Jan lays down and wrestles in her sleep
Moonlight spills on comic books
And superstars in magazines
An old friend calls and tells us where to meet
Her plane takes off from Baltimore
And touches down on Bourbon Street

We sit outside and argue all night long
About a god we've never seen
But never fails to side with me
Sunday comes and all the papers say
Ma Teresa's joined the mob
And happy with her full time job

Do do do do do do

Am I alive or thoughts that drift away?
Does summer come for everyone?
Can humans do as prophets say?
And if I die before I learn to speak
Can money pay for all the days I lived awake
But half asleep?

Do do do do do do

A life is time, they teach us growing up
The seconds ticking killed us all
A million years before the fall
You ride the waves and don't ask where they go
You swim like lions through the crest
And bathe yourself on zebra flesh

I've been downhearted baby,
I've been downhearted baby,
Ever since the day we met

Lyrics submitted by antispork, edited by billyb93, markydissod

Standing Outside a Broken Phone Booth with Money in My Hand Lyrics as written by Jane Feather Chris O Connor


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Standing Outside A Broken Phone Booth With Money In My Hand song meanings
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  • +7
    General Comment

    It's about the way things dissipate: the insoluble questions remain unanswered, and slowly we learn how to distract ourselves while waiting for life to reach its conclusion.

    somnambulanceon December 14, 2010   Link
  • +7
    Song Meaning

    I think the title really portrays the ultimate theme of the song. Think about what it's like to stand outside a broken phone booth with money in your hand. It's almost like saying, "Hey, I have something of use, but really, I can't even use it due to circumstances beyond my control." In other words, despite our notions of individuality and free will, we are mere reactions to our environment. It's a really "zoomed out" reflection on life and humanity.

    Verse 1 sorta sets the story. It paints a picture of ordinary people doing ordinary things. There are references to magazines, superstars, comic books, etc...all distractions if you will... Verse 2 continues the story..now the friends are hanging out, talking about God and existentialism. I think it's a rip on organized religion (the line about Mother Theresa) and the scandals that surround the Christian dogma.

    The last two verses dive into personal reflections, and this is where it really becomes depressing. In a way, he's saying "everything is meaningless." Even if the most renowned philosophy and theology could explain our existence, it doesn't change anything. We're helpless mortals who are subjects to the brutal hands of time and fortune. We give ourselves credit all the while, oblivious to the fact that we eventually die with nothing. Horribly morbid but beautiful nonetheless. It's hard to give a great description of the lyrics, because I think his lyrics are so well written to begin with.

    holmbj1on September 03, 2010   Link
  • +6
    My Interpretation

    I mention time/life a lot because that is the main focus of the song IMHO, not because each quoted lyric contains a reference to such.

    My interpretation:

    Jan lays down and wrestles in her sleep Moonlight spills on comic books And superstars in magazines"

    Seems to me that this implies that Jan is preoccupied with fiction and celebrity. Is that the best use of one's time/life?

    "We sit outside and argue all night long About a god we've never seen But never fails to side with me"

    He argued all night long with a friend who flew in to see him. He argues so adamantly, but does he really know about a god he's never seen? Again, is this the best use of the short time with a friend?

    "Sunday comes and all the papers say Ma Teresa's joined the mob And happy with her full time job"

    "Am I alive or thoughts that drift away? Does summer come for everyone? Can humans do what profits say? And if I die before I learn to speak Can money pay for all the days I lived awake But half asleep?"

    These are all questions the author has, in contrast to the people he's commented on in the song that think of pettier things. These are the types of things they need to think of. Summer, a time when people generally do what they really want to, does not come for everyone as some will die before. Don;t put off the things that really matter for a later time(summer).

    I'm not sure he means "mob" as in "THE Mob", but it doesn't matter much. Mother Teresa is quitting what she was doing to make a difference to be employed and get money. Is that the best use of ones time?

    "A life is time, they teach us growing up The seconds ticking killed us all A million years before the fall"

    Pretty clear talk about life and time. Perhaps the talk about the "seconds ticking" and "the fall" is about the futility of our existence, either as individuals or a species. We are destined to end, a million years before the end even comes.

    "You ride the waves and don't ask where they go You swim like lions through the crest And bathe yourself on zebra flesh"

    People largely just stumble through life without considering how they spend it or asking what it really is to live. They "swim like lions through the crest", stuck on their path even when circumstances fight against that path, but they don't change or reevaluate. They make up for the lack of fulfillment, or drown the sorrow caused by the struggle, by indulging. Is this the best path or the best use of ones time?

    "I've been downhearted baby, Ever since the day we met"

    This combined with the title of the song brings the thing full circle. The whole song is a conversation he want's to have with someone. Perhaps he's been downhearted because the last time they met it did not end well. Perhaps that person is the same one in this song that flew in to see him but they focused on their differences instead of enjoying each other. The "Broken Phone Booth" could be literal, or just an obstacle that stops one from actually taking that next step. The question is, does he overcome this and call, or just put it in a song and continue on?

    Great song.

    bigj480on December 28, 2011   Link
  • +3
    My Interpretation

    I think it is about someone growing older and is struggling with trying to find a reason for living. The Ma Teresa reference is saying even someone like Mother Teresa has no idea what her real purpose in life is (I think he must be Catholic, or was, and Mother Teresa is an icon of a purposeful life for him). The last 2 lines:

    You ride the waves and don't ask where they go You swim like lions through the crest And bathe yourself in zebra flesh

    My interpretation: People are like lemmings; we just go with the tide. We act like we are the kings of the jungle, like we own life, but in reality, we cover ourselves in something that allows us to fade in with the rest of the crowd (zebra flesh).

    aggiecoupleon May 10, 2009   Link
  • +2
    General Comment

    i believe this song is about 4 different people that are tied together in the end, in that they are all beginning to feel alone and seperated from something. In the first verse, they are feeling alone because they never reached the stardom or fame they so desired. In the second the person is beginning to feel disillusioned with god and religion. In the third the person feels like they have been wasting their life, and they're wishing they had done more with their life. In the fourth the person is out of control and they've "gotten off the beaten path", so to speak and now they feel like they need to do something because thats what everyone else is doing. And all the while B.B. King's sample of "how blue can you get" (the down-hearted part) is more or less saying that they're all lost now because they known what to do all along, but they haven't done done it.

    onafridayon May 01, 2002   Link
  • +2
    General Comment

    this song is the essence of what music is. hell, it's what truth and beauty are too.

    forget what ricky fitts said in american beauty. yeah the paper bag dancing on that just-perfect day is really cool, but so is chris o'connors offering to the gods with the amazing aura of his standing outside a broken phone booth.... the music is first class but the lyrics take it to the preeminent level of recording feats.

    despite o'connors apparent religious distaste, the lines "we sit outside and argue all night long/about a God we've never seen/but never fails to side with me" touches on a profound level that many never grasp. not only so-called religious fanatics, but also stubborn agnostics and atheists. it's a poignant commentary on religious disagreements as well as pride. who of us really considers in the heat of the discussion that there's a possibility that we just might be wrong? maybe God isn't always allied with our views.

    the following two verses are filled with thoughtfulness. "am i alive or thoughts that drift away?" and "can money pay for all the days i lived awake but half asleep?" it always leaves me speechless...

    the key theme of the song, in my humble opinion is "you ride the waves and don't ask where they go". all of us think that we call the shots in our lives, but it's astounding how much is beyond our reach. often we meet some of the most intriguing people of our lives simply by "chance". it's nothing of our own accord, it just happens while we ride the waves. and we don't ask where they go, because we don't want to see the tragedies waiting for us down the line. ultimately the last harbor we reach is death. "the seconds ticking killed us all a million years before the fall".

    pretty much where do all of these thoughts leave us? standing outside a broken phone booth, money in hand, but there's way to explain it all and it doesn't matter, because the phone's out of order anyway.

    chris o'connor created a classic with this one and that's final.

    the grey foolon March 31, 2003   Link
  • +2
    General Comment

    Thanks to Brooks from 2005. Yes, I did see the video. Added an inciteful visual dimension to an already stunning piece of poetry...My take is that in the last stanza..."A life is time...they teach you growing up..." A girl in a white dress (an angel) is seen stepping from the phone booth and speaking into O'Conner's (?) ear sharing her secrets of life/death. Whether he is listening/comprehending is doubtful as he sits obliviously outside the booth. The booth itself serves as a portal between O'Connor and the cemetery just on the other side of the booth. After the Angel finishes sharing her secrets she steps back into the phone booth, replaces the receiver that is dangling from the phone, and fades away. O'Connor remains seated outside the booth, unfazed. It seems the Angel has shared the truth of life and fixed the phone for him, but still he sits motionless and melancholy...Either we remain oblivious to life's secrets or are somehow frozen by them...my humble opinion...:-) But we needn't be like O'Connor's character.

    archivingfoolon August 14, 2008   Link
  • +1
    General Comment

    Awesome song. I love it. Just a good, easy-flowing song. Thanks


    zipped6648on June 18, 2003   Link
  • +1
    General Comment

    the grey fool gave a very good interpretation to what this song means.

    what i saw in it was being sorta sad about life. I think he refers to being downhearted baby ever since the day we met as a way of saying, ever since he met certain aspects of life, he's ended up depressed over it. that friends are always going away, nostalgia sinks in, we think we're in control of our lives, but really we have no idea how much we dont, questions of God, etc.

    I think the last 2 verses are very interesting, in that they give away what the meaning of this song more specifically. The third verse has 4 questions that he asks due to his uncertainty in life. Whether or not he's made the right choices, or if it was all worth it.

    the last verse sounds like a criticism. you ride the waves and dont ask where they go. sounds like he's making an observation of people that just go along with the flow. you swim like lions through the crest and bathe yourself in zebra flesh. This sounds like people go through life going along with things. Acting like lions in life bathing themselves in zebra flesh, which is on the prey of others. They go though the crest of life with ease with their over indulgence and spotlight, all at the expense of others. Something like that more or less.

    DarkApathyon November 12, 2004   Link
  • +1
    General Comment

    "a life is time, they teach you growing up" Here I believe he is making a statement leading into the next two lines. Growing up we get the impression that we have what sounds like forever, a "lifetime," to live. After this first line, I picture him shaking his head as he prepares to educate us with the next two lines: "the seconds ticking killed us all a million years before the fall" Time took our last breath long before a mistep off a cliffs edge.

    Regarding the title of the song, I believe he is saying that you spend your whole life trying to earn money for the life you dream of leading. One day, years in the future, you have that money, but the dreams you've waited for (the phone), is broken because you waited so long. All you can do is stare at the money in your hand you spent your whole life earning in hopes of making that call (your dream life), but its too late to make it and the time you had was wasted.

    Azureblueon July 06, 2006   Link

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