Teardrop Windows Crying in the Sky

How many times do musicians write an entire song devoted to a building? I can think of the occasional reference (e.g. FUN.’s “We Are Young” – my friends are in the bathroom getting higher than the Empire State), but not one sustained throughout a whole song.

Then when listening to 102.7 the Peak, their “1 thing about 1 song” feature came on which I’m always eager to hear since I love discovering the stories behind songs. So I learned about “Teardrop Windows” by Benjamin Gibbard that personifies the Smith Tower in Seattle.

Smith Tower: the hero in this story

Completed in 1914, it reached 38 stories and 149 metres – the oldest and tallest skyscraper in the city and on the West Coast until the Space Needle overtook it in 1962. It’s a rather sad song that goes in circles. The Smith Tower starts off lonely because there are no other friends to share the view with when it’s first built. Then the Space Needle comes and steals the view. Teardrop windows of the Smith Tower are left vacant, Seattle rain falling from their shutters. The building goes from lonely to lonely.

Space Needle: the antihero

Gibbard gives the Smith Tower such character, as if it’s a real person – not just named after a real person, Lyman Cornelius Smith. He gives the building architexture. His song demonstrates how similar people and buildings really are – the same relationship the Argentinian movie Sidewalls emphasized.

This story makes me want to drive down to Seattle and give the neoclassical building some love. Who doesn’t love the fallen hero? I also want to ride its elevators that are still operated by people (yes, actual people!), or at least were as of 2008 according to Wikipedia.

Elevator operators in the Smith Tower, Seattle – one of the last buildings on the West Coast to use them.

I even love the slogan on the Tower’s website. Instead of “brand new” which is such overused marketing speak, they call it Grand Old. Grand New. Simply Grand. There’s so much nostalgia captured in that phrase. Grand has that connotation: magnificent, eminent, distinguished, but also old. Like a grandfather. Like a person with many years, like a building with many stories. Forgotten stories to pass down to a younger generation with eyes open wide like windows. To fill.

Teardrop windows cryin’ in the sky
He is all alone and wonderin’ why
Ivory white but feelin’ kind of blue

Cause there’s no one there to share the view

There’s too many vacancies
He’s been feelin’ oh so empty
And as the sun sets over the sound
He just goes to sleep

Built and boast as the tallest on the coast
He was once the city’s only toast
On old postcards, was positioned as a star
He was looked up to with fond regard

But in 1962, the needle made its big debut
And everybody forgot what it outgrew

He wonders where the workers are
Who once filled every floor
The elevators operate
But don’t much anymore
Anymore
Anymore

Teardrop windows cryin’ in the sky
How the years have quickly past her by
Gleaming white ‘gainst the deepest baby blue
He is lonely just like me and you

Cause there’s too many vacancies
He’s been feelin’ oh so empty
And as the sun sets over the sound
He just goes to sleep

There’s too many vacancies
He’s been feelin’ oh so empty
And when the maids they turn out the lights
He just goes to sleep

-”Teardrop Windows” by Benjamin Gibbard

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5 thoughts on “Teardrop Windows Crying in the Sky

  1. When Sarah lived down there in 2008-10, we visited the Smith Tower with her folks. I’m not much for heights, and when we were up there on a rare clear day it still stood tall enough for me! Had never heard of it before then, but it was a beautiful building that looked like it had seen better days.

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