The king of the jungle
Was asleep in his car
When your chances fall in your lap like that
You've gotta recognize them for what they really are
Nobody in this house
Wants to own up to the truth
I crawl in shotgun and reach into his mouth
And grab hold of one long sharp tooth

And hold on
For dear life
I hold on

Well of course he wakes up
His paw hits the horn
I am gonna regret
The day that I was born
And then mom
Rushes out to the driveway
My sister too
Everyone's screaming
I am dreaming of you

I hold on
For dear life
I hold on

And my arms get sore
And my palms start to sweat
And the tears roll down my face
Till my cheeks are hot and red and soaking wet

In come the cops
They blowtorch the doors
I start wailing
The lion roars
There's no good way to end this
Anyone can see
There's this great big you
And little old me

And we hold on
For dear life
We hold on
We hold on


Lyrics submitted by flamebroiledchicken

Lion's Teeth song meanings
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24 Comments

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  • +7
    General CommentOkay, so I've listened to this song a lot. Here's what I think is going on -- this is what I picture in my head when I hear it.

    I think of the "lion's tooth" as a metaphor for the weapon that the stepfather uses against his family. In my brain, and perhaps because of how I grew up, I think of the weapon as money. The stepdad has the job, he has the money, and he has the power -- so he uses that power to cow his wife and kids into submission, because he could just leave at any moment and leave them all bereft.

    I see the narrator (Darnielle) as a teenager. Drawing from This Year, I think he's planning to meet a girl, but he has no money to do anything with her. When he sees his dad in the car, asleep (I have a few different ideas for why the man is sleeping in the car -- he wants to get away from the family for a nap, he's sleeping off a drunken night... Variety of reasons he could be in there), he decides to steal some of his dad's money so that he can go off and do something with this girl he likes. Maybe a part of it is to take away some of his dad's imaginary power by emptying his wallet.

    So he "reaches into his mouth" (pants) and grabs the "lion's tooth" (the wallet), and his father wakes up, and in so doing, hits the horn.

    At that point, the stepfather becomes aware of what's happening and gets furious, locks the doors from the inside and starts to beat the narrator, holding him down so he can't escape or unlock the doors and just wailing on him. The narrator's arms become sore because he's using them to shield his face and his body. The mother and sister come out, and the police are summoned -- somehow, I doubt by the mother, more likely from a neighbor -- and the police start breaking the car doors open. When the narrator starts wailing, I imagine that the father has finally landed a good blow and broken a rib or maybe an arm or something.

    The "we hold on," I think just applies to everyone in the situation. The narrator holds on, his mother and sister hold on, and even the stepfather holds on -- everyone there is emotionally damaged in some way, stuck in a loop with each other, stuck in the situation and their own expectations and the behavioral problems they can't modify. Even though the stepfather is the abuser, I see him as much a victim of himself as anyone else.

    Not that I'm excusing abuse, because abuse is evil. But I learned when I got a little older that eventually you realize what a pathetic person the abuser really is, how sad and trapped they are in their little scheme of power. Nothing in their life went right, and this is all they really have.

    So yeah, that's my take. Thanks for reading.
    kidophauxon February 04, 2011   Link
  • +4
    My InterpretationI think that:
    1. the lion is the abuser in the car
    2. and the YOU (from the line "I am dreaming of you") is the same abuser but in the author "flashbacks" while he struggles with the abuser in the car.
    3. because at one point the YOU shows as the lion in the car scene: "I start wailing
    The lion roars".... "There's this great big you And little old me"
    4. It makes sense for me b/c if "you" were the girlfriend, he wouldn't call her "great big you"
    5. At the end he (the author) seems to get even with the abuser "anyone can see (the cops), There's this great big you and little old me"
    6. Now, considering that "the lion" and "you" are the same person, read the lyrics again...

    Let me know your thoughts.
    Thanks.
    Hamzaon May 30, 2012   Link
  • +2
    General CommentThe lion's tooth appears to be is a symbol of power. The lion is nothing without his teeth - an attempt to pull out the tooth is an attempt to take away the lion's ability to use his brute force to harm others. But in the end, the king of the jungle is going to win out - "there's this great big you, and little old me".
    subsoothon August 14, 2009   Link
  • +1
    General Comment"Hot, red, and soaking wet" is the face of someone who's been crying.

    Wrestling a lion has been a metaphor for confronting something vastly more powerful than you since at least the book of Daniel. The details of this particular confrontation aren't all laid out here, but there's more than enough to get the sense of it: the fear, and the reality, of being overmatched, and the sense of terror and helplessness that comes when you realize you're not going to be able to hold on any longer, and the thing you've tried to conquer will smite you.

    At least, when I had this confrontation with my own father, that's pretty much how it played out. Most of what I get out of the songs on _The Sunset Tree_ is the shock of recognition.

    My girlfriend and I saw Darnielle give a talk the other night in San Francisco, and someone asked about his family's reaction to his autobiographical songs, and he said, "My mother said, 'Your stepfather did a lot of good things, too.'" We just laughed about this afterwards. My mom would totally say that about my dad, and I've actually *heard* her mom say almost exactly the same thing about her stepfather. Yeah, he did a lot of good things too. Keep believing that makes things okay, Mom.
    uhhhclemon February 27, 2009   Link
  • 0
    General Commentit's about taking a risky opportunity, and sticking to your decision 'till the end.
    steevven1on October 23, 2005   Link
  • 0
    General CommentI actually heard that this was about his stepfather beating him as a child
    GroovieGhoulon December 10, 2005   Link
  • 0
    General CommentSupposedly every song off The Sunset Tree is about being beaten by his stepfather. It's also the first album that john took from his real life.
    Howiemaanon January 05, 2006   Link
  • 0
    General CommentIt seems to me that thi song is talking about him finally confronting his step father, after he finds him passed out in the car, assuming of course that the "lion" is his step father, by equating "king of the jungle" with "man of the house." he sees this and resolves to confront him and sneaks out to the car, the confrontation results in a deadlock, the details of which are unknown, and the police show up to try to resolve it. my guess is that he has a gun to his step fathers head or possibly in his mouth: "I crawl in shotgun and reach into his mouth." For several reasons, it seems likely that that is a confrontation worthy of police intervention, and because he talk about his palms getting sweaty and his arms getting tired, which would happen if you were holding a gun to someones head, and he talks about "I hold on for dear life, I hold on." After the police break apart the confrontation he changes the lyrics to "and we hold on for dear life, we hold on." which can be taken literally and figuratively, he could be hugging in reconsiliation, but more likely it means that the family holds together despite of the confrontation.
    klysandral_1on January 15, 2006   Link
  • 0
    General CommentI love the line "everyone is screaming, I am dreaming of you." Wonder if the you is a friend, girlfriend in his life that he used as an escape from the pain at home. Just a wild guess, at any rate really amazing song.
    LeslieAnnLevineon February 06, 2006   Link
  • 0
    General CommentNo...Shotgun: Front Passenger's Seat. The 'king of the jungle' was asleep in his car. He 'crawled in shotgon...' I don't really even think it's a play on words to suggest he was also holding a gun to his mouth.

    But yea, I agree it's about his Dad.
    Daveallroundon February 06, 2006   Link

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