Another, purely literal interpretation, of course, would be “where I cannot stand” could be the sky, or outer space, since there’s nothing to stand on there.
Of course, I kind of hope it’s a more metaphorical line (along the lines of your kneeling hypothesis, or perhaps some situation where the speaker is getting whooped–either physically or psychologically–and will be forced to run/fall down–again, either physically or psychologically).
I’d say it’s both. There’s the literal, “In space, there’s no where to stand,” interpretation, but also a more broadly metaphorical situation for being in an intolerable situation, yet (as the rest of the lyrics reveal) still being able to make the most of it and live something approximating a happy life.
This refers most obviously to Mal, but I also to many of the other crewmembers. If the show had run longer, probably all of them. Mal’s intolerable situation was the Alliance’s victory and the crushing of the rebels, which forced him into his role as a smuggler. But as a smuggler, he’s free: maybe more free than he would have been if the Alliance had lost. Same with Simon, who lost his life as a core-world doctor and now has to spend his life freebooting around with a bunch of criminals. But he’s got his sister, he’s made sure she’s safe, and maybe he was going to find love and happiness with Kaylee. And then there’s Book’s mysterious past. No clear idea what it was yet, but there’s a good chance he’s on the run from something.
“Stand” also has military and moral meanings - to make a stand (in fact, Battle of Serenity was a last stand) or take a stand. Both his attempt to win the battle and his entire moral outlook were swept away.
Now that I look in Webster’s, I see it also means “to hold a course at sea.” That works too - they are kind of adrift in the 'verse.
(It also means: “of a male animal : to be available as a sire.” Could it refer to the URST with Inara? ;))
That’s how I’ve always interpreted that line – in the “making a stand” way (like Stephen King’s The Stand). I know how dangerous assumptions are, but they’re just lyrics so what the heck: I’ve always assumed that line was referring to the Battle of Serenity.
(quick hijack: Aeryn, cool username…my desktop PC is called ‘Moya’ and my laptop is ‘Talyn.’ )
We don’t know why Mal joined the Browncoats. His mother had a ranch large enough to support 50 cowpokes. That’s quite a ranch. Maybe mom didn’t want to play ball with the Alliance and payed the price? Assuming something along those lines (and that Mal loved his mom), that would take care of losing his love and his land.
Where he couldn’t stand would either be psychological (I can’t STAND it!), literal (Space, which I think is kinda weak), or physical (Battle of Serenity). I’ve always thought it was the Battle of Serenity. He tried to stand, but couldn’t.
Even though he couldn’t stand, he was able to surivive and move onto a life of freedom - giving us the last three lines. Not that Mal can really say “I don’t care”, since we know that’s bullshit. But I think he tries to act like he doesn’t care…abotu anything, really. Remember Inarra talking about how Mal always tries to put up a ruthless, amoral front, but in truth that’s all it is.
The first three are pretty obvious, except for the “Tell 'em I ain’t coming back”, and I think that’s just a reference to Mal’s whole philosophy of, ‘No matter how far the Alliance expands, I always plan to be on the edges’.
I imagine that burning the sky and boiling the sea are a reference to war, although it could also be something really bad, like what happened to Ma’s Homestead.
Something else to note is that those last three lines invoke all four of the classic elements: Fire, Earth, Water, and Air.
Why is that important? I have no idea.
Now that he’s got Serenity he’ll never give it up (see “Out of Gas”) because it represents his freedom, the most important thing to Mal.
The only reason I’ve put thought into this is because Joss has said that the theme song is very important, with each line having a meaning.
Actually, if you listen to everything people say about why Reavers become Reavers, and why Mal is the way he is, and how the battle of Serenity worked, it’s much creepier than that.
Mal said the Reaver guy was doomed to spend the rest of his life on the ship that was hit by reavers. I think it might have been in the deleted scene where Zoe talks about the battle of Serenity, but she said that once you’ve seen Serenity, you never leave it. I think they’re trying to say that Mal is a couple very short steps away from becoming a Reaver. Nathan Fillion said that one of his views of Mal is that he surrounds himself with a bunch of people because they all represent aspects of the human condition that Mal can’t feel any more–love, family, faith, happiness…