"Madman Across the Water" as written by Elton John and Bernie Taupin....
I can see very well
There's a boat on the reef with a broken back
And I can see it very well
There's a joke and I know it very well
It's one of those that I told you long ago
Take my word I'm a madman don't you know

Once a fool had a good part in the play
If it's so would I still be here today
It's quite peculiar in a funny sort of way
They think it's very funny everything I say
Get a load of him, he's so insane
You better get your coat dear
It looks like rain

We'll come again next Thursday afternoon
The In-laws hope they'll see you very soon
But is it in your conscience that you're after
Another glimpse of the madman across the water

I can see very well
There's a boat on the reef with a broken back
And I can see it very well
There's a joke and I know it very well
It's one of those that I told you long ago
Take my word I'm a madman don't you know

The ground's a long way down but I need more
Is the nightmare black
Or are the windows painted
Will they come again next week
Can my mind really take it


Lyrics submitted by RainbowDemon

"Madman Across the Water" as written by Elton John, Bernie Taupin

Lyrics © Universal Music Publishing Group

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Madman Across the Water song meanings
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  • +3
    My InterpretationI can see very well.
    There's a boat on the reef with a broken back
    And I can see it very well.

    I imagine he's in a home for the mentally insane and
    looking out of his window from his room he has a view of a beach.
    A short ways off shore there is a small wooden boat that has run 'aground' on a reef.
    The boat's back is broken. He feels as though he is the boat.
    The boat was trying to make it back to shore, but couldn't.
    He was trying to make it back to sanity, but couldn't.

    There's a joke and I know it very well,
    It's one of those that I told you long ago.
    Take my word I'm a madman don't you know.

    A long time ago he tried to talk to his loved ones (family) about his problem.
    They wouldn't believe him, they thought he must be joking.
    Now his family sees him as a sad joke.

    Once a fool had a good part in the play,

    His family feels that he was born into a good family, with good financial and emotional support.
    He foolishly squandered his resources and benefits and is now unable to cope.

    If it's so would I still be here today?

    If he was raised so good, and his family gave him all the opportunities he could need then,
    why is he still in the nut house?

    It's quite peculiar in a funny sort of way,
    They think it's very funny everything I say.
    Get a load of him, he's so insane

    He feels that his family laughs at him behind his back.

    You'd better get your coat dear
    It looks like rain.

    The visit is over, they are getting to leave.

    We'll come again next Thursday afternoon.
    The Inlaws hope they'll see you very soon.

    Things that they are saying to him as they are getting ready to leave.

    But is it in your conscience that you're after
    Another glimpse of the Madman across the Water.

    The reason why he thinks they visit him is just to
    take another look at their crazy relative.

    I can see very well.
    There's a boat on the reef with a broken back
    And I can see it very well.
    There's a joke and I know it very well,
    It's one of those that I told you long ago.
    Take my word I'm a madman don't you know.

    The ground's a long way down but I need more.

    The distance from his window to the ground is not far enough
    to guarantee death if he were to jump.

    Is the nightmare black
    or are the windows painted?

    Many crazy people retreat from the 'outside world' or reality
    into their minds where they are more comfortable.
    His room represents his inside world and the windows represent
    a view to the outside world or reality,
    a place that is "nightmarish" to him.

    Will they come again next week,
    Can my mind really take it?

    He really hates it when he gets visitors.
    He wishes that they would just forget about him and
    leave him alone. He feels like a spectacle in a freak show.

    We'll come agan next Thursday afternoon.
    The Inlaws hope they'll see you very soon.
    But is it in your conscience that you're after
    Another glimpse of the Madman across the Water.
    rockslideron July 05, 2009   Link
  • +2
    Song MeaningI have a different interpretation. The madman is not really a madman; he is merely perceived as a madman; and he views the ones that see him as a mere curiosity as mad. The madman is a recluse comparable to "The fool on the hill." In the Beatles song, other people considered him a fool, but the fool "never listens to them, he knows that they're the fools. They don't like him. But the fool on the hill sees the sun going down and the eyes in his head see the world spinning round."

    The madman "can see very well," a sign of sanity, not insanity. The image he clearly sees is very significant: the boat on the reef with a broken back signifies something broken in his life and that is why he is stranded in life. The joke that he knows very well is "take my word I'm a madman don't you know." In other words, he doesn't consider himself a madman.

    The madman was the fool who had a good part in the play; in other words, his life had been good until misfortune (represented by the broken boat) caused him to be where he is today. Others that see him think he is insane, and that everything he says is funny; but clearly the madman does not share their viewpoint. The others quickly leave when it looks like it will "rain." probably a metaphor for trouble. Thus the madman sees these people as very shallow, and have not had the madman's depth of experience (he has had to deal with bigger problems than "rain").

    Although the madman is not crazy, what drives him crazy is the in-laws treating him as a freak-show curiousity. When he asks "Is the nightmare black or are the windows painted?" he quickly follows that with another question: "Will they come again next week, can my mind really take it?" In other words, the in-laws are the nightmare and are making him crazy. Finally, the madman asks us to evaluate our own conscience. Is treating him as a freak-show curiousity the right thing to do? This is a rather sensible question for a "madman."
    mark2marieon July 24, 2010   Link
  • +1
    General CommentI think this song is about Bernie's new inlaws driving him crazy after her married Maxine. I'm not positive, but I think they had moved to England for a while and her parents missed her. I do'nt know why everyone hates this song. It blew me away the first time I heard it. I was driving home and it was raining.
    suzy43on January 01, 2007   Link
  • +1
    General Comment"Take my word Im a madman don't you know?"

    I think that line is so awesome.
    ImNeilYoungon May 19, 2009   Link
  • +1
    Song MeaningHaving been around when this song first came out in the early 70's let me give you a historical perspective. Back then, we always though the madman was he was refering to was Nixon and the "boat on the reef with a broken back" refered to the ship of state. The "good part in a play" refered to being Vice President under Eisenhower. The in laws refered to his daughter Julie Nixon marrying Eisenhower's grandson. The joke and the think it's very funny everything I say, refered to his, "and you won't have Dick Nixon to kick around anymore" after loosing the California Gov. race in 1962 and his appearance on "Laugh In" when he said,"Sock it to me," in 1968.
    Remember that was a different time. People wrote songs for other purposes than just making money.
    coa4thvaon January 29, 2011   Link
  • +1
    General CommentThe version with Mick Ronson on guitar
    is one of the best rock songs ever created.
    kyuss67on August 20, 2011   Link
  • 0
    General CommentThis is definately Elton's most under-rated song, but I have no clue what it means. Kinda sounds like this guy is going crazy and seeing weird images.
    kfe2on January 28, 2006   Link
  • 0
    General CommentI think this song is autobiographical. The Madman Across the Water is Elton John himself, being from the UK and making it big in the US.

    Elton John is brilliant. Most of the time brilliant people are chastised and misunderstood, thus the lines, “They think it's very funny everything I say, Get a load of him, he's so insane.”

    Undoubtedly he was probably chastised by his family, which is also typical of brilliant people. “You'd better get your coat dear, it looks like rain. We'll come again next Thursday afternoon. The In-laws hope they'll see you very soon….Will they come again next week, can my mind really take it?”
    seeteeon February 12, 2006   Link
  • 0
    General CommentI've heard from a few people that the Madman in question is Richard Nixon, but I dont' think it quite fits.
    wayuptownon July 27, 2007   Link
  • 0
    General CommentThis is easily one of Elton's most powerful and yet underrated songs. If you ever get the chance, give a listen to Bruce Hornsby's interpretation of it on the Elton/Bernie Tribute album "Two Rooms".
    At this point, the meaning for me is rather abstract...I agree with what one person said about the song being autobiographical. I also think that the person (Suzy34) who mentioned it was about Bernie's wife and in-laws driving him crazy. They may both be right. They may both be wrong too. Hard to say. I also agree with Suzy about the song blowing me away. Its is easily his most intense and darkest piece of all.
    Moonshadow1968on August 03, 2007   Link

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