Jockey Full of Bourbon – Unraveling the Tapestry of American Storytelling


You can view the lyrics, alternate interprations and sheet music for Tom Waits's Jockey Full of Bourbon at Lyrics.org.
Article Contents:
  1. Music Video
  2. Lyrics
  3. Song Meaning
  4. The Charade of Edna Million: A Dissection of Character
  5. Tottering on Broken Dreams: The Plight of the Protagonist
  6. The Devil’s Tail and Cuban Jail: Allegory of the American Psyche
  7. The Fiery Home: Dissecting the Song’s Chorus and its Haunting Repetition
  8. The Iconic One-Liners: Embracing the Essence of Tom Waits’s Lyrical Genius

Lyrics

Edna Million in a drop-dead suit
Dutch Pink on a downtown train
Two-dollar pistol but the gun won’t shoot
I’m in the corner in the pouring rain
Sixteen men on a dead man’s chest
And I’ve been drinking from a broken cup
Two pairs of pants and a mohair vest
I’m full of bourbon, I can’t stand up

Hey little bird, fly away home
Your house is on fire, your children are alone
Hey little bird, fly away home
Your house is on fire, your children are alone

Schiffer broke a bottle on Morgan’s head
And I’ve been stepping on the Devil’s tail
Across the stripes of a full moon’s head
And through the bars of a Cuban jail
Bloody fingers on a purple knife
Flamingo drinking from a cocktail glass
I’m on the lawn with someone else’s wife
Admire the view from up on top of the mast

Hey little bird, fly away home
House is on fire, your children are alone
Hey little bird, fly away home
House is on fire, your children are alone

I said hey little bird, fly away home
House is on fire, your children are alone
Hey little bird, fly away home
House is on fire, your children are alone

Yellow sheets on a Hong Kong bed
Stazybo horn and a Slingerland ride
“To the carnival” is what she said
A hundred dollars makes it dark inside

Edna Million in a drop-dead suit
Dutch Pink on a downtown train
Two-dollar pistol but the gun won’t shoot
I’m in the corner in the pouring rain

Hey little bird, fly away home
Your house is on fire, your children are alone
Hey little bird, fly away home
Your house is on fire, your children are alone

Full Lyrics

Tom Waits, a musical raconteur known for his gravelly voice and rich narratives set to song, once again captivates his audience with ‘Jockey Full of Bourbon’. Behind the seemingly straightforward tale, a complexity of American life is vividly woven into an auditory masterpiece. The song, stemming from his 1985 album ‘Rain Dogs’, is a tapestry featuring threads of various facets of life’s underbelly, painting a landscape that is as sparse as it is detailed.

This critical exploration dives deep into the heart of Waits’s lyrical ingenuity, uncovering the rich subtext and painting a broader picture of the song’s thematic resonance. Through a mosaic of characters and allegorical imageries, ‘Jockey Full of Bourbon’ stands as a testament to the struggles, escapism, and the quest for redemption that resonates with the human condition.

The Charade of Edna Million: A Dissection of Character

Edna Million, adorned in her ‘drop-dead suit’, instantaneously captures our attention. The character, possibly a woman of ambition and desire, serves as a metaphor for the glitzy façade of success that often belies a tenuous reality. She rides the downtown train, surrounded by the squalor of the urban jungle, armed only with a ‘two-dollar pistol’ that refuses to fire— a nod to futility amidst adversity.

Edna’s dichotomy represents the extremes of metropolitan existence, suspended between opulence and destitution, her impending doom is as much a part of her as her drop-dead attire. Waits’s choice to juxtapose this imagery with the pouring rain possibly alludes to the ceaseless trials or perhaps the cleansing of sins urban life necessitates.

Tottering on Broken Dreams: The Plight of the Protagonist

Waits himself emerges as the bourbon-laden protagonist who, despite his impaired state, delivers poignant observations. The ‘sixteen men on a dead man’s chest’ may reflect the classic pirate lore, yet it serves a dual purpose, alluding to the burdens we all carry and the shared folklore that binds us as a culture.

The ‘broken cup’ from which the narrator drinks epitomizes the fractured American Dream, signifying that despite having everything—one’s dreams, desires, and life—can still be irrevocably shattered. And as it stands, the narrator’s ‘mohair vest’ and dual ‘pairs of pants’ may symbolize preparedness, but they are no protection against the incapacity brought on by excess.

The Devil’s Tail and Cuban Jail: Allegory of the American Psyche

Developing a demonic motif, Waits steps ‘on the Devil’s tail,’ a line rich in allegory, possibly stressing the ever-present temptation and risk inherent in our decisions. The ‘full moon’s head’ and ‘Cuban jail’ continue to build on this picture, weaving a tale of entrapment and the repercussions of wayward adventures.

The Cuban jail, in particular, may not only signify literal confinement but also the geopolitical unrest that looms over the United States, often resulting in an internal sense of captivity for those who oppose or fall victim to the prevailing political climate.

The Fiery Home: Dissecting the Song’s Chorus and its Haunting Repetition

The chorus, undeniably haunting, penetrates with a message both stark and cryptic. The little bird—a symbol of innocence, perhaps youth—is urged to flee disaster. The imagery of a house ablaze and children left unguarded wrestles with themes of abandonment and urgency.

Repeated pleas to the little bird convey a sense of desperation and the unavoidable nature of tragedy in life. There seems to be a hidden call to action, a warning that echoes beyond the lyrics, nudging listeners towards a realization of crises both personal and collective that require immediate attention.

The Iconic One-Liners: Embracing the Essence of Tom Waits’s Lyrical Genius

Tom Waits’s songs are treasure troves of memorable lines that paint vivid pictures with a minimalistic brush. ‘Two-dollar pistol but the gun won’t shoot,’ for instance, brilliantly encapsulates the concept of deceiving appearances and the disappointing reality that often follows.

Similarly, ‘I’m on the lawn with someone else’s wife’ portrays indiscretion and discontent, and ‘Admire the view from up on top of the mast’ may suggest a higher perspective on life’s chaos—a temporary respite or a moment of clarity before the inevitable return to discord. Each phrase is carefully selected to evoke an emotional response, and ‘Jockey Full of Bourbon’ is replete with such lyrical gems that continue to fascinate and provoke thought.

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