Hidden Messages: An in-depth analysis of “Bishop’s Knife Trick“ by Fall Out Boy.
EDIT (1/19/19): Wow, one year since MANIA and one year since I published this piece. I'm still overwhelmed by all the attention and support this has received, even being quoted in the Genius.com interpretation. Even though I'm paranoid more now than ever that Pete Wentz may have seen this, I want to say thank you so much for reading, it's actually crazy to me that people listened and this actually made sense.
Author's Note: I’d like to start this piece with a disclaimer/trigger warning. The following article explains my personal interpretation of “Bishop’s Knife Track” by Fall Out Boy. Music is subjective, and I’m not trying to force anyone to listen to it the same way I do, I just thought it would be cool to share my unique interpretation of this song. Also, in the incredibly unlikely event that Pete Wentz is reading this, knowing my interpretation is way off, I’d like to say from the bottom of my heart: Sorry dude, my bad. I’m also including a slight trigger warning because this interpretation does heavily involve talk of mental illness/suicide. Nothing graphic, but just to be safe, don’t read this if you think it’ll hurt you!
Before we publish any album reviews on Us For Once, we listen to the entire thing at least three times. One for first impressions, two for meaning/lyric content, and three to review our thoughts. The very first time I listened to “Bishop’s Knife Trick” by Fall Out Boy, it was just to capture first impressions. This is the last track on MANIA. It was late and my head was still swimming with ideas on how to write about the previous songs. I pressed play absentmindedly, taking notes on the soft intro and melodic chords, as well as Patrick Stump’s silky voice and clear diction. The first verse and chorus passed, and I was sort of indifferent, but still enjoying the song as a whole. The second verse got my attention. I was impressed by the line, “I got a feeling inside that I can’t domesticate”. That could refer to anything, really, but it was phrased exceptionally well. My interest peaked at, “I’m yours till the Earth starts to crumble and the Heaven’s roll away/I’m struggling to exist with you and without you”. I started to feel like I had missed something important, so I went to restart the song. Before I did, the chorus started up again. “These are the last blues we’re ever gonna have/Let’s see how deep we get”. Oh my god. I paused the song and took a moment for myself. I replayed it from the beginning, this time with a sharp ear and furious note taking. For lack of a better term, I was shook. Deeply shook.
I conferred with twitter and Genius.com to see if anyone else was hearing what I was. They were not. This was way too much to slip in our MANIA review. That’s why, with my heart feeling all sorts of different ways, I’ve decided to write this standalone piece, an in-depth lyric analysis to “Bishop’s Knife Trick”, a song so deeply beautiful that’s hidden in plain sight, a song inspired by lyricist Pete Wentz’s battle with mental illness/bipolar disorder, the Best Buy incident, and the fans that have stuck around for all these years.
Bishop’s Knife Trick By Fall Out Boy
This song starts off pretty slow and soft on piano, this kills some time, but really represents the full realization of what he’s planning to do
I’m pedal to the metal make no mistake
Wentz is pedal to the metal, he’s going to do this fast, and he’s going to do this now This is my pity party, pity party
Self-explanatory. He’s feeling very down on himself/having a pity party
And I'm living out of time, eternal heatstroke
His life doesn’t feel right, he’s lost and perpetually deeply uncomfortable Spiritual revolt from the waist down From the waist down
I’m not entirely sure on this one, but it could be alluding to him trying to fill the void through meaningless sex, creating a temporary feeling of 'spiritual revolt' to escape the discomfort? Also, most likely a reference to an earlier "Bang The Doldrums" lyric, 'This is a love song in my own way, happily ever after below the waist'.
I'm just a full tank away from freedom
All he needs to reach his goal is a full tank. This could refer to having enough energy to finally do something, or more literally, full tank of gas for a car (the car concept is important, as it’s the first allusion to the Best Buy incident) Spitfire
A spitfire is a British aircraft used in WWII. Spitfires are fast, classy, and have a high victory rate compared to other fighter units. In the media, suicide by drug overdose is often romanticized, seen as a fast, classy, and effective way out
These are the last blues we're ever gonna have
This is we start to get dark. For anyone who doesn’t know, the Best Buy incident is the name given to Pete Wentz’s 2006 suicide attempt in a Best Buy parking lot. Wentz has gone on the record saying, “I got in my car. I remember I was listening to Jeff Buckley doing Leonard Cohen‘s ‘Hallelujah’ and sat there and took a bunch of Ativan in a Best Buy parking lot”. This incident directly inspired Infinity On High’s “Hum Hallelujah”, which sings “I’ll sing the blues and swallow them too”. Having the blues is a popular way of saying you’re feeling down or depressed. Ativan, the anxiety medication Wentz tried to overdose on, is tiny blue pill. “Hum Hallelujah” and “Bishop’s Knife Trick” both utilize the double meaning of the word blue. “These are the last blues we’re ever gonna have” means two things: one, these final moments of depression will be the last ones Wentz will ever have to experience, and two, the little blue Ativan pills will be the last thing he’ll have in life, because he’ll soon be dead. Let's see how deep we get
He wants to see how many pills it takes to knock him out for good The glow of the cities below lead us back To the places that we never should have left
Pete Wentz’s real-life suicide attempt failed because he realized what he’d done, and called for help before it was too late. He remembers, “I called up my manager because I was, at that point, completely out of my head with Ativan. And I was talking to him and I was slurring my words, so he called my mom and my mom called me and she came and got me and we went to the hospital”. In this song, the glow of the cities pull him back. He thinks about his hometown city of Chicago, he thinks about all the cities Fall Out Boy has played, he thinks of the band, of all the fans out there he doesn’t want to disappoint, he thinks of all his family and friends he has living in different cities across the world, and he gets a grip on reality. He’s brought back to a place of mental stability he believes he should have never left. The last blues we're ever gonna have Let's see how deep we'll get The glow of the cities below lead us back To the places that we never should have left
[Post-Chorus] The last, the last, the last The last, the last, the last The last, the last, the last The last, the last, the last
The first pre-chrous sounds like he’s dying, like he’s trying to come back but these words are spinning around in his head too fast, telling him over and over again how this is the end. But then the next verse comes in, pulling him back. He snaps out of it.
I got a feeling inside that I can't domesticate It doesn't wanna live in a cage A feeling that I can't housebreak
This feeling is his bipolar disorder. It’s wild, constantly up and down, and does not want to be tamed. And I'm yours 'Til the earth starts to crumble and the heavens roll away
He’s resigning himself to a life without hope. He’s allowing the illness to consume him, since he feels like no matter how much time passes, he’ll never be able to escape I'm struggling to exist with you and without you, yeah
There’s two things this can be about: a continuation of the mental illness narrative, or fame. I think it’s a little of both. Wentz has been quoted as saying “The hardest thing about depression is that it’s addictive. It begins to feel uncomfortable not to be depressed. You feel guilty for feeling happy”. Although he wants to be able to break away from his demons, they’ve begun to make up a part of his identity. It’s not easy to live with them or without them when they’ve been around for so long. This could also be talking about fame. Fall Out Boy blew up during the early 2000s, when the boys were pretty young, and Wentz took the full force of stardom head on. The constant criticism and pressure to be perfect has taken an enormous toll over the years, but at the same time, the band and the fans are such a big part of what keeps him going, so it’s tough either way. I'm just a full tank away from freedom Spitfire
We’re back to where we were in the first verse, seriously contemplating suicide
[Chorus] These are the last blues we're ever gonna have Let's see how deep we get The glow of the cities below lead us back To the places that we never should have left The last blues we're ever gonna have Let's see how deep we'll get The glow of the cities below lead us back To the places that we never should have left
The last, the last, the last The last, the last, the last The last, the last, the last The last, the last, the last
The second chorus and post-chorus are the same as the first, it seems that nothing has gotten much better. He still really wants to die, but at least there’s that light that reels him back in.
I'm sifting through the sand, sand, sand, sand
It starts to get more hopeful here, he’s taken a step back and sorting through his shit. He realizes that he has lived through this, and he can live through anything. Also, when Patrick Stump sings this verse, it sounds notably more upbeat than the last two. Almost… happy? Looking through pieces of broken hourglass Trying to get it all back Put it back together As if the time had never passed
He’s finally dealing with his issues head on in a healthy way instead of running, it’s hard to piece back your life when you don’t remember what it looked like unbroken, but he’s trying. He’s putting immense effort into his mental health to make up for all the years he tossed it aside. I know I should walk away, know I should walk away But I just want to let you break my brain
Even though he’s getting better, there’s still a twisted part of his mind that wants to let the illness take over. It would be so much easier to just give up and let himself be consumed, but he knows he can’t do that. And I can't seem to get a grip No matter how I live with it
No matter how much he tries, he’ll never be fully able to understand his condition, and he’ll never be able to be fully cured. This may sound depressing, but reading in between the lines shows us that now he’s finally living with it (instead of just “existing”, as seen in Verse 2), and even though he says he can’t get a grip (on his life), we know he can. The last chorus shows us he can.
These are the last blues, yeah
This is different than the last two choruses. Notice he doesn’t add the “Let’s see how deep we’ll get” this time. This is more of a looking back, remembering the lowest point in his life and telling himself he’s not going back there again. The glow of the cities below lead us back To the places that we never should have left
He seals all the important thoughts in his brain one last time, so he always remembers the good he needs to stay alive for. The last blues we're ever gonna have Let's see how deep we'll get The glow of the cities below lead us back To the places that we never should have left These last lyrics repeat again with the same meanings listed above.
[Post Chorus] The last, the last, the last, the last The last, the last, the last, the last The last, the last, the last, the last The last, the last, the last, the last
The “last”’s represent the negative thoughts, and the call of death. They fade away until they stop completely.
[Piano Outro] The song ends similarly to how it started, but this time, it makes space. There is room to come down and start over again. The thoughts leave, the noise stops, and he lives to see another day.
“Bishop’s Knife Trick” is the perfect ending to Fall Out Boy’s MANIA. It delivers a heavy dose of emotion that will resonate with any fan, as well as fitting in perfectly with the theme of the album. This song is about mental illness, defeat, power, and finally, hope. Hope and the will to live to see another day, awaiting the mysteries that new day will bring. Pete Wentz’s lyrical art of misdirection protects a devastatingly beautiful ode to love, life, and the fans. What can be easily overlooked as just another sad piano song is probably Fall Out Boy’s most moving and powerful message to date. “Bishop’s Knife Trick” is Fall Out Boy laying it all out for us, the good, the bad, and the ugly, and praying that we still love them anyways.
(And don’t worry, we always will.)