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Sticks and stones will break my bones,
But i always will be true, and when
Your mama is dead and gone,
I'll sing this lullabye just for you,
And what becomes of all the little boys,
Who never comb their hair,
Well they're lined up all around the block,
On the nickel over there.

So you better bring a bucket,
There is a hole in the pail,
And if you don't get my letter,
Then you'll know that i'm in jail,
And what becomes of all the little boys,
Who never say their prayers,
Well they're sleepin' like a baby,
On the nickel over there.

And if you chew tobacco, and wish upon a star,
Well you'll find out where the scarecrows sit,
Just like punchlines between the cars,
And i know a place where a royal flush,
Can never beat a pair, and even thomas jefferson,
Is on the nickel over there.

So ring around the rosie, you're sleepin' in the rain,
And you're always late for supper,
And man you let me down again,
I thought i heard a mockingbird, roosevelt knows where,
You can skip the light, with grady tuck,
On the nickel over there.

So what becomes of all the little boys,
Who run away from home,
Well the world just keeps gettin' bigger,
Once you get out on your own,
So here's to all the little boys,
The sandman takes you where,
You'll be sleepin' with a pillowman,
On the nickel over there.

So let's climb up through that button hole,
And we'll fall right up the stairs,
And i'll show you where the short dogs grow,
On the nickel over there.



Lyrics taken from http://www.lyricsmode.com/lyrics/t/tom_waits/on_the_nickel.html

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songmeanings

  • u
    -0
    UnregisteredMar 2, 2012 at 5:51 pm
    In a live recording waits refers to 5th street in downtown la, which is where the down and out live, drink and hustle and refer to it as the nickle, aka 5th street
  • u
    -0
    UnregisteredDec 26, 2011 at 5:39 am
    I have not sorted through the lyrics to see how well it holds up, but i've always had the impression that "on the nickel" refers to a dream state, where one can fall up stairs, a pair beats a royal flush, short dogs grow, etc. Perhaps on the nickel refers to the money left by the tooth fairy, a loose reference to dreams of boys.
  • u
    -0
    UnregisteredDec 1, 2011 at 4:24 am
    The nickle is a bar in la . I think he is referring to some of people in the movie, i think it more like being in an unreal life on the streets ie climb up through the button hole and fall right up the stairs drunk
  • u
    -0
    UnregisteredNov 8, 2011 at 11:39 pm
    I thought 'on the nickel' referred to being down and out and begging for change? Which speaking as one of the little boys that never combed their hair, is about right.
  • t
    -0
    texasnomadJun 22, 2010 at 2:44 am
    The song has some similarities to Step Right Up on Tom Wait's album Small Change in that it lists an endless litany of clichés associated with parental advice (such as not chewing tobacco, and saying your prayers and the sandman taking you away) as opposed to advertising slogans in Step Right Up. Is it merely a coincidence that a nickel happens to be small change?

    However, the sentiment is totally different. While the purpose of Step Right Up is to mock the vacuity of "Advertising signs that con you into thinking your the one" in the words of Bob Dylan, in this song, the father gives this advice to his son in a desperately sincere attempt to steer him away from the path of destruction that he himself appears to be headed down since he says he is likely headed to jail.

    Many of the difficult allusions become more comprehensible in this light. For example, if the son doesn't say his prayers, he will end up in jail like his father. Or worse, he will end up on the nickel just like the dead presidents (Jefferson and Roosevelt) or the boys lined up all around who are sleeping like a baby (dead) on the nickel. The nickel is also a symbol of the son making a dangerous wager with fate Symbolized by flipping a coin like gambling with his life. However, the fact that a coin is also minted means that it has already been cast in the mould of his father, which suggests that the son may have no choice in this wager especially since his father has chosen the wrong course, will be going to jail, and since his absence will prevent him from guiding his son away from the same path. Besides the nickel could also suggest poverty, I’m reminded of the phrase “Brother could spare a dime?” from the Great Depression and Franklin D. Roosevelt is mentioned here.

    The scarecrow sitting like punch lines between the cars suggests that the kids in this rundown neighborhood are like a frightened line of lame duck dummies forced to hustle for a buck or to sell nickel bags of dope while being run over (punched) in gang related violence, thus becoming victims of traffic whether it be cars, drugs or arms trafficking. The scarecrow in early English literature was sometimes applied to an actual person employed to keep birds and other predators out of the field and in romantic folklore they were sometimes viewed as a substitute for human sacrifice. Thus, the scarecrows could be these juvenile hired hands, who become sacrificial victims of the violence caught in the crossfire of organized crime.

    The Sandman becomes a symbol of death as well since the sandman literally takes the child away to the world of unconsciousness, but figuratively we turn into dust when we die. Ashes to ashes, dust to dust.

    The last verse seems to be alluding to entering the next world. The images of climbing up through a button hole and falling up stairs suggests entering another world, but the ultimate destination of this journey is ambiguous: will it be up or down, Heaven or hell. A man passing through a button hole could also refer to Jesus’ reference to it being easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle than a rich man to enter the kingdom of God. Here, the father appears to question both his and his son salvation, especially since they fall as they climb the stairs. However, the father ends on an optimistic note by showing his son a place where the short dogs, such as the father and son who are downtrodden, can grow. Here, the nickel takes on the dichotomy of Heaven and Hell since our eternal destiny in Christianity is a two sided coin with one side being the losing one.
    Jeff

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