"Master of Disaster" as written by and John Hiatt....
Close-some air
Choking in clean underwear
Bleeding tongue
Eight ball pounding in my lungs
Ship to shore
I can't see the coastline anymore
I shouldn't be here
I thought I made that loud and clear

But the master of disaster
Gets tangled in his telecaster
He can't play it any faster
When he plays the blues
When he had the heart to ask her
And every note just shook the plaster
Now he's just a mean old bastard
When he plays the blues

China town
Chasing that old dragon down
Madam Wong's
We play the blues with the curtains drawn
Sidewalks of white
While the LA sun beat out the night
Pounding brain
My last transmission down the drain

And the master of disaster
Gets tangled in his telecaster
He can't play it any faster
When he plays the blues
When he had the heart to ask her
And every note just shook the plaster
Now he's just a mean old bastard
When he plays the blues

There's a debt I owe
I'll never pay before I go
So I sing the blues
Hand me down my walking shoes
You're in my heart
Though we may be miles apart
There's my point
I'll see you in another joint

When the master of disaster
Gets tangled in his telecaster
He can't play it any faster
When he plays the blues
When he had the heart to ask her
And every note just shook the plaster
Now he's just a mean old bastard
When he plays the blues


Lyrics submitted by Jobimfan

"Master of Disaster" as written by John Hiatt

Lyrics © Universal Music Publishing Group

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Master of Disaster song meanings
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  • 0
    General CommentThis song appears to be about the life of a drug addict.

    The first verse is a reference to PCP abuse. "Choking in clean underwear" is hinting at withdrawl. "Clean underwear" being an extended metaphor for being sober. PCP is a muscle relaxant, and loss of bladder control is among its symptoms. The bleeding tongue would be a further result of the seizures that have been reported from large doses of PCP. An eightball is slang for an eighth (an eighth of an ounce). PCP is often smoked with marijuana ("laced"), hence the line "eightball pounding in my lungs". He's smoking ("pounding") an eighth laced with PCP. Blurred vision and incoherent speech are also symptoms. The somewhat esoteric lines, "Ship to shore; I can't see the coastline anymore; I shouldn't be here; I thought I made that loud and clear" would lend support to an extended metaphor for blurred vision, incoherent speech, and hallucinations that the singer may be experiencing.

    The chorus is a sort of stream-of-conciousness description of his past. The singer is the master of disaster (PCP addicts are known to be violent when they're high). A telecaster is a type of guitar. Playing the blues is the singer's clever way of saying, "smoking PCP". The line "When he had the heart to ask her" could be him remembering a time when he felt able to love. "Every note just shook the plaster" could be a metaphor for the passion he once felt in his life. In the next line, he leaves the past and sees himself as he is now -- "just a mean old bastard".

    The next verse elaborates on the singer's drug abuse. "Chasing that old dragon down" is a classic reference to Puff the Magic Dragon. Playing the blues continues to refer to the singer's PCP addiction. "Sidewalks of white" is the singer describing the white PCP he smokes. "The LA sun beat out the night" is drawing a comparison between the confusion that both extreme light and extreme darkness can cause. On one side, you're blind at night. On the other side, you're equally blinded by the PCP you smoke, a common drug in LA at the time. The "Pounding brain; My last transmission down the drain" being a reference to the pounding headache and inability to remember his last thought (his last "transmission).

    In the third verse, the singer refers to a debt that he owes. Perhaps it's one to society. Or maybe one to his family. But it sounds like a moral debt more than a material one. In the next few lines, the singer reveals that he's in pain:

    "Hand me down my walking shoes
    You're in my heart
    Though we may be miles apart
    There's my point
    I'll see you in another joint"

    The singer sank into drug abuse to numb his pain and bring his love back. He's longing for her, and manages to bring her back by smoking another joint (which is laced with PCP). Perhaps he's hoping to overdose so that he can finally be with her again, hence the request for his walking shoes.
    razzor7on August 08, 2005   Link
  • 0
    General CommentYou're right to say it's about drug abuse althought I disagree with the stubstance and your thoughts about his love being a woman. First of all, it's pertinent to consider that this song is somewhat a reflection of Hiatt's own experiences, as he's a recovered alcoholic and drug user. It seems highly unlikely to me that John was a PCP abuser. This becomes especially obvious in the verse:

    China town
    Chasing that old dragon down
    Madam Wong's
    We play the blues with the curtains drawn
    Sidewalks of white

    Chasing the dragon is a slang term for smoking heroin. This would fit with the earlier reference to an 8-ball. Furthermore the mention of China Town and White Sidewalks most likely refers to "China White" being regularly available on the streets of LA, especially in Asian areas as it comes from south asia, i.e. Vietnam. China white is a specific type of heroin which is said to be more pure than black tar heroin from Mexico.

    Furthemore the lines

    Hand me down my walking shoes
    You're in my heart
    Though we may be miles apart
    There's my point
    I'll see you in another joint

    Suggest a recovered drug abuser. Many former abusers say that they quite often think about their former drug of choice. John may be trying to say that heroin will always be a piece of him even though they're going to stay apart. This seems to simply be a personfication of the drug. The mention of walking shoes is most likely him realizing that he has a problem that he needs to get away from. I'll see you in another joint slightly escapes me, but it might be a reference to the afterlife. Because of the "debt he owes" that'll he'll "never pay before he goes", He will have to pay for his debt in another place.
    j33buscr1p3son August 30, 2005   Link
  • 0
    General CommentI don't know if I read into it too little but I always figured it was about a guy who made some bad choices and the ramifications of those choices has the people around him not loving him anymore. after being rejected by his friends and family he gets depressed and starts playing jazz sad bastard music. before he probably played music that was a bit more sunny, but since he's lost is inspiration he has become one of those old guys that drinks a lot and is lonely and looks like bb king

    I see what you guys mean and so I guess the choice he made was drugs over the people he loved
    annaSon April 05, 2007   Link
  • 0
    General CommentI wonder how you guys figured that out, or am I just to dumb not to see the meaning.

    Thanks for all of your interpretations.
    bear_hug20on November 17, 2008   Link
  • 0
    General CommentI echo bear hug and commend you all -
    I have a little too much familiarity with some of the substance issues discussed; that doesn't stop me from being a little perplexed by the first verse - PCP thankfully is one I've avoided but the 2nd stanza is absolutely clearly (to me anyways) about heroin.
    First could be coke?

    And yes, whether one is slogging through 12 step songs and dances or other recognitions of the carnage, there are always debts and they will never be levelled, scratch that - one will never have peace until they have been properly dealt with.

    thank you all
    Jackthebearon March 24, 2009   Link
  • 0
    General CommentAn 8/ball is COCAINE people!! Cocaine only...sidewalks of white. Smoking crack is why is head is pounding and lungs heavy. Blurred vision, he's an alcoholic/addict
    Cayer4on April 11, 2016   Link
  • 0
    General CommentVerse Two: Although the "China White" suggestion is fascinating, Madame Wongs is clearly a reference to the Chinatown restaurant of the same name. To drum up business and to try to catch the growing wave of punk music, Esther Wong began booking rock acts in the 70s, including the Ramones and the Police. True punk fans didn't consider it a real punk club--Esther shied away from the more aggressive acts and wouldn't book women at all. So between hits of smoking cocaine the singer and his buddies played the blues at Wongs. Not sure about "with curtains drawn" except that blues wasn't the usual musical fare and perhaps they jammed before/after sets of "giving the people what they wanted" That's my take. Other than stating the obvious that this protagonist really was a poor bastard.
    WestTexSandon July 05, 2016   Link

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