Regina Spektor "All the Rowboats" Lyrics Meaning & Row Boat Paintings

by K Shabi PUBLISHED 19 May 2012

What is the meaning of Regina Spektor's "All the Rowboats" song lyrics? In her new What We Saw From the Cheap Seats single "All the Rowboats," Regina Spektor plays the tour guide and takes her listeners on a melancholy and almost melodramatic diary tour of an art museum. Depending on whether or not nineteenth century American Realist artist Winslow Homer is your cup of tea, you may or may not be pleased to see the guided tour pause and then come to a full stop at the row boat oil paintings exhibit.

Regina Spektor All the Rowboats Lyrics Meaning & Winslow Homer Row Boat Paintings

You've got to give it to Regina Spektor for her creativity. While some Spektor song lyrics and even her singing style can at times border on being too contrived or cutesy, Spektor definitely has a knack for offering up an artistic perspective that is sympathetic as well as undeniably original. In the song lyrics to "All the Rowboats," Spektor is perhaps guilty of oversympathizing with all of the masterpieces "locked up" in art museums, but she forces the listener to look at art museums in a new, maudlin light. While this peculiar subject matter alone sets her apart from most popular singer/songwriters, Spektor actually personifies all of these lonely nineteenth-century impressionist paintings and musical instruments as "living dead" zombies entombed in "gold frames" or transparent display cases, what she melodramatically refers to as "glass coffins."

"All the Rows" Song Lyrics Meaning

It seems certain that Spector intended for her song lyrics to double as a metaphor for life. While the violins have lost their sense of purpose and have "forgotten how to sing," the rowboats on the other hand are determined to reclaim freedom and power over their circumstances and "keep trying to row away," no matter how impossible that feat might be. Learn more about Regina Spektor's lyrics about doubt and faith.

"All the rowboats in oil paintings, they keep trying to row away."

Regina Spektor Inspired by Meaning of Winslow Homer's Rowboat Paintings?

The same perhaps doomed struggle for survival attributed to the "rowboats in oil paintings" in Spektor' song is closely represented in many of American artist Winslow Homer's actual row boat paintings like The Gulf Stream, but particularly so in The Fog Warning and The Herring Net, both painted in 1885. H. Barbara Weinberg, the head of the Department of American Paintings and Sculpture at the New York Metropolitan Museum of Art, makes the following statement about Winslow Homer's later work:

"Winslow Homer enjoyed isolation and was inspired by privacy and silence to paint the great themes of his career: the struggle of people against the sea and the relationship of fragile, transient human life to the timelessness of nature."

Struggling against the perhaps insurmountable natural forces of nature was a recurring theme in Winslow Homer's art especially after the artist moved to a Maine seaport before his death, with the image of the lone boatman fighting against overwhelming, choppy waves showing up again and again. In these "row boat" paintings, Homer makes a point of darkening the faces of the boaters, perhaps to put more focus on their fight for life and less on their individual identity.

Violins, Winslow Homer Rowboat Oil Paintings at Metropolitan Museum of Art

What art museum is Regina Spektor singing about in "All the Rowboats"? Given the personal and sympathetic tone of "All the Rowboats," Regina Spektor most likely based these song lyrics on a particularly moving trip to the New York Metropolitan Museum of Art. Along with an assortment of marble statues, some Winslow Homer rowboat oil paintings like The Gulf Stream (1899) call the New York Met their home, or should I say "public mausoleum"? If you visit the Met, you can even stop by and see the violins, especially the seventeenth century Italian Baroque violin made by Antonio Stradivari, now enclosed in a "glass coffin," just like the one Regina Spektor expresses her "pity" for in the "All the Rowboat" song lyrics. Since she is a musician, it's no surprise that Spektor finds the violins to be "the most tragic and the most lonely" art pieces at the art museum. Someone should play them!

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