The Powerful Meaning Behind Carry On Wayward Son By Kansas Sunday August 13 2023, 4:15 PM
Yona Marie
Singer, Songwriter, Producer.
The Powerful Meaning Behind Carry On Wayward Son By Kansas

Meaning Of Carry On Wayward Son 

"Carry On Wayward Son" by Kansas is one of my favorite rock songs of all time, and the story behind the songwriting process makes me love it even more.

It was written by Kerry Livgren with a great bit of artistic inspiration and originally released on their 1976 album titled "Leftoverture."

The song's lyrics are introspective and contemplative, dealing with themes of self-discovery, reflection, and can be self-explanatory once you understand where Livgren was coming from, along with the journey that the band was on.

The History Of The Band 

While the band Kansas was definitely one to be admired amongst fans and even their peers in the music industry, their commercial sales were not doing as well as their label had hoped. 

Kansas was progressive and imaginative with their releases, but radio play and sales were going toward more classic forms of rock that the band just wasn't tapping into, even as they were coming up on their fourth studio album release. 

After experiencing a commercial setback with their previous album "Masque," Kansas found themselves facing challenges with their producer and overall career.

Despite producer Don Kirshner's personal appreciation for the band, he presented them with a crucial ultimatum: create a successful record or risk being released from their label.

Faced with this daunting situation, the band retreated to their hometown of Topeka, Kansas, seeking solace and inspiration as they embarked on the creative process for their upcoming album.

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The Creation Of The Song

On top of pressures from the label, lead singer and guitarist Steve Walsh was going through an intense bout of writer's block, which put all the pressure on Livgren.

Funny enough, the songs for "Leftoverture" were set in stone, practiced, and ready to go before Kerry Livgren brought it to the table at the last minute. 

This is where I believe divine intervention happened; Kerry sat down and wrote this masterpiece as a way to motivate himself through his journey as a musician and a writer. 

"Carry On Wayward Son" features an epic musical arrangement that combines classic rock elements with progressive rock in a very magical way that also feels very religious.

It is well worth noting that Livgren became an evangelical Christian in 1980, a few years after writing this hit in 1976. 

Although he says it wasn't meant to be overly religious, he did feel a sense of prophecy and spirituality in his life at that time. 

He said the following in an interview:

"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 compelled to include it in the lyrics. It proved to be prophetic."

The song saved their career and has become one of Kansas' most iconic and enduring tracks, remaining a staple of classic rock radio and popular culture.

If that isn't one of the most amazing instances of artistic inspiration as a songwriter, then I don't know what is! 

Breakdown Of The Song 

The lyrics are extremely relatable in the sense that we've all been on a demanding journey in life where we felt like we were at the point of failure and being lost. 

Carry on, my wayward sonThere'll be peace when you are doneLay your weary head to restDon't you cry no more

The gist of the message is given to you upfront with the intro lyrics that are sung passionately in harmony

These opening lines suggest a message of encouragement and guidance. The promise of peace after the journey is complete implies that the struggles and trials will eventually lead to a sense of fulfillment.

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Many people interpret this as a message directly from God because it is so prophetic and profound, but somehow, this is what Livgren was telling himself. 

Once I rose above the noise and confusionJust to get a glimpse beyond this illusionI was soaring ever higherBut I flew too high

The creativity behind the progressive instrumentation is part of the reason this hit so well; the energy that compelled Livgren to write this gem is the same energy that fuels the chord progression and time signatures, makes it seem like they can "carry on".


This unique element also adds a sense of realism to the "noise and confusion" mentioned early in the first verse. 

Though my eyes could see, I still was a blind manThough my mind could think, I still was a mad manI hear the voices when I'm dreamingI can hear them say

Again, although Livgren didn't convert to Christianity until four years later, I think the artistic inspiration he was experiencing could have very well come from angels or God himself. 

Masquerading as a man with a reasonMy charade is the event of the seasonAnd if I claim to be a wise man, wellIt surely means that I don't know

As told above, we all know what it looks like (and sometimes even what it feels like) to seem like you have it all together on the outside, even though you don't have the answers. 

So, since he didn't have the answers, yet he heard prophetic voices, where was all of this encouragement coming from? 

Artistic inspiration is like a creative superpower that strikes in various artistic fields, from visual arts to music, poetry, and writing. It's that exhilarating moment when ideas flow effortlessly, fueling a burst of creativity.

Whatever it was that allowed this inspiration to hit him in the moment he needed it the most, I can confidently say that millions of people benefited from it!

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Yona Marie

As a session singer, writer, and producer that has worked with over 300 clients to provide high-quality jingles, singles, and features, Yona spends her time creating and marketing new music and helpful resources for creators. Check out Yona’s latest releases on her Spotify, her Youtube and share if you like it!

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