This song tells the story of a girl named Ally who dies on her graduation day. At her wake, her friends steal her ashes and take them to the beach, knowing that's what she would have wanted.
This story is based on the tale of Gram Parsons, a mythic figure who was a member of The Byrds and The Flying Burrito Brothers. After he died at age 26, two men dressed in black showed up in a hearse at Los Angeles International Airport and claimed his body, which was going to be shipped to his father. They took the body to the Joshua Tree forest and burned it in the desert, fulfilling what they claimed was Parsons' directive.
In our interview with Better Than Ezra frontman Kevin Griffin, he explained: "This started with the idea, and it was personal. And then taking it to a whole crazy place about taking an urn with some friends and taking the ashes of a friend and spreading them out on the beach as the sun's coming up."
Regarding the lyrics, "That R.E.M. song was playing in my mind, and three-and-a-half minutes felt like a lifetime," Kevin Griffin told us that the song he had in mind was "Perfect Circle," from their 1983 album Murmur. Both that song and "A Lifetime" run almost exactly 3:30.