"Burma-Shave" as written by and Tom Waits....
Licorice tattoo turned a gun metal blue
Scrawled across the shoulders of a dying town
Took the one eyed-jacks across the railroad tracks
And the scar on its belly pulled a stranger passing through
He's a juvenile delinquent, never learned how to behave
But the cops would never think to look in Burma-Shave

And the road was like a ribbon and the moon was like a bone
He didn't seem to be like any guy she'd ever known
He kind of looked like Farley Granger with his hair slicked back
She says, I'm a sucker for a fella in a cowboy hat
How far are you going?
Said depends on what you mean
He says I'm only stopping here to get some gasoline
I guess I'm going thataway just as long as it's paved
And I guess you'd say I'm on my way to Burma Shave

And with her knees up on the glove compartment
She took out her barrettes and her hair spilled out like root beer
And she popped her gum and arched her back
Hell, Marysville ain't nothing but a wide spot in the road
Some nights my heart pounds like thunder
Don't know why it don't explode
'Cause everyone in this stinking town's got one foot in the grave
And I'd rather take my chances out in Burma Shave

Presley's what I go by, why don't you change the stations?
Count the grain elevators in the rearview mirror
She said mister, anywhere you point this thing
It got to beat the hell out of the sting
Of going to bed with every dream that dies here every mornin'
And so drill me a hole with a barber pole
And I'm jumping my parole just like a fugitive tonight
Why don't you have another swig and pass that car if you're so brave
I wanna get there before the sun comes up in Burma Shave

And the spiderweb crack and the mustang screamed
The smoke from the tires and the twisted machine
Just a nickel's worth of dreams and every wishbone that they saved
Lie swindled from them on the way to Burma Shave

And the sun hit the derrick and cast a batwing shadow
Up against the car door on the shotgun side
And when they pulled her from the wreck
You know she still had on her shades
They say that dreams are growing wild
Just this side
Of Burma Shave


Lyrics submitted by yuri_sucupira, edited by Mellow_Harsher

"Burma Shave" as written by Tom Waits

Lyrics © BMG RIGHTS MANAGEMENT US, LLC

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Burma-Shave song meanings
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14 Comments

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  • +1
    General CommentIt's a great song, but not the only one on Foreign Affairs - check out
    "Jack and Neil" and "Sight For Sore Eyes"
    Anyway, Burma Shave was a shaving product that was advertised from the 30's through the 50's with series' of signs along highways throughout the U.S.
    Each little poem would be on a series of five or six signs, one line per sign.
    They were an extremely common sight on highways evrywhere, so "going to Burma Shave" simply means "going further down the road".

    Here are a couple samples of Burma Shave slogans from the signs:

    His cheek
    Was rough
    His chick vamoosed
    And now she won't
    Come home to roost
    Burma-Shave

    If your peach
    Keeps out
    Of reach
    Better practice
    What we preach
    Burma-Shave

    Not exactly Tom Waits quality, but kind of amusing.
    People were still finding some of the signs as recently as 1986.
    In contemporary advertising the term "Burma Shave Signs" has come to mean any series of billboards.
    retrorocketon February 14, 2006   Link
  • 0
    General CommentThe images evoked by these lyrics are so vivid:

    the road was like a ribbon and the moon was like a bone...
    her hair spilled out like rootbeer...
    -and-
    when they pulled her from the wreck you know she
    still had on her shades...

    Wonderful. A perfect jewel of storytelling.
    driggsyon June 05, 2004   Link
  • 0
    General Commentthis song is wonderful. and foreign affairs such a bad album... anyway, love this track, one of my faves
    PiKueloon February 14, 2005   Link
  • 0
    General CommentJust thought I'd add that Burma Shave is some type of shaving product. Apparently the company used to advertise by posting Burma Shave signs all along the highways.
    distopiandreamguyon August 08, 2005   Link
  • 0
    General Commentyou missed a line
    " 'how far are you going?' he said 'depends on what you mean,
    i'm only stopping here to get some gasoline.' "
    one of my favs by Tom Waits.
    ikefoxon December 28, 2005   Link
  • 0
    General CommentIt's a great song, but not the only one on Foreign Affairs - check out
    "Jack and Neil" and "Sight For Sore Eyes"
    Anyway, Burma Shave was a shaving product that was advertised from the 30's through the 50's with series' of signs along highways throughout the U.S.
    Each little poem would be on a series of five or six signs, one line per sign.
    They were an extremely common sight on highways evrywhere, so "going to Burma Shave" simply means "going further down the road".

    Here are a couple samples of Burma Shave slogans from the signs:

    His cheek
    Was rough
    His chick vamoosed
    And now she won't
    Come home to roost
    Burma-Shave

    If your peach
    Keeps out
    Of reach
    Better practice
    What we preach
    Burma-Shave

    Not exactly Tom Waits quality, but kind of amusing.
    People were still finding some of the signs as recently as 1986.
    In contemporary advertising the term "Burma Shave Signs" has come to mean any series of billboards.
    retrorocketon February 14, 2006   Link
  • 0
    General CommentEvery time I pass through Marysville, I think of this song "Hell, marysville ain't nothin' but a wide spot in the road" a great Tom waits storytelling, that I think he did on VH1 storytellers, but that may be incorrect.
    regbon October 06, 2006   Link
  • 0
    General CommentSaw an interview with Waits where he says that when he was a kid he saw the road signs and thought that Burma Shave was a town, hence the odd use of the name here.
    Foobon January 21, 2008   Link
  • 0
    General CommentThis is a fantastic piece of poetry on so many levels. It all starts with using Burma Shave as a symbol for the highways of America, which are symbolic of the American dream and symbolic of the mystery of life on an even deeper level. In the end it's symbolic of death.

    From that lofty concept he ranges to simple and beautiful lines like "Her hair spilled out like root beer."

    One of the best written songs I have ever heard. Definitely the best song on Americana I've ever heard (though Tom has some other gems on that genre). I'll stop gushing over it now.
    Heathcliff Huxtableon November 17, 2008   Link
  • 0
    My Interpretation//how far are you going he said depends on what you mean
    he says i'm going thataway just as long as it's paved
    i guess you'd say i'm on my way to
    burma shave//

    //everyone in this stinking town has got one foot in the grave
    and i'd rather take my chances out in
    burma shave//

    //anywhere you point this thing
    has got to beat the hell out of the sting
    of going to bed with every dream that dies here every mornin//

    Everyone's been here. Tired of waking up every morning, seeing your dreams dieing right in front of you. You blame it on this no horse town. You want to get out, and be anywhere but here. There's one road out of town and you want to get as far away as the road will take you. You don't care where you end up, rather take your chances, hell it couldn't be worse.

    //smoke from the tires and the twisted machine
    just a nickel's worth of dreams and every wishbone that they saved
    lie swindled from them on the way to
    burma shave//

    //and when they pulled her from the wreck you know she
    still had on her shades
    they say that dreams are growing wild just this side of
    burma shave //

    It was all a lie. You fooled yourself, thinking that things would be better out there. But they aren't. You can't get where you want to go. At least, not by running away.

    There are other songs like this one. Highway 61 by Bob Dylan is the same idea really.
    spacecoyoteon March 04, 2009   Link

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