"Born Under Punches (The Heat Goes On)" as written by Brian Eno and David Byrne....
Take a look at these hands
Take a look at these hands
The hand speaks, the hand of a government man
Well I'm a tumbler born under punches, I'm so thin

All I want is to breathe
(I'm too thin)
Won't you breathe with me?
Find a little space, so we move in-between
(In-between it)
And keep one step ahead, of yourself

Don't you miss it, don't you miss it
Some of you people just about missed it
Last time to make plans
And I'm a tumbler, I'm a government man

Never seen anything like that before
Falling bodies tumble 'cross the floor
(Well I'm a tumbler)
When you get to where you wanna be
(Thank you! Thank you!)
When you get to where you wanna be
(Well, don't even mention it)

Oh, take a look at these hands, they're passing in-between us
Take a look at these hands
Take a look at these hands, you don't have to mention it
No thanks, I'm a government man

And the heat goes on and the heat goes on
And the heat goes on and the heat goes on
And the heat goes on where the hand has been
And the heat goes on and the heat goes on

And the heat goes on
(I got time)
And the heat goes on
And the heat goes on and the heat goes on
And the heat goes on, where the hand has been
And the heat goes on and the heat goes on

I'm not a drowning man
And I'm not a burning building! I'm a tumbler
Drowning cannot hurt a man
Fire cannot hurt a man, not the government man

All I want is to breathe
(Thank you, thank you)
Won't you breathe with me?
Find a little space so we move in-between
(I'm so thin)
And keep one step ahead of yourself
(I'm catching up with myself)

All I want is to breathe
Won't you breathe with me?
(Hands of a government man)
Find a little space so we move in-between
And keep one step ahead of yourself
(Don't you miss it! Don't you miss it!)

All I want is to breathe
Won't you breathe with me?


Lyrics submitted by exact

"Born Under Punches" as written by Chris Frantz David Byrne

Lyrics © Warner/Chappell Music, Inc., Universal Music Publishing Group

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Born Under Punches (The Heat Goes On) song meanings
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21 Comments

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  • +2
    General CommentThis could all be completely wrong but it's how I see this song in my head:
    I look at this song as being an interpretation of the way your typical Westerner was looking at the world in 1980. It's a world that was "born under punches" (2 worlds wars, a depression, etc) and now all anybody wants is stability ("to breathe"). But the only way to really achieve stability is to be a "tumbler" because the world itself is not a stable place. I think a "government man" is sort of a characterization of someone who has found (or at least feels like they have found) such stability. I agree that the drowning and the fire are references to other Talking Heads songs, especially the burning building bit.
    cfraserhon May 01, 2010   Link
  • +2
    General CommentFor the people who don't believe there is meaning to the song - David Byrne does not write meaningless lyrics. Every word is dripping with meaning, and if it sounds meaningless, that is because you don’t understand it.
    What I can figure from this song, which is undoubtedly very cryptic, is that it is about government oppression. To me this is made clear enough by the title alone.
    I don’t know about you, but the idea of the “hand of a government man” clearly gives me the visual of oppression. The hands “pass in between us”, everywhere, telling us what is right and wrong, how to live. We'd "better not miss it", “Falling bodies tumble 'cross the floor. Well I'm a tumbler!
    When you get to where you wanna be. Thank you! Thank you!”
    "Well I'm a tumbler. Born under punches. I'm so thin." punches of the gov hand, knocking him down, creating a society that starves someone like Byrne. “And the heat goes on...Where the hand has been “
    cami1leon March 16, 2013   Link
  • +1
    General Commentit sounds like an opressive government is being described... where the head officials are above normal laws, and the subjects suffer
    pikachu1559on December 25, 2004   Link
  • +1
    My Interpretation"Find a little space...So we move in-between. I'm so thin.
    And keep one step ahead of yourself""

    Sounds to me like a characterization of our position towards ethical tought. We live moving in-between good and evil, right and wrong. That's the "little space" our "thin" minds find to live in, due to our inability to think for ourselves.

    "Keep one step ahead of yourself" means not living in the present, just thinking about the future, thinking about what will be, making plans ("Last time to make plans!"). The government man says "don't you miss it!", don't miss the future, don't stop thinking rationaly, don't leave the "little space to move in-between".
    gabrielshaon March 16, 2013   Link
  • +1
    General CommentI heard “Born under punches” on the radio the other day and it caught my attention, to the extent that I really started thinking about the song. It is one of the most weirdly wonderful of any Talking Heads numbers, and highlights in many ways the best and the worst of the band, as does the entire album which it leads, Remain in Light. It is probably, along with Speaking in Tongues, the band’s most “arty” album, and as many of the band members were indeed art students, they seem to be making an, at times, awkward effort to bring the world and tradition of modern / post-modern art to the sphere of pop music.
    Recently, I discovered some outtakes of the album that were entirely instrumental, and immediately wondered why they were not included on the original record, because in my mind, they would have strengthened the case for its anti-pop aesthetic. It also seems, however, that while the band was expanding, using multi-instrumentation and guest artists, it was also contracting. See the video of Once in a Lifetime, it is a one-man show, and one that pretty much announces itself as a parody of a parody at that! Looking at some other posts online, there is some speculation that David Byrne is an aspie, which could explain some things I guess. But I am skeptical, its almost like saying yeah, so now apparently there’s a certified diagnosis for creativity (or “art,” or anything else that does not rigidly meet collective consumer expectations), cast now as its own form of mental illness!
    The words are not quite poetry, and not quite psychosis either; the song does have discernable insight and purpose, but its so vague and inconclusive. The lyrics are disjointed and dreamlike, forming confused connections that may or may not be meaningful. The main refrain throughout the song is “hands of a government man,” and some of the posts suggest that the song is about government oppression. Interestingly, this song was made almost ten years before the full on government assault on art and art funding – maybe this is in part a premonition of censorship and government meddling in peoples affairs in general, alluded to in part in other Heads songs like Don’t worry about the government and Life during wartime. The hands which “speak” and which are “passing in between us” certainly may allude to this kind of power, meddling and surveillance.
    But throughout the song, the narrator identifies himself as the government man. He is trying to gain control over a life that was “born under punches” through the acquisition of power, perhaps. A cool, distanced authority that’s used to saying “no thanks, you don’t have to mention it,” and one that ironically lectures to listeners that “some of you people just about missed it.” Of course, the counterpoint to this identity of authority is an ominous chorus singing about “falling bodies” and the beautifully crazy solo that sounds like some high tech instrument exploding into a full on red alert siren, “and the heat goes on…”
    The song does set the tone for the record: arresting, beguiling, haunting, and mystifying all at once. The only song on that album that seems to clearly be about anything is “listening wind,” another lyric that even more explicitly alludes to government and technological interference in the lives of others. Remain in Light, like a lot of works of modern art and most of the Talking Heads catalogue, for all its beauty and allure, is also pretentious and esoteric, self-conscious and ironic; it has all sorts of tantalizing hooks but don’t ultimately seem to say anything clearly or directly. Indeed because its so astonishing and arresting, it also somehow sets itself up for failure and or disappointment.
    dbaumon September 25, 2016   Link
  • 0
    General Commentit sounds like an opressive government is being described... where the head officials are above normal laws, and the subjects suffer
    pikachu1559on December 25, 2004   Link
  • 0
    General CommentThis has got the funkiest backbeat of all Heads songs beside Once In A Lifetime. "Never seen anything like that before..."
    nortymortyon August 20, 2005   Link
  • 0
    General CommentThis seems to me like the ranting deathbed confession, or drug-pumped screed of a CIA hitman, crossed with born-again sermon. He's got the fever!
    DevastatorJr.on January 10, 2006   Link
  • 0
    General CommentCool song, don't understand it. Some of the music sounds like it came out of a video game... did it?
    Reynard Muldrakeon February 24, 2006   Link
  • 0
    General CommentThis is THE song that made me a Talking Heads fan. I love Byrne's delivery of the lines "Well, I'm a tumbler...I'm a government man."
    velmaxcorganon October 31, 2006   Link

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