The Meaning of Iron Butterfly

So, what do the lyrics mean of Iron Butterfly? When my music has a story or meaning, I want it to be hard to decipher on your first listen through, but after your second, third or fourth time through, I hope the story or meaning becomes clear. That said, I purposely design ambiguity into my music to always leave a little mystery and to create something for our imagination (yours and mine).


Consider this section a cheat sheet; a spoiler section. I’d prefer you not read this until you’ve given yourself a chance to figure it out. I’m going to present the meaning and story, not how I’ve thought it up, but from the way the lyrics and clues would lead us, the listener, to understand.


The male starts talking about a female he’s involved with. At “I will not let her go”, we understand they had some kinda’ breakup. From it, we can surmise that he was the one who broke up with her.

Now, he mentions letting her “fly”. He must be referring to the saying; “If you love something, let it fly (set it free). If it comes back, it was meant to be.” It’s also interesting that the name of the song is “Iron Butterfly”, “the iron butterfly” was mentioned at the intro of the song and the male singing mentions “fly”.

He mentions “Never again… never again”. Kinda’ odd to mention that. Something bad must have resulted in the breakup. Maybe he just really missed her or maybe something else.

Then we hear the female. She spouts off some numbers; they must have some kinda’ meaning… at least to her. She then mentions “please don’t let me escape”. So she didn’t like him breaking up with her. But how odd is it that she would mention “escape”? It makes sense with the whole “fly” thing and a “caged bird”… or “butterfly” maybe in our case. But why would she say it like that? Why, if she doesn’t want him breaking up with her, would it be an “escape”?

She then drops a bombshell; “you’re my strength to not relapse”. OK, what the hell? Is that what she’s talking about? Addiction? Is that why he “broke up” with her? “Relapse”, that can only be addiction. Drugs? …Alcohol? Maybe a sex addiction… Maybe she’s a kleptomaniac or someone who cuts themselves. Whatever it is, an addiction makes perfect sense why someone would “escape”. Escaping like a animal from its cage sounds like how somebody would see falling off the bandwagon. “You’re my strength to not relapse”, it sounds like the guy is good for her and she isn’t doing her addiction while they’re together.

So then the guy repeats the same thing as before, sounding just as committed to her. But then he does a 180° and starts… what, doubting himself? He can’t handle her thoughts? Clearly that must be the addiction. Causing strife in their relationship. Then he mentions her losing control and risking it all. See, that’s weird, that sounds like this is causing more than just problems with two people dating. If that were the case, the guy would probably say something like “She’s risking our relationship” or “risking us breaking apart” or something along the lines of “us”. “Risking it all”. Risking “it”? Don’t that sound like something someone would say when their livelihoods are at risk? I don’t think, whatever shit the chick is into, is affecting just her, but I think it’s affecting this guy too… maybe more.

Then he mentions something really messed up. He says “it’ll happen again”, followed by a bombshell of his own, “happened again”. So he’s back with the chick currently and… whatever bad thing that happens actually happened currently.

The chick comes back and says “you mustn’t let me go … if you hurt like I do”. Damn, that’s pretty deep. So the “hurt” she’s referring to can’t be the “hurt” of not being able to do whatever addiction she has because she mentions “if you hurt like I do”, so it sounds like she’s experiencing pain in doing whatever bad shit she’s doing. It’s kinda’ weird because clearly this seems destructive on her part towards the guy and their lives… but it sounds, if she were to even question if he hurts like she does, that it must be very painful to her because we’re already getting the impression it’s very painful to the guy.

Then she mentions “I wasn’t meant to fly”. What’s this about? What is her addiction / vice? Something obvious like drugs or alcohol? Or is it something more unusual? Prostitution? Is she physically abusing the guy? Suicidal attempts? Serial killing? It’d be nice to rule one of these out but they all are plausible given the information we’ve been given so far.

The intro starts out with a discussion of church, “and that the worship is of god and not religion” and how the song sounds “churchy” and then “but not anymore”. Is that just ear candy or is that linked to her vice / addiction?

And then she makes things more complicated by saying, with her final words of the song in an oddly… labored manner (because clearly she had more time to speak in her verse), “if… you still… love”. Why would him loving her have anything to do with breaking up or wanting to stop her addiction? I think that’s clearly reference to something bad happening to her if he leaves her.

Now the guy repeats the same versus as he did from the very start of the song, but he’s only saying the first and last word. Although we’ll never know what her addiction or vices are or certain other mysteries, like what’s happened to her, we clearly know what the guy’s actions are. It clearly sounds like he knew what his choices were going to be, since he was saying them in the very start of the song.

“I … go” So he’s left her. Good, good for him. This was a fucked up situation, whatever it was. I feel whatever bad was going to happen to the chick if the guy left her probably happened.

“She … wrong” Yeah, clearly after the end of the song, both parties knew she was wrong. I think the guy was trying to fool himself in the situation. You know, actually being in love… loving someone even through all their faults.

“I … fly” Now this one is a little weird. We’ve been trained by the song to associate “flying” with relapsing and with its association with “iron butterfly”, so this could be that the guy is now doing the same thing the chick is, but that’s bull shit. I’m sure what it means is “I … fly” as in “I’m finally free of the guilt and burden that was plaguing my life.” Fly seemed to be used as a twisted metaphor for “caged, vicious animal waiting to be released” in relation to what the chick was doing, but I see him finally now using “fly” as the correct metaphor, as a caged bird… or butterfly, finally being set free. A happy ending, at least for him.

“Never … again” This one could have many different meanings if “I … fly” meant a bad thing, but come on… “never … again”? That sounds exactly like him saying that he’ll never fall in love or be involved with someone bad like her again.

Later. – MJ