocal training. Sometimes I will get stuck, having to stomach a band if I like their instrumentation and songs but I’m not entirely fond of the lead singer’s vocals. But when it comes to the singer/songwriter genre, there is nothing left besides the voice and the guitar (or the occasional piano). There is nowhere to hide. When I find someone in this genre whose voice and songs I love, it is a wonderful but highly rare occurrence.

Enter the 22-year old Lewis Watson. He doesn’t look the part of pop star, yet he’s got young girls screaming at him every night. Why is this so? The man (I keep wanting to type “boy” because he’s incredibly young) writes a good song. And considering how old he is, it’s dumfounding what a rich voice he has. As far as I’m concerned, everyone should just step aside and let him do his thing.

I met Lewis 2 months ago when he played a show in Washington and he was just the sweetest guy! But because of an enormous queue of fans wanting to say hi and get photos with him, it was impossible to have a real conversation with him. Had we, I would have asked him about this song, because it stirred up a lot of emotions in me, and it seems to have at least two interpretations (in my mind anyway) and that’s another reason why I think it’s so beautiful. I’m hoping to have my chance to talk to him again sometime soon. Fingers crossed.

According to famed psychiatrist Carl Jung, dreams are a way of communicating and acquainting yourself with the unconscious. Dreams are not attempts to conceal your true feelings from the waking mind, but rather they are a window to your unconscious. They serve to guide the waking self to achieve wholeness and offer a solution to a problem you are facing in your waking life.

When I’m sleeping, I dream A LOT. Or at least I remember a lot, and a lot of little itty bitty details. Supposedly we all dream, it’s just only a small subset of the human population remembers what has happened in them. I always have a notepad and pen near my bed in case I’m woken up by dreams or nightmares; I tend to have very vivid, Technicolor dream sequences, often involving people I know in real life, so if I have a particularly vivid one that shakes me awake, I want to be able to write it all down and often I’ll use it for poetic inspiration. I had been thinking to analyse this song for some time and then last week one night, I had this beautiful dream about being in Oxford and considered that it was my cue to get working on it.

First, the words:

Verse 1
When I close my eyes I hear you singing,
singing me a song that I’ll forget,
I always forget.
I try to trick myself back to sleeping.
You pick me up, but I let you down.

Chorus
It was so clear but now it’s gone,
I couldn’t keep my eyelids shut.
Why can’t you stay?
Stay…stay…
If only I could dream we could start again.
If only I could dream we could start again.
Ooohhh… oooh…

Verse 2
When I close my eyes I see you dancing,
dancing me a song,
just out of reach, just out of reach.
I need you in the day when I’m not dreaming.
You pick me up, I don’t wanna let you down.

Chorus
It was so clear but now it’s gone,
I couldn’t keep my eyelids shut.
Why can’t you stay?
Stay…stay…
If only I could dream we could start again.
If only I could dream we could start again.
Ooohhh… oooh…

Chorus (extended outro version, starting with first two lines spoken)
It was so clear but now it’s gone,
I couldn’t keep my eyelids shut.
Why can’t you stay?
Stay…stay…stay
If only I could dream we could start again.
Stay…
If only I could dream we could start again.
Stay…
If only I could dream we could start again.
If only I could dream we could start again.

Now, the analysis:

I’ll start this analysis a bit differently than the others: if you wish to now, scroll down to the bottom of this post to watch the promo video for ‘Stay’. I’ll be honest, it took me a bit to sort of register what was going on in the video and how it tied into the lyrics of the song. The video offers what I’ll call the alternate interpretation of the song. If you’d rather wait until you finish reading this whole article, that’s fine too.

At first, I approached ‘Stay’ as a typical torch song: something went wrong in a relationship, and the man is looking back at everything that’s happened, wanting to reboot the relationship to the beginning and start over. This is probably how most everyone who likes/loves this song views it, and that’s perfectly fine and great: ‘Stay’ is beautiful on its own like this, with Watson’s voice soaring, full of emotion and heartbreak.

But the more I thought about ‘Stay’ – admittedly, after playing this song over and over and OVER again on my headphones – the more it seemed like an onion. After all those replays, I was able to peel off other layers of onion skin to expose more meaning, which made it all the more amazing to me. On a personal level, it spoke directly to me: I go to bed at night with the purpose of getting rest, but instead my unconscious and subconscious go to work, as I head into dreams about people and places I know. Sometimes I’m haunted for days, for weeks by what I see. It can be people, images, actions, or a combination of all three that make an impression on me. Sometimes I’m jolted awake by what I’ve witnessed and start crying from the mixed emotions of realising I’m awake: I’ll be happy if I was able to stop a nightmare. But I’ll be inconsolable if I woke up before something I’ve wanted was allowed to come to fruition and I have no closure about what happens next. The days when I have dreams that shake me to my core, those are the days it’s tough to be me.

The most literal interpretation of ‘Stay’ I offer above requires you to keep the song in the living, waking world, keeping with things that have physically happened and the regrets related to mistakes made while awake. My preferred interpretation is a combination of both the waking and dream worlds. Watson even uses the word “dream” in both verses and the refrain “If only I could dream we could start again.” But we all know that “dream” has two meanings. You can be referring to something in our waking life we really, really want. Maybe it is that person we’ve fallen in love with. Or a career we’ve always wanted since we were small but seems impossible. Or that sportscar we saw in a magazine that we had our heart set on but could never afford. We are fully cognisant in our acknowledgment of those dreams, however unattainable or not.

The other meaning of “dream” is literally the action of dreaming while we’re asleep, when our minds are (usually) in relative peace and harnessing the subconscious and unconscious. In other words, the stuff we may be thinking about deep down but trying to shove aside and forget is what often comes alive in our dreams. In verse 1, Watson sings of closing his eyes and seeing the love of his life singing a song that he he’ll forget, “I always forget.” This suggests that he’s referring to bedtime dreaming, not daydreaming, having acknowledged he’s trying to hold on to something he saw of her in a dream, because he forgets what happened in the dream, like most people do. Further, he goes on to say “I try to trick myself back to sleeping“, because he wants to go back into the dream and see what happens with the two of them. But alas, he can’t go back into the dream, he can’t rewind it. The moment is gone. And no matter what and where the relationship is, whether you think it’s in the waking or dream world, it’s all come down to a final point and he is stuck. He can’t go back.

The line “You pick me up, but I let you down” for me is ambiguous: if it was really about a dream he had, this wouldn’t make a whole lot of sense, unless he meant she had done something for him in the dream and somehow he didn’t come through for her. So I think this is unlikely. Now let’s go into the chorus: “It was so clear but now it’s gone, / I couldn’t keep my eyelids shut.” Surely this is about him dreaming about her, isn’t it?

But hang on a minute. Onion skin #1 being peeled off: he could be talking about having seen her in a dream and everything was “so clear” while he was asleep “but now it’s gone.” But nighttime dreams usually are pretty fuzzy affairs. Some people tell me most of their dreams are in black and white, which strikes me as quite odd, because I always remember what colour clothes people wear in mine. Could it be possible that he is referring to his waking dream of the two of them together, and that was what was “so clear” to him? When we have ideals about relationships, we often think the other person is going to act in a certain way, don’t we? We get upset when they let us down by not living up to our expectations. So he’s disappointed about what’s happened. They’ve had a breakdown, and things that were simple have now become stupidly complicated.

Onion skin #2 being peeled off: “I couldn’t keep my eyelids shut” seems obvious enough. Or is it? During our normal, everyday lives, we see things we wish we hadn’t. I have to change the channel whenever they’re talking about hostages in the Middle East, about people being shot for no good reason in my country, it’s just too much for me. This are extreme examples, but the way I see this line, he had in his head what makes for an ideal relationship and this is right in front of him while both of his eyes are open, thinking about what he has with this woman. When that something bad happened that caused the breakup, he also was confronted with the reality that this ideal relationship wasn’t really as ideal as he had envisioned. But physically shutting his eyes, he is denying, or at least trying to pretend that what he sees is not happening.

Imagine being cheated on and betrayed by your significant other and then having him/her confront you with the truth. It wouldn’t be so out of place to squeeze your eyes so tightly shut to block out the rest of the world. That imaginary world in our eyes, and the one that our minds create when we are asleep, these are safe places. Yes, you may have nightmares and bad things can happen. But you wake up.

In verse 2, he sings of seeing her dancing and being “just out of reach, just out of reach.” Again, maybe this was in the dream world. But maybe this refers to physical distance? I also want to revisit the line from verse 1, “You pick me up, but I let you down,” which is later modified in verse 2 to “You pick me up, I don’t wanna let you down.” There is something so touching to me in these words. He’s acknowledging how important this other person is in his life. I’m kind of imagining the feeling you get when you hear Josh Groban singing ‘You Raise Me Up.’ Regardless of whether you’re religious and believe in God or not, it’s powerful words knowing there is someone else out there, whether it be a real person or something else of a higher power, who you can count on. That is a huge comfort.

There is also pain in Watson admitting somehow he’s let her down. Was he responsible for the break, is he the one who betrayed? I think he must have been the betrayer or thinks he’s to blame, responsible for the crumbling of the relationship because he’s the one who wants to start over. Recall also that the title of the song is ‘Stay’: he wants the woman to stay despite what’s happened, further evidence to support this.

Why does this song make us feel so sad? Because we all suffer regret. And there are always times we wish we could go back to the way things once were, in simpler circumstances, when we felt happier. But people change. We all change. And when people change, the dynamics of a relationship change, usually irreparably.

But here’s a twist: if you haven’t watched the promo video for the song, do it now.

Hmm, right. So the video introduces another possible interpretation: I never saw this coming at all! At first I was like, what is happening? Why is he in the graveyard? Why is she looking awfully comfy in a ‘bed’ in said graveyard? And then later, why is the shopkeeper looking at them funny? Oh wait… She has been dreaming all this time about the man she loved *who has died.*

Wow. Just wow. That came out of left field, didn’t it?

As for me, I think the dream I had recently is telling me I need to visit Oxford. I’ve never been. Hopefully I’ll be able to do it sooner rather than later. I’m quite curious to see if what happened in the dream really comes true.

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