"Nothing Man" as written by and Bruce Springsteen....
I don't remember how I felt
I never thought I'd live
To read about myself
In my hometown paper
How my brave young life
Was forever changed
In a misty cloud of pink vapor

Darlin' give me your kiss
Only understand
I am, the nothing man

Around here, everybody acts the same
Around here, everybody acts like nothing's changed
Friday night, the club meets at Al's Barbecue
The sky's still, the same unbelievable blue

Darlin' give me your kiss
Come take my hand
I am, the nothing man

You can call me Joe
Buy me a drink and shake my hand
You want courage
I'll show you courage you can understand
The pearl and silver
Restin' on my night table
It's just me Lord, pray I'm able

Darlin' with this kiss
Say you understand
I am, the nothing man
I am, the nothing man


Lyrics submitted by deathbear, edited by gunner0871, thepipe

"Nothing Man" as written by Bruce Springsteen

Lyrics © Downtown Music Publishing

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Nothing Man song meanings
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24 Comments

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  • +3
    General CommentIn my opinion The Boss wrote this about Police Officers and Firefighters (specificly for 9/11). They do heroic things everyday but are hardly ever rewarded. Now this guy is being rewarded and he doesn't know what to say, he just kind of goes on with his job. He also wants his girlfriend and/or wife to know he isn't anything special, just an oridinary guy.
    Good OL MCon March 03, 2003   Link
  • +3
    General CommentI agree with tbundick ... this song is about surviving but not knowing how to deal with it because so many of his friends did not make it. He talks about how everyone else just goes on living like nothing happened, but he cannot move on. The pearl and silver is definitely a gun that he is contemplating using to rid himself of the guilt of surviving.

    The nothing man is the man who has no meaning, who could not save his friends, and he sees no more reason to live. He is empty and feels nothing.
    tjtroson June 12, 2008   Link
  • +2
    General CommentEasily one of very favorite songs and a brilliantly constructed one at that. So simple and perfect.

    Theories abound on the meaning. What i want it to mean and the reason it always hits me so hard is that I think it's about survivor's guilt. And I agree with another poster as to it's probably having been retooled from it's original form to fit 9-11.

    Have you ever survived a fatal car crash? Seen your friends get killed in war or elsewhere? Been shocked by someone committing suicide with no warning--someone you knew well? I can only imagine some of the scenarios that played out for the NYFD. There aren't many songs I'd rather sing in front of a crowd than this one, but I know there's no chance of not choking up and getting through it. This is an amzing piece of work from a once in a lifetime talent.
    cubfever7on September 16, 2012   Link
  • +1
    General CommentNot to dampen what others gather from this song. But this is what I believe the song means:

    I believe that this song is about a ghost looking back on his suicide. He says how his "brave young life
    Was forever changed
    I a misty cloud of pink vapor" This is where the person was killed. The misty cloud of pink vapor is his blood as the bullet passes through.
    His "Darling" in the song is not a woman. It is his pistol. When he is telling it to give him a kiss, he is asking it to put him out of his misery, because he is the 'nothing man.'
    How everyone goes about their business during the song proves to him that he was the nothing man and his death meant nothing to anyone.
    When he says 'you can call me Joe' I believe he is just shortening the name 'John Doe' without making it blatantly obvious. John Doe is a name given to people that we don't know the names of, which fits perfect here since he is the 'nothing man' and has no name. He obviously is not proud of something he did, due to him saying 'you want courage, I'll show you courage you can understand' which I believe is him committing suicide.

    The last part is sad because it is where he succeeds in killing himself, the last part 'I am the Nothing Man' being repeated to add to the effect that his life is fading out.

    I also don't believe that this was meant for 9/11, however you could look at it as a 9/11 member that tried to save someone, couldn't gather the courage to do what his colleagues were doing, and therefor committed suicide because he couldn't live with himself afterwards.
    keeloron October 30, 2006   Link
  • +1
    General CommentI think both interpretations are good (the 9/11 interpretation and the suicide interpretation). I tend to agree with the latter. When I first heard the song I got the feeling that it was about a depressed guy who throws in the towel and ends his life. The utter emptiness in the statement "I am the nothing man" really gets to me, definitely a feeling I can relate to. I could be totally off on this one, but I think the "pearl and silver" line might be a reference to a pearl-handled pistol.
    Zero_The_Heroon November 06, 2006   Link
  • +1
    General CommentIs that true? Has Bruce ever explained the meaning in an interview? This is probably one of my favourite songs ever. So haunting and intriguing. I'd love to know the true meaning of the song.

    When I first heard it I thought it meant what tjtros and tbundick think it means. I also thought that he was possibly a fireman or a survivor who is ironically unhappy to have survived because what happened that day was an epiphany that made him realize that he has a 'nothing' lonely life full of sin and broken dreams. I thought that he has no real close friends, only the few fake friends he meets from time to time at some kind of 'club', 'Al' being one. I thought he was telling some woman he just fell in love with prior to the incident to 'give' him her 'kiss' but to know that he has a lousy life, and that shes the only good thing hes got and maybe the only thing that'll stop him from comitting suicide.

    However the idea of the ghost and the idea of the "family jewels" war wound is interesting. I really dont know what to think now!! Either way whichever way it leads you to think, it is a beautiful song and part of its beauty is in that mystery.
    evfanningon September 24, 2009   Link
  • +1
    General CommentBruce has so many songs in his aresenal, a lot of which we may never hear. I'm not surprised to learn that he wrote this song earlier (in the 90's), but I am pretty sure he retooled it to fit more in line with the events of 9/11.

    I thought that all these interpretations were well thought. The pearl and silver could refer both to a pistol and rosary beads.

    When I hear this song, it reminds me of something that happened to me a few weeks after the Towers fell. I was commuting to my home in NJ from Manhattan, and I sat next to a man on the train. At one point, the man took out his wallet, and from it he took a picture of a woman and began to sob. I immediately knew that this was a loved one of his - wife, sister, girlfriend - who must have been killed that day. I didn't speak to him, I wanted him to feel that he was not being watched. I said a prayer that he would find peace.

    Whenever I hear Nothing Man, I think of this man. How his life has been changed by the loss of his loved one.

    kmcwadeon August 02, 2011   Link
  • +1
    General CommentI know that the official lyrics say otherwise, but to me, it makes the song twice as powerful if he sings "You want courage?/ I'll show you courage you *can't* understand." The way I see the song, he had an immense loss, and he's still carrying on. Who could understand that?
    NiagaraNickon June 06, 2012   Link
  • +1
    Song MeaningSince "Nothing Man" predates 9/11 by 7 years (according to Wikipedia, Springsteen said it was completed in 1994), the subject of the song must be something other than 9/11, but is still most likely about someone dealing with a tragedy or horrific event that has driven them to contemplate suicide.

    After hearing it for the first time, my take on the song was that it was about a soldier returning from war (probably as a hero - reading about himself in his hometown paper) after being disabled/traumatized by an explosion, gun fire, etc. and war in general - "my brave young life was forever changed, in a misty cloud of pink vapor".

    Adjusting to his new life and disability (which may have left him less than a man - "darling give me your kiss, only understand, I am the nothing man") causes him great emotional pain. Survivor's guilt likely also has a significant impact on his daily life.

    He struggles each day with his new life, while others go on with theirs. He finds it difficult to relate to people (even those closest to him) because he is out of touch with his emotions - "I don't remember how I felt".

    People want to shake his hand and buy him a drink - for his service and sacrifice? He struggles with this because people don't understand or even realize what he's going through.

    Others see him as a hero, but in his mind, the only heroic thing he's done is not end his life by picking up the "pearl and silver" pistol on his night stand. The courage to go on living even though his life is filled with unbearable emotional turmoil is "courage you can't understand".

    I suppose much of the same is true, but from the perspective of a man who is no longer fighting the urge to commit suicide and prays he has the strength to go through with it - "It's just me Lord. I pray that I am able". Before killing himself he ask his wife/girlfriend for a kiss, signifying she understands what he is about to do, why he intends to do it and that she accepts his decision - if only to end his suffering.

    An interpretation where a ghost looks back on his life after committing suicide also works.

    The thing about great song writers is that they can craft lyrics and phrases that are flexible enough to mean different things to different people - allowing them to easily visualize their own meaning, no matter what the songwriters original intent. Given that, all interpretations are valid.
    thepipeon September 05, 2017   Link
  • 0
    General CommentI never thought of it that way but lookin at the lyrics now, it's got an element of ''well, i just save lives it's my job'' type thing .Like celebrities are treated as super-humans, but the men who die in war, or die getting people out of a burning building are forgotten, because they are ''the nothing men''
    I don't remember how I felt
    I never thought I'd live
    To read about myself
    In my hometown paper''
    I always thought that was about him looking back, and thinking wow. I never thought i'd get this far..

    ''
    that_sullen_girlon July 08, 2005   Link

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