Song Meaning, Song Lyrics and Music Analysis: “Before It’s Too Late” (by The Goo Goo Dolls)

I didn't know this existed as a single! I kinda want the Single album now...Gonna do something a little different this week, analyzing a song that may or may not have a lot of substance to it. I usually already know what a song’s all about before I start writing these Song Analyses, but this song is special to me so I was going to pick it regardless. “Before It’s Too Late” is important to me for a number of reasons. It was written for the first Transformers movie to serve as Sam & Mikaela’s theme, which is one of my favorite romances in one of my all-time favorite movies. It was also the first Goo Goo Dolls song I ever liked. And I listened to this song about four bajillion times driving back and forth during my ill-fated teaching career in Florida.

But much more importantly, this is the song that Jen and I chose as our wedding song. Oh, we couldn’t dance to it properly–because we can’t dance properly period–but I think it was definitely the ideal choice anyway. But we picked it because it was Sam & Mikaela’s theme, and not for any meaningful reason. (Or at least I didn’t–maybe Jen had a deep psychological connection with the song she hasn’t told me about.) Since our third wedding anniversary is coming up in a couple days (September 28th!), I figured it might be time to dive in and see exactly what this song is about…

Video:

Lyrics (by John Rzeznik):
I wandered through fiction to look for the truth
Buried beneath all the lies
And I stood at a distance to feel who you are
Hiding myself in your eyes

And hold on before it’s too late
We’ll run ’til we leave this behind
Don’t fall, just be who you are
It’s all that we need in our lives

And the risk that might break you
Is the one that would save
A life you don’t live is still lost

So stand on the edge with me
Hold back your fear and see
Nothing is real ’til it’s gone

And hold on before it’s too late
We’ll run ’til we leave this behind
Don’t fall, just be who you are
It’s all that we need in our lives

So live like you mean it
Love ’til you feel it
It’s all that we need in our lives

So stand on the edge with me
Hold back your fear and see
Nothing is real ’til it’s gone

Hold on before it’s too late
We’ll run ’til we leave this behind
Don’t fall, just be who you are
It’s all that we need in our lives

And hold on before it’s too late
We’ll run ’til we leave this behind
Don’t fall, just be who you are
It’s all that we need in our lives
It’s all that we need in our lives
It’s all that I need in my life

Analysis:
I was again shocked by the masses when I looked around and saw that the common interpretation of this song’s meaning is apparently that this song is about telling someone you love how you feel “before it’s too late”. I didn’t interpret that from this song–at all–so I’m mentioning that interpretation here and I won’t be doing so again in this analysis.

At first glace, there are actually some complex internal questions posed by the song: What is the “this” that is being left behind? What is “all that we need in our lives?” What does it mean that “nothing is real ’til it’s gone”? What does it mean to “fall” in this context?

...The happy couple?

...The happy couple?

Let’s take this one line-by-line and see what’s here. “I wandered through fiction to look for the truth/buried beneath all the lies/And I stood at a distance to feel who you are/hiding myself in your eyes.” Well, that’s interesting. In this instance we’ll have to take a plot-based approach, as there’s no immediate broader interpretation apparent (at least not yet).

So the singer has taken an interest in someone (we’ll call this Love Interest), but is aware that the surface of that person isn’t who they really are–or the “truth”. In fact, given the word choice of “all” the lies, it’s implied that the Love Interest has created a pretty solid external front and isn’t what they appear to be at all. A propos for a Transformers movie romance, isn’t it?

We’ll skip the chorus for now and continue on.

“The risk that might break you/is the one that would save/a life you don’t live is still lost” can be taken a couple ways. In a plot-based reading of this song, the contextual “risk” refers to Love Interest having to remove their mask and reveal who they really are to the speaker in order to have a chance at a fulfilling relationship. Revealing your true self to someone can be a pretty big deal to someone who’s concealed, thus “a risk that might break you”, as if things go badly, that person may be “broken” for future meaningful relationships. That’s pretty straight-forward. But these lines don’t have to be.

Taken outside of the relationship context, these lines are much more poignant. “A life you don’t live is still lost” is probably my favorite line of this song (and a lot of songs in general). Yes, you can live your life without taking any risks and always playing things safe and never trying to experience anything new and scary, and you won’t have to deal with potential fallout of making mistakes that way. But even so… your life will have been lost, because you won’t have lived it. If you don’t take that risk that might break you–if you’re always safe, if you never do anything crazy or take any risks or experience anything exciting or different, you’re really no better off than you would have been taking a big risk and getting hurt or killed.

AWWWW!!! They're so young and clueless!!

AWWWW!!! They're so young and clueless!!

The couplet of lines “So live like you mean it/Love ’til you feel it” is an important one. Don’t just coast through life, don’t just go through the motions of living and loving. Work at it, make an effort, and make your life and your love something you can be proud of.

 

“So stand on the edge with me/Hold back your fear and see/Nothing is real ’til it’s gone.” I struggle a lot with these lines. Taken out of context, you can read that line as “you don’t know how important something really is to you until it’s gone”, but I think that interpretation is weak in this instance. Read consecutively, a case can be made that the singer means that you can’t see what ‘real’ life is like while you’re afraid. When you have fear in your heart, it influences your decisions and actions, and consequently your viewpoints on life. Thus, when fear is “gone” and you embrace taking risks, you can see what’s “real”.

Last, the chorus…

“Hold on before it’s too late” is repeated in the chorus over and over. But that leads us to the question: “Hold on to what?” Plot-wise, or the “easy answer”, is the relationship between the singer and Love Interest. And if that’s how you choose to interpret it, that’s alright. A true relationship between two people without pretense or masks is definitely something worth holding onto. Of course, there’s also the interpretation that the singer is telling Love Interest to hold onto who they really are inside, and not fall into the trap of total conformity and giving up their true self entirely. The line that follows of “Don’t fall, just be who you are” supports this interpretation.

“We’ll run til’ we leave this behind” is another line of the chorus. What’s “this”? The easy answer would be life itself, but that’s not interesting. More interesting is the idea that “this” can represent a mundane, unfulfilled life. The singer is advocating risk-taking, living life to the fullest, and being yourself. What would he want to leave behind? An existence full of “safe” decisions, of fake people, of lies, pretenses, and conformity.

Throughout the song we hear “It’s all that we need in our lives”, referring to the particular way of living that the singer is presenting. The singer is implying that as a couple, they can be happy and fulfilled if they live this way. However, the ending of this song is slightly different: “It’s all that I need in my life”–the singer is coming to terms with it that this way of living is also all that he/she needs as an individual to be satisfied. It isn’t enough to have a successful relationship with someone else–you can’t live a good life if you aren’t happy with yourself as an individual entity as well.

This is a song about risk-taking and not stagnating, about embracing your true self and rejecting conformity, about living and loving fully being what’s necessary to live a fulfilling life. So is there substance? Yeah. Much, much more than I’d expected, to be honest. Is it heartfelt and honest? Most definitely. Is it acceptable as a wedding song?  Yeah. Yeah, I’ll take it. Absolutely the right choice. Thanks, Sam & Mikaela.

The skankiest scene in all of Transformers! Woo!

The skankiest scene in all of Transformers! Woo!

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