You are my sweetest downfall
In the Biblical account of this story, Delilah is Samson's downfall, not the other way around.
Regina Spektor's version reworks the story from the woman's perspective, making for some very intriguing narrative variations.
Delilah was accused in the Scriptures of tricking Samson into revealing to her the secret of his strength and then using that knowledge to bring about his undoing. However, it appears here that when she fell in love with him, it created an undoing of her own.
Also, "sweetest downfall" is a really intriguing paradox (self-contradictory) since people don't usually think of downfalls as sweet. Regina sets up an ironic/bittersweet tone for the song right from the start.
I loved you first
In the Bible/Torah, the story says that Samson loved Delilah, but doesn't even mention whether or not she ever loved him back.
In the Hebrew Scriptures, the text reads simply, "And it came to pass afterward, that he loved a woman in the valley of Sorek, whose name was Delilah."
In this story, Delilah is cast as a villain, using Samson's love struck state to manipulate him into revealing his weakness.
Beneath the sheets of paper lies my truth
Ever heard of "reading between the lines"? Well, that's exactly what Regina wants us to do with the story of Samson and Delilah.
The speaker, from the sound of it, is Delilah herself. What she's saying here is that the writers of the Bible got the story horribly wrong. They left out the part about her and Samson's love. Maybe she didn't betray him, but rather cut his hair because he asked her to?
In the Bible, the women have a bad habit of taking the blame for all forms of sin; it's not unusual for Delilah to be portrayed as a manipulative harlot posing as a doting lover. But maybe the Bible is just one version of the story; maybe there is a very different truth hidden in what was left unsaid in Judges 16.
Your hair was long when we first met
Samson's Herculean strength came from his seven long locks of hair. If they were cut, he'd lose all his power. Sounds like an Achilles heel to us.
Samson's mother was told by an angel of God that her son was to be raised a Nazarite, a person who takes a vow of separation in order to better serve God. The Hebrew verb "nazar" means "to separate, to cut off." Nazarites were sworn never to cut their hair, eat or drink any fruit of the vine (wine or grapes), or touch a dead body.
Sounds like a weird set of rules. We kind of get the whole "no strong drink" thing, but a ban on grapes and haircuts? Tons of religions require certain sacrifices in order to pursue holy missions; the Nazarite vow is merely one example from the Hebrew Bible. In fact, the Nazarite vow is still, today, cited as justification for some orthodox religious practices in Judaism and elsewhere, especially in Rastafari, where Numbers 6 is cited as scriptural justification for dreadlocks (and Samson is often invoked as some kind of dreadlocked proto-Rasta hero).
In a song from Tony Rebel, a whole lyric is about why you shouldn't cut your hair:
The first time me know Rastafari legit
Was when I take a little look at Numbers Chapter 6
Me read Revelations I was astonished
To know the mark of the beast that is 666
Me check Samson and John the Baptist
Then grow them natty dread make it long like this
Me start to grow me dreads some more
When I start read Ezekiel 44.
In Samson's case, his uncut hair was the source of his superhuman strength; if he were ever to cut it, not only would he break his vows, but he'd also become as weak as an ordinary man.
Samson went back to bed
Okay, we've heard a little about Samson now, but who was the guy? According to the Hebrew Scriptures and the Christian Old Testament, he was a ridiculously strong man who also happened to be the last "judge" of the nation of Israel during its time of struggles under the control of foreign peoples.
Samson was called upon by God to help the Israelites. The Israelites had given God the cold shoulder and started worshipping false idols, so as a punishment he allowed them to be conquered by the neighboring Philistines.
When we use the word "philistine" today, it means someone who's wrapped up in money and material things and doesn't care about intelligence or art (some celebrity socialites may spring to mind). Back then, however, the Philistines were a warlike people who had different gods than the Israelites and wanted to bring them down. Samson successfully kept the Philistines at bay for 20 years while he "judged" the people of Israel—that is, led them through a time of peace and prosperity.
This pattern—where the people of Israel made God angry, then were punished by being placed under the control of their enemies, and then protected by a "judge"—is a cycle that repeats itself throughout the Book of Judges. Samson was the seventh and final judge of Israel. In his day, Samson killed a lot of Philistines, and we mean a lot, but he had two major weaknesses: his hair and his women.
More on that later.
Ate a slice of Wonderbread
Wonderbread™ is the food of the gods. Just kidding. But the stuff has been an American staple since 1925.
Wonderbread was America's first sliced bread, inspiring the phrase, "the best thing since sliced bread." It's enriched white bread—as white as bread comes. It's the bread of choice for soccer moms, teenage boys, babies, Fourth of July picnics, and pretty much everything else you think of as synonymous with "America."
We can't know exactly what Regina Spektor was thinking when she wrote this; maybe her train of thought had to do with the fact that Wonderbread is an American icon, kind of like Superman, who was a modern-day Samson, of sorts, with all his superpowers?
Or maybe this is just one of those quirky phrases that Regina is famous for; we'll leave this one up to you.
The history books forgot about us
The story of Samson and Delilah does appear in the Bible, of course, but many people view it as myth rather than history.
Although many millions of Jews and Christians believe that the stories in the Old Testament all did happen exactly as written, the question of which parts are literally true and which aren't has been the subject of heated debate for centuries.
One scholar, Leonard Shlain, asserts that the Old Testament is a mixture of myth, history, and legend, saying, "The Old Testament is an anthology of disparate literary pieces ranging from poetry, proverbs, and wisdom literature to prophecy, revelation, and explicit laws. Its core, however, is its historical narrative." (Source)
While he calls books like Genesis and Exodus myths that aren't meant to be literally interpreted, he says that the Book of Judges (where Samson's story is found) through the Book of Samuel "provides a detailed account of the rise and fall of the Kingdom of Judea between 900 and 400 B.C. and has the true ring of history" (source).
Though it may be a stretch to believe that Samson literally killed a thousand men with the jawbone of a donkey or drew his immense strength from the mystical power of his hair, he may well have been a real human being.
And the Bible didn't mention us
Actually, it did. In fact, the Jewish and Christian Scriptures both contain the story of Samson and Delilah.
The Tanakh is the phonetic name of the three main sections of the Hebrew Scriptures. Written Hebrew technically doesn't contain vowels (people who speak it just know where to place the vowel sounds when they read it), so the word "Tanakh" is actually an acronym formed by the T, N, and K of Torah (the Law), Nevi'im (the Prophets), and Ketuvim (the Writings).
Kind of like how God's name in the Old Testament, "Yahweh." was actually spelled "YHWH."
The Tanakh consists of 24 books that were compiled by the "Men of the Great Assembly" in 450 BC. Samson appears in Judges 13-16 in the Nevi'im. In the Christian Bible's Old Testament, Samson and Delilah also appear in the same place: Judges 13-16.
Regina Spektor was raised very Jewish and attended Jewish schools, so wouldn't she, of all people, know that the Bible actually did mention Samson and Delilah? It's safe to assume that she did. So, what gives, Regina? Well maybe what she means is that her speaker, Delilah, thinks that the Bible doesn't mention them the right way—that it doesn't tell the story the way it actually happened, and she wants to set the record straight.
Beneath the stars came falling on our heads
But they're just old light
This lyric about stars is a reference to quantum physics. Yikes, quantum physics?? In a pop song? Don't worry, this is really cool stuff, so bear with us.
When he wrote his Special Theory of Relativity, Albert Einstein calculated the speed of light as 3.0 x 10ˆ8 meters/second. This means that light isn't just everywhere at once—it has to travel from its source to its destination, and it always travels at the exact same speed.
Have you ever heard of a light-year? We bet you have. Think Star Wars. A light-year is simply the distance that light can travel in a year. As you can imagine, a light-year is a very long distance since light travels extremely fast (the actual distance of one light-year is just under ten trillion kilometers).
So, what does this all have to do with stars? Well, by applying the speed of light to the study of space, astronomers realized that the stars we see up in the sky when we're out having a romantic evening might not even be there anymore. When we see a "star" at night, we don't see the star the way it looks today. Instead we see light emitted from a star long ago—light that may have taken ten billion years to reach us. Light as old as the universe itself. It's a fascinating concept; to look into the night sky and literally be looking into the past.
When Regina tells us that the stars are "just old light," she means that the stars we see in our lifetimes may have died out millions of years ago even though their "old light" is just now reaching our eyes. Samson and Delilah, in their night of love, looked up at the stars and saw a slightly different picture of the universe than we do now, but what they saw even back in Biblical times was "old light," too.
Some astronomers estimate that if aliens actually existed, they would be at least 200 light years away from us. That means if these supposed aliens were able to look into powerful telescopes and watch us, they would see us in powdered wigs and buggies. That's right, they would be seeing us in the early 1800s, because the light that our earth emitted 200 years ago would just now be reaching them. Ridiculous, but true.
Told me that my hair was red
Red hair has been historically associated with a fiery temper, untamed sexuality, and passion. The Book of Judges does not explain what Delilah actually looked like at all, so this little mention of her red hair should not go unnoticed.
Redheads have always been a bit of a mystery to mankind. From Judas Iscariot to King David, from Nicole Kidman to Lindsay Lohan, we have a fascination with red-haired people that goes back centuries.
Mary Magdalene (the supposed prostitute who followed Christ) was a redhead, as was Venus, the goddess of love (at least as imagined in Botticelli's famous painting "The Birth of Venus").
Redheaded women, especially, have been associated with powerful sexuality. Prostitutes in the Middle Ages dyed their hair red with henna to make sure that men knew what they were selling. Delilah didn't necessarily have red hair in the Bible, but Regina Spektor adds this detail for a reason. Delilah's red hair gives her power, sexual force, and mystery, all of which add to the love story.
I cut his hair myself one night
Something else we should notice is that Spektor's Delilah goes out of her way to mention that she cut Samson's hair herself, while in the Bible she has one of her henchmen do the deed.
Spektor's Delilah is much more take-charge in her version of things, and we can read the hair-cutting bit not as a way to make Samson weak in the muscles, but rather weak in the knees: it's a metaphor for that reeling, crazy loss of self-control that happens to us when we fall madly in love.
A pair of dull scissors in the yellow light
Maybe this is a stretch, but the whole "dull scissors in the yellow light" thing makes us think of "The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock" by T.S. Eliot.
The dullness of the scissors makes her hesitate and worry that she'll do a crappy job with the haircut; the yellow light reminds us of the yellow fog from the poem.
This is the part of the song where a lot of deliberation and hesitation is going on, just like Prufrock wandering through the yellow fog of London and chickening out at the party.
It's that whole, "Oh my God, does he/she love me back?" terror. We've all been there.
He told me that I'd done alright
The Biblical Samson wouldn't have been too pleased with the hair-cutting thing, but Regina's Samson thanks his Delilah for what she's done.
In the scriptural account, Samson doesn't want to tell Delilah the secret of his strength, but only does so when she says "if you love me you'd tell me."
According to Regina's Delilah, Samson was fully aware that his head had been shaved and actually told Delilah that she did a good job with it. So, what if he loses his strength? He gets the girl and that's all that matters in this version of the story.
'Til the morning light
In the Tanakh, Samson is constantly threatened by Philistine murder plots that involve tying him up at night and then killing him at dawn.
In one instance, the Scriptures literally say, they "lay in wait for him all night in the gate of the city, and were quiet all the night, saying: 'Let be till morning light, then we will kill him.'" But Samson got up at midnight, took the gates of the city in his arms, and carried them up a mountain. So, basically, he got away.
Interesting that Regina puts a new spin on this "we will kill him" theme by having the two lovers kiss. There are more reasons than assassination to stay up all night, after all.
We couldn't bring the columns down
Yeah we couldn't destroy a single one
In the Biblical account, Samson does, in fact, "bring the columns down" right at the end of his story.
After Samson was betrayed by Delilah, the Philistines easily captured him. They gouged out his eyes and put him in prison. One day, they decided to publicly make fun of him, so they yanked him out of jail and set him in front of a big temple in the city. His hair had started to grow back during his prison stint, however, and with it his strength.
Samson called upon God to help him one last time, and was able to pull the two columns on either side down upon himself and on thousands of his Philistine tormentors. The Hebrew Scriptures say, "the dead that he slew at his death were more than they that he slew in his life."
But according to Regina Spektor, that didn't happen. If he didn't pull the columns down, then he didn't die, and if he didn't die, then maybe he and Delilah were actually just together and in bed the whole time. In Delilah's version, that is.