Released in 2014, “Left Hand Free” is a popular song by the indie band alt-J. Interestingly, the band’s name comes from a keyboard shortcut on Mac computers. Pressing the alt and J keys together creates the symbol of a triangle.
What does the title mean
The title suggests that the person’s right hand is occupied doing something and that their left hand is free. The title could be symbolic of something such as multitasking, which is pretty common in today’s world, especially on digital platforms. It could also be representative of doing something secretly while pretending to do something else. If everyone’s attention is focused on one of your hands, they may not see what your other hand is doing. It reminds us of how magicians perform tricks through prestidigitation or sleight of hand. They distract people’s attention so that the audience can’t tell how the trick is being done.
Verse 1 – What does it mean
“Ain’t shady baby, I’m hot
Like the prodigal son
Pick a petal, eenie meenie minie mo, and flower
You’re the chosen one”
The first verse begins by setting up a contrast between what is shady and what is hot. The singer compares himself to the prodigal son. The prodigal son is a character in a parable from the Bible. He is a son who is contrasted to the ‘good’ son. The ‘good’ son is obedient and respectful while the prodigal son squanders all his inheritance. Yet, when he returns, his father is quick to forgive him and welcome him back home. The story is representative of the notion that even if we have done something wrong, we can still get forgiveness and salvation. The singer in this context clearly relates to a sinner who might be worried that he won’t be able to go back from his mistakes.
“Eenie meenie minie mo” is a game of choice that is typically associated with children. It also comes up on occasions when we can’t make up our minds about what to choose. The term indicates randomly making a choice because it’s hard to decide what to choose.
The idea of the chosen one mentioned in the verse reminds us of characters such as Harry Potter. A chosen one is someone who is destined for greatness. In this case, the singer says that the other person is the chosen one. They seem to be implying that they are not destined for anything great since they themselves aren’t the chosen one.
What does the chorus mean
“Well, your left hand’s free
And your right’s in grip
With another left hand
Watch his right hand slip
Towards his gun
The chorus furthers the meaning of the title by adding some context and details to it. As we surmised while considering the title, the idea here is that something ‘shady’ is happening. First, these lines say that the person’s right hand is holding someone else’s hand. However, that someone else seems to be a dangerous person. His right hand is slipping towards his gun. This sinister image makes it seem as though violence is imminent.
The chorus juxtaposes two very different images. Holding hands is something that is supposed to show love and affection. Juxtaposed against this is the frightening image of a hand reaching for a gun. Both these contrasting images suggest that opposite things can exist simultaneously in the same situation. These lines hint at the fact that love can be abusive and violent.
Verse 2 – What does it mean
“I tackle, we tussle, and, oh
My days, we’re rolling
My right hand’s gripped on his Colt single-action army
This verse further complicates the meaning of the song. The singer says that he is struggling with the other man for control of the gun. The movements described here are very cinematic, It’s as though we’re watching an action sequence from a film. Again, it seems as though something violent is going to happen very soon. Both men are rolling around on the ground, each trying to get control of the gun. The gun in this case is an army weapon, suggesting that the other man is a soldier.
Verse 3 – What does it mean
Gee whiz, girl, you’re the one for me
Though your man’s bigger than I am
Oh my days, he disagrees
This is a problematic verse that says that the singer wants a girl who already has a boyfriend. The lyrics now suggest that the two men are fighting over her. This is also a common image from popular culture. It recalls love stories such as Romeo and Juliet, in which the situation escalates into violence because of the central relationship.
The singer says here that the other man is bigger than him. This reminds us of the typical ways in which masculinity is constructed in popular culture. Men are taught that they should be stronger than each other and compete with each other, even for love. The world is a place where gendered roles are such that they constantly make us compete with each other. This song seems to be critiquing these stereotypical ways of looking at gender and love.
This is an unusual song that takes us through a variety of images and ideas. The central image of the prodigal son established at the beginning paints a picture of the singer as someone who is a typical ‘bad boy’. It seems as though he’ll do anything to be with the girl he loves. He is even willing to take on a more powerful man who owns a gun.
The subtext of the song seems to include things such as gun control. In some contexts in the world, anyone can own a gun. The lack of gun control often leads to tragedies. This song seems to have the context of such a situation, in which violence is about to take place because one person has access to a gun.
There are also interesting implications here that the other man is a soldier. This idea reminds us about how law enforcement agencies such as the military seem to have the authority to commit state-sanctioned violence. When a civilian kills another person, it’s called murder or homicide. This is a crime that is punishable by death. But when a soldier kills someone else on the battlefield, it’s called heroism. These difference between how we perceive the same act of killing as either good or bad depends on the context. The differences seem to be arbitrary depending on who has the power.