Wandering Lonely as a Roundabout

Wandering Lonely as a Roundabout

I must have been ten or eleven at the time, in that peculiar prepubescent phase where I was desperately trying to revamp my wardrobe with silly bandz[1] and even sillier shoelaces,[2] carrying around my beloved brick of an iPod Classic,[3] when my dad asked me to stand by his desk and listen to a song he was emitting from his prehistoric desktop computer. My eyebrows ruffled at the mention that the song was by a band named “Yes,” for who could believe that 70s progressive rock could really be that lazy, half-hearted, setting us up for minutely awkward dialogues?[4] I stood still with apprehension. And the intro for the song didn’t help. It began with repeats of the same guitar strums that were ever so slow, crescendoing and de-crescendoing, succeeding at setting me into a lul. My head made a crescent-like motion towards by dad sitting in his office chair. “Just wait,” he said, so I did. But those 42 seconds felt like the longest in my life, forcing me to shift my weight around, to look at the song’s title of “Roundabout,” to stare at the passing seconds on the screen as each digit increased by one, to keep telling myself, I hope this is worth it.

And it was.

Suddenly, right at that 43 second mark, there were drums exploding through the desk speakers; paired with an infectiously funky bassline, pounding chord progressions on the keyboard, and sweet vocal harmonies, the combination overwhelmed me all at once. I had been unprepared, misled, deceived; there was no warning as the corners of my mouth were instantly upturned, and my body sat down in order to conserve energy for some vigorous head-nodding. I was elated, I could see the modes, the tones, the colors, the flavors. I didn’t even mind when the intro made a second appearance — now it tasted sweet to me, a nice release from the tang of what I had been slapped with. Only after I was faced with silence had I realized that the single had ended, that a whole eight minutes had passed, and the look I gave my dad could only say one thing: Yes. Yes.[5]


But there’s nothing special about Yes. At all. At least, not as far as progressive rock bands go. We need only took towards Dave Marsh, rock and roll extraordinaire, to quickly lose faith in the originality and individuality of all our favorite 70s and 80s bands:

Anti-romantic as it may be to say so, the poetic individual creating in solitude has virtually no place in rock and roll; not only the most but the best of it has always been created through a combat of wills… Some of the most beautiful records ever made are the sound of willful young men learning to unify themselves in three — or four — or five-part harmony. (xxiii)


Seems legit. Led Zeppelin, Pink Floyd, Queen, Traffic, Talking Heads, the list goes on — a lot of collaboration there, a lot of teamwork, a hydra of musical heads. Marsh argues that, because of this reliance on joint effort in the creation of progressive rock music, the voices of individual artists are lost — the “willful young men” become willess, melting into the same pot of white British musicians, singers, and producers, until it all sounds the same, a snooty, collective bowl of clotted cream.[6]

Wait, but, what’s wrong with being a team player? Aren’t we social beings? Don’t we depend on each other for survival starting from the day we’re conceived? … Who hurt you, Dave Marsh?

Let me clarify: I’m all for uniqueness, individuality, agency — it’s wonderful, powerful, influential, especially in the arts. But we shouldn’t dig our heads into the sand of solo coffee-shop artists (who do poor covers of progressive rock songs, anyway) whenever we’re exposed to the possibility that no art may, in fact, be based on complete originality. I don’t want your sand to turn quick, to swallow you whole, to lose you the world, because the answer is simple: it’s language’s fault. And I’ll show you why.

German philosopher Theodor Adorno, in his essay entitled “Lyric Poetry and Society,” posits that it is our social need to use language that defies, in ways large and small, an individual’s effort to separate herself from the will of society — the expression of her rebellion is inherently under the jurisdiction of language. Adorno put it best: “Your feelings insist… that lyric expression… evoke the image of a life free from the coercion of reigning practices… This demand, however… is itself social in nature.” (39) So there is always duality to language, to using the first person, to writing as an individual, when readers and listeners will inherently take that “I” perspective as their own, creating both seeming close and surprisingly alienating relationships among all of us. (41)

You can tell that I want to bring this theory back to “Roundabout,”[7] for why else would I place these two men side by side, but we should take a look at a more traditional form of lyric — as in lyric poetry —  in order to solidify this thinking before going back to the single and the words that await us. Here is the first and last stanza from Williams Wordsworth’s I Wandered Lonely as a Cloud from the early 1800s:

I wandered lonely as a cloud

That floats on high o’er vales and hills,

When all at once I saw a crowd,

A host, of golden daffodils;

Beside the lake, beneath the trees,

Fluttering and dancing in the breeze.

For oft, when on my couch I lie

In vacant or in pensive mood,

They flash upon that inward eye

Which is the bliss of solitude;

And then my heart with pleasure fills,

And dances with the daffodils.


There are many dualities in the piece, connections and separations, relationships that both are and aren’t there, even when speaking from the “I” perspective, even when seeking an escape from society into nature. The protagonist starts off alone, but compares herself to a cloud, imprinting herself in nature, and continuing to humanize “a crowd, a host, of golden daffodils” that flutter and dance — a community of their own. And then, she is suddenly separated from nature, sitting on her couch back home, returning to the leisure of modern society, but unable to disconnect herself from her newfound relationship to nature, projecting herself onto it, dancing “with the daffodils.” An escape from one society into another, simultaneously being and not being. She can’t help it. We can’t help it. Even when we try. And that’s okay, Dave.

It’s a bit too obvious to note the ways in which“Roundabout” was collaboratively produced, with different people handling different sounds, instruments, vocals, technical manipulations. Sure, Dave and Adorno, there’s no need for an analyzation of language to hear how this was more than a one-person job. But again, I say to Marsh and nod towards Theodore, there is beauty in seeing those relationships form a wholesome composition of individually talented artists; there’s not much to be squandered when individual artistry would have paled in comparison to a team effort.

The thing is that the language of Jon Anderson’s lyrics is naturally non-individual.

Despite any complicated interpretations of Anderson’s lyrics, any speculations as to what may have inspired him, any head-scratching is, honestly, unnecessary. According to an interview with the Wall Street Journal, the man was driving through Scotland with his band, past valleys and lakes and roundabouts, high off his ass. There you go. What’s interesting to look at here, for now we getting back to language, is that even though Jon Anderson wrote his lyrics in first person, the allusions towards Wordsworth, and thus Adorno, are unprecedented, a little too good to be true, uncanny:

I’ll be the roundabout

The words will make you out ‘n’ out

I spent the day your way

Call it morning driving through the sound and

In and out the valley

In and around the lake

Mountains come out of the sky and they stand there

One mile over we’ll be there and we’ll see you

Ten true summers we’ll be there and laughing too

Twenty four before my love you’ll see

I’ll be there with you


The self becoming a roundabout, the personification of mountains moving and standing around, the shifting from the “I” perspective to the “we” perspective and finally to the “you” perspective… nothing is wholly Anderson’s, nothing is wholly nature’s, nothing is wholly mine, nothing is wholly ours. That’s the adoration in the ambiguity, the desirability in the duality, the beauty in being and not being. Even in experiencing it alone, you know that your feelings are not unique, that you are somehow connected to a greater community of listeners. It makes you need to sit down and smirk at those around you, even as you wander by your lonesome. It’s lyrical, it’s progressive, it’s rock.


This paper was written in the styles of Ta-Nehisi Coates and David Foster Wallace.

This paper was read by Nohely Peraza.



Adorno, Theodor W., et al. Notes to Literature. Columbia University Press, 1991.


Marsh, Dave. The Heart of Rock & Soul: The 1001 Greatest Singles Ever Made. Da Capo Press,



Myers, Marc. “The Inspiration Behind ‘Roundabout,’ the 1972 Hit Song by Yes.” Wall Street

Journal, 7 Mar. 2017, www.wsj.com/articles/the-inspiration-behind-roundabout-the-1972-hit-song-by-yes-1488898767.


Wordsworth, William. “I Wandered Lonely as a Cloud.” 1807.

[1] As the kids used to say, R.I.P. in peace.

[2] If you can believe it, I used to have the audacity to ask my mom to buy different colored shoelaces for my Converse (the staple of cool and casual kid footwear), and the even greater audacity to lace and re-lace my Converse with different colored laces in order to fit my pre-planned outfits for middle school. As in, I would plan out my outfits before I went to bed every night. Not to say that I don’t still preplan outfits — it saves time and guarantees just a little more organization in my day. It was the shoelaces that really proved that I was making a concerted effort to waste time on something no one would care about.

[3] 120 Gigabytes. The Real Deal for 2010.

[4] “What’s the band’s name?”




“… That’s the band’s name?”

[5] And then imagine the same exact reaction being elicited from a class of similarly prepubescent seventh graders when I presented this song in music class. The satisfaction still makes me smile.

[6] Upon Googling “British foods,” this dish seemed the most white and unappetizing. Though, with British food, the pickings were bountiful in this regard. Did you know that jellied eels was a thing? Gag.

[7] I should mention how you may recognize this song from the ending credits for the anime “Jojo’s Bizarre Adventure,” along with a compilation of memes based on the style of those ending credits. A quick trip to YouTube would serve you well.