"Poor Places" as written by and Jeffrey Scott/bennett Tweedy....
It's my father's voice dreaming of
Sailors sailing off in the morning
For the air-conditioned rooms
At the top of the stairs

His jaw's been broken
His bandage is wrapped too tight
His fangs have been pulled
And I really want to see you tonight

There's Bourbon on the breath
Of the singer you love so much
He takes all his words from the books
That you don't read anyway

His jaw's been broken
His bandage is wrapped too tight
My fangs have been pulled
And I really want to see you tonight

Someone ties a bow
In my backyard to show me love
My voice is climbing walls
Smoking and I want love

My jaw's been broken
My heart is wrapped in ice
My fangs have been pulled
And I really want to see you tonight

And it makes no difference to me
How they cried all over overseas
It's hot in the poor places tonight
I'm not going outside

They cried all over overseas
It makes no difference to me
It's hot in the poor places tonight
I'm not going outside


Lyrics submitted by Yoshiidino, edited by cordoba

"Poor Places" as written by Jay Bennett Jeff Tweedy

Lyrics © BMG Rights Management, Warner Chappell Music, Inc.

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Poor Places song meanings
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19 Comments

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  • +4
    General CommentI always thought this song might be about a soldier who had just returned from a war in a "poor place"--some third world country where it's very hot and wartorn. The soldier is suffering from some kind of post-traumatic stress disorder. Even though he tries to re-embrace life in America, like pop-culture and family ("the singer you love so much") and people are trying to help him get through it, like the person who ties one of those yellow ribbons around a tree in his backyard, he still feels really isolated and alone. That's where what mark36 said about the radio comes in.
    infinitepet85on July 11, 2007   Link
  • +3
    General CommentPoor Places is a strange song. Basically, on the demos for YHF, the song had twice as many lyrics. Somewhere between the demo and the actual CD, Wilco decided to cut out the end of every line. The complete lyrics tell much more, I'll write some one.

    It's my father's voice trailing off sailors sailing off in the morning to fight the war,
    For the air conditioned room at the top of the stairs, at the head of the table... there's a face on every smile
    and it makes no difference to me, how they cried all over overseas,
    cause its hot in the poor places tonight
    I'm not going goin outside.

    There's bourbon on the breath of the singer you love so much, he doesn't care
    If he takes all his words from the books that you don't read anyway

    It makes more sense this way, but is missing the absolute glory of this song--the slow buildup and climax, the degrade into noises and fuzz.

    The original version is also very piano-driven and upbeat. I'm glad they changed it.
    loldoctoron May 13, 2006   Link
  • +3
    General Commentat the end of "poor places," the looped woman's voice that repeats "yankee hotel foxtrot" is a recording from a "numbers station," which is a short wave radio frequency of unknown origin that usually plays mysterious recordings. many speculate that they are used to send messages to spies.
    illiterature7on June 02, 2006   Link
  • +2
    General CommentTo answer robopatrolo, yankee, foxtrot and hotel are words associated with shortwave radio transmission. Yankee stands for Y, foxtrot for F and hotel for H. It doesn't really mean anything literally, but is kind of an atmospheric device in a song that I believe is about isolation, the space between us, the America longing for connection in a world where we stand in convenience store lines without so much as looking at one another. The fuzzy transmission of radio is a juxtoposition of the way we behave -- "they cried all over overseas but it makes no difference to me." I'd be interested in hearing theories about this jaws-and-fangs business.
    mark36on April 28, 2006   Link
  • +1
    General Commentusing the demo of this song as a basis, i think the main idea of this song is that there are a few people in power who are basically running the show. he refers to them as "air conditioned rooms at the top of the stairs". In the first verse they send people off two war.

    in the demo, the verse:

    "there's bourbon on the breath
    of the singer you love so much
    he takes all his words from
    the books you don't read anyway"

    is followed by:

    "for the air conditioned rooms at the stairs at he head of the table with a face that never smiles."

    so the corrupt singer is doing it all for the person in power who sent everyone overseas.

    then here:

    "it makes no difference to me
    how they cried all over overseas
    when it's hot in the poor places tonight
    I'm not going outside"

    i think he's saying that he's not too worried about the effects of the people in charge (the suffering overseas). he's more worried about the fact that it's hot in the poor places while the people in charge are in air conditioning.

    in other words, he's mostly worried about the big problem, the separation between rich and poor and how the rich don't care.

    finally, i think he says "i'm not, going outside" to give an example of what rich and middle class americans are thinking. sure, they're concerned with the poor people, but they're not going to sacrifice what they have and go outside in the heat (lower their standard of living).

    i don't know what the verses mean where he says "i really want to see you tonight". they weren't in the demo and don't seem to fit with the theme, but it might have changed or i might just be plain wrong.
    no_name_3on May 29, 2006   Link
  • +1
    General CommentI may be stating the obvious when I say that I think this is a song about real sadness -- about being hurt by the world to such a degree that you no longer care about helping it.

    his jaw's been broken
    his bandage is wrapped too tight
    his fangs have been pulled
    and I really wanna see you tonight

    These lyrics about fangs being pulled apply to the narrator's father, his favorite singer, and to the narrator himself. A person's father and his favorite singer can presumably be called his heroes, or at least, people he looks up to. Not even these people are immune to life and the things that can happen in it. Their jaws (spirits? pride?) have been broken, and their hearts have been broken and are wrapped in ice. His fangs have been pulled and he can't even defend himself anymore against anything. All he wants is a meaningful distraction, some kind of cure: to see this person tonight.

    And with all that's happening in his personal life -- he's got enough pain. He's so hopeless, so jaded, so cynical...he doesn't even care about the worse things that are happening in the world. He's just trying -- and it's taking all of his trying -- to save himself.
    nutmeg574on April 11, 2007   Link
  • +1
    General CommentI'm really drawn to this part:

    "Ther's bourbon on the breath
    of the singer you love so much"

    It's funny how such a small element of the song can mean so incredibly much. I think Tweedy is refering to someone he cares about having misconceptions of him. He feels badly about himself and the way he hurts others, but he/she still feels that they are perfect. This concept can also be applied to his listeners. Surprisingly, i love songs where Tweedy is on the giving end of the pain.
    ipromiseon October 03, 2007   Link
  • +1
    My InterpretationI think of this song as more of a personal/internal report than a political commentary. I think that, as another commenter mentioned, "His jaw's been broken, his bandage is wrapped too tight" refer to the person's level of psychic distress, specifically I think it means that he feels he can no longer speak(jaw broken) and a feeling of being trapped or tied up in knots(bandage).

    "His fangs have been pulled" could mean his attempt to show strength. I think in total its an incredibly vulnerable statement. He might be saying, I'm tired, I'm not strong, I need to see you.

    That "you" is probably the same imagined audience that he directs "there's bourbon on the breath of the singer you love so much" to. I think that he is the singer in question, not his own favorite singer. He is one who takes his words from the books "you" don't read anyway. I think its pretty clear that the "he" and and the "I" are the same person. He slips in and out of third person, claiming the self and setting a distance between him and that self.

    about the "poor places". Could be that the "poor places" refers to the parts of himself that normally don't express this kind of vulnerability, this kind of longing and pain.

    Then maybe he sort of flips that on its head when it says "it makes no difference to me...", perhaps suggesting that this whole enterprise/expression is extremely self involved. Or its just a fact thats reported, that in his distress, nothing is more important than these feelings that are running hot in the poor palces. The listener can then make a judgement about how bad that is.
    cordobaon February 14, 2014   Link
  • 0
    General Commentyankee...hotel...foxtrot...
    yankee...hotel...foxtrot...
    yankee...hotel...foxtrot...
    HeavyMetalDrummeron March 18, 2003   Link
  • 0
    General CommentThis song shouold be the most hackneyed thing ever. you know that there is a building tension that leads to the climax, but something make this song so amazing. it has tweedy talking about the world and how it relates to him. and in the very climax of this song and the highest point of the entire lp, he says he doesn't care what everyone else is doing, just what affects him and he refuses to be dragged into outside conflict anymore ("it makes no difference to me.....I'm not going outside). Amazing song.
    fatboyinawagonon June 17, 2003   Link

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