"Straight Time" as written by and Bruce Springsteen....
Got out of prison back in '86 and I found me a wife
Walked the clean and narrow
Just tryin' to stay out and stay alive
Got a job at the rendering factory,it ain't gonna make me rich
In the darkness before dinner comes
Sometimes I can feel the it
I got a cold mind to go tripping across that thin line
I'm sick of doin straight time

My uncles at the evenin' table makes his living runnin' hot cars
Slips me a hundred dollar bill, says
"Charlie, you best remember who your friend are."
I got a cold mind to go tripping across that thin line
I ain't makin' straight time

Eight years in, it feels like you're gonna die
But you get used to anything
Sooner or later it becomes your life

Kitchen floor in the evening, tossin' my little babies high
Mary's smilin', but she watches me out of the corner of her eye
Seems you can't get any more than half free
I step out onto the front porch, and suck the cold air deep inside of me
Got a cold mind to go tripping cross that thin line
I'm sick of doin' straight time

In the basement, huntin' gun and a hacksaw
Sip a beer, and thirteen inches of barrel drop to the floor

Come home in the evening, can't get the smell from my hands
Lay my head down on the pillow
And, go driftin' off into foreign lands

Lyrics submitted by oofus

"Straight Time" as written by Bruce Springsteen

Lyrics © Downtown Music Publishing

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Straight Time song meanings
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  • +2
    General CommentThe Charcter in the song comes out of Jail and starts trying to live the "Straight Life" but is finding it hard. Even Mary, who we can assume is his wife, seems tentative about him:

    "Mary's smilin', but she watches me out of the corner of her eye
    Seems you can't get any more than half free"

    I think it paints a good picture of people who have been locked up for a long time and how hard it is for them to get a job, or even just be trusted in general.

    As for what he's doing with the shotgun, ...He uses the hacksaw to saw off the shotgun, drinks some beer and kills himself "Sip of beer and thirteen inches of barrel drop to the floor" - No matter what he does he just can not seem to live the straight life, and everyone, including his wife still judge him on the past.

    The last paragraph is used for symbolizm "Can't get the smell from my hands, lay my head down on the pillow and go driftin off in foreign lands" Can't get the smell from my hands means he can't change what hes done, and driftin off in foreign lands can refer to the afterlife.

    -Another take could be that he did his time in jail, comes out but just finds it so hard to live "the straight life" (Got a cold mind, to go tripin cross that thin line, i'm sick of doing straight time"
    Whatever it was that he did to be in jail for 18years, perhaps killing - he "trips across that thin line" and goes out and kills again, and he can't change what he's done "Can't get the smell from my hands"

    vipercwfon December 10, 2009   Link
  • 0
    General Commentit's too bad that no one has commented on this song, because i find it to be interesting. here's a man who has been in prison for some time and has managed to begin a "normal" life. but the normality of life starts to get to him. "straight time" is hard. not what he's familiar with in terms of outside (of prison) life. down in the basement, there's some contemplation about what to- his former and present life converging. at the end, fantasy or dreams emerge.
    jayd44on March 22, 2007   Link
  • 0
    General CommentI love everything that's going on in the song, but I can't quite grasp what's happening in the last two stanzas. Is he just contemplating doing something or what? I wanna know what he's doing with a sawed off shotgun.
    TheMineralRecordon November 04, 2007   Link
  • 0
    General CommentI think the end is about him commiting another crime, and then waiting to be caught again and going back to jail, which is what he seems to want
    elliott1991on December 16, 2009   Link
  • 0
    General Commenthow can anyone write such a good song. I find it hard to belive
    lillabubbenon June 10, 2010   Link
  • 0
    General CommentThis is a great song indeed. However, Charlie does not kill himself at the end of the song. Why would anybody saw off a shotgun to shoot themselves...? The reason you saw off a shot gun is to increase the spread of the pellets increase your range of damage. Like another reply stated, this is Charlie reverting back to his old ways of crime and violence. He's doing this because he simply cannot succeed, support, or survive in a normal life.
    dlodown1on June 20, 2010   Link
  • 0
    My InterpretationThe song is about doing "straight time"--metaphorical "time" (i.e. jail time) while you're supposedly free after coming out of prison.

    I want to expand on some of the comments made below. Charlie (protagonist) finds the the straight life restrictive ("half free") and unhappy: his behavior has to be entirely pure because no one trusts him ("Walked the clean and narrow / just tryin' to stay out and stay alive"). Even his wife cannot seem to trust him in what should be a happy and innocent moment ("Kitchen floor in the evening, tossin' my little babies high / Mary's smilin', but she watches me out of the corner of her eye").

    Charlie's life feels like a dead end. His job doesn't have much potential ("Got a job at the rendering factory, it ain't gonna make me rich") and he feels trapped ("Eight years in, it feels like you're gonna die / But you get used to anything / Sooner or later it becomes your life"). Meanwhile, he's surrounded by people who are making it big illegally: his hot car-running uncle apparently has $100 to throw around. Charlie's damned if he does, damned if he doesn't.

    Charlie is always tempted to go back to crime ("Got a cold mind to go tripping cross that thin line / I'm sick of doin' straight time"; "Sometimes I can feel the itch") and, ultimately, gives in to this urge. He does NOT kill himself, though perhaps the "gun in the basement alone" bit is suggestive of a *metaphorical* suicide. He takes his "huntin' gun and a hacksaw" and cuts off "thirteen inches of barrel." Stereotypically, sawed off shotguns are used by criminals; you don't need to saw off a barrel to kill yourself. There is also a final scene (last three lines) where Charlie is definitely alive.

    The end is very ambiguous. Charlie comes home (from a crime), goes to sleep and goes "drifting off into foreign lands." I think the most reasonable interpretation is that his dreams are a continuation of his life: Charlie is alienated from the world and is adrift; his return to crime is not so much a decision as an indecision, the desperation of someone lost.

    You could also read it to say that the freedom he has found is foreign or that he is dreaming of a freedom foreign to him.
    corydeburdon December 19, 2012   Link
  • 0
    General CommentIn the end, he he can't get the gunpowder smell off his hands after using the sawed off shotgun.
    Yet he has no trouble sleeping after whatever deed he has done.
    He isn't making "straight time," but sleeps just fine after a crime.
    AlecKohuton January 22, 2014   Link
  • 0
    My OpinionSurprised no one mentioned that the idea for this song probably came from the movie Straight Time or the book, which was originally titled No Beast so Fierce, by Edward Bunker (Mr Blue in Reservoir Dogs).

    Personally, I don't think this is a guy who has crossed "that thin line" - yet! My impression is that he has taken his first steps toward doing just that, though - it's possible he got sober in prison, as they say 80-90% of people in jail are there because of drugs, be it selling, using, or doing things to be able to get the money to continue using... Which would make the seemingly throwaway "sip a beer..." part of that line very significant...

    But I think he's still trying to keep it together. The final verse begins with a double entendre ("can't get the smell from my hands" is, as others stated, his inability to escape the things he's done, especially in the eyes of others, but it is also a direct reference to his job at the rendering plant, which must be an awful place to work. Not to mention he's bored to tears, and the smell is representative of that boredom's inescapability. Laying his head down and "drifting off into foreign lands" is his only respite from his desperate, daily, workaday existence. I'm reminded of the line from John Cougar Mellencamp's 'Minutes To Memories' - "An honest man's pillow is his peace of mind".
    force263on April 11, 2014   Link
  • 0
    General Comment"Can't get the smell from my hands" refers to his job at the rendering plant. Talk to anyone who has worked at a rendering plant and this is a common problem.

    He has a sawed off shotgun on hand just in case he in fact decides to "go tripping cross that thin line." But in the final stanza he's still living the straight life; he just came home from work after another regular day.
    joe1000066on October 06, 2014   Link

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