"Jackson Cage" as written by and Bruce Springsteen....
Driving home she grabs something to eat
Turns a corner and drives down her street
Into a row of houses she just melts away
Like the scenery in another man's play
Into a house where the blinds are closed
To keep from seeing things she don't want to know
She pulls the blinds and looks out on the street
The cool of the night takes the edge off the heat

In the Jackson Cage
Down in the Jackson Cage
You can try with all your might
But you're reminded every night
That you been judged and handed life
Down in the Jackson Cage

Every day ends in wasted motion
Just crossed swords on the killing floor
To settle back is to settle without knowing
The hard edge that you're settling for
Because there's always just one more day
And it's always gonna be that way
Little girl you've been down here so long
I can tell by the way that you move you belong to

The Jackson Cage
Down in Jackson Cage
And it don't matter just what you say
Are you tough enough to play the game they play
Or will you just do your time and fade away
Down into the Jackson Cage, let's go

Baby there's nights when I dream of a better world
But I wake up so downhearted girl
I see you feeling so tired and confused
I wonder what it's worth to me or you
Just waiting to see some sun
Never knowing if that day will ever come
Left alone standing out on the street
'Til you become the hand that turns the key down in

Jackson Cage
Down in Jackson Cage
Well darlin' can you understand
The way that they will turn a man
Into a stranger to waste away
Down in the Jackson Cage


Lyrics submitted by oofus

"Jackson Cage" as written by Bruce Springsteen

Lyrics © Sony/ATV Music Publishing LLC, Universal Music Publishing Group, Downtown Music Publishing

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Jackson Cage song meanings
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  • +4
    My InterpretationJackson, New Jersey is a nondescript suburban town adjacent to Freehold, Springsteen's home town, in central New Jersey. Six Flags Great Adventure is there. I used to work there. It was the most miserable job I ever had.

    To me this song is about the way we imprison ourselves, or become imprisoned, by unfulfilling lives and the challenge to just keep our bills paid and a roof over our head, putting our dreams on hold or giving them up entirely.

    In this case, Springsteen is probably imagining someone in a low-paying, dead end, pointless job, who works just to keep their head above water - a common theme in Springsteen's lyrics as any fan will recognize.

    If you follow the lyrics, he's talking to someone who clearly seems tired, dispirited, and resigned to her fate. And he's wondering, basically, if they are damned.

    I feel the same way.
    Quag7on September 25, 2009   Link
  • +2
    General CommentCan't believe no one has commented on this one...

    This, to me, is one of the few standouts off of the Boss' double-album "The River". The lyrics are gut wrenching... the song seems to tell the story of a woman who cannot escape from the enviornment in which she lives - The Jackson Cage. I guess it's open to interpretation as to what the "Jackson Cage" really is. I like to think of it as a city where all of this happens. My favorite lyric is in the chorus:
    "You can try with all your might
    But you're reminded every night
    That you've been judged, and handed life
    Down in the Jackson Cage"
    That line about being "handed life" kinda sums up the life that the two characters are living in this song.
    springsegeron August 29, 2006   Link
  • +2
    General CommentThis might be stretching it, but the phrase "Jackson cage" appears in Faulkner's As I Lay Dying, and Faulkner and Springsteen talk about a lot of the same types of people even if from diff. areas - I'm sure Bruce has read this book at any rate.
    ExitFlaggeron July 18, 2011   Link
  • +1
    General CommentI believe this song is about Bruce's mother. He masks this by a) calling her "girl" , b) saying she "grabs something to eat, which never would have happened at the time and c) making it a loud rocker rather than the plaintive cry that it really is. I picked all this up listening to John Wesley Harding's wrenching cover, which is a quiet and haunting acoustic version that brings the lyrics out front.

    After the first verse, the song tracks almost word for word what Bruce has said from the stage and elsewhere about his home life, but this time from his mom's perspective.

    "Every day ends in wasted motion
    Just crossed swords on the killing floor
    To settle back is to settle without knowing
    The hard edge that you're settling for"

    Wasted motion/crossed swords: Bruce and his dad fought all the time in the kitchen and wound up screaming at each other.

    Settling back: Bruce has said that his mom would "set her hair" and fall asleep watching TV.

    The singer asks: will you just do your time and fade away? - This Bruce's question to his mother.

    "Just waiting to see some sun
    Never knowing if that day will ever come
    Left alone standing out on the street
    Till you become the hand that turns the key down in"

    From an early age Bruce has been obsessed with using music to break free of his father and the life he thought was his destiny. In this verse, he is expressing his doubts about whether it will happen. He has said that his fights would always end up with him running out of the house, standing outside still screaming at his father. But then the singer looks forward to the day that his "hand will turn the key" opening the Jackson Cage.

    In the final verse, Bruce explains himself to his mother one more time, saying "darlin' can you understand, the way that they will turn a man into a stranger to waste away, down in the Jackson Cage." This was Bruce's great fear: that he would turn into his father, a bitter and likely bipolar person (as reported in the latest Bruce biography, I'm not making this up). The singer is telling the girl, it can't be that person, I hope you understand and take some solice in my escape.

    Two songs later on the first side of the original River double LP is the song Independence Day, which Bruce has said is his declaration of independence from his dad.

    Last point if you haven't heard this before: the title track tells the story of Bruce's sister Ginny, who got pregnant and married her high school boyfriend (they are still married, btw). Bruce debuted the song at No Nukes saying, "This is about my sister."

    Besides listening carefully to Bruce over the years, the main sources for this analysis are the recent bio "Bruce" that includes interviews with his mother, and the story Bruce would tell during concerts in the 70s as the intro to "It's My Life."

    PS - Thanks for the interpretations of the term Jackson Cage above. They all seem devastatingly accurate.
    jaygee59on December 03, 2013   Link
  • 0
    General CommentYeah these are great lyrics. Basically it's just a comparison between a place that someone is stuck living in and a jail. That line about being judged and handed life is an awesome one, because it drives home that concept of a town like jail and also the notion that sometimes you can feel stuck because of forces outside your control, almost like a punishment for something you don't know you did.
    z4ckm0rrison July 25, 2007   Link
  • 0
    General Commentalso, Jackson is a town in nj, where bruce grew up
    spiritinthenighton June 13, 2009   Link
  • 0
    General CommentI live in Jackson, NJ.
    I live in the Jackson cage. It suffocates you more each day, and whether or not this was actually written with this town in mind, he sure as hell hit the nail on the head. Only Bruce could describe things so perfectly.
    NinaLouiseon May 31, 2010   Link
  • 0
    My OpinionI agree with many of the thoughts so far presented, saying it's about having dreams thwarted by the needs of working-eating-keeping a roof, etc, and how it can grind us down to a nub, sapping our spirit. I specifically want to comment about the final lines "til you become the hand that turns the key to the Jackson Cage", as the way I see this line is a thought that has long fascinated me about human nature.

    Regardless of how miserable the working life makes a specific person, my general perception and experience has been that parents' advice to their children seems to usually be practicality as opposed to actually following dreams. Making sure that a college major is one that will result in the greatest chance for employment, instead of actually learning to do what the child's love is and taking a chance on actually being happy. It may not be a parent's intention, but the result of such advice seems to me to be Misery Loves Company. And I to me that's what that line in the song brings to mind - that yes, this life has made me miserable, but when the time comes, I'm going to give advice, based on nothing but practicality, that will likely result in repeating prior generations' mistakes, resulting in continuing misery.

    I understand that life is more complicated than just Follow Your Dreams, but at the same time, Nothing Ventured, Nothing Gained, and a "Job", meaning something you're doing JUST to pay bills and stay alive, something you have no love for, is always in the hands of the owner/,anger of said business, and can always be taken away, resulting in nothing but wasted time. Yes, even doing what your love can have the same consequence, but the time isn't wasted....and yet very single piece of advice I've ever seen a parent give a child was based on nothing but pragmatism.

    As Jackson Browne said: "No matter what you THINK you have, you have nothing to lose". Not an easy code to live by, and most of us don't.
    force263on November 25, 2014   Link
  • -1
    General CommentThe title from the song comes from an actual prison. Jackson, MI is home to the Southern Michigan Correctional Facility, I believe it's called. At the time The River and this song came out, the Jackson prison was the largest walled prison in the country, thus the name Jackson Cage.
    und47on June 12, 2009   Link

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