"To the Dogs or Whoever" as written by and Josh Ritter....
Deep in the belly of a whale I found her
Down with the deep blue jail around her
Running her hands through the ribs of the dark
Florence and Calamity and Joan of Arc

I love the way she looks in her underwear
I lose my page then the plot then the book then I swear
She makes the most of her time by loving me plenty
She knows there'll come a day when we won't be getting any

The stain of the sepia the butcher Crimea
Through the wreck of a brass band I thought I could see her
In a cakewalk she came through the dead and the lame
Just a little bird floating on a hurricane

I was flat on my back with my feet in the thorns
I was in between the apples and the chloroform
She came to me often
I was sure I was dying
It was always hard to tell if she was laughing or crying

I thought I heard somebody calling
In the dark I thought I heard somebody call

Joan never cared about the in-betweens
Combed her hair with a blade did the Maid of Orleans
Said Christ walked on water we can wade through the war
You don't need to tell me who the fire is for

Oh bring me the love that can sweeten a sword
A boat that can love the rocks or the shore
The love of the iceberg reaching out for a wreck
Can you love me like the crosses love the nape of the neck?

Was it Casey Jones or Casey at the Bat
Who died out of pride and got famous for that
Killed by a swerve laid low by the curve
Do you ever think they ever thought they got what they deserved

Pity the bullet and pity the man
Who both find their place in the same sad plan
Who both are like the barrel going over the falls
Crying all the way down I never asked to be involved

I thought I heard somebody calling In the dark I thought I heard somebody call

General George began the day by taking pink little pills
Sent his men to the top of some hell of a hill
Through the whisper of trees came artillery breeze
He said I love the way the wind comes a'tickling my knees

Jane shot the apple right between the eyes
I was thinking of her when you came outside
Lemonade on your breath sun in your hair
Did I mention how I love you in your underwear?

Deep in the belly of a whale I found her
Down with the deep blue jail around her
Running her hands through the ribs of the dark
Florence and Calamity and Joan of Arc

I thought I heard somebody calling
In the dark I thought I heard somebody call


Lyrics submitted by gelosia, edited by alpacas21

"To the Dogs or Whoever" as written by Josh Ritter

Lyrics © Sony/ATV Music Publishing LLC, DUCHAMP, INC

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To the Dogs or Whoever song meanings
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23 Comments

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  • +2
    General Commenti think it's all about people who follow their inner voices, even if it makes them do monumental things that seem more than a little crazy--joan of arc, florence nightingale, calamity jane, george washington (or bush?), casey at the bat. that's why the chorus is "in the dark/ i thought i heard somebody call"--it's about hearing a call to arms and following that voice either to success, or failure. it's about taking a risk.
    infinitepet85on December 03, 2007   Link
  • +2
    General CommentThis song seems everything except straightforward. I agree that its not a blatant love song, it feels more like a song about self discovery, taking a shot in the dark even when you're not sure if you hear someone else (not knowing if someone else will understand or be there for you). I think its about being lost and confused and feeling pulled toward a certain choice or direction, but not having anyone to back you up. The people mentioned in the song are all strong historical figures that took a strong stand for their beliefs, even if they lost their lives because of it.
    Josh ritter is awesome and making tons of allusions and references to so many things that I personally don't know about or understand all of, but i think its what makes him so mysterious and intriguing.
    kassondralanaeon June 25, 2009   Link
  • +1
    General Commentpretty sure General George is Custer given the loads of Western refs in Ritter's songs, and it fits with the taking a risk (success or failure (as in this case) be damned)
    waf07on January 03, 2008   Link
  • +1
    General CommentGoing along with the theme of this album, I feel that it is about a girl he used to be with. He was in love with her for what she did. She was brave, beautiful, mysterious, amazing. But that doesn't mean it worked out. She can do everything else to extremes, but she can't love him in the same way. "Can you love me like the cross loves the nape of the neck" to me symbolizes that she should be able to love him extremely (obviously this using a sarcastic analogy) but can't.

    This is such a powerful song & I think the most mysterious and one of the best on the album.
    amb7son February 20, 2008   Link
  • +1
    General CommentI love this song. The imagery, literary and historical allusions; the way he seems to be channeling Dylan without sinking into parody. I think Ritter is shaping up to be one of *the* great songwriters, alongside Springsteen, Leonard Cohen, and of course Dylan.
    bb6634on March 31, 2008   Link
  • +1
    General CommentThe song "Empty Heart" has the following verse. As you can see the last line of this verse is same as the title of this song. Maybe there is some connection.

    i'm inside with my friends
    we build fires and pretend
    that the night could just bend on forever
    while outside in the frost
    are the wolves and the lost
    and we sing to the dogs or whoever

    Casey Jones (from Wikipedia)

    John Luther "Casey" Jones (March 14, 1863 — April 30, 1900) was an American railroad engineer from Jackson, Tennessee, who worked for the Illinois Central Railroad (IC). On April 30, 1900, he alone was killed when his passenger train collided with a stalled freight train at Vaughan, Mississippi, on a foggy and rainy night. His dramatic death trying to stop his train and save lives made him a folk hero who became immortalized in a popular ballad sung by his friend Wallace Saunders, an African American engine wiper for the IC. Due to the enduring popularity of this song, his life and legend have been celebrated for over a century
    sracoleon May 25, 2010   Link
  • +1
    General CommentThis song is astounding on many levels. For me, listening to Josh is always a game of figuring out the literary/historical riddles and allusions he throws into the lyrics. I just want to point out some of the amazing literary/history references Josh threw into the mix on this one.
    In verse three he says "The stain of the sepia the butcher Crimea" I believe this refers to the fact that the Crimean War (1853-1856) was the first European war to be extensively documented by photographs, which at the time were only developed in sepia tone.
    Then in verse four Josh says "Joan never cared about the in betweens/Combed her hair with a blade did the Maid of Orleans". These lines are referencing Joan of Arc's nickname as the "Maid of Orleans" and may also be alluding to Voltaire's unfinished poem, "The Maid of Orleans". And the image of someone combing her hair with a blade is a witty way of showing a person cutting their hair (as Joan of Arc did during her military campaigns).
    Josh continues on with some of his most clever wordplay in verse seven. He sings:

    Was it Casey Jones or Casey at the Bat?
    Who died out of pride and got famous for that
    Killed by a swerve laid low by the curve
    Do you ever think they ever thought they got what they deserved?

    This verse references the train conductor Casey Jones, which other commentators have noted so I won't add any more on him. Though I haven't seen anyone explain the Casey at the Bat. "Casey at the Bat" was a poem published in 1888 by Ernest Thayer. It tells the story of a prideful batter named Casey who purposefully strikes on the first two pitches because he believes he will hit a home run on the third. He ends up striking out and losing the game for his whole team. The way that Josh Ritter ties the whole verse together by showing that both Casey Jones and Casey the batter "died out of pride" is incredible; with Casey Jones dying from the swerve (of the train) and Casey at the Bat figuratively "dying" from a curve ball.

    Anyhow, what a mesmerizing song. Let's all keep supporting Josh!

    BornIntoThison May 26, 2010   Link
  • +1
    General CommentThe stain of the sepia the butcher Crimea...it was always hard to tell if she was laughing or crying-obvious reference to Florence Nightingale, in this case treating a soldier in the Crimean war.


    I thought I heard somebody calling...Can you love me like the crosses love the nape of neck?- Joan of Arc, with all the religious imagery and crosses and Bible verses.

    Think back to the end of the first verese "Florence and Calamity and Joan of Arc" given the above reasoning that means Calamity Jane has to be coming up. "Jane shot the apple right between the eyes" and BOOM there she is. All three women were extremely successful and from a time when women were underclass citizens. The men mentioned (with the exception of Casey Jones) were failures. Is this Josh showing off a bit of female empowerment?
    weeksc07on July 11, 2011   Link
  • 0
    General Commentnearly positive it's "don't pity the bullet; pity the man," also "ON a hurricane."
    fits of printon November 29, 2007   Link
  • 0
    General CommentI agree, it is very Dylanesque. The last time I saw Josh in concert I actually asked him which George he was referring to in this song. He said though there are many Georges it could be (Patton, Washington, ect) he was actually thinking of Bush when he wrote it. And since then I've noticed that when he sings it live he sometimes puts on a Bush voice for the line "I love the way the wind comes tickling my knees".
    Ari06on April 24, 2008   Link

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