From Big Notebook for Easy Piano and Remember Cassettes, Vol. 1
More ambiguously religious than other songs on Big Notebook, “Birdbrained” reflects the theme of coming of age and coming to terms with one’s religious upbringing in the form of discussing Darwinism and evolution. Paradoxically, this song discusses both the evolution and devolution of mankind, as our speaker refers to his youth as swimming in, “Edens of amoebas on a planet same as this one / With the spineless and the miserable,” only to stand up on dry land in the form of a bird and, “join the upright and the uptight and the miserable.” The song then paints a bleak portrait of living in a disillusioned state, both in religious terms, in which the speaker is “gnarled like Nicodemus,” and in need of some counsel, asking for it outright, and in a broader sense, stating in the bridge that, “the world’s a worm and the beak at best.” The speaker then describes his wings molting off, implying a further evolution into something else, coupling this image with a “sense of dread,” and “waddl[ing] in disgrace, back towards my nesting place / Join the spineless and the timeless and the cynical.”
This intense moment of Big Notebook is easily one of the darkest on the record, with the only glimmer of hope hooking on the end of two refrains and stating, “The world is old and still naïve, the way I try to be,” which is both a reference back to Evolution and to a person aging and coming to terms with his coming of age.