I like your twisted point of view, Mike
I like your questioning eyebrows
You've made it pretty clear what you like
It's only fair to tell you now
that I leave early in the morning
and I won't be back till next year
I see that kiss-me pucker forming
but maybe you should plug it with a beer, 'cause

Papa was a rodeo
Mama was a rock'n'roll band
I could play guitar and rope a steer
before I learned to stand
Home was anywhere with diesel gas
Love was a trucker's hand
Never stuck around long enough
for a one-night stand
Before you kiss me you should know
Papa was a rodeo

The light reflecting off the mirror ball
looks like a thousand swirling eyes
They make me think I shouldn't be here at all
You know, every minute someone dies
What are we doing in this dive bar?
How can you live in a place like this?
Why don't you just get into my car
And I'll take you away
I'll take that kiss now, but

Papa was a rodeo
Mama was a rock'n'roll band
I could play guitar and rope a steer
before I learned to stand
Home was anywhere with diesel gas
Love was a trucker's hand
Never stuck around long enough
for a one-night stand
Before you kiss me you should know
Papa was a rodeo

And now it's 55 years later
We've had the romance of the century
After all these years wrestling gators
I still feel like crying
When I think of what you said to me:

"Papa was a rodeo
Mama was a rock'n'roll band
I could play guitar and rope a steer
before I learned to stand
Home was anywhere with diesel gas
Love was a trucker's hand
Never stuck around long enough
for a one-night stand
Before you kiss me you should know
Papa was a rodeo,"

What a coincidence
Your papa was a rodeo, too



Lyrics submitted by Anne Arbour


Papa Was A Rodeo song meanings
Add your thoughts

22 Comments

sort form View by:
  • +13
    General Comment:I think Merritt was delving pretty deep with this one. The comparison between the singer's ambivalence about the relationship, as well as Papa being a rodeo and Mama being a rock-and-roll band is an artful way to describe the effects of inconsistent/unavailable parents on a person's ability to develop intimate attachments.

    In other words, the rodeo comparison seems to suggests that the father was mercurial, unpredictable, and perhaps volatile, thus needing to be tamed. On the other hand, the rock-and-roll comparison suggests that the mother probably was absent/distant (i.e., on the road) and unable to provide the singer with comfort and security when it was most needed (i.e., in childhood). I take the lyric: "I could play guitar and rope a steer before I learned to stand" to highlight the singer's awareness of his early attempts to deal with his inadequate parents (i.e., through attempting to tame/avoid his father's wrath and harmonize with his mother to bring her closer). It appears that the singer has learned to deal with his untenable situation through adopting some of his parent's qualities even though these qualities are not fulfilling and limit his ability to fully trust or open up to others. From this early arrangement, the singer has developed insecurities about relationships and expects to be abandoned by others. Thus, to protect himself from the pain of loss, he chooses to take control of the situation and leave others first so that they cannot abandon him after he lets his guard down and invests in them emotionally.

    The singer also describes a desire to protect this other person from the pains of loss that s/he may feel in his absence when things get too intimate, unfamiliar, and emotionally overwhelming. To me, it seems as if the singer is projecting his fear of abandonment on this other person as evidenced by his attempts to deescalate the developing romance to protect this other person from the pain of loss. However, somewhat surprisingly, instead of leaving this other person, the singer has revelation: Every moment someone dies so it is time to live in the moment and live with the risk of being hurt again. Perhaps, he realized that the opportunity cost of living so cautiously is an unfulfilled existence. The singer then takes a chance and rationalizes his irrational decision (by his previous standards) through believing that he is removing this other person from a negative environment/situation (i.e., undoing what was done to him). He accepts the kiss (expressed intimacy) with some hesitation and then leaves with the other person.

    In hindsight (55 years later), the singer looks back at the consequences of the chance he took in opening up to this other person and becomes emotional. He realizes that the process of engendering "the romance of a century" also entails "wrestling gators" (i.e., overcoming a painful and vicious past relationships) along the way. He also realizes that he is not alone in his struggle to achieve intimacy and is fortunate to have had a partner who was willing to take a chance on him. A partner in which he can identify; a partner who makes him feel understood from having a similar past.
    sulkowskion December 03, 2009   Link
  • +2
    General Comment:an ex boyfriend gave me lots of his music over the course of our relationship, and one of the bands he introduced me to was the Fields. It took me a long time to appreciate them, even to listen to them in the first place. In fact I rarely listened to them at all until recently, they just got shoved to the back of my itunes and almost forgotten for one reason or another. Then one day I had my music on random, and this was the first song that came on. It was one of those uncanny, serendipidous moments when you think of someone you love, or miss, or long for in any capacity, and immediately something happens to you or around you that reminds you of that person, and makes you both unbelievably happy and terribly hurt and sad at the same time, because of the perfectness of it. It was the first time I really listened to the lyrics, and even though obviously word for word things dont literally apply, everythings about the song encompassed and spoke to me of him and everything that had passed between us, and I was both very sad and totally composed. It was the first time I felt like I understood. I still have trouble listening to it, but I love it so much I could never turn away from it completely. much like him.

    its a great song.
    xsylviaoon June 02, 2006   Link
  • +2
    General Comment:Unless the girl's named Mike, I wouldn't say that it's a girl. Besides, y'know. Stephin Merrit. It's always safer to err on the male side with his songs.
    dragonflyeyeson September 05, 2006   Link
  • 0
    General Comment:I love this song and storytelling; it ends so sadly, from the player to the played. MAN.

    Also, just a personal connection with this song-- I was walking around my college campus on one of the first nice-weather days last spring, and I heard "Never stuck around long enough for a one-night staaaaaa-a-aaaa-a-a-aand" (both the song AND someone singing along) floating out of a frat lodge window... probably the best day ever.
    pinkgloveon October 07, 2004   Link
  • 0
    General Comment:I really love this song too! But I don't understand why it's sad. I think it's happy. The person he liked is the same as him, so it doesn't matter about how his "papa was a rodeo". And they still had their romance for 55 years. That's good seeing as they love each other.
    bright.eyes.on July 05, 2005   Link
  • 0
    General Comment:it's about a wanderer/performer (the old minstrel/bard/gyspy type) who is used to leaving people behind to get back on the road, so most of the song is about him warning the person of the moment that, "hey, this is who i am, and even though i like you, i am still me."

    then the last verse/chorus is him looking back on having found another of the same type, who he could wander with, and have both that steady other and the lifestyle he knew. hence he "still feel[s] like crying" when he remembers the moment that the girl (?) answered back, "well, i'm that way too."

    aww...
    warlockon August 10, 2006   Link
  • 0
    General Comment:Has anyone else ever cried simply because of this song?
    freethegoldfishon September 07, 2006   Link
  • 0
    General Comment:This is one where Stephin Merritt has actually said that it's about a girl named Mike. Love "home was anywhere with diesel gas"
    judahnielsenon November 21, 2006   Link
  • 0
    General Comment:i go back and forth with whether he (male singer) is left at the end. Does he "feel like crying" because she is just like him (and leaves him hanging)? Or is he crying for joy that he, in a world of mismatches, he found someone truly like him that he understands how to love?
    YoMamaWasaRodeoon April 06, 2007   Link
  • 0
    General Comment:Isn't that ambiguity the beauty of the song?

    I fell in love with this song after seeing live performances first at NYU and a month later at Town Hall in NYC. Stephin Merritt had his quintessential "the most depressed man on the planet" facial expression and he did hand gestures for every line of the chorus (making like he's holding a gas pump during "diesel gas" etc.). If anyone hasn't seen this band live, be prepared for your obsession to elevate to new levels, although the last time I spoke to him at a bar, he said they're never touring again unless someone invents new technology for his hearing to get better (the noise inside the moderately loud Beauty Bar was the most he could take, he said).
    tbadalon May 20, 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