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I've listened to the song "They Won't Go When I Go" of Stevie Wonder

and I'm not sure that I understood the first stanza.

I'd like to ensure that I understood it properly. Then this is the original stanza:

No more lying friends

Wanting tragic ends

Though they do pretend

They won't go when I go

And this is my interpretation for this:

No more lying friends = there is no more friends who are liars.

Wanting tragic ends = these liars want tragic ends (because the lie)

Though they do pretend

They won't go when I go

  • The community can interpret lyrics from a grammatical perspective, and tell you common meanings of particular words or phrases. However, some songs lyrics are very difficult to interpret accurately; all anyone can do is speculate. Therefore, a question like this one may be difficult if not impossible to answer authoritatively. – J.R. Dec 27 '16 at 11:17
  • You're right but I'm talking about the simple meaning, not deep interpretation. At least to know what the options are. – Judicious Allure Dec 27 '16 at 11:22
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First of all, note this song is a gospel song, written as a kind of dirge. So there is a religious context, and it's somewhat mournful, as if it is about death and dying.

The rest of the lyrics list various kinds of sinners -- friends who lie, who seek drama (or possibly divine retribution), who "mislead the pure", who "sin just for fun", and so on. Wonder says "they won't go when I go" -- possibly meaning they won't go to Heaven. But in that case it ought to be "They won't go where I go", so your guess is as good as mine. Although, in the final stanza, you have "The kingdom I will see". "Kingdom" pretty much means "Heaven".

Anyway all of that is important to judging what Wonder means by the second of the two lines you quote. The first is pretty obvious, but the second "wanting tragic ends" could mean "people consciously or unconsciously seeking death" or it could refer to judgmental people who want tragic death for other people. Or it could just mean people who want things that will lead to general tragedy.

I don't think it much matters to the overall theme of the song, which again, seems to me a gospel tune about how the righteous will go to Heaven.

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My interpretation of the first stanza is of friends who are lying to the dying person at the centre of the song, who suspects they are actually wanting to witness a tragic end, but are pretending that this is not the case. This interpretation, to me, fits with the overall theme of death and the beauty, tragedy and sorrow, which is so masterfully captured in this beautiful song. I can't help but feel sorrow and at the same time overwhelming joy when I listen to the George Michael version.

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My interpretation of the entire masterfully written song, particularly within the the first stanza, is a judgment against certain people in our lives or society—“who pretend to be friends” yet secretly wish for tragic outcomes— i.e. they don’t really want to see you succeed in life but otherwise lie about their intentions. Basically, a Devine way to describe haters...

  • Also, to weigh in on whether the true meaning is they won’t go when or where I go, is taken right out of scripture, which, based on your interpretation, is related to the second coming and judgment day. According to scripture, the pure at heart will ascend to Heaven upon death and the wicked, greedy souls will be risen from death and cast into the lake of fire upon the second coming. – Nikki Jul 6 '18 at 17:22
  • Therefore, “when” is most appropriate. – Nikki Jul 7 '18 at 22:19
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I interpret it as :The friends are lying about wanting a tragic end, and though they are good at pretending that's what they want, they will live longer than Stevie Wonder.

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The song has to do with The Rapture. The singer is talking about how he is the only one who will be taken up to go with Christ when he returns because everyone else is a sinner or non-believer.

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