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Moonlight shadow (Mike Oldfield)

A pop song written by English multi-instrumentalist Mike Oldfield, released as a single in May 1983 and included in the album Crises, of the same year. The vocals were performed by Scottish vocalist Maggie Reilly, who had joined Mike Oldfield in 1980. It has been Oldfield's most successful single to date.

The last that ever she saw him,
Carried away by a moonlight shadow.
He passed on worried and warning,
Carried away by a moonlight shadow.
Lost in a river that Saturday night,
Far away on the other side.
He was caught in the middle of a desperate fight
And she couldn't find how to push through.

The trees that whisper in the evening,
Carried away by a moonlight shadow.
Sing a song of sorrow and grieving,
Carried away by a moonlight shadow.
All she saw was a silhouette of a gun,
Far away on the other side.
He was shot six times by a man on the run
And she couldn't find how to push through.

I stay, I pray
See you in heaven far away.
I stay, I pray
See you in heaven one day.

Four a.m. in the morning,
Carried away by a moonlight shadow.
I watched your vision forming,
Carried away by a moonlight shadow.
Stars move slowly in a silvery night,
Far away on the other side.
Will you come to talk to me this night,
But she couldn't find how to push through.

I stay, I pray
See you in heaven far away.
I stay, I pray
See you in heaven one day.

Far away on the other side.

Caught in the middle of a hundred and five.
The night was heavy and the air was alive,
But she couldn't find how to push through.

Carried away by a moonlight shadow...

THE LAST= The last time. The first line should be "the last (time) that she ever saw him".

A MOONLIGHT SHADOW= "Moonlight" is the light from the moon, so "a moonlight shadow" is a shadow produced by the moonlight. In this song, it refers to a man, who was difficult to see in the night because he just looked like a dark shadow. This man killed him, so he was "carried away by a moonlight shadow".

PUSH THROUGH= To move through people by pushing. There were many people around the two men fighting (105 people, he says). She saw they were fighting but she couldn't get near them because, although she tried to push people to pass, she couldn't, so "she couldn't find [out] how to push through".

SILHOUETTE= /sɪlu:et/ An outline that appears dark against a light background. (see picture)

A MAN ON THE RUN= A man running away, fleeing, escaping.

PRAY= Talk to God or other spirits.

VISION= A vision is a mental image produced by the imagination or by supernatural forces. She saw his vision forming, so after he died, she could see him as an image coming out of the mist. The song is inspired in the film "Houdini", where they were trying to contact Houdini after he died, so this song is talking about that, the moment when she sees his ghost before her.

SILVERY= Having the colour or appearance of silver.

CAUGHT IN THE MIDDLE OF A HUNDRED AND FIVE= The meaning of this line caused confusion for many years. Oldfield was finally asked about its meaning in an interview for his web site in 1995: "Well, it was a hundred and five people, just signifying a large amount of people, and presumably it was a hundred and five rather than a hundred and four or whatever because "five" rhymed with the next line!". A look at the extended version of the song supports this, with the line "The crowd gathered just to leave him" creating the image of a crowd of (105) people around the man's dead body. It didn't make much sense before Mike's explanation, though, as why would 105 people be out on the banks of a river at "4 a.m. in the morning"? Also, the video of the song shows the scene of the incident as totally desolate and lit only by the moonlight. The only crowd of people in the video (which by no means reaches 105) are in the weird mansion house the widow runs in to, presumably in search for help. But the version of the track used for the video is the short radio edit, minus the verse describing the "crowd." So then the line "Caught in the middle of a hundred and five" was a real mystery. (thanks, Marcus Smith-Willson - Birmingham, England)

There was a long running urban myth (largely fuelled by the tabloid press) that the lyrics are a reference to the murder of John Lennon, despite the fact Lennon was murdered just before 11pm whereas the time stated in the lyric is 4am. Also, he was shot four times, not six.

When asked about the rumour in a 1995 interview, Oldfield responded:

"Not really... well, perhaps, when I look back on it, maybe it was. I actually arrived in New York that awful evening when he was shot and I was staying at the Virgin Records house in Perry Street, which was just a few blocks down the road from the Dakota Building where it happened, so it probably sank into my subconscious. It was originally inspired by a film I loved - 'Houdini', starring Tony Curtis, which was about attempts to contact Houdini after he'd died, through spiritualism... it was originally a song influenced by that, but a lot of other things must have crept in there without me realising it."
    —Mike Oldfield, "Gareth Randall Interviews Mike Oldfield".

Well, to me it sounds like he was obviously thinking of the film "Houdini" but he liked the idea of people thinking it was a tribute to John Lennon's death, since that would make the song more interesting and commercial.

If we suppress repetitions and place the repeating lines in their right place, we can get a far more simple story:

The last that ever she saw him, he passed on worried and warning. Lost in a river that Saturday night (far away, on the other side), he was caught in the middle of a desperate fight.

The trees that whisper in the evening sing a song of sorrow and grieving. All she saw was a silhouette of a gun. He was shot six times by a man on the run. Caught in the middle of a hundred and five and she couldn't find how to push through.

The night was heavy and the air was alive. I stay, I pray. See you in heaven far away. See you in heaven one day. Four a.m. in the morning, I watched your vision forming. Stars move slowly in a silvery night. Will you come to talk to me this night?



Now the story is much easier to understand:
They were next to a river. He looked worried and went away, to the other side of the river. There, in the distance, in the moonlight and surrounded by many people, she saw him fighting with another man. The other man ran away and shot him. He fell dead and she tried to get to him but she couldn't, there were too many people around him. So since then, she prays to see him again. At 4 a.m., one night, she can finally see his spirit, his ghost, before her as an apparition.

Yes, now the story is easy to understand but it lost all the beauty and poetry contained in the song. This proves that the important thing in a poem is not what you say, but HOW you say it. This song is really beautiful, but not because the story is beautiful, it's the language and the images it inspires what makes it beautiful, together with the sounds and rhymes and melody. That's why translating a song or poem makes it usually sound horrible or spiritless.

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