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Carry On Wayward Son by Kansas

Album: LeftovertureReleased: 1976Charted:
11
51
  • This was written by Kansas guitarist Kerry Livgren. According to Livgren, the song was not written to express anything specifically religious, though it certainly expresses spiritual searching and other ideas.

    Livgren became an evangelical Christian in 1980, and has said that his songwriting to that point was all about "searching." Regarding this song, he explained: "I felt a profound urge to 'Carry On' and continue the search. I saw myself as the 'Wayward Son,' alienated from the ultimate reality, and yet striving to know it or him. The positive note at the end ('Surely heaven waits for you') seemed strange and premature, but I felt impelled to include it in the lyrics. It proved to be prophetic."
  • This song can be seen as the continuation of the last song of Kansas' previous album Masque. As stated in the last verse of "The Pinnacle":
    "I stood where no man goes/Above the din I rose
    Life is amusing though we are losing
    Drowned in tears of awe..."

    By definition in the Cambridge dictionary, "Din" is a loud unpleasant confused noise which lasts for a long time. The first line of "Carry On Wayward Son" is: "Once I rose above the noise and confusion." (thanks, Rich - Trenton, NJ)
  • This was the group's first major hit, and like their next one, "Dust In The Wind," it was a last minute addition to the album. Kerry Livgren wrote the song just two days before they started recording Leftoverture. At that point, the band was polishing the songs they had, not bringing in new ones. "I've got one more song that you might want to hear," he told the band, and when he played "Carry On," they knew it was a hit and made it the lead track on the album.
  • The a cappella vocals in the beginning of this song gave it a very distinctive intro. This worked well on Rock radio stations where disc jockeys rarely talked over the music.
  • This song has appeared in several movies, including Heroes (1977), Happy Gilmore (1996) and Anchorman - The Legend of Ron Burgundy (2004).
  • This song is featured in the South Park episode "Guitar Queer-O." In the episode, Stan and Kyle become obsessed with the video game Guitar Hero and often play to "Carry On Wayward Son." The song is played throughout the episode. (thanks, Matthew - Hawthorne, NJ)
  • The Oak Ridge Boys recorded this for the album When Pigs Fly: Songs You Never Thought You'd Hear. Cevin Soling, who put the compilation together, said: "The Oak Ridge Boys, I wanted them to do Nine Inch Nails' 'Closer,' and I had this wonderful arrangement worked out... this very 'Elvira' Country version of the Nine Inch Nails' 'Closer,' with all the doo-wops and poppa oom maus and everything. I could not wait to get them in the studio to work on that. I had alternate lyrics, you know, but they were still uncomfortable with doing that. So that kind of went back and forth and somehow "Wayward Son" got thrown out there. I don't remember exactly who picked that one, but generally I'd give the artist a few choices and they sort of pick among them." (Check out our interview with Cevin Soling.)
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Comments: 85

I always assumed this song was about the story of Icarus. Now that I know it's about evangelism it's kind of ruined it for me.Bmn - Hisuan, Argentina
The transition riff is a complete copy, practically note-for-note, from Journey's pre-Steve Perry song "I'm Gonna Leave You." Greg Rolie and Neal Schon could easily have sued for plagiarism, but they let it slide, probably because right after "Carry On Wayward Son" became a hit, Journey soared to much higher record sales with "Infinity" and then "Evolution" the next year. Not that I'm a Journey fan by any means, just a Bay Area music fan.Thegripester - Wellington, New Zealand
Linda, The Raid was in Harper's Ferry, Virginia. Being from West Virginia, I would assume you would know that in 1859 then Harper's Ferry was in the Commonwealth of Virginia but that when the Commonwealth seceded from the Union that several counties remained in the Union and formed the state of West Virginia. The song is about John Brown.Dane - Mobile, Al
Hailie, John Brown's raid was Harpers Ferry, West Virginia, not Virginia.Linda - Parkersburg, Wv
This song is about me/you. We are the wayward sons. Didn't you ever sense for just a second you knew why? Then it was gone. I can hear but I can't listen. I can see the forest but not a tree. I keep trying but I keep making mistakes. So when I'm done heaven will be waiting for me. I'll finally be at peace. That's what the voices tell me.Mae - Columbus, Oh
All the entries are good, but I actually obtained a backstage pass to a Kansas concert in Seattle in the late 70,s. I asked Kerry L. about that particular song (its one of my personal favorites)and he said that it was about John Brown the famous abolitionist...Rock on!Barry - Austin, Tx
In at least two interviews published online, former Journey manager Herbie Herbert claims that Kansas stole the music of this song from a Journey song called "I'm Gonna Leave You". It appeared on their second album, Look Into the Future, earlier in 1976.Steve - Torrance, Ca
This song might give you the impression that Kansas was a hard rocking guitar band. Definitely a lot of guitar riffing going on within. However, Kansas usually tended to produce ballads featuring acoustic guitar and violin. Also a lot of reliance on keyboards such as organ and moog synthesizer for their "progressive rock" numbers.Barry - New York, Nc
Looks like only two commenters got it right. This song was written about John Brown the famous abolitionist who was a descendent from God fearing Quakers but beleived in change by violence. His famous raid @ Harper's Ferry,VA failed because of some treachery and also the Blacks for whatever reason failed to back him up. Wonderful tribute to his legacy and may he rest in peace.Haile - Copperas Cove, Tx
carolyn. this is carry on my wayward son NOT icarus(born on wings of steel) if you listen to both songs, you'll find that your discription and what the song reminds you of is pretty much icarus.Rosco - St. Clair, Mo
Although the song sounds great, it was recorded in a swamp in Louisiana, where the band had to chase away armadillos during the recording.Ryan - Anahola, Hi
I used to think that the song was based on the "Prodigal Son" in the Bible, but then I found out that Livgren wrote it before he became a Christian. It's still a great song.Danny - Jefferson, Ia
this song reminds me of the greek myth aboud daedalus and icarus, where daedalus was commissioned to build a labyrinth for the minotaur because he was so smart. King Minos forced daedalus and his son icarus to stay on the island with the labyrinth, so daedalus made wings for himself and icarus so that they could escape. Icarus flew too high and his wings melted and he died :(Carolyn - Detroit, Mi
This song is about the person on the cover of their first album - John Brown, who was instructed by his visions and voices from God to brutally battle against slavery in Kansas, and later at Harpers Ferry. Great song!Vince - Duluth, Mn
I would have to say that it is a song "from god to jesus"Tyler - Muscatine, Ia
This song was featured on the past seasons of all the season finales of the tv show "Supernatural". Great climax for a show.Marcus - Houston, Tx
I agree with above note that in the song Carry On, Kerry is describing a personal and bonafide mystical experience. Experienced by relatively few people, describing a mystical event is in itself nearly impossible, can only be partially achieved with poetry or analogy. Kerry rises to the challenge. I have never had a mystical experience but I envy those that have.Tim - Clarkdale, Az
One of the only Kansas songs I enjoy.Candice - Salisbury, Nc
I thought this song was about Gandhi
a)He was for civil disobedience-"wayward son."
b)He Was for the Independence of India- "There will be peace when you are done."
c)March To The Sea - "lay your weary head to rest"
d)Independence Gained - "Now your life's no longer empty"
e) Gandhi's movement Is Huge - "My charade is the event of the season."
f)Gandhi Was assassinated - "Surly heaven awaits for you"
Hunter - South West, Mi
Krokus covered it too, dropped it down a couple keys. made it even more kick-@$$. One of the greatest songs ever! The Wall is amazing too - to me it was about being on a long, seemingly fruitless journey searching for something that is always just out of reach. And at the end of the song, finding it at long last, and basking in the joy it brings. That instrumental outro from that song is what my bride and I walked out from during the wedding ceremony's recessional.

My band, Raised On Radio, loves covering this song.
Stu - Philly, Pa
This could easily be (though not saying that it actually is) a reference to the Bhagavad Gita, one of the Hindu holy texts. In the Gita, Prince Arjuna, in the midst of a terrible civil war, suffers a crisis when he sees how kinsmen are fighting kinsmen. He hunkers down in his chariot overwhelmed and refuses to fight. Lord Krishna, who has come to him in the form of his charioteer, reveals himself and counsels Arjuna that he must carry on on this path, that it is his destiny, and that he will find spiritual salvation in the end. (That's a *really* simplified summary, but you get the gist.)Renee - Seattle, Wa
This could easily be (though not saying that it actually is) a reference to the Bhagavad Gita, one of the Hindu holy texts. In the Gita, Prince Arjuna, in the midst of a terrible civil war, suffers a crisis when he sees how kinsmen are fighting kinsmen. He hunkers down in his chariot overwhelmed and refuses to fight. Lord Krishna, who has come to him in the form of his charioteer, reveals himself and counsels Arjuna that he must carry on on this path, that it is his destiny, and that he will find spiritual salvation in the end. (That's a *really* simplified summary, but you get the gist.)Renee - Seattle, Wa
I absolutely enjoy this song. The lyrics themselves are very ambiguous. The multitude of interpretations on this website has ensured that Kansas' job has been successfully completed. The ambiguity of the lyrics is what makes it amazing. That's what I love about this song anyway.Alex - Chicago, Il
This song is relaxing and somewhat comforting to me.
It comforting to me when I tune in KZ 106 in Chattanooga after a average day of hearing about some type deadly crimes.
Then I hear this song and release my stress knowing
there will be peace and rest someday away from the madness of the earth.
Roy - Tunnel Hill, Ga
I think it may be a song expressing the secret desire for recognition even among those that claim otherwise. Many 'spiritual' or world-changing experiences are, unfortunately, someone wanting to be able to claim that they have had an experience. Self-searchers often are only going off to gain the recognition of those who they leave. They want to be able to return and hear that their absence is recognized, and that their supposed travels and experiences are acknowledged... making them somehow special...
"Once I rose above the noise and confusion
Just to get a glimpse beyond this illusion
I was soaring ever higher
But I flew too high" ... perhaps the attempt to gain some inkling of enlightenment, to think of things in new ways, was fruitless, or unattainable... This is either the true story of the failure, or the story told by the returner.
"Though my eyes could see I still was a blind man
Though my mind could think I still was a mad man
I hear the voices when I'm dreaming
I can hear them say... (CHORUS)"
This could refer to, when one goes on said search, to those which do not suceed in any life-changing experience, but still desire the recognition. They know they have gained nothing, but the desire for recognition is still there...
"Masquerading as a man with a reason
My charade is the event of the season
And if I claim to be a wise man, well
It surely means that I don't know" Blatant admission of the above...
"On a stormy sea of moving emotion
Tossed about I'm like a ship on the ocean
I set a course for winds of fortune
But I hear the voices say" Torn by this desire, the person still attempts to find some inkling, some meaning they missed, but no mater how they try to hide it, their true hidden motive is still for this recognition...
"Carry on, you will always remember
Carry on, nothing equals the splendor
Now your life's no longer empty
Surely heaven waits for you"
And the recognition is gained... people glorify the idea of having some great experience. And the subject of the song is surounded by those putting them on a pedestal, saying 'you have done well, SURELY heaven waits for you'... it sounds almost sarcastic, almost trite...
Pickerel - Cascade, Id
This is a great song. It was featured in "Supernatural" and fit really well. :) It has a very memorable chorus and rhythm.Nicole - Chicago, Il
Once i rose above the noise and confusion, just to get a glimpse beyond this illusion.
I was soaring ever higher, but I flew too high.
Although my eyes could see I still was a blind man, although my mind could think I still was a mad man. I hear the voices when I'm dreaming, I can hear them say...CARRY ON MY WAYWARD SON ...

I can't help but to think that this is a reference to gaining understanding, only to be misunderstood by those the author has left behind.

Sounds like Plato's Cave Story, or the book of a similar theme, Johnathon Livingston Seagull.
Dan Seekell - Kokomo, In
Awesome singing+Awesome guitar=awesome songChad - Los Angeles, Ca
This song was also covered by Yngwie Malmsteen on his 1996 tribute/cover album Inspiration.Jess - Atlanta, Ga
Great song from a great band!Amber - San Francisco, Ca
Love this song. Introduced to it through Guitar Hero 2 on X-box 360. I think the message is to stop worrying and live your life!

Morten, Australia
Morten - Sydney, Australia
Carry on my wayward song is awesome!
Encore! Chya! Encore!
Jake - Green Bay, Wi
"Carry on my wayward son
For there'll be peace when you are done"

That reminds me of a soldier going to war. Thats what I think this song is about.
Taco - Salem, Nh
It really sounds to me like someone's contemplating suicide and the song goes both ways. Do and don't.Brian - Springfield, Va
Guitar Hero didn't make this song popular. South Park did. The tab became the 3rd most viewed at Ultimate-Guitar after Guitar Queer-O aired.Brian - Springfield, Va
used at the end of anchorman..the legend of ron burgundy tooLeslie Ann - Port Of Spain, Trinidad And Tobago
This is strongly allegorical for Macbeth;

1) Wayward son - Hecate calls Macbeth a wayward son when she is reprimanding the witches.

2) There'll be peace when you are gone - Macbeth was a tyrannical king, so there would be peace when he was gone.

3) Just to get a glimpse beyond this illusion - the witches show Macbeth many ilusions and convince him that they are real.

4) But I flew too high - Macbeth 'flew too high' as he took on the king.

5) Though my mind could think I still was a madman - Macbeth descends into madness as his evil increases.

6) I hear the voices when I'm dreaming - Macbeth is haunted by voices and ghosts.

There are countless oters, but I cba to do them now...
Raph - London, United Kingdom
I always associated this song with Vietnam. It came out about 2 years after Vietnam was over. Best Kansas song by far.Erin - Baton Roge, La
I'm probably the only one, but does this song remind anyone else of "Hamlet"? Everytime I hear it I can't help but think how perfectly it fits with the play.Kate - Wakefield, Ma
recently used in south park season 12 Episode 5 "Guitar Queer-O"George - Waynesburg, Ky
this song kicks ass on g h 2Lee - Brigg, England
I beleive it might be about Jimi Hendrix as it says "I can hear the voices when i'm dreaming" and "Just to get a glimpse beyond this illusion" as known, Jimi Hendrix was on medication for Hallucination. BTW, I didn't take this from Wikipedia, I was the one who added it.Sean - Toney, Al
This is a classic but another piece of info. It is also featured on a television show called 'Supernatural'.Jonathan - Omagh, Ireland
to those like me who live outside US or UK, this song was actually eclipsed by "dust in the wind" as kansas most significant work, later GH brought it back and it has increased its popularity.
as a former soldier I can say that this song is , for me at least, about finding peace after long journeys of fighting (not only because of my work), but as in fighting in your life, struggling for the things that you want even though sometimes you fly too high and fall, the message is that "there will be peace" when you are done, after life struggles you can't let your weary head to rest and not cry anymore.
to all my fellow soldiers who fought alongside me in an unsung war...we will rest someday...vortex, thor, you know who you are
Garoud - Arica, Chile
Yeah, I definitely agree about Guitar Hero making the song even more popular. I have friends that know next to nothing about this kind of music, but love this song because of Guitar Hero.Karen - , Mi
You have to agree with me when I say that this great song got an even bigger mass apeal and following because of Guitar Hero IINick - Edmonton, Canada
I really love the piano part in the background of this song. I've had some difficulty finding it though. =[Karen - Somewhere, Mi
I think this song fits really well for Nick Berg (so does Miracles Out of Nowhere, especially the first verse!)...Sega - Philadelphia, Pa
Another song that can mean alot to a person in they put themself in it...one of my all tiem favoritesAdam - Sparta, Wi
I was amazed that noone mentioned terminal illness. It has special meaning for me because I believe it is the caregiver giving the dying person permission to die. "Lay your weary head to rest, don't you cry no more!" "Surely heaven waits for you"
I heard this on the radio after asking my departed friend what I could do for his wife. I was blown away. Sounds weird but worked for me.
Cheryl - Raleigh, Nc
I think this was their biggest song ever.Graham - Surrey, Canada
This is a great song but "The Wall" by kansas, to me is better and more important. I think "The wall" is about the ego. Not the ego as in ego, super ego, and id but all three put together. The line - " The weight of indecision's in the air, Standing there, The symbol and the sum of all that's me, It's just a travesty" I think he is saying he is the wall, or at least the part of him that keeps him from enlightenment. There is this great quote - " The gates of enlightenment open upon the death of the ego" - J. Schmanek. We are all conected to pure conscieousness and the thing that keeps us from "seeing the light" is that we are centered on our egos and not are true selves which is pure conscieousness. A good reference would be Deepak Chopra's The Seven Spiritual Laws of Success. The knowledge is actual old as time it self. But this is all just my opinion, think what thou whilst.John - Pottstown, Pa
This song was covered by an all-girl Christian band called Rachel Rachel in the early 90's, from their (I think) first album. Livgren appeared in the video to do a guitar break.Richard - Anniston, Al
As to every garage band playing it, I'd love to take my car there; it's actually a difficult song to play. :) Someone mentioned the marching band...I've heard that version...rock on! - Bill Evans (with Kerry Livgren)Bill - New York, Ny
The song is actually about Icarus, in which they have 2 other songs(Icarus and Icarus II). The boy and his father who plan to escape prison by crafting their own wings and flying away. Icarus in either a heroic move or stupidity tries to fly to the heavens and his wings melt and fall apart sending him to his death.Erich - Inverness, Fl
This song is great but it tends to eclipse their other songs... they have some great onesBrad - Kalamazoo, Mi
To me, the best Kansas song is "The Pinnacle" from "Masque".Jim - Columbus, Oh
I heard this song can also be about someone fighting in Vietnam... kind of talking about a soldier who is fighting ("carry on my wayward son), or even one about to die ("there'll be peace when you are done"). Just a thought.Jacqueline - Detroit, Mi
It does give refrence to Jesus struggle to save us and his life while trying to understand what he was doing. It can also be translated into diffrent spiritual refrences but the true meaning lies with livgren. It still gives hope to everyone who wants to really listen to itMike - Pittsburgh, Pa
This song is strikingly similar to John Brown's pre-Civil War raid on the federal arsenal at Harpers Ferry West Virginia. (it was Virginia at the time) John Brown was one of the greatest historical "rebel-rousers" and an agressive abolitionist (person against slavery). John Brown and a small group of slaves siezed a hevily guarded federal arsenal and then became surrounded by reinforcements. While he was inside the complex, but surrounded by the U.S. Army, he wrote a diary talking about how he thought he was right, but he also wondered if mabe he was going insane. This seems oddly familliar to the lines about thinking he's a mad man and seeing he's a blind man. Annother odd similarity is that John Brown lived in the state of Kansas, also being the name of the band who wrote thi song, and carried out several loval raids there after the Kansas-Nebraska act. There are a lot of other similarities between John Brown and "Wayward Sun" if you want to look him up, he's a well know historical figure.Ben - Parkersburg, Wv
according to my band teacher, this is the song that every garage band in history has played.Patrick - Humboldt, Ia
This was the closest that Kansas ever came to scoring a big hit in the UK - they also had another near miss with "Play The Game Tonight"Dave - Cardiff, Wales
I always thought this was from Macbeth. Act III, Scene 5, Hecate, queen of the witches, reprimands the trio of witches which interferes with Macbeth and Banquo: "And, which is worse, all you have done/Hath been but for a wayward son". Indeed, Macbeth claws for power, hears voices, and his weary head rests (albeit displaced from its body).David - Mesa, Az
This song is Kansas' best. It also appears in "Happy Gilmore". I think you hear it when Happy is driving in to his first golf tournament.
A great song in a great movie =D .
Phil - Niagara Falls, Canada
"Miracles Out of Nowhere" is another excellent song from this album.Mark - Lincoln, Ne
This is a Great song but I think the best Kansas song has to be Song For AmericaPatrick - Des Moines, Ia
Also works good as a war song, for there'll be peace when you are done...Alec - Winnipeg, Canada
great song but i think Dust in the Wind is betterTravis - Phoenix, Ny
Carry On, Wayward Son is good, but The Wall (Not to be confused with Another Brick in the wall by Pink Floyd) is one that's so powerful to me, I just can't make out what it means. And Carry on clocks in at about 4:23.Logan - Troy, Mt
How long does this clock at?Mike - Winnipeg, Canada
The influence of Greek Mythology is there. When he says "I was soaring ever higher, but I flew too high", it's an allusion to the Greek Icarus.Gautam - Rockville, Md
Kerry Livgren did convert to Christianity later, but this song came much earlier, so I don't think it was based on the parable of the Prodigal Son. Livgren was always a spiritual, philosophical, searching person and his lyrics reflect this. He wrote an autobiography called "Seeds of Change" (the title of his first solo album) that gives an interesting insight into his career and his point of view. For example, when young he was interested in the "mind expanding" claims of psychedelia but not in drugs, so he made for himself a device he called a "head box" that he would put over his head. In addition to having two small speakers inside there were mirrors, lights, and even small paintings - he would try to create a psychedelic experience for himself this way without using drugs. He knows this was silly, but it gives an idea how inquisitive he was and how much he was seeking that higher meaning in life. His early lyrics draw from many spiritual sources - Greek mythology, native spiritualism, etc. He and I may have come to different conclusions about things, but I always admired his sincerity and the intense searching for truth that are expressed in his lyrics. That is what this song is about - not a fallen, prodigal son but a searcher who feels so close to the truth, but cannot quite grasp it.Ken - Elizabethtown, Ny
This song is in "Happy Gilmore".Shana - Detroit Rock City, Canada
they also had a song called Hold on that was fandamntasticJoe - Ocala, Fl
One of Kansas' best songs. One of my favourite songs! Relates to life so muchJohn - Stephenville Crossing, Canada
It was also featured in a movie called Heros with Henry Winkler its at the end of the movieRob - Sleepy Hollow, Ny
"dust in the wind" is good tooPaul - Malibu, Ca
Kerry Livgren the author of the song is very religious and the Song Carry on Wayward Son was based on the Story of the Wayward Son in the Bible... Luke 15:11-32Brian - Grand Forks, Nd
kansas kicks ass. i am in marching band and we play this songMitch - Battle Creek, Mi
The guitar in this song is amazing.Cody - New York City, Ny
I agree, the best Kansas song -- EVER!Mike - Mountlake Terrace, Washington
I think this song is about a religious/mystical experience of Kerry Livgren. It most certainly is one of many songs that express his consuming spiritual quest.Anonymous
best song i ever heard!!Brock - Coalport, Pa
I would have to disagree. I think Point of Know return is better.Bryan - Colorado Springs, Co
By far the best Kansas song...ever.Bob - Levittown, Pa