Saint John by Cold War Kids, from Robbers & Cowards

I didn’t fancy the Cold War Kids from the get-go. They were definitely an acquired taste. They grew on me. Now I crave their music like an addict and Saint John is my favorite of their songs (at least right now it is).

SONG: Saint John

There are too many Saints named John to narrow this particular song title to one of them. John the Apostle, John the Evangelist, John of Patmos, John of Egypt, John the Merciful, John of Ephesus, Saint John of Damascus— you get my point, right? What do all Saint Johns have in common? Living righteously, challenging sinful rulers, calling for repentance, promising God’s justice, anticipating a messiah? 

Starting with a slow electric bass line and a few sporatic percussive sounds, the song stays simple musically while plunging into heavy, deep and profound subject matter (but you wouldn’t think so unless you really listened to the lyrics). I could be reading too far into it? I don’t know, you tell me?!

 I love how loose and imprecise the backing vocals are. I definitely detect a hint of PJ Harvey’s vocal styling (when he sings, “Tell My Sister Jane”). There is also a great and very effective time change in the song, upbeat in the verse, slower in the chorus.

The song actually tells a tragic story, seemingly from a minority’s perspective (as suggested by the line, “All the white boys in the stay-pressed slacks,
they’re home for the summer from college” inferring that the story-teller is not white) and possibly from a different era. It’s bluesy-ness is certainly suggestive of another time. The story: a group of drunk guys attempt to rape the protagonist’s sister. He (the protagonist) enters the scene and violently scares them away. It’s not portrayed as a heroic act as he ends up killing one of them and must go on the run. The protagonist apparently gets caught, living now on death row and testifying against the kids who tried to rape his sister.

 The message: life sure isn’t fair. But why bring Saint John into the song? Maybe a statement about society’s fucked-up moral compass or the lack of God or justice? A person becomes a saint if he/she has demonstrated a life of almost perfect virtue. That’s the irony. This fellow is a saint (or his action was saintly) but he’s still on death row. And, “all us boys on death row are just waiting for pardon.”

Like I said, I may be giving it more meaning than even the Cold War Kids intended. Whatever the case, it’s a fantastic song on all accounts.


Supper time in the hole. Supper time in the hole. I shame my family,
shame my home.
Supper time. Old St. John on death row,
he’s just waiting for a pardon.
All the white boys in the stay-pressed slacks,
they’re home for the summer from college.
Stayin’ out late, getting rowdy at the bar
and lookin’ for trouble uptown.
They come up my block, about 5 or 6 of them,
smashing their bottles in the gutter. Yelling all kinds of obscenities,
about women and God and law. Supper time in the hole. I
shame my family,
shame my home. A young girl turning the corner with a clerk dress on,
that girl was my sister.
Just got off the night shift, at Pennington’s place—
just wanna go home and get some sleep.
Well, he grabbed her by the waist with the caffeine eyes, their hands all fidget electric.
I picked up a brick from my papa’s front yard
and threw it at the tallest boys face. Well blood was streaming like a well that sprung.
I couldn’t believe what I had just done. Well the other boy’s ran and this one stayed on the ground and he would never move again. Old St. john on death row,
he’s just waiting for a pardon.
All us boys on death row,
we’re just waiting for a pardon. Jury on trial, I testify.
Got to keep on runnin til the well runs dry.


3 responses to “Saint John by Cold War Kids, from Robbers & Cowards

  1. Well here I was ready to listen to another one of your wonderful suggestions but alas the link is blank. But after reading the lyrics I have to tell you it resonates all inner city youth. I have always been told I am wacked for listening to songs by “angry” youths. Whether its rap or just new genre I love it. Keep up the great work and I am watching you missy. I feel it, I know it and I am sure you can taste it. 🙂

  2. Saint John is by far my favourite song by Cold War Kids. I saw them perform it live with Tokyo Police Club (not my favourite band, but in this context they were pretty cool), and they were all on stage banging the hell out of different hand held forms of percussion while marching around the stage yelping this awesome tune. It was wicked awesome Leerone…Wicked Awesome!!!

  3. Pingback: Top Five Prison Songs « Pursuances

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