"Single File" as written by and Steven P. Smith....
Here in line
Where stupid shit collides
With dying shooting stars
All we got to show what we really are
Is the same kind of scars
And looking at you all I see is
You're waiting for something

Single file
You're a murder mile
You idiot kid
Your arm's got a death in it

If you're choking up take this paper cup
But there's a price you'll pay
For trying hard to become whatever they are
And saying whatever they say
So help yourself to this bitter pill
Or somebody else will

Single file
You're a murder mile
You idiot kid
Your arm's got a death in it
Single file
Single file
Single file
Single file

Lyrics submitted by EnjOy IncUbus, edited by skro

"Single File" as written by Steven P. Smith

Lyrics © Universal Music Publishing Group

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Single File song meanings
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  • +4
    General CommentI haven't read an interpretation that I fully agree with yet, though I think upallnight was getting on track. I definitely agree that the basic plot is about watching junkies on line at a methadone clinic, but I think that's entirely allegorical. It's not the point, it's just a way of getting it across. What I think is interesting about the song is that it's unconventional--he's not telling the kid he's losing something by being an addict, he's saying he loses something when he tries to clean up and quit. When the narrator says "there's a price you'll pay for trying hard to become whatever they are," it's in reference to taking the pills and trying to become like them, to become normal (in this case, clean). It's an interesting way to look at the situation--the drugs are killing him but at the same time, quitting comes with a considerable price (perhaps killing a part of himself). What the narrator thinks that price is isn't exactly clear, but maybe it's about denying a part of yourself to make life easier. Or maybe it represents knowingly giving in to conventional expectations--I think the "single file you're a murder mile" line plays into both of those interpretations. It could mean any number of things really. Drug addiction and getting clean are just shorthand for these ideas. Either way, it's an interesting way of getting his point across.
    EnidCaulfieldon March 28, 2006   Link
  • +1
    General CommentYou people got most of the things wrong. This song is about waiting in a methadone line for his dose. Methadone is a drug given to addicts to help them with their addiction.
    bored_tomon May 20, 2005   Link
  • +1
    General Commentoh yes, it's clearly that specific, bored tom....i mean the line "waiting in the methadone line for my dose" kind of gives it away! everyone is entitled to say what they think it's about and the reason most interpretations of most Elliott Smith songs work is precisely because he isn't so specific......you could be right-i don't think you are-but don't tell people they got it wrong when you have no evidence suggesting that your interpretation is correct.

    i like this song and i think it is lovely.............RIP
    badgeon June 02, 2005   Link
  • +1
    General CommentIt's funny. At the time of this album Elliott was not using Heroin and yet as people so clearly document, this song seems so applicable to it.
    I have always have seen this song as a reference to how Elliott sees other people. Waiting for something to happen in their lives, whilst disabling themselves with their darkest thoughts and actions that weigh them down everyday. Your arm has got a death in it seems to me a reference to that one hang-up, that one demon, that everyone cannot shake off.
    Whilst this might have been written about Heroin, the fact that it can touch so many listeners that aren't Heroin addicts, is clear evdience of how brilliant Elliott Smith was at creating songs that could be enjoyed by all. R.I.P Elliott.
    upallnighton November 11, 2005   Link
  • +1
    General Commenthow the fuck did you get beer from paper cup. first off nobody drinks beer out of a paper cup. those cups are plastic. and second off, youve obviously never been to the hospital because they give you all your pills in a tiny tiny paper cup. and its a god damn line, thats why its single file. badge, subrosa... youre just dumbasses. please kill yourselves.

    this song is absolutely about sitting in line at a methadone clinic waiting for your dose and that if you dont take your bitter pill (methadone) than somebody else gladly will. its not like you can just hop in line at the clinic when you feel like it. theres meetings you have to attend and a waiting list. so somebody is allready waiting to take your place if you dont want your god damn pills.

    but there's a price you'll pay for
    trying hard to become whatever they are
    and saying whatever they say

    - they = people at the meetings, such as NA, or the people in your methadone clinic meetings. the clean people chair the meeting and give "hope" to the newcomer so you are trying hard to become what they are and say what they say but it comes with a price. heroin addiction is a vicious cycle let me tell you that much. now stop commenting about this song if it isnt about heroin.
    the green eyeson February 10, 2007   Link
  • +1
    General CommentAlthough I agree that anyone is free to interpret any song however they feel, this song in particular is one of Elliott's most explicit addiction songs. It may have other significance, but it's clearly and most directly about heroin addiction and specifically waiting in line for methadone.

    *"dying shooting stars" - the pour souls who have wasted their life on this stupid ("shit") drug.
    *"All we got to show...same kind of scars" - trackmarks
    *"Waiting for something...single file" - waiting in line at the clinic. Also, waiting for something in your life to change, without trying to make it happen.
    *"...arm's got a death in it" - again, trackmarks
    *"If you're choking up take this paper cup" - If you're relapsing, here's some methodone (always dispersed in paper cups in clinics)
    *"...price you'll pay..." - you're gonna die just trying to fit in
    *"...bitter pill or somebody else will." - take your dose or someone else will be happy to, and will.

    RIP Elliott
    ColorBar77on August 16, 2007   Link
  • +1
    General CommentThis is a song about a very long queue in which Elliott Smith gets quite angry and starts calling someone an idiot kid. He was inconsiderate like that.
    Cavauroon June 07, 2009   Link
  • 0
    General Commentthis is clearly about how the best musicians are always heroin addicts. single file waiting their turn to rise and then become a dying shooting star.
    SubRosaon June 14, 2004   Link
  • 0
    General Commentjust, really, a bunch of drug addicts in a line on their way to die.

    He's telling the idiot kid there's a price he'll pay for being like the "dying shooting stars" (the toll being the death that the kids putting into his own arm).

    Elliott's clearly not singing about how all the best musicians are always heroin addicts.
    slikeon June 15, 2004   Link
  • 0
    General CommentYeah, it's like when a whole slew of Jazz artists started doing smack because Coltrane did it.

    It's terribly ironic that "Coming Up Roses" comes on right after "Single File" too I should mention. =(
    sunshineiodineon December 02, 2004   Link

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