Meaning of “Time Out of Mind” by Steely Dan

Written By Michael Miller

Michael is a music teacher and professional cellist. He loves uncovering the deeper meaning of popular songs.

“Time Out of Mind” by Steely Dan is a song that delves into the realm of escapism and altered perceptions. The lyrics present a metaphorical journey, potentially referencing drug use, as seen in the phrase “chase the dragon,” a common euphemism for heroin use. The song portrays the allure and seduction of escaping reality, where ordinary elements transform into something more enchanting and magical.

The underlying message seems to be a commentary on the pursuit of escapism and how it can change one’s perception of reality. The song isn’t necessarily about a specific person but rather about the human experience of seeking transcendence, whether through substances or other means. It reflects on the allure and consequences of such pursuits.

Dive into the intricate world of Steely Dan’s ‘Time Out of Mind’. Explore the symbolic lyrics and unravel the deeper meanings behind this classic hit.

“Time Out of Mind” Lyrics Meaning

In “Time Out of Mind,” Steely Dan starts with an almost prophetic call to action: “Son, you better be ready for love, On this glory day.” This opening suggests a moment of significant change or realization. It’s an invitation to embrace something beyond the ordinary.

The line “Keep your eyes on the sky, Put a dollar in the kitty, Don’t the moon look pretty” could symbolize the initial allure and beauty seen in escaping reality. There’s an almost whimsical quality to these words, painting a picture of something enchanting yet slightly out of reach.

The chorus, “Tonight when I chase the dragon, The water will change to cherry wine, And the silver will turn to gold, Time out of mind,” is where the song delves deeper into the theme of escapism. “Chasing the dragon” is a known metaphor for drug use, suggesting a transformation of perception. The ordinary (water and silver) becomes extraordinary (cherry wine and gold) under the influence. “Time out of mind” implies a state of being beyond regular consciousness, perhaps a euphoric or altered state.

The verse, “I am holding the mystical stone, It’s direct from Lasa, Where people are rolling in the snow, Far from the world we know,” adds a layer of mystique and exoticism. It suggests a detachment from reality, a journey to a place far removed from the known world. This could be interpreted as the mental and emotional dislocation experienced during drug use.

In the lines “It’s the light in my eyes, It’s perfection and grace, It’s the smile on my face,” there’s a sense of self-assuredness and contentment, albeit possibly artificial or temporary. It reflects the transient joy and perfection sought through escapism.

The repetitive chorus towards the end of the song reinforces the central theme of transformation and altered perception. The consistent return to this chorus could symbolize the cyclic nature of escapism and the continuous pursuit of a transcendent experience.

Why Was “Time Out of Mind” Written?

“Time Out of Mind” might have been written as a reflection on the allure and risks of escapism, particularly through drug use. The songwriters, Donald Fagen and Walter Becker, often explored complex themes in their music, and this song seems to be a continuation of that tradition.

The state of mind of the writers could have been one of introspection and commentary on human behaviors, especially those related to seeking pleasure or escape from reality. The song is less about glorifying these experiences and more about painting a vivid picture of them, inviting listeners to reflect on the nature of escapism and its impact on human perception and experience.