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Sunny Came Home by Shawn Colvin

Album: A Few Small RepairsReleased: 1997Charted:
7
29
  • This song is about a woman who "Makes a few repairs" to the oven, then uses the gases to burn her house down by lighting a match. She does this in an attempt to escape her past.
  • Colvin was inspired by a painting, which she used on the cover of the album. The artist was a friend of Colvin's, Julie Speed. See the painting in Song Images.
  • Before A Few Small Repairs, Colvin had never written songs about characters - they were always in the first person. She said the record was fun to make in part because she was "feeling comfortable enough to write a story instead of all the songs being so personal."
  • Colvin was born January 10, 1956 in South Dakota. She taught herself guitar by age 10 and got her break singing backup for Suzanne Vega. (thanks, Crystal - Springfield, MO, for all above)
  • Colvin's songwriting partner on this and many of her other songs was John Leventhal - he writes the music and she writes the lyrics. Leventhal is married to Colvin's good friend Rosanne Cash. (thanks, John - Stony Point, NY)
  • This won Grammys for Record Of The Year and Song Of The Year. When she won for Song Of The Year, rapper Ol' Dirty Bastard rushed the stage and took the microphone. Apparently upset that his group, Wu-Tang Clan, lost Best Rap Album to Puff Daddy, he rambled about how "Wu Tang is for the children" before he was ushered offstage and a very confused Colvin was allowed to give her speech.
  • It was Colvin's producer John Leventhal who came up with the iconic mandolin riff that starts out the song. She explained to American Songwriter magazine: "We're longtime writing partners and our co-writing almost always works the same way, which is he has some music already written and I create melody and lyrics to it. Every now and then I'll get a set of lyrics without music or I'll write a bridge or something in a piece of music he's already got but generally he gives me music, I finish it out. That's what happened with 'Sunny Came Home,' he had a whole piece of music and no words and no melody and I came up with that."
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Comments: 25

I've always associated Sunny Came Home with Independence Day by Martina McBride. Both songs are about an abused wife setting fire to her house.Staley - Dallas, Tx
I saw Shawn Colvin and Mary Chapin Carpenter in concert 2 days ago and Shawn said this song was about Sunny von Bulow, if she had awakened from her coma. She said she wrote the song after watching the movie, "Reversal of Fortune." So, the statement that the song was written after the album art is incorrect.Kathy - Seattle, Wa
I think the song means what you want it to mean. For me, it is about Sunny (Sunny is a child's name, after all) coming home (as an adult) to her parent's house to face her father, who sexually abused her, and her mother, who knew all along and didn't stop it. Burning down the house is metaphorical. She is trying to destroy the illusion her parents had that everything was fine. She may have even had enough rage to dare her parents to deny it; "strike a match, go on and do it". Being out of her mind relates to PTSD and the ability of some abuse victims to leave their bodies during the abuse. There are probably other kids in the house, and she came home to confront her parents, and get the other kids to safety. That's what it means to me. I know that Ms. Colvin never said any of this, but is seems a plain as day to me, from the first time I heard it. It's what it means to me. This song helped me to deal with my own childhood. I'm grateful to her for writing it.Bill - Somewhere, Md
This song is about a nonfiction story, but I heard it was a story in the news about a woman who was picked on all her life, so she came back to her home town with a list of names and a plan to burn down their houses.Jess - Milton, Nh
Sunny came home to her favorite room...she finally embraced the truth

She sat down in the kitchen, opened her book (of matches) and box of tools....she was on a mission.... she came home with a list of names, she came home with a vengeance.... She had the facts and sat down one final time in her favorite place before she acted. She will make repairs of her life.

Days go by and she is hypnotized....she is being lied to....probably told by whoever is lying that she is the one that is "crazy" for her well founded suspicions. She closes her eyes and flies out of her mind, she is walking on a wire...she doesn't know why.. She realizes she hasn't been facing the truth and that she has been walking a very fine line of denial to the point of unreality.

She looks finally at the reality and she burns down the house full of lies and she takes her kids and leaves it behind once and for all, she is fine and on her own finally.....NOW she can heal.

As a woman who has come out of child abuse one of my best days was when my childhood home was torn down and new dwellings were built in it's place. I raised my children safe and happy and left that ugliness behind me too. I totally identify with this song. She is finally coming to the truth and the truth DOES set us free. Thank You God for TRUTH~!
Lara - Boston, Ma
Don't know if this is a fact but I thought I had heard that this song was written with reference to the non-fiction story, the Burning Bed, which was about an abused Michigan housewife named Francine Hughes.
Here is the reference from Wikipedia about this story: "On the night of the fire, Hughes told her children to put their coats on and wait for her in the car. She then started the fire with gasoline poured around the bed Mickey Hughes was sleeping in. After the house had caught fire, Hughes drove with her three children to the local police station in order to confess.

Hughes was tried in Lansing, Michigan, and found by a jury of her peers to be not guilty by reason of insanity.

Having turned the book into a made-for-television movie, McNulty's screenplay, "The Burning Bed", premiered on NBC on October 8, 1984. The movie, directed by Robert Greenwald, starred Farrah Fawcett as Francine Hughes and Paul LeMat as Mickey Hughes."
Nancy - Stamford, Ct
This is such a haunting song. I've loved it ever since it came out.
I think the first verse is definitely about a woman who has been abused or cheated on. The book she was referring to was most likely a book about fixing things around the house, such as turning the gas in a stove on and off. She used the tools to do whatever with the stove so that the gas would fill the house (bear with me, I know nothing about ovens =P). "It's time for a few small repairs, she said" backs up that theory.
I agree with every one who said the list of names had something to do with her husband cheating. "Count the years you always knew it" hints at the fact that she's known for years that he's been cheating on her.
She takes the kids and torches the house.
Did any one other than Sunny and her children know who started the fire? Meaning: did she get away from it? "She's out there on her own and she's alright" but for how long? How long could she run before she was found? Obviously they'd question why the house was torched and why the wife is missing, with no remains to be found. Maybe I am getting too technical but setting fire to a house, even if it's your own, is against the law. The cops would have caught up with her sooner or later. This leads me to believe that the story is told in a flash back. "I close my eyes and fly right out of my mind. Into the fire" sounds me like she can't get it out of her head. It replays itself over and over again in her mind. I think, at this point, she is in jail or a mental hospital, her children are God knows where, and she's conflicted as to whether she made the right decision or not. "Days go by. I'm hypnotized. I'm walking on a wire" She is unsure how to feel about what she did because, while she got away from her husband and the horrible situation, she caused more trouble for herself.
Just my theory.
Reminds me a little of the book Dolores Claiborne by Stephen King.
Heather - Oak Hill, Oh
Im not really sure what's the meaning of Shawn wearing a wedding gown in the video...but did it ever cross your mind that this song might be all about Sunny's Wedding and it is just that the groom didn't come? So, she came home with a mission and a vengeance.Zanne - Macon, Ga
The music video for the song does not present this idea. However, did you ever notice that Shawn Colvin is wearing a wedding dress in the middle of the music video? Then she cuts into a worthless pile of fabric. While she destroys the fancy dress, she has an angry frown on her face. She also looks as if she is about to start crying her eyes out. It might Sunny probably makes sure that the kids are safely out of the house before she lights the match. However, maybe she burns that house down as a means of killing her cruel, useless husband. He was probably abusing her and their kids as well. Therefore, maybe, she killed him as a means of keeping herself and her kids safe from him. Just maybe, she chose to squash her husband before he could find a weapon and get the chance to squash her and their kids! I mean, really, think about it! It's possible!Jade - Washington D.c., Dc
I thought it was about a housewife gone assassin. The "book and box of tools" are the address book of her hits and her tools her weapons. the "list of names" is a hitlist. "She didn't believe in transcendence" so she lives very materialistically. "It's time for a few small repairs" she's insane. "...vengence" she makes it personal? Chorus: She is pushed to assassinations because she's "walking on a wire" so she needs the money. And she's crazy some more.

Probably not the case, but it's more interesting this way.
Rick - Tel Vive, Az
I just saw Shawn in Lowell, Mass. She sang this song and before she did she said she had written songs about many things and finally wrote one about murder. So clearly the husband was upstairs asleep.Anne - Boston, Ma
One other theory about the "book" she looks at is that she may have found her husband's "little black book" with lists of names of women he's cheated with, it may have dates & so it's finally confirmed that it's been going on "for years" just as she always suspected. And I agree, maybe there are neighbors that she's been friends with but have been cheating with her man, so she wants to damage the neighborhood somewhat to exact revenge. So it may be that "Sunny came home" from a simple trip to her husband's office where she came across this "book" & if gave her the evidence to confirm her suspicions.Camille - Toronto, Oh
Finally remembered to look this song up on Songfacts because I never knew what the lyrics might mean. First, maybe Sunny came home from a psych ward, since she make reference to being "out of my mind". So I think her husband and perhaps a few others in her life had her committed because they thought she was looney. She knew she wasn't: her husband probably WAS cheating on her, but like many men, he tried to convince her and others that his wife was nuts for thinking he was being unfaithful so he framed her. She seeks revenge on him and the others. The "book" Sunny opens, I believe is a "BOOK OF MATCHES". Then, to make herself truly take action for vengence she reviews of a list of reasons why she should: the weather conditions--"dry is good, wind is better" and then to completely justify what she's gonna do, she tells herself: "Count the years, you always knew it Strike a match, go on and do it"---so all the years she thought her husband was cheating on her, she apparently has some kind of proof and has finally reached her breaking point. No more walking that tight-rope wire worrying about falling & hurting herself trying to do the right thing by everyone else. I do think the end, as Tim from Prescott, AZ says, has Sunny & her kids moving on to make a life elsewhere...in the midst of burning her house down, she multitasks, as moms & homemakers are so good at, and reminds herself to "get the kids & take a sweater". Another comment: the song writer deliberately gives this character the upbeat name "Sunny", which adds an interesting dimension to the story.Camille - Toronto, Oh
Does this song have something to do with domestic violence? And Sunny is back for revenge? I'd always thought so.Prayerash - Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia
Great song whatever it may be about!Dave - Cardiff, Wales
Shawn Colvin has said that the song is about a woman who burns down her home after fixing the oven (she uses the ovens own gases and lights a match). Ive always thought that Sunny was abused by her husband and fears for her life and the lives of her children. I agree with Tim; I always interpurted the book of names as a baby name book but it could also be an address book of people she could stay with. "count the years you always knew it" could imply infedelity on her husbands part or that she always knew one day she'd have to leave. I think she leaves with her children and takes nothing but something to keep her warm.K - San Francisco, Ca
I see the possibility that Sunny is abused, but I have always interpreted that her husband cheated on her - with some of her neighbors/friends/acquaintences -- the 'list of names' equals the guilty parties. The line 'she didn't believe in transcendence' means that she has found out, can't get over it, etc. Transcendence is a reference to overcoming a personal injury. 'Count the years, you always knew it' - I think is another reference to the cheating. She has been a devoted wife and mother and she was repaid with duplicity and disrespect. She has come home after some time away from the entire situation and now is making some repairs. A gas explosion/fire could do more than destroy her house - it has the potential of taking out the nearby houses as well.

The kitchen as her favorite room - a room that she was always in charge of, and felt in control.

Anyway, great song, great story that makes you think.
Cheers!
Mark - College Park, Md
I think the song is about teen suicide. You might think I'm crazy but, just listen. First of all, when I hear the name Sunny, I think of a girl/teen, not a grown woman. "Sunny came home with a list of names." meaning she had a list of people that had done her wrong (her diary) and "a few small repairs" meaning she would kill herself to leave a mark on their lives forever. "Days go by, I'm hypnotized, I'm walking on a wire" meaning she does the same thing everyday and she's about to snap (kill herself by lighting herself on fire). "I close my eyes and fly out of my mind into the fire." meaning she's very unhappy with the way things are that she just wants to end it by physically going into the fire. "Get the kids and bring a sweater," meaning how the neighbors react when something like this happens. People come out of their house to see what has happened. "Count the years, you always knew it" meaning she's been depressed for a long time and always thought about it but never went through with it. Then after it says "Light the sky and hold on tight, the world is burning down." it says that "She's out there on her own and she's alright." meaning she's alone, away from the world in peace.
Not to sound sadistic, but thats what I interpreted.
Dana - Hoover, Al
Who knows? Kind of makes sense. The "get the kids and bring the sweater part" might back you up, but she certainly sounds like a pyro. I really like the part where she says, "Sunny came home with a list of names. She didn't believe in transcendence. It's time for a few small repairs she said. Sunny came home with a vengeance." I don't believe in transcendence either.Eli - North Oaks, Mn
This song can resemble whatever anyone feels comfortable with. It is my favorite for more than 1 reason. The main one is it gives me energy and puts me in a better mood. Most anyones theory could be true. When listening to this song it makes me think of coming home from mental hospital with nothing left & nothing to loose.Andy - Farmville, Va
I don't read allot into this song. I think it's just great storytelling.
To me it's about the sickness of pyromania and good old fashion revenge. To me "Sunny came home" suggests she came home possibly from Jail, or prison, and she "came home with a vengence". Sunny's preoccupation with fire comes in the lines-
"DAY'S go by I'm hypnotitized, I'm walking on a wire. I close my eyes fly out of my mind into the fire".
Sounds like a drug addict in need of a fix. It seems the fire has such a powerfull, yet comforting effect over her that it plays in her fantasies. She is a part of the fire. She doesn't fall into the the fire, she fly's. She soars- into the fire.
Again SUNNY SAY'S- "Day's go by I DON'T KNOW WHY I'm walking on a wire-"
The "walking on a wire" line suggests she struggles with her conscience. Her demon's tell her "COUNT THE YEARS, YOU ALWAY'S KNEW IT, STRIKE A MATCH, GO ON AN DO IT", as if the compulsion was there, and alway's had been, making the walk between sanity and insanity a difficult one and at times confusing.
The "dry is good, wind is better" tells us she is expirienced at setting fires, undoubtedly done it before since she keeps a book of match's in her "box of tools". The "list of names" she referes to in her "mission" is possibly the people who sent her to prison, and now it's payback time.
But the indisputable proof of who Sunny is, comes in the line-
"LIGHT THE SKY AND HOLD ON TIGHT, THE WORLD IS BURNING DOWN"
-as if she is feeling all of the adrenalin rush of a rollercoaster ride while watching the inferno, and we know Sunny is in her glory. To borrow a phrase; Sunny came home, and she brought Hell with her. Wow.
Great song.
Marc - Detroit, Mi
I think this song is a bout a lady who got through a terrible divorce and got to keep the house. Since the house holds so many memories she wants to burn it down and forget everything in there. her mission was to burn the house and she was doing it with vengence because she was upset. her walking on a wire is the wire between going insane and being sane.Aggie - Brockton, Ma
Shawn Colvin plays Ned Flander's new love interest since the death of Maude on "The Simpsons".Ydur - Knoxville, Tn
Of course, it's all metaphoric. I do think it's about burning down all that may holding us back. The lines "Days go by and hypnotize" and "I'm walking on a wire" are really about the way life becomes so routine and we try to balance what we want to do with what we have to do to the point where we paralyze ourselves. I love this song and have identified with it for years. Who doesn't sometimes wish that they could put a match to their past and create a new beginning?Bettsi - Citrus Heights, Ca
I think this song is about an abused housewife/mother. Compare the line "walking on a wire" with the proverbial "walking on eggs" sentiment often heard in abusive situations. She feels safe only in the kitchen - where she can defend herself. OK here is the jump. She is coming home from the hospital or her doctor with a list of possible names for her new baby. The strength of her love for the newborn has caused her to make a firm decision and take action. As the only way out of her situation, she burns down the house and escapes with her children. The final line is a happy ending.

Am I mad? What do you think of my theory?
Tim - Prescott, Az