The glorious persistence of "Skinny Love"

19 Aug

An ongoing obsession with Bon Iver’s “Skinny Love” was the subject of two separate conversations I had last week, with two unrelated parties holding almost opposite musical interests. This has been happening consistently since the song’s release. Every person I know loves it. And since “Skinny Love” became popular over a year ago, I’m thinking it’s going to be in our public consciousness for quite a while.

In fact, it’s probably time to add it to the “Top Songs of the Century” list, which pleases me to no end. “Skinny Love” is in that elite category of songs that keep getting better even after thousands of listens. If my spawn recall this one as a classic from my generation, that is fine by me.

Since “Skinny Love” seems like it will be around indefinitely, I think it’s high time we collectively decide what the song is about. Now, this is in direct contrast to my m.o as I typically couldn’t care less the original meaning — it’s about someone you don’t know or something you didn’t experience, so what’s the point? — but the “Skinny Love” lyrics are both confusing and seemingly solvable, which make it worth exploring. At least to me.

So, I have decided to temporarily lift my “discussion of song meanings” moratorium. Care to waste a few minutes with me to venture down this path of unanswerable theorizing? Come on, join me.

First off, let us review the lyrics:

Come on skinny love just last the year

Pour a little salt we were never here

My, my, my, my, my, my, my, my

Staring at the sink of blood and crushed veneer

*

I tell my love to wreck it all

Cut out all the ropes and let me fall

My, my, my, my, my, my, my, my

Right in the moment this order’s tall

*

I told you to be patient

I told you to be fine

I told you to be balanced

I told you to be kind

In the morning I’ll be with you

But it will be a different “kind”

I’ll be holding all the tickets

And you’ll be owning all the fines

*

Come on skinny love what happened here

Suckle on the hope in lite brassiere

My, my, my, my, my, my, my, my

Sullen load is full; so slow on the split

*

I told you to be patient

I told you to be fine

I told you to be balanced

I told you to be kind

Now all your love is wasted?

Then who the hell was I?

Now I’m breaking at the britches

And at the end of all your lines

*

Who will love you?

Who will fight?

Who will fall far behind?

Like all great lyrics, the words are better read than heard. Heartbreaking as hell, and yet still, the muddled message remains. Who is he singing to? Did this girl wrong him, or vice versa? Why would he be with her in the morning if things are so rocky? And while “I’ll be holding all the tickets, and you’ll be owning all the fines” is a beautiful phrase, what exactly is he trying to say?

Doing a bit of research, I noticed that singer Justin Vernon at one point said, “Part of the trouble with the old haunting love, is that it fucks with your future loves” (that is a secondhand quote and I can’t find the source, so my guess it was from a radio interview).

Knowing that, one could reasonably assume he’s singing to his current girlfriend and admitting he’s still fucked up over his last relationship. He’s asking that she be patient and understand his troubles. However, other lyrics (“blood and crushed veneer” … “owning all the fines” … “who will fight”) hint about a demise and wrongdoing on both sides, which means this line of reasoning doesn’t quite fly. It’s not that simple. Which leads me to two other theories.

1. He could be talking to himself. Unlikely, but he could be taking the fall for a recent breakup. There wasn’t enough patience, kindness, sacrifices, etc and he’s scolding himself for the misbehavior. It’s like he’s looking in the mirror, which makes his “staring at the sink” lyric literal in nature, and thus kinda cool.

2. He’s talking to two people: his current girlfriend who he’s pleading with to hang on as he deals with his past, and that past woman who he realizes has fucked him up beyond repair. He’s addressing both intermittently, knowing full well his current relationship is over because he can’t get over the past, but he’s still fighting it (“wreck it all”/”this order’s tall” … “slow on the split”).

He’s sorry about how he has treated the current one (“You’ll be owning all the fines” in this case meaning he did the crime but she has to pay for it) and simultaneously pissed at the former love (“Who the hell was I?” … “Who will love you?”). The recipient of his words changes a few times throughout the song, which helps to explain why he sounds simultaneously supportive yet sad, hopeful yet demoralized. The messages are supposed to be mixed. That’s the point.

I could of course be wrong, but that’s my take on the song. Anyone else have any thoughts on this one? Is the song meaning obvious to the rest of you and I’m just hopelessly dense? I’d love to hear your thoughts, and while you ponder a response, enjoy this kick-ass version of the song.

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58 Responses to “The glorious persistence of "Skinny Love"”

  1. Murph August 20, 2009 at 6:35 am #

    At the third minute when all three drums kick in is a really cool sound. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, every time I hear this song my face tingles…Any yes, I have thought long and hard about it…there is no manly way to say that.

  2. Murph August 20, 2009 at 6:36 am #

    “Any” should be “And”…Dammit.

  3. RandBall's Stu August 20, 2009 at 7:47 am #

    Since Justin Vernon/Bon Iver is from Eau Claire, he’s semi-officially “one of us,” right? Or do I need to call Mike Max to get a ruling?

  4. Numero 6 August 20, 2009 at 9:49 am #

    Since this song is probably in my top 3 of all time, I have often thought about the lyrics. You are right B, reading them as well as listening to them is a true delight. This man is certainly the most talented thing to come out of Wisconsin since Miller Lite.

    Also, I have to agree with your second theory. It makes sense to me that his current lady is paying the price of his past relationship’s end. In my head, he seems to be walking a thin line between present and past. If we are all wrong on our interpretation, it’s still a fun discussion.

  5. shall August 21, 2009 at 8:18 am #

    All this conversation is Mind-Bottling…Yeah, mind-bottling. You know, when things are so crazy it gets your thoughts all trapped, like in a bottle?

    Seriously though, I had never heard this song..but already love it after 2 listens.

  6. whoknows February 11, 2010 at 3:52 am #

    just a thought… think maybe its just a story about a man dying and singing to his love about her future and his in hers but just looking from above…

    (skinny) love,

    whoknows

  7. Lexi Lo April 28, 2010 at 6:36 pm #

    I think this song is about loving someone with a cocaine addiction, “skinny love” referring to the love he has for this person who is wasting away and both literally and figuratively. When he says “I tell my love to wreck it all” I think he is trying to express an internal conflict– does he stay with a person with this addiction to try to get them on the right path? or does he give up because the situation is hopeless? All these “I told you”s are his reflecting on the things he tried to tell this person to get them out of the addiction. “Sullen load is full; so slow on the split” is pretty much saying how hard it is to carry this heartbreaking load on his back, so he is slow to leave a person he knows needs help. I think his concluding lines sum up his current feeling — “Who will love you? Who will fight? Who will fall far behind?” These are all his doubts – who will be there to fight for the life of someone who is helplessly addicted? And hence, who will lose themselves in this fight the way he lost himself in it? Who will love them enough to stick around?

    • Janice November 11, 2012 at 3:12 pm #

      I work as an addiction counsellor and you analogy was the first that crossed my mind.. Blood and veneer.. Torn between staying or leaving..
      Very insightful

  8. Antonia August 25, 2010 at 5:38 pm #

    … Maybe, just maybe it’s straight forward. He’s talking to a girl who fell in love with him. A girl who gave her entire being to him, incapable of self control or grace. Because when in love people reach incomprehendable depths which wipe away any shame… So she cannot hide her desperation for him, and becomes wreckless in her actions selling her very soul to him. All the while he watches as she becomes unhinged. And though he cares deeply for her he can’t bare to watch her drag her self around, begging for his attention. And he becomes annoyed with her ‘… I told you to be fine, I told you to be balanced, I told you to be kind.’ because he knows that she is wasting herself. And that maybe she see’s him in the light she wanted to see him in, turning him into a prophet. When really he is of no real greatness and capable of doing the same shit that everyone else does on certain days. And he does not apologise but instead let’s her know how it will ‘i’ll be owning tickets, you’ll be owning all the fines’ and when he asks ‘who will love you? who will fight…?’ he is saying that she is a mess and one day people will no longer be prepared to deal with her issues. Maybe he is angry that her head is stuck in place that cannot exist in reality. Maybe he doesn’t want to watch self ruin., and maybe he is frustrated that she has made him care about her

    • Julie December 5, 2012 at 1:03 am #

      That’s how I read it. I think the song is great because it has meaning for all these interpretations. But yours is how I interpreted it. Sadly for me, I’m the “she”.

  9. Emily August 28, 2010 at 8:13 pm #

    Maybe skinny love is about a relationship, once great but now broken beyond repair. He wants it to be like it used to, hoping they will still have a chance. So he is asking her to not leave, not to give up- at least not yet…. Maybe it will get better? Come on skinny love just last the year…. Pour a little salt we were never here. Asking her to forget the past.
    When he says I tell my love to wreck it all, cut out all the ropes and let me fall…right in the moment this order’s tall. Maybe he’s asking her to just give up. Cut all ties. Forget about him. Even though he knows how hard that is going to be for her. That is why he says this order’s tall. He knows he is asking something so big, because she loves him.
    He realizes too much damage has been done. It’s too late- he sees now that he asked her to be all these things for him. Patient, balanced, kind. To be his perfect girl- He realizes she wasted her love… He did nothing for her in return; then who the hell was I? He owns the tickets she owns the fines. She got nothing out of the relationship.
    Maybe in the end when he says who will love you? Who will fight? Who will fall far behind? He is saying that there is someone else out there who will love you someone else who will fight for you. Someone who can love her better than he did. He feels is the one who is undeserving of her. He made the mistake. He fell far behind.

  10. JeffD February 9, 2011 at 1:25 am #

    I think that the “skinny love” refers to love that is not everything that it could or should be. He is asking this love, not a specific girl, to last a little longer because he is not yet ready to let it and the girl go. He wants the girl to forget the past and his wrongdoings that are so obvious now as they stare at the “sink of blood” or the pain he has caused her and the “crushed veneer” which may refer to the facade (veneer) she is finally able to see through (crushed). He always tries to tell his own love to fall for her and be with her but he just can’t cut the ropes and fall right now at this moment.

    He talks about how he tried to change her to make her the perfect girl and how he believes he will eventually be with her “in the morning” which is probably never even though he is not able to admit that to himself or to her. Even if he eventually is able to fall for her, their love will not be perfect, he believes he has already caused too much damage.

    He asks her to be hopeful even though that hope is being supported (brassiere) very lightly (lite) so even he can’t be confident that it will work out in the end but he still wants her to try to hold on a little longer and wait.

    He then knows that he needs to make a decision (breaking at the britches) because she can’t wait any longer (the end of all your lines). He ultimately wonders if “me” will be the answer to any of the three questions he asks at the end of the song. Will he love her, will he fight for her or will he fall behind as she moves on.

    To sum it up, I believe the song is about a guy that can’t commit to a girl who is in love with him and he also can’t bare to let her move on. He is aware of what he has done and knows its wrong but still can’t commit. It is not clear if he ever changed his mind and committed to her or if she moved on or if they continued in a rather destructive limbo. Maybe one day their love won’t be skinny, maybe it will continue to be skinny or maybe it will disappear forever.

  11. L-A March 9, 2011 at 3:45 pm #

    Im not sure really which underlying reason to follow, but they all seem very good interpretations of such a beautiful song.

    Is it wrong to see this as a couple’s ‘song’ I wonder?

    Whenever you are next on Youtube, type in Birdy – skinny love. She does a fantastic cover of this song, however you cannot beat the original.

    Such a immense song and lyrics.

  12. jenny April 17, 2011 at 3:15 am #

    It’s about his ex-girlfriend who has struggled with eating disorders…hence the name skinny love. it’s a story about the struggle of the girlfriend who he can no longer have a relationship with because her disease has taken over who she is and has put a toll on their relationship

    • jess January 4, 2012 at 12:09 am #

      this was definitely my impression of the lyrics. a literal, but “makes-sense” interpretation of ‘skinny love’.

  13. hello April 20, 2011 at 5:32 pm #

    I listened to birdys version of this song and cried my eyes out.

    I think this is one of those rare, genius songs that is open to interpretation, because there are so many metaphors.. Its personal to both the writer and the listener. Although you can garentee its about love and a relationship.

    I was able to relate to it because me and my boyfriend broke up a few weeks ago, and although we are now back together, this song brought back many painful memories and blocked emotions… ”Come on skinny love just last the year, pour a little salt we were never here”… I know the feeling of wanting to paper over the cracks and feeling it shouldn’t be over just yet, not atleast ”this year”

    ”I’ll be holding all the tickets, ul be holding all the fines”.. Feeling guilty for what went wrong n that it was all your faul.

    ”Who will love you? Who will fight?” Thinking who will ever love you more then I do?

    Very powerful stuff and I’m just so glad I heard this song, it truly does move me every time I listen to it and in a way has been the only outlet for my feelings… Amazing just isn’t the word.

  14. Courtney May 6, 2011 at 1:42 am #

    I feel like this song is about a guy who just found out his girlfriend betrayed him, and because of that perhaps his love is fading.
    Now he is ultimately struggling with the decision to stay with her, because he can’t really forgive her for what she did but still loves her. So now he is going back and forth with the relationship trying his best to make it work. Although at times wants to give up because like I said he is struggling to forgive her. He knows all odds are against their love and there is a slim chance to make the love work. Hence skinny love.

    “I told you to be patient
    I told you to be fine
    I told you to be balanced
    I told you to be kind”
    He is telling her this because he needs her to be understanding and stable while he tries to accept and cope with what has happened. He is very torn.

    “In the morning I’ll be with you
    But it will be a different kind”–
    meaning though he is physically there, their love and his emotions just aren’t the same.

    I’ll be holding all the tickets
    And you’ll be owning all the fines”
    meaning he holds everything she did against her and that she needs to make up for it.

    “Now all your love is wasted” meaning she loves him and regrets what she did, but she let all their love go to waste in a moment by cheating on him.

    That is my interpretation.

  15. Amelia May 13, 2011 at 4:11 pm #

    I think its about a normal realtionship, with someone who isn’t quite there. Emotionally. Who has taken the person down with them. And made them unhappy. Unintentionally. I think its a good song as everyone can put their own take on it. With whatever is going on with them.

  16. milli June 1, 2011 at 2:36 pm #

    I don’t know. I always though it was about her having an eating disorder. I think any addiction is like a button you press. to achieve something. because you feel other things are out of your controle in your life and you feel helpless.and this button gives you sudden comfort.
    Which you know….doesn’t always last.
    anyway: yeah, so he sees all this in her and it hurts him.
    and she’s probably not capable of love at the moment. or mortified by it. i don’t know. something like that. that’s what I always thought

  17. J August 13, 2011 at 2:20 am #

    It was a beautiful thing.

    The love was mutual.

    But he can’t ever ever admit that and he can’t ever promise anything solid.

    She went and wrecked it by needing to say it and asking for more than he could give. She couldn’t help herself. Neither can he.

    She is over to him now. They were equals and now she’s a speed bump.

    It might have been forever if only it’d gone unsaid.

  18. Emma September 26, 2011 at 4:38 pm #

    I can’t remember where I saw this, but the term “skinny love” apparently means two people who love each other but won’t acknowledge it. Their love is sparse, not quite there.

  19. bonhiver October 23, 2011 at 2:14 am #

    The eating disorder theories always crack me up. Here’s some insight, direct from Justin himself:

    “You’re in a relationship because you need help, but that’s not necessarily why you should be in a relationship. And that’s skinny. It doesn’t have weight. Skinny love doesn’t have a chance because it’s not nourished.”
    — Justin Vernon on “Skinny Love”.

    via http://pitchfork.com/features/interviews/7989-bon-iver/

  20. boredenough November 26, 2011 at 3:31 pm #

    Instead of working on all my final essays for the semester, I got stuck on this song. So I wrote a brief analysis to help me through some blockage. Even though my writing is really unpolished, I figured I’d post it since you guys are talking about the song too:

    The song ‘Skinny Love’ by Bon Iver describes the deterioration of a relationship from both perspectives. The singer implores his “skinny love” to “last the year,” which indicates both the setting and tone are cooling, or icy. Begrudgingly, he wants the remainder of their love to last until the ice melts, a motif continued throughout the song. Thinking it possible to salvage the relationship, the singer suggests ways to melt the ice representative of tension. His first suggestion is to pour salt on it. Salt serves two purposes here: in the winter motif, salt dissolves ice, but in the wound motif, salt causes pain. Realizing that the solution to his and his partners’ freezing or cooling relationship will result in reopening old wounds, the singer becomes less optimistic about the possibility of saving the relationship, choosing instead to stare at the remains of “blood and crushed veneer.” The blood represents both the passion of their love, passion that has bled out of the relationship, and the pain he is suffering because the relationship is ending. The broken “veneer,” which is but a thin covering, represents the illusion that the relationship was healthy or sustainable. Now the veneer is broken, and the singer must face the reality — the love is over.

    Saddened by his confrontation with the blood and broken veneer, the singer begs his partner to “wreck it all” by cutting him loose, or severing the last threads of his hope that the relationship can be mended. The motif of sewing fabric represents the singer’s desire to repair the damaged relationship. Incapable of ending things himself, he wishes his lover would “cut the ropes,” meaning end the relationship. But he acknowledges this will be a “tall order,” as neither is quite ready to leave even though the love seems to be consuming both of them and making them too “skinny” to survive.

    The idea that the pair can wait out the winter or “last the year” is appealing because the break-up will be so difficult. The ambiguity of the speaker in the chorus contributes to the overall sense of tension and reluctance in the song. If the singer is also the singer of the chorus, he appears to have decided to continue pleaded to stay together. “Patient,” “fine,” “balanced” and “kind” all refer to general stability, implying that characteristic is missing from the relationship; therefore, the relationship lacks the ability to weather the metaphorical winter. Learning to survive the cooling, one that is likely emotional rather than literal, that they are experiencing will enable them to save the relationship.

    However, it is more likely that the partner is actually the speaker during the chorus. Why? Because the singer has already witnessed the “blood” and “broken veneer,” he acknowledges that the relationship is irreparable but lacks the strength to express his realization to his partner. Rather than end the relationship, the singer says, “tomorrow I’ll be with you, but it will be a different kind.” The “different kind” of being with someone seems to allude to a second life, or a life-after-death. This “different kind” signifies that the singer is willing to die (at least metaphorically) for his love. The death would be a sort of journey, one the singer faces because his partner cannot face the brokenness of their love and release him. This inability to release him makes the singer responsible for his “ticket” out of the love, which is why the lover will be “owing all the fines.” The singer implies that his partner is responsible for his demise. As this seems to be metaphorical, the singer probably means that clinging to his hope for repairing the love will make him unable to ever love again. Trying to revive the dead relationship will essentially render him incapable of ever loving again.

    Despite the singer’s awareness of his impending emotional death, he suggests that he will continue to hold on to his hope by “suckling” at the “brassiere.” By simultaneously evoking images of sexuality and dependence, the singer implies the relationship is supported only by sex and a vampiric interaction where he steals nourishment from his partner’s body. His nourishment at his partner’s expense implies that he is starving his love, which reiterates idea that his love is making his partner “skinny.” The sexual metaphor continues when he says his “sullen load is full,” meaning he is withholding nourishment (likely semen, which is vulgar but seems implied). Furthermore, he is “sullen” because he is burdened with the knowledge that the relationship is doomed, despite his lover’s best efforts to again implore him to be “patient,” “fine,” “balanced” and “kind.” This final request angers the speaker, who responds rudely by forcing his lover to confront the reality that their love will not last, wondering what will happen now that their love his over. The singer seems primarily bothered by the lover’s statement that s/he has “wasted” love on the singer. He questions rhetorically, “Now all your love is wasted? / Then who the hell was I?” After realizing that love was doomed, he continued to hold out, even knowing that he was hurting himself by committing too much effort trying to sustain something that could not be saved. Now, the singer is hearing the lover lament without any empathy for the singer, who also suffers. At the end, both the singer and the lover seem to realize that the relationship is broken. The final lines drag out, evoking the feeling of two people separating, leaving their old love behind, but unsure how to proceed without one another.

  21. Lucas December 8, 2011 at 10:44 am #

    For me this song has a total different meaning. I think that a song’s meaning for the writer isn’t the important part but instead what meaning it has to you and what you can correlate the lyrics with in your life.

    As for me this song relates to my late big brother who bravely fought cancer for several years but in the end lost the battle at the age of 25.

    “Skinny Love” then relates to my brother who in his final stage was so skinny, it broke your heart every time you saw him.

    The first part of the song is for me my sister in law’s pledging my brother to keep on fighting.

    “Come on skinny love just last the year” (Here my sister in law begs my brother to keep on fighting so that he can live to see his daughter who would be born later in the year.)

    “Pour a little salt we were never here” (Here she tells him to stop thinking about the cancer and continue to live as everything was normal)

    “My, my, my, my, my, my, my, my

    Staring at the sink of blood and crushed veneer” (here is when she finally realise that you can’t continue to live a normal life as the cancer gets worse)

    The second part is my brother explaining how he tries to get his love to realise that she eventually has to move on.

    “I tell my love to wreck it all” (Here my brother tells her to throw away all the thoughts of him living through the disease)

    Cut out all the ropes and let me fall (Give up all the hopes and let him go)

    “My, my, my, my, my, my, my, my

    Right in the moment this order’s tall” (A request that he realises, during the circumstances, is impossible)

    In the first chorus my brother says everything that he told his true love in the beginning of the disease but then realises the tragic that eventually will happen.

    “I told you to be patient

    I told you to be fine

    I told you to be balanced

    I told you to be kind” (Here’s what he told her in the beginning, to be patient, everything will be all right, don’t stress out)

    “In the morning I’ll be with you

    But it will be a different “kind”

    I’ll be holding all the tickets

    And you’ll be owning all the fines” (Here he tells her that he will not be okay and says that he will always be with her but from a different place, and she will be left with all the troubles as he has his ticket to peace.)

    The next part:

    “Come on skinny love what happened here” (Here my sister in law is asking my brother what has happened with them)

    Suckle on the hope in lite brassiere (As she buys unnecessary stuff to keep their hopes up)

    “My, my, my, my, my, my, my, my

    Sullen load is full; so slow on the split” (The bitter burden that they have had to carry for such a long time is coming to an end)

    The second chorus:

    “I told you to be patient

    I told you to be fine

    I told you to be balanced

    I told you to be kind” (just as before my brother relates to everything he has said to her)

    “Now all your love is wasted?” (Will her love be all in vain now)

    “Then who the hell was I?” (If their love was a waste of time, then who would my brother be since she was his everything)

    Now I’m breaking at the bridges (He’s now crossing the bridges to other places)

    And at the end of all your lines (And all of what she’s told him will be lost)

    The last part is where my brother asks what will happen to his love.

    Who will love you? (Who’s going to love you now that I’m gone)

    Who will fight? (Who will fight for you?)

    Who will fall far behind? (What will happen to everyone else that loves him)

    I know that my interpretation might seem a little bit weird for others but for me this song really gets to me, and my thoughts go instantly to my beloved brother every time I hear it.

    He’s was three years older than me but we were like twins, the loss of him was the worst thing that could ever happen to me and have left me with so much sorrow that I no longer feel fear for anything. My joys in life will forever be bitter-sweet.

    My brother got to spend 2 months with his newborn daughter and that I’m very grateful for. It was the best time in his life and made the cancer worth-wile since they never would have decided to have a baby without the disease.

    Thank you if you bothered reading and take care of your loved ones. They truly are the most important thing that you have in this life.

    Kind regards.

    Lucas

    • Murph December 9, 2011 at 8:22 am #

      Love it…Great interpretation

    • FoulouYasmin October 28, 2012 at 12:34 pm #

      Lucas – I admire your courage for sharing such a deeply touching interpretation of the song. It truly mirrors the intensity of the feelings of hope and despair in the lyrics. So incredibly painful to see what was once thriving love become a mere skeleton (figuratively), in your brother’s case, literally fading away.

      May he rest in peace!

    • MA May 23, 2013 at 7:16 am #

      Thanks :) I believe its about cancer too. My brother died when I was six from a failed heart and I still miss him so much, so your comment made me cry! I cant completely relate to this song but I know a bit what it must feel like! But yeh, thanks for sharing such an insightful comment
      Good luck and God bless!! :)

  22. Maja December 9, 2011 at 5:55 pm #

    So, I did not read all of the comments above, but enough. I don’t know if anyone has mentioned this before, but I think the song has for everyone of us a different meaning.
    For me it has the meaning that .. like it’s always/kind of most of the time in life .. you love somebody and he loves you, but there is always something getting in the way of being toghether happily ever after..
    A friend of mine posted me the cover version of Birdy .. during a part of my life where exactly the same happend again and again and again .. so this is my interpretation :)
    So, I guess that picture sums up what I wanted to say :)

    http://becomeyourdream.tumblr.com/post/2659392812

  23. Martin December 24, 2011 at 6:30 pm #

    That brought a tear to my eye Lucas… people live on in our memories and therefore never really leave us but become part of us…

    • Lucas December 26, 2011 at 11:02 am #

      Thank you Martin. It warms my heart knowing that you guys read my interpretation and get moved by it. It really is a meaningful song for me and it’s completely true what you’re saying, they really live within us, constantly guiding our paths through life.

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    • Lucas December 29, 2011 at 3:02 pm #

      please delete

  25. anonymous January 6, 2012 at 3:20 pm #

    i personaly think that he is going to commit suicide but is convincing himself not to.
    “come on skinny love just last the year” by saying this he just wants to hold off on suicide . “cut out all the ropes and let me fall” he is telling his girlfriend to let him go so he wont hurt her by leaving her . “in the morning i’ll be with you, but it’ll be a different kind” he will be with his girlfriend in spirit because he had already killed himself. but then again , these lyrics are so mysterious and haunting, yet beautiful. i love both the original version, and birdy.

  26. Matt January 20, 2012 at 9:32 pm #

    I’ve become enamored with this song of late, as I feel I’ve become the person on the receiving end of the song’s lyrics. It kind of makes me understand where the other person was and makes it easier to understand and appreciate that it ended.

    This excerpt is from an interview with Pitchfork: “it’s about that time in a relationship that I was going through; you’re in a relationship because you need help, but that’s not necessarily why you should be in a relationship. And that’s skinny. It doesn’t have weight. Skinny love doesn’t have a chance because it’s not nourished.”

    You’re hurt from a relationship so you think someone new will help you get over it, but if you aren’t over the past you can’t commit to the present and the new love isn’t going to last.

    Based on that and other quotes I’ve read from him I suppose it’s him talking to the person he’s currently dating, explaining that he’s still fucked up from his old relationship and he’s realized this new one can’t work anymore or that he realizes it’s not fair to them. I kind of debate between he’s telling her to bare with him or if he’s explaining that it’s over.

    The first line “Skinny love just last the year” could mean stick with me a little while longer while I try to get over this or conversely it could be Vernon saying that if he can stay in this a little while longer maybe things will be better or he’ll move on from his previous love.

    I also agree that it could be him talking to both his current partner and his ex. “Cut the ropes and let me fall” seems to suggest he’s kind of asking his old lover to release her spell on him or something of the sort. Or it could be him asking this new girl to get fed up with his issues and break up with him so he doesn’t have to hurt her.

    The line about him holding all the tickets and her owing all the finds is his way of saying I’m the one who’s fucked up and you are the one who is paying for it. I think he realizes it’s not fair. He’s asked a lot of the new girl, to be patient, kind, balanced etc while he tries to get through a rough patch but it got to a point where he realizes that he can’t have anything real with the new girl because the old one still has him fucked up.

    I could go on and on about what I think this song means, or what it means to me at least, and that’s the beauty of music.

    • Matt January 20, 2012 at 9:44 pm #

      The other quote I was referring to is posted up top, not sure where the interview is from but the majority of the songs are about a girl called Emma, actually her middle name, can’t recall the whole name, who broke his heart and the interviewer asks about the song assuming it’s about Emma and Vernon replies:
      Q: “Skinny Love” seems this one is about the moment you knew things were destined to fail.
      JV: Well, this wasn’t about who you think it would be about. Part of the trouble with the old haunting love, is that it fucks with your future loves, and can damn and/or ambush your relationships. That’s who this is about.
      So I assume it’s about the girl he dated after Emma, when he still wasn’t over her

    • Stephie March 28, 2012 at 9:01 pm #

      Do you really think he is speaking to two different people? I can not really fathom that. my my my my my

  27. suzanna March 14, 2012 at 1:08 am #

    Lucas,

    That was a beautiful interpretation and I feel the same way. It’s been on loop for a whole month now since I found out a special friend of mine is fighting cancer. He has tumors in his brain and is at a stage where chemo and surgery won’t be able to help his situation. The doctor gave him a year before it affects his nervous system. I used to refrain from telling him things but right now I live each day like it’s the last and I am trying my darndest to make him smile every day. His father died from the same cancer, his mom couldn’t handle it and passed away a few years after. His only sister died a few years ago too so now it’s just him. I listen to this song every night before I sleep and I hope he will successfully fight it. Reality is bleak but I am hopeful.

    • Lucas March 23, 2012 at 1:35 pm #

      Dear Suzanna.

      It breaks my heart to read about this. It’s just so sad and pointless. That’s the worst thing about cancer…it can get to anyone, even if they’re the most wonderful persons. You can’t blame anyone. For myself it ended up with a life that makes no sense at all. I truly hope that you at some point will find a meaning to all of this.

      Furthermore, what you’re doing right now is, without doubt, the best thing you can do. Keep his spirit up and treasure every moment. Talk about old memories and get new memories and most importantly, try to remember everything. Memories can so easily fade away. That is all you can do right now and I’m glad you’ve done the right thing from the start.

      I was a fool with my brother and we never really talked it out. It was hard since he always wanted to be my big brother. So he always acted like everything was fine and always made me laugh even on his last day. I know that is what he wanted but I can’t help to regret that I didn’t say all the things that I wanted to say.

      It’s weird though…I can’t help feeling a little bit glad that someone understands how much this song means to me and what kind of emotions it triggers.

      I sincerely hope that your friend will get through this Suzanna. My thoughts go to both of you.

      Do take care of yourself and continue being hopeful.

      Lots of love.

      • Suzanna March 23, 2012 at 2:33 pm #

        Dear Lucas,

        Thank you so much for your reply and support :)

        I’ve been trying to keep his spirits up but I do cry when I’m alone because I am so scared of losing him. I make sure he doesn’t know that I do because it will make him sad and that’s the last thing I want. Recently, he had to go to emergency after throwing up blood and that day I thought we were going to lose him I was not ready and kept crying until I knew he was stable. I am not in the same country with him right now but his brother sends me updates. I feel very very helpless for not being physically there during his time of need.

        I know it was silly but when his brother told me that he woke up in the middle of the night asking for me before falling right back to sleep, it warmed my heart and it was such a bittersweet moment. I love him a lot but due to circumstances, we are not able to be together.

        Cancer really isn’t fair but recently I got to thinking that maybe this is how he will be reunited again with his family. I hope to see him again on the other side when it’s my time to go.

        Have a good day Lucas :)

      • Suzanna March 23, 2012 at 2:35 pm #

        *his godbrother i mean. He is very lucky because his godfamily are there for him :)

  28. Stephie March 28, 2012 at 8:59 pm #

    I was able to internalize this song. It description brought to life a love I needed and could not have because this person was unable to be loved for they did not love themselves. A friendship was ruined. I tried to make that person love, live, and be better. They ruined it because they were chasing internal damage from, dare I say, ‘mommy troubles.’ This person was harsh and unrealistic with delusions of grandure. Also, this person has pushed everyone away. The repeat of ‘my’ symbolizes what I wanted or per say bon iver wanted and was disappointed. It hurt like hell being there for someone who couldn’t be there for themselves. It’s almost scary how music can touch me deep at explain it all.

  29. Mins May 22, 2012 at 10:34 pm #

    I personally Think the song is about someones struggle with drug use particularly cocaine.

  30. Sofia July 10, 2012 at 7:03 pm #

    I think the song is about someone who’s in love with a girl (probably for a long time) who has issues (maybe drugs, maybe something else).
    ‘Skinny Love’ means anorexic love to me- he’s trying to contribute, feed their love – but she’s not able to absorb it due to her problems.
    She’s getting worse and he’s struggling. He wants to give up, but can’t- because he loves her still (cut out all the ropes and let me fall)- but he acknowledges the burden (order’s tall).
    I think he confronts her about the issues and the relationship changes (told to be patient/fine/balanced/kind) but knows that it’s not that simple (she owns the fines afterwards).
    In the end, he’s scared if he’s doing the right thing staying with her, because as much as she needs him, he’s most likely to get hurt ins the whole process as well.

  31. Max Gum July 19, 2012 at 11:57 pm #

    I think you all have read this wrong. It’s about drugs and shooting up…”skinny love.”

  32. Mary August 2, 2012 at 8:21 pm #

    Skinny love is a song about a relationship lacking substance (hence skinny)
    Be patient, be kind ect.
    Wrong doing
    Heartbreak and at the end of a relationship they’re trying to drag out.
    Who will love u
    Who will fight …. Means who will take you for all your faults and still fight to be with you.

  33. Tenille August 11, 2012 at 3:40 am #

    the meaning of skinny love, explained by justin vernon

    This is supposedly the exact meaning according to Justin Vernon.

  34. Matthew August 24, 2012 at 4:56 pm #

    I’ve read almost 10 different meanings on this site. And that’s exactly the reason why this song is so strong. It just cuts right through to so many people because all can relate in one way or another.

  35. Emilio October 6, 2012 at 8:08 pm #

    I have a totally differnet take on the lyrics, in fact quite sinister if you will. The song is about a guy who is violent and regularly abuses his partner (“pour a little salt ” indicating for her to disinfect her wounds and “we were never here” denial if it ever came out. “Sink of blood and crushed veneer” would indicate a violent temper and damage to property).

    He tells her to let him go knowing full well she loves him too much or is too scared of him to leave “I tell my love to wreck it all, Cut out all the ropes and let me fall, Right in the moment this order’s tall”

    The next few lines are more a directive to her and how he is blaming her for everything. Given the context I am writing this in, he is commanding her to make up for his misgivings and if she does not comply, he can then justify his anger and violence towards her. “I told you to be patient, I told you to be fine, I told you to be balanced, I told you to be kind”.

    This next part he contemplates his alter ego, “In the morning I’ll be with you, But it will be a different “kind” which indicates that by tomorrow he wil have calmed down.

    “I’ll be holding all the tickets, And you’ll be owning all the fines” refers to both the mental as well as the physical controls he imposes on her. He will hold all the cards while she must deal witht he fall-out.

    Here we see classic denial associated with a bully “Come on skinny love what happened here” and the small token of hope that things will change to keep her involved in the relationship “Suckle on the hope in lite brassiere”

    Sullen load is full; so slow on the split

    Again he tell her what to do “I told you to be patient, I told you to be fine, I told you to be balanced, I told you to be kind”. This is where is is about to lose control again which leads the song into the following:

    “Now all your love is wasted?” start him on the blame game and if she did not love him why then did she waste his time “Then who the hell was I?”.

    The next two lines indicate the arguement.
    “Now I’m breaking at the britches” he is just about ready to strike her. “And at the end of all your lines” and with each response she gives he feels justified to hit her.

    The following three lines are designed to make her doubt her worth and attempt at making her more dependent on her by suggesting that he is the only one that will love her “Who will love you?”, will protect her “Who will fight?” and guide her “Who will fall far behind?
    “.

  36. Kat October 22, 2012 at 7:13 pm #

    Well, I read that Bon Iver retreated to his father’s isolated log cabin and rote and recorded his album following the break up of a relationship and his band. So maybe he’s referring to both in this song. Maybe? Hmm??

  37. Missy December 8, 2012 at 12:29 am #

    Anyone got ideas on the reference to skinny and then “i’m breaking at the britches.” Do you think its purposeful irony or does it translate to something else.

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  39. Jane August 9, 2013 at 3:58 am #

    my first reaction was that it was about an eating disorder?

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  42. marie lang August 6, 2014 at 12:36 pm #

    i think skinny love means …” come on skinny love just last the year”…. he wants this love to last even though things have been going so wrong…. “pour a little salt we were never here”… forget what has happened we can make it work…. “staring at the sink of blood and crushed veneer”.. hes thinking to himself maybe we should just let this love go…. “i tell my love to wreck it all cut out all the ropes and let me fall”… sometimes he wants to give up on their love and hes admitting it to her…” i told you to be patient”… patient with this love maybe it will work out…”i told you to be fine i told to balanced and i told you to be kind”… hes asking her of what this love needs for it to last…”in the morning ill be with you but it will be a diffrent “kind”.. he will still be there in the morning with her but the …”kind”… kind of love wont be the same … “cause ill be holding all the tickets and youll be owning all the fines”…because of this love hes done horrible things … “come on skinny love what happened here”.. things used to be good with him and his lady but now everything is lost… “suckle on the hope in light brassire”… hes been drinking to try and get rid of the idea this love will actually be over…”sullen load is full so slow on the split”… all the pain has filled his heart completely, all the sorrow is inside him and hes knows it must end…”now all your love i wasted then who the hell was i” his lady was telling him she doesnt want it to be over she thinks shes given him her best and if hes leaving her love is wasted… “who will love you”… he officially is saying this is the end we’re done i cant love you … “who will figh”… who is going to fight with you now that im gone cause i know it wont be me anymore… “who will fall far behind”… hes saying which one of them will be stuck in the past and who will be the one that chooses to move on… “come on skinny love”… this love was skinny aka slim and had a small chance, its over now

  43. Fiona March 18, 2015 at 9:16 pm #

    To me it’s about loving somebody with an eating disorder/depression. He is desperately trying to help her hang on and live, but she is slipping away. One lyrics that made me tinkerbell this is ” Who will love you? Who will fight?” I believe he is saying ” Who will save you? I can’t save you, you can’t even save yourself. “

  44. Ella February 13, 2016 at 9:15 am #

    He is singing to the love- skinny love- we’ve all become aware in a relationship that’s going south the love has become skinny. You realize it’s not what you needed or wanted. He told the love to be balanced, patient, kind but it falls into skinny love, that which takes on the old karmic patterns of poor relationships that aren’t good for the soul. But he’s hurt. He’s holding the tickets- putting the loss or blame on him and that he did not keep the love balanced, kind etc., thus the love is skinny. But he is still pulling for the skinny love- come on skinny love. He’s not really ready to let go.

  45. NanDe October 27, 2016 at 11:02 pm #

    I think he talk to him self, about divorcing after he beat his wife and crushed all stuff. When the next morning the court happen, he will get punishment (ticket to prison) while his wife get all of fine.

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