"White Tooth Man" as written by and Samuel Ervin Beam....
Said the plain clothes cop to the beauty queen
"Ive seen nothing but a spoke in a wheel"
So she gave up her crown to a kid with a crutch
And they both felt cheated after closing the deal

And the white tooth man, I ran with him
Got all cut up from pissing out in the weeds
And a fight upstate with a broken blade
And a wife whose finger never wanted a ring

Said the plain clothes cop to the Indian chief
"I've made nothing but an honest mistake"
The postman cried while reading the mail
And we all got trampled in the Christmas parade

And the white tooth man who sold me a gun
A map of Canaan and a government bond
Said, "I love this town, but it ain't the same"
The ski mask ripped as he was putting it on

Said the plain clothes cop to the holy ghost
"I've heard nothing if it wasn't the wind"
And we all got sick on a strip club meal
While the statehouse was frying all the witches again

So the white tooth man with his kids in the car
And a wad of money that was already spent
Said, "I love my dog but she just ran away
She'll keep running like the world never ends"


Lyrics submitted by TDeMello

"White Tooth Man" as written by Samuel Ervin Beam

Lyrics © Warner/Chappell Music, Inc.

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White Tooth Man song meanings
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18 Comments

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  • +2
    General CommentThe plain clothes cop is shooting down everyone he talks to. When he refers to the beauty queen as a spoke in the wheel, I think he's calling her a mindless cog in our society. When he says to the chief that all he's done is make an honest mistake, he's giving the Indian chief a big "fuck you," and when he says to the holy ghost (God) that he's never heard anything that wasn't the wind, he's basically saying he's never experienced anything to make him believe in God.
    hotsnakeson October 10, 2007   Link
  • +2
    General CommentIn a nutshell, I believe this song to be about how morality is slipping away from humanity.

    The plain clothes cop isn't literally a plain clothes cop, but a metaphor for the opinion of the general public; the idea that beauty queens are nothing but a spoke in the wheel, not caring about the Indian chief, the lack of belief in God. The plain clothes cop is really just humanity.

    The beauty queen, who is upset at being called a spoke in the wheel, proves that she is better than just another cog in the machine. She gives a physical gift to a cripple, the thing she knows best (physical beauty). However, because the kid with the crutch doesn't really have a need for it, it's really an "incorrect" gift to give, thus making the beauty queen ignorant. This further proves how crappy humanity is, and to make it worse, she realizes it wasn't really what she wanted to begin with, since it didn't really make her look any better.

    Now the white tooth man is a man with a perfect smile, physically looking like a nice person. But again, morality is slipping and it is not surprising that he commits the crime of robbery even though he has a white tooth smile.

    In the final stanza, the cop tells the holy spirit that because he cannot physically hear God, he doesn't believe him. And again, the plain clothes cop is the general public, not literally a cop. Religion has slipped away from people's morals. Most importantly in the last stanza, it is likely the dog is what is truly important, since dogs tend to be loyal, trustworthy, etc. He will keep running away from what is happening to humanity until the world ends.
    meowmeowlincolnon January 22, 2010   Link
  • +1
    My InterpretationI've been meaning to comment on this since I first heard it two years ago, and I finally came around to it.
    Basically, I find it a clear political critique of the United States and it's forigen and domestic policies. Hear me out here:

    The plain clothed Cop, I think, represents the US in general, as it's sometimes sarcastically referred to as the policeman of the world and such. His patronizing, unapologetic and dismissive attitudes reflect the US's own self distanced stance. The cop says to Indian it was just an 'honest mistake' referring perhaps to the great displacements and ethnic persecutions over the whole of white American history. He ignores the pleadings of the Holy Ghost, he berates and belittles Beauty itself.

    The White Tooth man is without a doubt a politician, or maybe even the president (I *ran* with him). The Map of Canaan line reflects the government trying to 'sell' the war(s) in the middle east, In Iraq, Afghanistan, and those by it's proxy Israel. 'Money already spent' reflects the huge deficit, caused by reckless policies and aforementioned wars. His hypocrisy in the 'I love this town' line is already mentioned above.
    I'm not sure about the Postman, but it could be talking about increased government surveillance. Postmen deliver the mail, they aren't meant to read it, him crying might mean he's ordered to do it against his will.

    Overall, I see it as a highly politically charged song.
    Banekeeperon December 21, 2011   Link
  • 0
    General CommentWow. This is fascinating... I'm a little lost though, and would love to gain the benefit of someone else's thoughts on this track...

    We've got several verses dealing with dissapointment when something a person thought they wanted ended up not being what they expected. (cheated after closing the deal, finger never wanted a ring, mail, government bond, I love this town but it ain't the same, ripped ski mask, sick on cheap dinner, already spent money, loyalty run away)...

    The Caanan reference (especially coupled with gov't bond) reinforces this... It refers to the area near present day Gaza. A holy land which people hoped would be turned into a homeland, but instead has become a wartorn hellhole.

    What else is here?

    Thoughts?

    -tf
    tfieldson September 23, 2007   Link
  • 0
    General Commentaweosme song but i dont really understand what it meas. i cant believe more people havent commented on it... all of the sngs from iron & wine have "hidden meanings" that are interpreted by the listener in different ways, ven though the lyrics might nt mean anything at all. i do think this ong is about disappointment and no believing everything you see and hear
    starX93on October 06, 2007   Link
  • 0
    General CommentThere's only a couple of verses in this song that jump out at me with an apparent meaning: "'I love this town, but it ain't the same,' The ski mask ripped as he was putting it on". Put differently, I think of it as someone saying, "The crime around here sucks", as they're preparing to rob a bank. The line makes me laugh when I think about it. I think it means that whoever the "White Tooth Man" is, he's a hypocrite, and complains about the decrepit state of society while making it worse himself. I'm having trouble applying this theme to the rest of the verses, however.
    HibbidyJibbidyon October 10, 2007   Link
  • 0
    General Commentawesome comments! wow. i really agree with everything everyone has said so far... i think the song altogether is about the type of people who take something that is supposed to be sacred and cheapen it. the plain-clothes cop is likely someone who shoots people down without justification, therefore he acts like a cop but isn't one, doesn't actually wear the uniform. and btw, i wonder what dogs symbolize in this album? there are SO many references to dogs...
    coolcroweon October 26, 2007   Link
  • 0
    General CommentNote that a lot of the people have situations they don't like but that they don't really have the power to fix: the beauty queen, the kid with a crutch, the Indian chief, the wife who never wanted to be a wife, the witches (maybe also the postman). And, though the white-tooth man has problems of his own (he got cut up, the town ain't the same, his dog ran away) and even though he can't really fix his problems either, he's found another way out: doing whatever the hell he wants anyway. The comments to this point have been right on in pointing out the implications of this.

    I think dogs in this album are supposed to represent (some of?) the highest ideals we can aspire to: loyalty, self-sacrifice, courage, honesty (insofar as dogs have the opportunity to be honest), so their presence serves as a foil to the way that the people in these songs act - irresponsibly, violently, arrogantly, and, especially in this song, wantonly. Dogs are also very child-like in a way because they've become so dependent on humans for their survival, so the instances of dogs suffering are (at least partly) indictments of the way we act towards the ones who treat us best and who need us most.
    larrynivenon November 05, 2007   Link
  • 0
    General CommentI really cant add anything on top of all these. All i can say is that it is now one of my favorite Iron & Wine songs of all time. The Sitar and the ethereal effects are so awesome.
    whomgodsannoyon December 27, 2007   Link
  • 0
    General CommentI love Beam's technique he uses here with the three distinct verses and no real chorus...he also does it on Boy With A Coin, Dead Man's Will, and I'm sure a ton others... Brilliant writer. I really hope he is remembered for his unparalleled writing.
    colonieson February 18, 2008   Link

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