"Tonight Is The Night I Fell Asleep At The Wheel" is the penultimate song on the Barenaked Ladies's latest album, Maroon. The song tells the story of a man who, while driving home to be with his significant other, falls asleep at the wheel and fatally crashes his car. While mostly based on a poem Steven Page wrote about driving between Toronto and London, Ontario to visit his wife-to-be, the song is also partly based on Ed Robertson's unanswered musings about his brother. "I lost a brother in a motorcycle accident," he told McClean's. "It was a violent, probably pretty sudden thing. I've often wondered whether he had a few seconds to look around and go, 'Wow, I'm screwed.'" The haunting melody was inspired by the song Chim Chim Cheree from Mary Poppins.

The lyrics imply that the man must experience some sort of life after death, as he experiences the event not as the person trapped behind the wheel but rather as an observer, watching the carnival-like scene that follows his folly. One can imagine the cars that must have slowed and pulled over, the crowd of rubberneckers too curious to keep going but too squeamish to actually look. The paramedics arrive on the scene and valiantly try to save his life, to no avail. As the narrator himself notes, "most of it's over before I awake," suggesting that perhaps he died instantly.

I can't help but recall the final scene in American Beauty whenever I hear the last few lines... "In all the confusion, there's something serene... I can see my face slump with a grin." I imagine the man must look something like Lester Burnham did slumped on the kitchen table - that final, contented smile of a man who's just seen the most beautiful thing pass before his eyes. As Page notes, "He's not the kind of guy to get worked up over it. He just kind of goes, '(sigh) - oh, oh.'"

Interestingly, the repetition of the line "You're the last thing on my mind" seems to indicate that in the moments before the fatal crash the narrator was not in fact thinking of his beloved at all - rather, it was only afterward - perhaps the last, fleeting image - that the thought of the one who was waiting for him crossed his mind. And then, of course, it was too late....


The melody is slow, yet echoes of a far-off circus - a drum rolls, a calliope plays...

Driving home to be with you
The highway's dividing, the city's in view
As usual, I'm almost on time
You're the last thing that's on my mind
Wish I could tell you the way that I feel
But tonight is the night I fell asleep at the wheel.

No commotion, no screaming brakes
Most of it's over before I awake
From the ceiling, my coffee cup drips
While out my window, the horizon does flips
The worst part was hitting the ground -
Not the feeling so much as the sound
Can't help but wonder if all this is real
'Cause tonight is the night I fell asleep at the wheel.

Rubberneck traffic and passersby
Slow-Motion Walter, the fire engine guy
Stand around with their mouths open wide
I heard some idiot ask if someone's inside
With the Jaws of Life, they tried and they tried
Nobody here can know how I feel
'Cause tonight is the night I fell asleep at the wheel.

I guess it's over now
'Cause I've never seen so much
Never seen so much
Never seen so much
Never seen so much
I guess it's over now
'Cause I've never seen so much
Never seen so much
Never seen so much blood...

In all the confusion, there's something serene
I'm just a posthumous part of the scene
Now I'm floating above looking in
As the radio blares and wheels spin
I can see my face slump with a grin
And you . . . you're the last thing on my mind
You're the last thing on my mind
You're the last thing on my mind
You're the last thing on my mind...


Words and music by Steven Page and Ed Robertson

Jim Creeggan - arco double bass, electric double bass, vocals, viola
Kevin Hearn - sampler, synth, vocals
Steven Page - lead vocal, flute
Ed Robertson - banjo, electric guitar, vocals
Tyler Stewart - snare drum, cymbal, tympani
with Rob "Tiny" Menegoni - bass drum
Jono Abrams - faxed thumbs-up

Track 12, Maroon (2000) - Barenaked Ladies

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