What Is the Kasey Chambers Song "Monkey on a Wire" About?

by Ana Purna
Kasey Chambers performs contemporary music with deep country, bluegrass and folk roots.

Kasey Chambers performs contemporary music with deep country, bluegrass and folk roots.

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"Monkey on a Wire" was a popular single from the 2008 album "Rattlin' Bones" by Australian singer-songwriter Kasey Chambers and her music partner and husband, Shane Nicholson. They sing the song together on the album version. The song is played in a country style at a quick pace, and features short rhymes and a titular refrain. "Monkey on a Wire" has an accompanying music video that alternates between images of Nicholson and Chambers performing the song on a stage, and an animated story. There are several ways to interpret the precise meaning and message of the song, although each is focused on the theme of living your dream without fear of failure or reprisal.

Monkey Meanings

In an interview with the Australian Music Radio Airplay Project (AMRAP), Shane Nicholson discussed the image of the monkey on a wire. He indicates that the monkey, a fragile creature balancing on a thin wire, is a metaphor for what a person would give up to attain his ultimate dream in life. Nicholson suggests that the seemingly insurmountable things that hold someone back from living his dream are in fact quite fragile, balanced precariously like a monkey on a wire.

The Video Story

The video Chambers and Nicholson made to accompany and promote "Monkey on a Wire" takes the metaphor a step farther. A bored office worker is haunted by a wiley monkey who appears when he is being reprimanded by his boss, who is a skeleton. As the man works, he begins to turn into a skeleton as well. After seeing the monkey around the office, smiling and appearing very happy, the man decides to leave his responsibilities behind and follow the monkey out of the office and into the street. Several visual metaphors unfold, as the man tosses his tie into the sky and it morphs into the monkey. The duo swings around a traffic sign that reads "Don't Give Way." The man's movements become progressively more monkey-like, and although he is hesitant to climb up the electric pole to sit on the wire with his monkey, he eventually does. The video concludes with the two watching the city from their high perch, the man having become a monkey himself. The story of the video for "Monkey on a Wire" offers a somewhat different perspective on the meaning of the monkey than what Nicholson indicated to AMRAP.

The Video Meaning

The video suggests that the monkey is a beckoning desire that lies beyond the boundaries of life's daily structures. The man in the video is slowly turning into a skeleton, and the monkey's touch makes him fully human again. As they run through the street the man becomes more agile, more able to use the full range of his strength and energy. By following the monkey, a metaphor for his greatest desires and dreams, he realizes his potential. In the office, turning into a skeleton and wasting his talents, the man was not truly living his life. The monkey shows him how he can be fulfilled and successful outside of that world.

The Lyrical Story

In the song, the "monkey on a wire" lyric occurs in two forms. "Everyone's got their own monkey on a wire," and "waiting for the next monkey on a wire." The monkeys are described in haunting terms, as symbols of struggle and blasphemy. There is a lament in the lyrics, "Oh no, here I go me and my desire/everyone's got their own monkey on a wire." There is, in these phrases, an expression of revulsion on the part of the speaker at his own desires. Religious imagery is also strong in the song -- "leader of the choir" in one instance, and "walking like Jesus" in another. Hell is another image reiterated in the song, with lines such as, "Oh no, down below, wrapped up in the fire."

The Lyrical Meaning

The lyrics of the song present yet another take on the theme of dreams and hidden desires. They describe the feelings of a person who is fighting his dark desires, and who equates them with sin and eternal damnation. The song switches from the desires of the speaker to those of other characters, including the choir leader and the proverbial "you." This means that these dark desires are within all people, however they may disguise them. The song incorporates classical bluegrass and country music images, and the dark moods of an earlier time in American religious life and popular music. In a contemporary context, they may very well be intended ironically, as a plea to accept the desires one has and seek to fulfill them by eschewing convention.

About the Author

Ana Purna has covered outdoor adventure, travel, health and fitness for a variety of publications since 2003. Her work has appeared on the websites FeministReview and PaperDolls. Purna is a writer and radio producer in Texas who graduated from the University of Houston with a Bachelor of Arts in history.

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