"Time" as written by and Tom Waits....
Well the smart money's on Harlow and the moon is in the street,
And the shadow boys are breaking all the laws.
And you're east of East Saint Louis and the wind is making speeches,
And the rain sounds like a round of applause.
And Napoleon is weeping in a carnival saloon
His invisible fiancee's in the mirror.
And the band is going home, it's raining hammers, it's raining nails
And it's true there's nothing left for him down here.

And it's time time time, and it's time time time
And it's time time time that you love
And it's time time time

And they all pretend they're orphans and their memory's like a train.
You can see it getting smaller as it pulls away.
And the things you can't remember tell the things you can't forget.
That history puts a saint in every dream

Well she said she'd stick around until the bandages came off,
But these mama's boys just don't know when to quit.
And Mathilda asks the sailors "Are those dreams or are those prayers?"
So close your eyes, son, and this won't hurt a bit

Oh it's time time time, and it's time time time
And it's time time time that you love
And it's time time time

Well things are pretty lousy for a calendar girl
The boys just dive right off the cars and splash into the street.
And when they're on a roll she pulls a razor from her boot,
And a thousand pigeons fall around her feet.
So put a candle in the window and a kiss upon his lips
As the dish outside the window fills with rain.
Just like a stranger with the weeds in your heart
And pay the fiddler off 'til I come back again

Oh it's time time time, and it's time time time
And it's time time time that you love
And it's time time time
And it's time time time, and it's time time time
And it's time time time that you love
And it's time time time


Lyrics submitted by archmastermind

"Time" as written by Tom Waits

Lyrics © JALMA MUSIC

Lyrics powered by LyricFind

Time song meanings
Add your thoughts

16 Comments

sort form View by:
  • +5
    General CommentI've asked myself that question over and over again... Can't seem to figure it out...
    'it's time, time, time, that you love"
    is time the object of the love, or is it time to start loving?
    Maybe it's about the passing of years, time, and how everything seems to be going in live, bad an miserable and loveless, and it's time to start loving, and it's also time that's the object of love, because time keeps passing.
    Philosophyon February 15, 2005   Link
  • +5
    My InterpretationTom Waits' songs are gorgeously written, and "Time" is exceptional. It is my favorite song from a lyrical perspective, and offers as much material for literary analysis as any poetry around. Give it a chance to take root in your heart; it becomes an experience, then, with every listen. Bravo, Tom Waits and your beautiful, gravely voice, for writing this exquisite song.

    "Time" is written from the perspective of a female Death Angel-type character whose task is to take people at their designated time ("¦Time"¦Time). The songs" verses illustrate various peoples" "times" and how most people waste their time being alive and suddenly crave life once their time comes to an end. I can"t decide whether the Death character is determining to whom a second chance is given, but it's possible. Death is burned out with her job (who isn't?) because she is constantly reminded that one must experience extreme proximity to death in order to appreciate life, which is one of life's greatest lessons. Though death is considered a dark subject, please view the song from a positive light in order to appreciate it more completely. Try to resist your human instinct to shy away from the subject and reality of death. It's trying to teach you something here.

    "Well the smart money's on Harlow and the moon is in the street
    And the shadow boys are breaking all the laws
    And you're east of East Saint Louis and the wind is making speeches
    And the rain sounds like a round of applause"

    This part serves to link to the last verse of the song, so read on for my interpretation of that. "Shadow Boys" are those who are "marked", which seems tiresome to Death, to the point that she's placing bets on who will be next on her "list". I think the "rain" symbolizes all of the things that are overwhelming in a human life, and are so close and loud that it sounds like applause, which is a diversion; yes, applause, in this song, is not a good thing"”it's a distraction. Same with the wind--the "speeches" aren't noticed by anyone because they blow away so quickly, metaphorically.

    "And Napoleon is weeping in a carnival saloon
    His invisible fiancee's in the mirror
    And the band is going home, it's raining hammers, it's raining nails
    And it's true there's nothing left for him down here"

    Of course, to state the obvious, this person isn"t literally Napoleon, and as with all well-written poetry and lyrics, Waits leaves space for personal imagery and interpretation in terms of the specifics of this person; this verse is written so well that I, at least, have a very specific image of who this person is in their setting in my head when I hear this song. Anyway, this person is so depressed with his situation (because who isn't a little depressed at their circumstances?), as life seems to be raining nothing but pain on him.

    "And they all pretend they're orphans and their memory's like a train
    You can see it getting smaller as it pulls away
    And the things you can't remember tell the things you can't forget
    That history puts a saint in every dream"

    Gorgeous, gorgeous, gorgeous. This verse is from Death"s perspective as a weary reaper who notices the same trend from all those she comes to: that everyone has an excuse as to why it shouldn"t be their time to go, or why it's too soon, because of their notion of what bad things have happened to them, even though they've wasted the time they had already. "Their memory"s like a train" that conveniently forgets the bad things they"ve done as well, because "history puts a saint in every dream". We all become martyrs to spare our own egos at one point or another.

    "Well she said she'd stick around until the bandages came off
    But these mama's boys just don't know when to quit
    And Mathilda asks the sailors "Are those dreams or are those prayers?"
    So close your eyes, son, and this won't hurt a bit"

    I think the person referenced in this verse, Mathilda, is an escort/prostitute/mistress-type. As you listen from this perspective, please try to view this character in as powerful instead of with judgment of moral character, as she is the one in control here, and is called upon by men as a confidant in addition to the other, more obvious/stereotypical reasons. Again, the story is being told by Death. The sailors confide to Mathilda their deeds, experiences, and cravings in a way that is unique to those kinds of arrangements. (Consider the character of Cathy in Steinbeck's "East of Eden", for example; see also: Tori Amos' "Virginia".) Death hears all, and there are no secrets kept from her, "So close your eyes, son, and this won"t hurt a bit."

    "Well things are pretty lousy for a calendar girl
    The boys just dive right off the cars and splash into the street
    And when they're on a roll she pulls a razor from her boot
    And a thousand pigeons fall around her feet"

    This verse illustrates the repetitive nature of being a reaper. The "calendar girl" line moves us from the Mathilda verse as Death continues on her path; I do not believe that it refers to a female model/traditional "calendar girl" in a retro sense.

    The entire song shows that Death finds her job tiresome (lousy), particularly because people do irresponsible things ("dive right off the cars and splash into the street"). I think the "thousand pigeons" line is to highlight the repetitiveness"”she pulls a razor from her boot (takes the lives) and a thousand pigeons (possibly humans who are damaged, whether by their own choices/hand or by others, since pigeons are considered a street parasite to some) fall (die) around her feet"”-just another day at the office.

    CHORUS:
    "Oh it's time time time, and it's time time time
    And it's time time time that you love
    And it's time time time"

    The chorus of this song is repetitive for a very specific reason: Death is telling us, as the audience, that it's time that we love in our lives, before it's too late. The repetition serves to emphasize the song"s lesson so that the song"s message is truly heard. it's no accident that the chorus repeats so much while the verses themselves are quite complex.

    "So put a candle in the window and a kiss upon his lips
    As the dish outside the window fills with rain
    Just like a stranger with the weeds in your heart
    And pay the fiddler off 'til I come back again"

    The last part is directed to the audience. Appreciate what you have. Kiss the one you love. Don't be self-absorbed in your own life's damaging events; everyone is damaged--all of the strangers with the weeds in their hearts. Lock the bad parts of your life outside your sacred space/home (rain outside the window). Appreciate living in order to "pay the fiddler off" "til Death comes back for you, because she will, and know that she"s watching. A truly lovely and profound song.
    schnauzieslolon September 03, 2010   Link
  • +3
    General CommentI got an interesting answer from the website toriphoria, which is Tori Amos who did an amazing cover of this song.
    Her thoughts were that this is a song about how death sneaks up on us, and regardless of what was happening in life, that it is time to stop with the unimportant and love.
    Meroon June 09, 2011   Link
  • +3
    TranslationImportant for interpretation:
    Harry Harlow was a controversial psychologist who did research on maternal-separation, dependency needs, and social isolation.

    Maternal-separation being the most controversial and most important of his research.

    Coincidentally, Harry Harlow died the year before this album came out.



    Also, the napoleon bit is about a schizophrenic who believes he's napoleon.
    tsmizon June 25, 2013   Link
  • +2
    General CommentI1m not an English native spaeker, so I could be totally wrong, but in my opinnion this song is about person who lost her hope and will of fight. First part is like a retrospection (but also sketch of baground). Al things hurts her, (probably some disappointed love). Finally she decided to comit suicide - cut her wrist ("...she pulls a razor from her boot
    And a thousand pigeons fall around her feet") Pigeons means blood that dropped round her feet, and also as a symbolism of freedom (onw she`s free, world won~t hurt her any more. Very sad is that almost noone sees her pain and dath, live is floatin as on the beginnig of this song - "The boys just dive right off the cars and splash into the street". And finnaly on the end - narrator asks us to remeber her pain, and to think aoubt our own live - "So put a candle in the window and a kiss upon his lips".

    Beautiful song, and even better lyric, ... superb
    wieniekon December 27, 2007   Link
  • +2
    My Opinion"And the things you can't remember tell the things you can't forget"
    Awesome.
    wolfticketon March 23, 2009   Link
  • +2
    Song MeaningAs from the Tom Waits site :

    (1) Time
    - Tom Waits (commenting on the song "Time", 1985): "Time: Time is a precious commodity..." (Source: "Rain Dogs Island Promo Tape" (taped comments on songs as sent to radio stations). Date: late 1985)

    (2) Smart money
    - Money bet or invested by those in the know, or by influential or wealthy people who are supposedly in a position to know that their bet or investment will be profitable (Source: Dictionary Of American Slang, Wentworth/ Flexner)
    - Money paid by a person to obtain exemption from some disagreeable office or duty; in law it means a heavy fine; and in recompense it means money given to soldiers or sailors for injuries received in the service. It either makes the person "smart," i.e. suffer, or else the person who receives it is paid for smarting. (Source: "The First Hypertext Edition of The Dictionary of Phrase and Fable", E. Cobham Brewer. © 1997-99 Bibliomania.com Ltd)

    (3) St. Louis
    - Also mentioned in: I Beg Your Pardon, 1982: "Please don't go back to St. Louis, can't you tell that I'm sincere.", Train Song, 1987: "Well I broke down in East St. Louis, on the Kansas City Line." Hold On, 1999: "Well, God bless your crooked heart, St. Louis got the best of me.".
    - Notice that East St. Louis is a notably rough and tough black side of town, very distinct from plain St. Louis. Being East of East St. Louis might be a Waitsian metaphor for being in the worst part possible of any town.
    - Jonathan Valania (1999): Getting back to the names of places, St. Louis seems to pop up a lot, in "Hold on" from the new record and "Time" from Rain Dogs and you've mentioned it a lot in interviews. Ever live there? TW: "No, never lived there. It's a good name to stick in a song. Every song needs to be anatomically correct: You need weather, you need the name of the town, something to eat - every song needs certain ingredients to be balanced. You're writing a song and you need a town, and you look out the window and you see "St. Louis Cardinals" on some kid's T-shirt. And you say, "Oh, we'll use that." (Source: "The Man Who Howled Wolf ". Magnet: Jonathan Valania. June/ July, 1999)

    (4) Napoleon
    - On "The heart of Saturday night" Napoleon is credited for the cover illustration. According to Cal Schenkel Napoleon is the guy on the floor in front of the diner on the cover of "Nighthawks at the diner".
    - Also mentioned in Diamonds And Gold (Rain Dogs, 1985): "Small time Napoleon's shattered his knees, But he stays in the saddle for Rose."

    (5) Matilda: Might be Waits is refering to Matilda from Tom Traubert's Blues, 1976: "Waltzing Matilda, you'll go waltzing Matilda with me." The rhytmn and feeling of both songs are certainly alike

    (6) Roll
    - v.t.:To rob a drunk or sleeping person, usu. a drunk. To rob any person, as by a hold-up, or esp. to rob a prostitute's customer when he is sleeping or has left his clothing unwatched (Source: Dictionary Of American Slang, Wentworth/ Flexner)
    - On a roll: phr. [1970s+] (orig. US gambling) on a winning streak, enjoying a period of success, whether lit. or fig.
    - Roll: n. [1970s+] a spell of good fortune, a winning streak, whether lit. or fig. [roll, the roll of a dice] (Source: "Cassell's Dictionary Of Slang". Jonathon Green. Cassel & Co., 1998. ISBN: 0-304-35167-9).
    - Also mentioned in Depot, Depot, 1974: "I'm on a roll, just like a pool ball, baby, Empty Pockets/ Purple Avenue, 1981: "What happened to my roll, September fell right through the hole."

    (6) Put a candle in the window: Many cultures around the world practice the "candle in the window" tradition. In colonial America a "candle in the window" was used to honor dignitaries, announce births and just plain celebrate (Source: Libbey Hodges, Oliver and Mary Miley Theobold. Williamsburg Christmas. New York. Harry N. Abrams Inc. 1999). In today's America it is a tradition practiced throughout the year as a gesture of welcome and a promise of warm hospitality to guests (thanks to Celso Lazaretti for pointing out this reference).

    (7) Fiddler/ piper, pay the: Who's to pay the fiddler/ piper? The phrase comes from the tradition about the Pied Piper of Hameln, who agreed to cure the town of rats and mice; when he had done so, the people of Hameln refused to pay him, whereupon he piped again, and led all the children to Koppelberg Hill, which closed over them. From the corresponding French phrase, "payer les violons," it would seem to mean who is to pay the fiddler or piper if we have a dance [on the green] (Source: "The First Hypertext Edition of The Dictionary of Phrase and Fable", E. Cobham Brewer. © 1997-99 Bibliomania.com Ltd)



    Part of the
    Tom Waits Library
    ©1999-2011
    1FFr2on December 08, 2013   Link
  • +1
    General CommentI get the feeling there's a woman who sells herself somehow - prostitute, or something similar. The chorus is encouraging her to actually love someone, finally.
    Caleddinon October 28, 2006   Link
  • +1
    General CommentI love this song, because whenever I search for it on youtube or google its lyrics or chords, I get halfway through typing "Tom Waits Time" and think to myself "it's Tom Waits time!" and become extremely happy.
    JohnTeryenon March 05, 2011   Link
  • 0
    General CommentIt's best for a man who can't understand English to listen.
    limmortaleon April 09, 2007   Link

Add your thoughts

Log in now to tell us what you think this song means.

Don’t have an account? Create an account with SongMeanings to post comments, submit lyrics, and more. It’s super easy, we promise!

Back to top
explain