Film: Monkey on My Back (1954): "This unflinching biopic stars Cameron Mitchell as professional boxer Barney Ross, who earned the moniker "Pride of the Ghetto" after being crowned world champion three times and became a...
Here come the sidewalk boss again
Telling me how I can't cave in
That I'm a study in black
Need a pat on the back
I look up and smile
A picture of dissatisfaction
That he can only see as a junkie
Though I might be straight as an arrow
He's busy shaking hands with my monkey
Busy shaking hands with my monkey well I go in the car
Straight to the bar
Where my sweetie pours the beer
For the millions of fans ignoring the bands
He's in my ear
Wants me to live in denial
Says you've gotta settle for something
Though it might not be really living
Anything is better than nothing
Anything is better than nothing

No actor action man gonna move in to take my place
I'll be pumping out the product
Just a total waste.

Look at your hands unoccupied
Look at the lengths you'll go to hide
You're under the veil
Pretending to fail
Gotta whole lot of empty time left to go
Now you've gotta fill it with something
I know what you can do don't you know
Anything is better than nothing.

No actor action man gonna move in to take my place
I'll be pumping out the product
Just a total waste

I'm here with my cup
Afraid to look up
This is how I spend my time
Lazying around, head hanging down
Stuck inside my imagination
Busy making something from nothing
Pictures of hope and depression
Anything is better than nothing
Anything is better than nothing
Anything is better than nothing
Anything is better than nothing


Lyrics submitted by better_than_nothing

"New Monkey" as written by Steven P. Smith

Lyrics © Universal Music Publishing Group

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New Monkey song meanings
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36 Comments

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  • +5
    My InterpretationI think all of you guys who just assume this is all about his drug addiction aren't looking at it quite right. That is part of it, but that's not what it's about. Actually, I think one of the major points of the song IS SAYING that that's not what he's all about. I see this as being a song written, like Faceman said to people pidgeonholing him into a stereotype. But I think maybe it's even specifically written to his stepfather, who like many members of his family, thought he was worthless for what he was doing. Between his depressing attitude, his drug addiction, and his lack of a real job (writing pop songs doesn't count for them). So when he says the line:
    He�s in my ear
    Wants me to live in denial
    Says, "You�ve got to settle for something
    Though it might not be really living
    Anything is better than nothing
    Anything is better than nothing"

    It's not simply his addiction reasoning in for getting another fix. It's the side-walk boss, again. His stepfather, or the other people telling him what they think he's doing wrong. They see him as just living for nothing, because he's so depressed. They want him to "live in denial" of all the things that are making him unhappy. Though that might not be really living (AKA living in denial of everything shitty going on isn't really living, because you're lying to yourself), but hey you got to settle for something. As if they're telling him "Hey, look. I know you think the world sucks. But you can't keep letting yourself think that. It's better to pretend it's not true, and live at least a better life, than it is to remember everything that is terrible and live doing nothing with your life."

    His answer to this is:

    "This is how I spend my time
    Lazying around, head hanging down
    Stuck inside my imagination
    Busy making something from nothing
    Pictures of hope and depression""

    He's saying, "look asshole. You have no idea. I'm stuck in my own mind, with all the things I hate about my life and the world, there's no getting away from that. But I'm not doing nothing. I'm trying to make something. I'm trying to make something that will show myself and everyone around me that there is still hope, even inside this terrible depression."

    After that, he turns the phrase that was first uttered by the "side-walk boss" into his own. "Anything is better than nothing" no longer means living in denial, he's changed the meaning of the phrase and repeated it back to the original speaker, saying "At least I'm doing SOMETHING to try to change the horrible situation. I might not be some happy action man, but at least I'm doing what I can to make the world a better place, and make others happier."

    This is what I have always loved about Elliott. He may appear on the surface like a "sad-sack," but most of his songs are not just complaining about the world, but guaranteeing himself and his listeners that it's only temporary, and that things WILL get better, because they HAVE to.
    futuremothon July 21, 2010   Link
  • +1
    General CommentI think the person he's talking to his own drug craving, I know not every song of his is about drugs but to me this one is.

    Though I am quite bias because that seems to be what I'm going through right now...

    The copy I have has his vocals wayyy too low compared to the instruments, anyone know a link to a better version?
    mr_sniffleson March 23, 2006   Link
  • +1
    General Commentim pretty sure this song is talking about some issues with his record label and the creative process. it sounds like he feels he is being asked to just "pump out some product" and, given his obvious high standards in his own work, he is not wanting to release anything sub-par.
    perhapse his standards are TOO high sometimes and that, in it's self, can be frustraiting.

    the line that kind of makes up the title, "He’s busy shaking hands with my monkey" first makes me think, given the preceding lines, that he feels a bit underestimated and just chocked up to the title of being a junkie musician by his superiors at siad record label, instead of being viewed as a creative human with feelings. so they are not looking at him so much as they are looking at the "monkey on his back", i guess.
    i dont think he is validating or denying the junkie accusation because thats not the point of the song. the NEW MONKEY is the pressure to "make product".
    a little dissilusionment about the music industry, maybe? just A LITTLE. lol
    he seems to be talking about "filling his time with something", and i odnt know if that points at the idea of getting drunk/high to null out the time he feels he is wasting or something to that effect.
    but i feel the most important part of this song (or maybe its just really easy for me to relate to), is the last verse. summing up the entire song with talk about being a bit down about busting his ass to make something for nothing (not getting much out of it either finacially or artistically at that time?) but anything is better than nothing. damn right, man. anything is better than nothing.
    brandonbakeron May 22, 2007   Link
  • +1
    My InterpretationHi guys, this is my first post here so please be kind ;)

    I've just discovered this song and it's now easily one my all time favorites. I cant stop listening to it. Here's my take on it, which I believe is about depression and drug addiction... and yes I know not all of his songs are about it, but this one definitely is (in my mind).

    "Here come the sidewalk boss again
    Telling me how I can't cave in
    That I’m a study in black
    Need a pat on the back
    I look up and smile
    A picture of dissatisfaction"

    People who don't know or understand him are are patting him on the back saying "It's all going to be ok, hang in there" and all he can do is give them a fake smile.

    "That he can only see as a junkie
    Though I might be straight as an arrow
    He’s busy shaking hands with my monkey
    Busy shaking hands with my monkey"

    He believes people are just pigeon-holing him as a depressive drug addict, even when he might be straight and not on drugs, that's all they see. They're shaking hands with his 'monkey' as in a drug problem is usually called 'a monkey on your back'.

    "I go in my car
    Straight to the bar
    Where my sweetie pours the beer
    For the millions of fans ignoring the bands"

    Pretty straight forward and literal in my opinion.

    "He’s in my ear
    Wants me to live in denial
    Says, 'You’ve gotta settle for something'"

    His 'addiction' is constantly telling him 'you're fine, you don't have a problem. Just be happy with what you've got'.

    "Though it might not be really living
    Anything is better than nothing
    Anything is better than nothing"

    Here he's trying to tell himself that even though he's depressed and addicted to drugs, he's still living... Which is better than being dead.

    "No happy action man gonna to move in and take my place
    I’ll be pumping up the product
    Just a total waste"

    He's never going to be a happy go-lucky person, he's resigned to being depressed and 'pumping up the product' (injecting heroin) even though he knows he could do much more with his life.

    "Look at your hands unoccupied
    Look at the lengths you’ll go to hide
    You’re under the veil
    Pretending to fail"

    He's a shy person who evades the spotlight.

    "Got a whole lot of empty time left to go
    Now you’ve got to fill it with something
    I know what you can do, don’t you know?
    Anything is better than nothing"

    His addiction is again creeping up and coaxing him into having another fix.

    "No happy action man gonna to move in and take my place
    I’ll be pumping up the product
    Just a total waste"

    Again, reiterating he's never going to be a happy go-lucky person, he's resigned to being depressed and using drugs even though he knows he could do much more.

    "I’m here with my cup
    Afraid to look up
    This is how I spend my time
    Lazying around, head hanging down
    Stuck inside my imagination
    Busy making something from nothing
    Pictures of hope and depression"

    How obvious does it have to be? He's heavily depressed and can't escape it unless he is using.

    "Anything is better than nothing
    Anything is better than nothing
    Anything is better than nothing
    Anything is better than nothing"

    He's still trying to convince himself that 'anything is better than nothing'... having a miserable life is better than having no life at all.
    Facemanon January 28, 2009   Link
  • 0
    General Commenti honestly have no idea what its about, but this:

    "though I might be straight as an arrow
    he’s busy shaking hands with my monkey"

    pretty much scared the crap out of me
    coldcomforton March 13, 2006   Link
  • 0
    General CommentI think the person he's talking to his own drug craving, I know not every song of his is about drugs but to me this one is.

    Though I am quite bias because that seems to be what I'm going through right now...

    The copy I have has his vocals wayyy too low compared to the instruments, anyone know a link to a better version?
    mr_sniffleson March 23, 2006   Link
  • 0
    General Commentmy copy is the same... i know it's evil but I do wish his family/friends would release mastered copies of all these beautiful unreleased songs. it may not be what he wanted but come on...they are good songs, we want them!!!
    scrimshawon June 23, 2006   Link
  • 0
    General Commenti dont know but i get the feeling that this song isnt about drugs like mr_sniffles said but about trying to start in the music industry but getting nowhere. He is getting crappy gigs. He is thinking he should be happy cause its better than nothing. but he isnt happy
    put_urself_on_paron August 07, 2006   Link
  • 0
    General CommentA drug addiction is often referred to as a "monkey on your back" . . . I'm guessing that's what he is saying when he has the drug dealer or whoever it is shake hands with his monkey.
    Mellow_Harsheron March 31, 2007   Link
  • 0
    General Commentnew monkey was a name he considered for his studio in Cali. he ended up not calling it that, but that makes me think that maybe this has to do with the Dreamworks company and his relationship. it talks about it alot in Elliott Smith And The Big Nothing.

    i dunno, i'm just thinking
    drummerman91on May 09, 2007   Link

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