This song has captured my ears last night while i was browsing for new music to listen to… looking for indie bands. But i came across Birdy’s version of the song “Skinny Love” and oh boy, I was hooked!
(I can relate a bit – that’s why)
Anyway, after doing an online search. Here’s what I have found out. Let’s go through the lyrics by verses…
Bon Iver – “Skinny Love”
Written by Justin Vernon
1 – Come on skinny love, just last the year
2 – Pour a little salt, we were never here
3 – My, my, my, my, my, my, my, my, my, my
4 – Staring at the sink of blood and crushed veneer
5 – I told my love to wreck it all
6 – Cut off all the ropes and let me fall
My, my, my, my, my, my, my, my, my, my,
7 – Right at the moment this order’s tall
1 – Skinny love refers to the idea of a malnourished or unhealthy relationship between two people. (As explained by singer-songwriter Justin Vernon of Bon Iver)
The narrator knows the relationship isn’t in a healthy state, but he’s still praying that it will keep going to even just last a year, because he feels like he needs it.
2 – Salt has healing properties, when put on open wound they help the process along. Probably metaphorically speaking, he wants this doomed relationship to heal, to even Just last the year. He then basically tells her to let him go, to cut off the tethers binding him to her.
One of the more opaque metaphors, it could be a reference to pouring salt on wounds (making an open wound more painful), taking with a grain of salt (recognizing that something may be exaggerated), even possibly the practice of throwing salt over your shoulder for luck or the superstition that spilling salt is bad luck.
However, the second half of the line we were never here seems to indicate that this is likely a reference to salting the earth (not to be mistaken with salt of the earth), an old practice of cursing destroyed cities by sprinkling salt on the ground. Using this interpretation, the line refers to the Vernon’s wish to eradicate his old relationship, never to return to or rekindle it.
3 – As in the expression oh my, Vernon is simply expressing his awe and regret at how the relationship fell apart.
4 – The vivid imagery of blood and crushed veneer in a sink, as if a vase was broken in a fit of rage.
A sink is a place you go to wash and clean yourself. This is likely used as a metaphor for Vernon’s inability to enter his new relationship cleanly, because of his inability to wash and clean the wounds from the bombastic/violent (metaphorically at least) ending of his previous relationship.
5 – He wants her to terminate the relationship. The speaker could also be referring to healing the pain from past relationships. The one being addressed was given expectations to heal the speaker completely, even though that request would have been doomed from the start.
The subject of my love likely refers to the girlfriend in his current relationship. During his dark periods, he tells her to dissolve the relationship and give up on him, letting him fall. He revisits the imagery of her holding him up by ropes later on in the song.
6 – Again, he just wants her to end the relationship; therefore cutting him free from the relationship (the ropes)
Following the previous line, the narrator is being cowardly, subjecting his lover to the choice of sticking around and suffering along, or leaving with the guilt of ending the relationship.
Let me fall refer to falling in love, and cut out all the ropes could be a form of asking to be freed from the pain causes by past relationships.
During his darker periods, Vernon tells his current girlfriend to dissolve the relationship and give up on him, letting him fall. He revisits the imagery of her holding him up by ropes later on in the song.
7 – The narrator is too cowardly to end the relationship himself, though he is unable to nurture the relationship himself. The irony is that he yearns for a healthy relationship, without realizing the amount of selfless efforts that he actually has to put in.
The speaker is aware that what is requested of the relationship will be very hard to fulfill, but the speaker wants this to happen at that very moment.
A tall order is a something that is difficult. Vernon is saying ending the relationship himself is too difficult, or possibly that staying in the relationship is too difficult.
8 – And I told you to be patient
And I told you to be fine
And I told you to be balanced
And I told you to be kind
9 – And in the morning, I’ll be with you
10 – But it will be a different kind
11 – ‘Cause I’ll be holding all the tickets
12 – And you’ll be owning all the fines
8 – Vernon has been telling the woman in his current relationship that he is requiring a lot of love, patience, and understanding while he heals.
9 – After explaining what he needs from her to help him heal, he uses In the morning as a metaphor for what will happen after he is done recovering from his dark period (the night).
10 – It in the second line refers to the relationship, It will be a different kind of relationship, presumably a better one.
11 – The narrator is still hung up on his pains emanating from his past relationship(s), of which he has not fully recovered from.
Tickets are used as a euphemism for the lack of honest love reciprocated by the narrator while being in the present relationship, while asking his lover for patience, finesse, balance and kindness.
12 – The relationship didn’t last long enough for the narrator to correct his mistakes, leaving the lover with all the fines in the forms of wasted time, heartache and potentially perpetuating the venomous relationship of skinny loves onto others.
When things finally get better In the morning, Vernon knows he will owe her big time for her staying with him through all this. He’s the one being given the tickets (think speeding ticket), she owns the fines, which means he acknowledges that he owes her.
13 – Come on skinny love, what happened here?
14 – Suckle on the hope in light brassiere
My, my, my, my, my, my, my, my, my, my
15 – Sullen load is full, so slow on the split
13 – He is wondering how the two of them let things get to the point that they are at.
The speaker does not understand how things slipped away between them. The speaker may be disappointed in that it didn’t last, as expectations were set.
14 – The skinny love relationship is based on lust, where both lovers are bound together only by their sexual attraction to each other.
It is implied that the relationship is not built with sufficient emphasis on emotional, intellectual and spiritual connections between them.
Suckle is a verb, meaning: feed (a baby or young animal) from the breast or teat. with this being said, the speaker is referencing the hope that is felt when they have sex is what nourished the love, and the speaker might miss this, or not see why things had to end.
Vernon is anthropomorphizing skinny love in this line. She would have small breasts, requiring a light (small) brassiere (bra). Even a skinny mother gives some milk to her child. Vernon is using this imagery to say that he sees things in his current relationship, as incomplete as it is, that make him think it can still work and give him hope.
15 – The sex is really good, though impersonal and emotionless. It is implied that the narrator is still lonely despite being in a sexually-gratifying relationship.
The speaker could be describing the load as sullen, meaning what is being carried is bad tempered, or gloomy. Slow on the split could mean the the lover took a long time to finally end the relationship, as the speaker had mentioned wanting the lover to end it earlier in the song.
Vernon is describing his current behavior as sullen, saying his load is full meaning he’s carrying so much baggage he doesn’t have room to help his current girlfriend, and that he is so slow on the split, meaning that his recovery from splitting up with his last girlfriend is slow. Note, the lyrics here should probably be corrected to have a comma before sullen. Sullen, load is full, so slow on the split.
And I told you to be patient
And I told you to be fine
And I told you to be balanced
And I told you to be kind
16 – And now all your love is wasted
17 – Then who the hell was I?
18 – ‘Cause now I’m breaking at the bridges
And at the end of all your lines
16 – With Now all your love is wasted, Vernon is expressing regret at requesting so much support from his current girlfriend, while being unable to support her in exchange.
17 – Afterwards, he expresses the sentiment “Who the hell am I to do that to someone?”
18 – With the last two lines, the imagery Vernon is going for is that his current girlfriend is keeping him part of the relationship by holding him up with ropes (lines), keeping him from falling completely away from her and into the pit of despair. But since he’s breaking at the britches, the whole effort that she is putting forth my be doomed to failure anyway.
Imagine he is dangling by his pants in a pit, with his girlfriend at the top trying to haul him up. She can’t haul him up herself, and he isn’t doing anything to help. His pants are starting to split, so if he doesn’t do something soon, he’ll fall despite her efforts.
19 – Who will love you?
Who will fight?
Who will fall,
19 – This is the narrator starting back at square one. These could be general questions, or directed at the speaker or old lover. These questions about love could just be asking who will be defeated by love? and who will fight until the end? and who will be the cause of that outcome?
It’s hard to determine if the who in this series of questions is directed internally or externally. If internally, Vernon may be splitting up his persona into the part that wants to fall into despair and the part that wants to fight for the relationship. If external, Vernon may be agonizing over what his current girlfriend’s future prospects look like.
So, in conclusion, Bon Iver’s “Skinny Love” means:
SKINNY LOVE is a relationship based on lust, where both lovers are bound together only by their sexual attraction to each other. But in this song, one lover is having a hard time getting over a bad break up so he/she hopes that this kind of love would save him and that the other person in the relationship would help him/her get over that by being patient and understanding while he is healing. But in the end, after all the effort, it didn’t work because the person is still having a hard time with the heartbreak & hasn’t fully recovered from the past relationship so the love for and/or of the current lover is not nourished/reciprocated and the relationship falls apart.