"What's He Building in There?" as written by and Tom Waits....
What's he building in there?
What the hell is he building
In there?
He has subscriptions to those
Magazines... He never
Waves when he goes by
He's hiding something from
The rest of us... He's all
To himself... I think I know
Why... He took down the
Tire swing from the Peppertree
He has no children of his
Own you see... He has no dog
And he has no friends and
His lawn is dying... and
What about all those packages
He sends. What's he building in there?
With that hook light
On the stairs. What's he building
In there... I'll tell you one thing
He's not building a playhouse for
The children what's he building
In there?

Now what's that sound from under the door?
He's pounding nails into a
Hardwood floor... and I
Swear to god I heard someone
Moaning low... and I keep
Seeing the blue light of a
T.V. show...
He has a router
And a table saw... and you
Won't believe what Mr. Sticha saw
There's poison underneath the sink
Of course... But there's also
Enough formaldehyde to choke
A horse... What's he building
In there. What the hell is he
Building in there? I heard he
Has an ex-wife in some place
Called Mayors Income, Tennessee
And he used to have a
consulting business in Indonesia...
but what is he building in there?
What the hell is building in there?

He has no friends
But he gets a lot of mail
I'll bet he spent a little
Time in jail...
I heard he was up on the
Roof last night
Signaling with a flashlight
And what's that tune he's
Always whistling...
What's he building in there?
What's he building in there?

We have a right to know...


Lyrics submitted by yuri_sucupira, edited by Mellow_Harsher

What's He Building in There? song meanings
Add your thoughts

20 Comments

sort form View by:
  • +8
    General CommentHe's not building anything; that's the point of the song. Tom Waits is singing from the point of view of a representative of the paranoid townspeople who view this man with suspicion simply because he seems to be up to something. There is of course no proof for anything he might be up to as it's all in the heads of those around him, and the narration reveals the obsessive and invasive mindset of the suspicious townspeople rather than concentrating on the man who is supposedly building something.
    sloopon August 20, 2005   Link
  • +4
    General CommentThe song was inspired by the Unabomber. Also features in the opening to the film "Enron The Smartest Guys in the Room" to great effect!
    twigletmaniaon October 21, 2009   Link
  • +2
    My OpinionThe scariest parts of this song to me are the venom that accompanies the words "I'll tell you one thing, He's not building a playhouse for the children...", as if implying the subject is some kind of child abuser, and the last line, "We have a right to know..." which sums up everything wrong with this track. I love it though!
    caspercapoeiraon July 29, 2011   Link
  • +1
    General Commentwell, for one, Tom usually sings.

    this work is reminiscent of "Romeo Is Bleeding" and some of Waits' early work. Tom Waits is a profound fan of Beat Poetry, and would often embark on Beat excursions in his music.

    his lyrics and reverence for jazz reflects his interest in the Beats outstandingly.

    i recommend "Mule Variations" and "Bone Machine" as safe purchases for someone unsure about a foray into Tom Waits. both albums are some of his best and most recent work (except for the two just released this month!) and should give the listener an excellent idea of where Mr. Waits is coming from. enjoy!
    roger wilcoon May 15, 2002   Link
  • +1
    General CommentI think Mule Variations must be one of the easiest of his album to get into, older stuff tends to be more to the more hardmelted side. One album i can recomment more than others is Swordfishtrombones. Mostly cause there are songs that are easy to melt early, but also an album that really grows with you. A golden trophy in my record collection. (though "Whats he building" is probably the most amusing work he has ever done in my opinion).
    Strayliteon May 09, 2003   Link
  • 0
    General Commentthis is the only song ive heard of tom waits, whats the other stuff like??
    comparisons and descriptions please
    Calculator Joseon May 15, 2002   Link
  • 0
    General Commentthank you
    Calculator Joseon May 24, 2002   Link
  • 0
    General CommentWhat do you think of the stuff on Rain Dogs with Keith Richards? I just recently got into it and I'm impressed.
    JumpyJackon December 17, 2004   Link
  • 0
    General Commenti love this. i wish we actually found out what he was building, though
    Azdnumis210on April 09, 2005   Link
  • 0
    General CommentTom Waits was at his best on his early albums (Closing Time, Small Change and Blue Valentine in particular) in my opinion and although his late albums are good, the best songs are always those remeniscent of his early stuff. Waits is at his best with a piano or an acoustic guitar, and in general his more experimental stuff isn't quite as good. The exceptions to this are Rain Doge and Mule Variations, which blend experimentation with old-fashioned ballads perfectly. This song brings back the humour of Waits' early works such as Mighthawks at the Diner and Small Change.
    badgeon April 10, 2005   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