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  • Writer's pictureNikki Yu

Goodnight Moon: Anthem for New Believers?

“Goodnight Moon” released in 1999, granted the band Shivaree the much desired classification of one-hit-wonder. Made popular by its appearance on the Kill Bill 2 soundtrack, the song remained on the periphery of pop culture for almost two decades. For years now, this song has been the source of much mystery for scholars. What is it about it that keeps it from dying out with the rest of Shivaree’s discography? What is it about it that makes coffee shop listeners “[grab] the nearest barista and [make] him run to the back and find out the singer” and then post an Amazon review about the experience (Anonymous)?

Perhaps on first listen, this is just a song about paranoia or the inability to say goodbye to a past phase of life, but we will take a deep dive into the lyrics to show that this is actually a Christian song at its core, containing a heart-wrenching outcry for God to save us from the death grip that sin has on our lives. The following analysis will make use of age-old techniques, including free association and extreme extrapolation, combined with an initial assumption that reader response trumps authorial intent in all cases.

So, without further ado, let’s begin.

There's a nail in the door

And there's glass on the lawn

Tacks on the floor

And the TV is on

And I always sleep with my guns

When you're gone

There's a blade by the bed

And a phone in my hand

A dog on the floor

And some cash on the nightstand

When I'm all alone the dreaming stops

And I just can't stand

In the first verse, the singer paints a picture of a house on lockdown. The door is nailed shut, glass and tacks prevent people from entering the property, and there’s no sign of lapsing alertness to any outside observer. No one is getting into this house. But no one’s getting out either.

The last two lines explain the entirety of the first verse. In a beautiful stroke of genius, the singer ties together both Mark 3:27 and Psalm 1:1. Psalm 1 opens with “blessed is the man who does not walk in the counsel of the wicked or stand in the way of sinners or sit in the seat of mockers” (New International Version, Psa. 1:1). Anything stand out? The last line is a clear reference to this Psalm. And this is where Mark 3:27 comes in. For those who haven’t memorized the Gospels in their entirety, Mark states, “in fact, no one can enter a strong man’s house and carry off his possessions unless he first ties up the strong man. Then he can rob his house” (Mark 3:27). The connection to this verse is already obvious, given the description of a literal house, but the singer continues to reference someone who lives in the house, but is absent. Perhaps that someone is a strong man who is not absent by choice. Perhaps the person who’s gone, the person the singer is addressing, is Satan, or some personification of sin. Even when we’re entrenched in sin, to the point of cohabitation, God can reach us and cause us to become dissatisfied with the life we’re living. Suddenly, we can no longer stand.

What should I do I'm just a little baby

What if the lights go out and maybe

And then the wind just starts to moan

Outside the door he followed me home

New Christians are frequently compared to or referred to as babies (1 Cor 3:1, 1 Pet 2:2, Heb 4:12). Here, the singer has experienced an initial invitation from God but is still struggling. While the singer is able to recognize their infancy in Christ, they aren’t in a place of being able to fully trust Him. They’re plagued by worries and can feel sin trying to retake its place in the house.

Now goodnight moon

I want the sun

If it's not here soon

I might be done

No it won't be too soon 'til I say

Goodnight moon

God is light (or connected to light/the sun in some way) (Gen, Ex, Lev, Num, Deut, Josh, Judg, Ruth, 1 Sam, 2 Sam, 1 Kings, 2 Kings, 1 Chr, 2 Chr, Ezra, Neh, Esth, Job, Psa, Prov, Eccl, Song, Is, Jer, Lam, Ezek, Dan, Hos, Joel, Amos, Obad, Jonah, Mic, Nah, Hab, Zeph, Hag, Zech, Mal, Matt, Mark, Luke, John, Acts, Rom, 1 Cor, 2 Cor, Gal, Eph, Phil, Col, 1 Th, 2 Th, 1 Tim, 2 Tim, Titus, Philem, Heb, James, 1 Pet, 2 Pet, 1 John, 2 John, 3 John, Jude, Rev). In the chorus, we hear the singer plead for God to let His presence be felt.

So God is like the sun, but what is the moon referring to? Well, what does the moon do? The moon reflects light from the sun. During the night, the moon is the body in the sky that provides light. However, to say that the moon could exist without the sun would be ridiculous. The light that the moon reflects is but a fraction of the light the sun produces, and the true source of the moon’s light is the sun. As God’s children and as stewards of His creation, we get to reflect His power and authority. To say that we are truly the ones in control, though, would be as ridiculous as saying the moon can give off light without the sun. To say “goodnight moon” is to say goodbye to the idea of our own supremacy in our lives. And it will never be too soon to make that declaration.

The next verse then includes some examples of how we can say “goodnight moon” in our lives.

There's a shark in the pool

And a witch in the tree

Given what we know about the historical context surrounding the writing of this song, there are two interpretations that would make some sense. As everyone knows, the film Dr. Doolittle was released in 1998, the year just prior to when this song was released. While the movie has nothing to do with sharks, the movie involves animals and pets. Given this factor, the first interpretation is that the shark is being kept as a pet. After all, why else would a shark be living in a pool? Then it follows that the “witch” is a typo. So, “witch” should be “wich,” which is an abbreviation for sandwich, a popular treat for sharks. The second possible interpretation focuses more on the pool part of the lyric. 1998 also happens to be the first year that John Glenn flew in space after his retirement from NASA in 1965. Glenn was 77 at the time of the flight, breaking the record of the oldest man to be in space. One can safely assume that there were betting pools that were resolved surrounding this event, both for whether Glenn would fly again and the age at which people could still venture out into space. Sharks and witches are both terms that are used when talking about hustling and betting, both commonly and uncommonly, respectively. Scholars are split between these two camps, but given the fact that this song is a Christian song, the first interpretation seems to make more sense. Pets, after all, are one expression of humans taking care of animals, following the command to steward the earth. Here, we have the first area in which we can let go of our own control in life. By taking care of creation and loving the creatures with whom we share the earth, we acknowledge and make good on the charge that God has given us.

A crazy old neighbour and he's been watching me

And there's footsteps loud and strong coming down the hall

Something's under the bed

Now it's out in the hedge

Remember that “you” mentioned in the first verse? The “strong man” from Mark 3? He’s back, but this time as a “crazy old neighbour.” That’s what knowing God can do! The sin that lives in our lives and the fallen spirits who seek our destruction become the crazy stalkers in our lives, rather than the roommate we’re in a toxically dependent relationship with. This is the next area where we can give control over to God. We flee sin by making it a stranger in our lives. Now, this doesn’t necessarily make the paranoia go away, as the bottom two lines show, but that’s okay. After all, if a physical something goes from under a bed to instantly outside in a hedge, it’s probably just a figment of one’s imagination.

There's a big black crow sitting on my window ledge

And I hear something scratching through the wall

Out of the entire song, these two lines are most frequently incorrectly interpreted. The singer draws immediate attention to the size of the crow she’s referring to. At first glance, this doesn’t make any sense, but read in tandem with the next line, we start to see what the singer is trying to communicate. What do crows and hearing things in the wall have to do with each other? Nothing. But now ask yourself, what does a large crow call to mind? One hundred percent of people answer the same thing: a raven. It’s common knowledge that ravens are larger than crows and the two are often mixed up. So now, we have a raven and something in the wall, leading to the obvious conclusion that these two lines are making reference to Edgar Allan Poe. Among Poe’s famous works are “The Raven” and “The Cask of Amontillado,” which feature a raven and someone being trapped behind a wall, respectively. It’s a strange reference to find in a Christian song, but remember that despite the darker leanings of Poe’s works, he was still creating art, which glorifies God in its beauty. After all, all beauty comes from God. Here, we have our third and final area of life where we can continually remind ourselves of God’s presence. By looking for the beauty in the world, we remember our creator and the world He has made.

At this point, the song returns to the pre-chorus and the chorus, reiterating the cry to God, before in classic song fashion, heading into the bridge.

While you're up so high

How can you save me

When the dark comes here

Tonight to take me up

To my front walk

And into bed where it kisses my face

And eats my head

We get the most visceral image of the song here in the bridge: a picture of something akin to a lover joining the singer in bed before devouring the singer’s head. Aesthetically disturbing, but rich in meaning. What is something that eats people, specifically starting with the head? (Hint: the song foreshadows this in earlier lyrics.) That’s right, a shark! According to the internet (a really awesome shark theologian), the shark represents power and authority. Hey, remember the chorus of the song? How the moon is an illustration of saying we have authority in our own lives? And remember also that when sharks appeared earlier in the song, they were referenced as our pets. What does it mean when we try to own authority? That’s right: sin. It all comes back to our insistence on being our own gods, which is what inevitably breaks us from our true God.

It’s only through this subtle yet complex analysis that we can uncover the meaning of this part of the song. What makes the bridge of the song so powerful is that it is able to capture the cries of many people’s hearts. There are times when God can feel far away while sin feels like it’s creeping up to our door and following us into our homes. Even when we’ve heard the gospel and there are parts of our lives that draw us near to God, there are still moments and periods where we can feel abandoned. The bridge takes this idea and uses it to show both the immediacy of sin as well as the deadliness of sin. It may lure us into bed with promises, but it will ultimately devour us.

The song ends with one more round of the chorus and then repeats “no it won’t be too soon ‘til I say goodnight moon” several times, which makes sense, given the significance of the line.

And that’s it. Now we understand why this song has had such a mediocre impact on culture. While not popular enough to be karaoke material, this song means too much to be forgotten. And since the song is decently well known, Christians are faced with a wonderful opportunity. We can claim this song as an anthem of new believers. In addition to preaching prosperity and life, we can get to the heart of the struggle that often accompanies faith. This should be the cry on every Christian’s lips from now until Christ returns. So next time you’re in a coffee shop and you hear this song, stand up and proudly proclaim, goodnight moon!

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