"13 Steps Lead Down" as written by and Elvis Costello....
When nobody knows she puts on secret clothes
And lies in the meadow with her hands tied behind her back
I won`t refuse if you know how to use it
Just stop playing that ugly drug music

Thirteen steps lead down
Thirteen steps lead down
There`s commoners and kings
And everyone`s a prisoner of
Paper and glue
And a decent pair of scissors
So tonight I`m drinking to your health
Because I just can`t stand myself

Thirteen steps lead down
Thirteen steps lead down
Thirteen steps lead down
Thirteen steps lead down

She stands and fails
On fashion fingernails
Her lovers have her walking `round
On instruments of torture
And one of them is poisonous
The other is a thief they say
So what one could give to her
The other cannot take away

When nobody knows she puts on secret clothes
And lies in her splendor for a picture opportunity
Cover up that bruise, put on patent leather shoes
Just stop playing that bad mood music baby

Thirteen steps lead down
Thirteen steps lead down
There`s commoners and kings
And everyone`s a prisoner of
Paper and glue
And a decent pair of scissors
So tonight I`m drinking to your health
Because I just can`t stand myself

Thirteen steps lead down
Thirteen steps lead down
Thirteen steps lead down
Thirteen steps lead down


Lyrics submitted by Mopnugget

"13 Steps Lead Down" as written by Elvis Costello

Lyrics © Universal Music Publishing Group

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13 Steps Lead Down song meanings
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8 Comments

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  • +1
    General CommentI think it's about a woman being abused. But I could be wrong, I'm not that good telling what a song is about.
    happytreefriend89on April 15, 2005   Link
  • 0
    General CommentThe bruise line and a few others suggest that it could be about abuse but I think there's more too it than that. "There's commoners and kings, And everyone's a prisoner of paper and glue, And a decent pair of scissors. So tonight I drink to your health, because I just can't stand myself." These lines seem especially cryptic to me. The last bit seems to imply that the girl is not a prisoner, which is why he's drinking to her. Or perhaps she hasn't given up trying to escape, and he has, and he feels bad about it watching her.
    What she's trying to escape, however, is quite beyond me.
    TheSilverNobleon August 26, 2006   Link
  • 0
    General CommentI think it is about a woman who is into kinky sex and has become a prostitute with a pimp who sells her unique services. Commoners and Kings all are attracted to the games she is willing to play and the pimp, who is both benefiting from the blackmail he can inflict upon her patrons (paper, glue, scissors) and disgusted with his own depravity is the POV Elvis takes. I'm assuming 13 steps lead down to the dungeon where the poor girl's abuse occurs.
    CoffeeStainson September 30, 2007   Link
  • 0
    General CommentIt's actually very simple.

    Elvis is a voyeur, looking at "amateur porn." After all, photos of people naked include both "commoners & kings" (& whose viewers might want to clip & save the images, which is why they need scissors & glue). & most certainly anyone engaged in amateur porn is going to keep it from most of their friends. So, "when nobody knows..." she takes pictures of herself in pornographic situations - some of them bondage related.

    Meanwhile, Elvis, sitting at home, looking at this - online? in a magazine? - drinks to her health, full of self-loathing for indulging in this pastime.

    Could "ugly drug music" & "bad mood music" be the way Elvis hears porn music? Or is this the "music" of the situation?

    I do note this: at some level, the implication of the song is that women do NOT do this of their own volition - that some male in their lives coerce them or force them to "debase" themselves in this way. Elvis seems to be judging them, & himself, for wanting or looking at things like this. Shame on him!
    vchamberlainon February 13, 2008   Link
  • 0
    General CommentI thought it referenced AA's twelve-step program, as well. Someone has completed the program and has a relapse. The thirteenth step represents the descent back into alcoholism.
    Gossamer01on May 01, 2010   Link
  • 0
    My InterpretationI always felt it was about 12 step programs and relapse. The lines "There`s commoners and kings And everyone`s a prisoner of Paper and glue And a decent pair of scissors", to me, mean anyone of any social status can be affected by addiction, and the meetings have bulletin boards and meeting props consisting of head-lines, collages, hand-made motivational quotes, etc. (paper and glue). The decent pair of scissors has a double meaning to me: one, they're used to make the collages and props and whatnot, and, two, the feeling attendees have that their lives are being cut into and shredded.

    How does all this relate to the rest of the song? Well, I think the characters are all in that seedy world that is the result of unchecked addiction, low self-esteem, and lack of decency - seedy people taking advantage of an insecure woman who goes along with their not so gentle prodding - doing things she hates doing, which destroys her self-esteem, leading to her chemical addictions requiring the help of 12 step programs, and, then, a vicious cycle.
    JSidon December 24, 2014   Link
  • 0
    General CommentAgreed it has something to do with AA.

    Paper and glue are used to try to construct destroyed lives back together and scissors represent booze that's shredding them apart.

    He says, "13 steps leads down" 12 times in the song, to represent the 12 steps. The 13th step is relapse.
    julian1010on August 17, 2015   Link
  • -1
    General CommentOh c'mon! It seems to me that this is a joke about various twelve step programs. The thirteenth step is recidivism.

    "So tonight I'm drinking to your health
    Because I just can't stand myself "
    moikon November 11, 2009   Link

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