Did you call for the night porter?
You smell the blood running warm
I stay close to this frozen border, so close I can hit it with a stone
Now something crawls right up my spine
That I always got to follow
Turn out the lights
Don't see me drawn and hollow
Just blood running warm
No one needs to tell you that
There's no use for ya here anymore
And where are your friends?
They've gone away
It's a different world, they left you to this
To janitor
The emptiness
So let's get it on
When the sun is finally going down, and you're overdue to follow
But you're still above the ground
What ya got comin' is hard to swallow
Like blood running warm
Did they call for the night porter
And smell the blood, blood running warm
Well I've been waitin at this frozen border, so close you could hit it with a stone

Lyrics submitted by richd-3

When Your Number Isn't Up Lyrics as written by Mark Lanegan

Lyrics © Sony/ATV Music Publishing LLC

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When Your Number Isn't Up song meanings
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  • +1
    General Comment

    In his memoir, Mark says ‘Night Porter’ was a nickname Kurt Cobain once used to describe Mark’s ability to deliver him heroin late into the night.\n\nBeyond that this song seems to be about surviving through addiction while many of your friends have died, and how close to death he felt. Some of Mark’s closest friends were Kurt Cobain, Layne Staley, and Jeffrey Lee Pierce, all lost to addiction.

    silentryanon March 29, 2022   Link
  • 0
    General Comment

    anyon egot any idea? im trying to figure this one out but he gets me lost on this one

    Lord Pembrokeon April 28, 2005   Link
  • 0
    General Comment

    ah wait, i think i got an idea. I think its about a guy who has lived his live and wants to die. But "his number isn't up"

    Well, i think its about this :s

    Lord Pembrokeon April 28, 2005   Link
  • 0
    General Comment

    I'd assume its about a guy close to overdose on some narcotics. Why? - "I stay close to this frozen border, so close I can hit it with a stone" - This frozen border suggests that it might be death itself.

    So there he sits; abandoned, left alone to janitor the emptiness. Overdue to follow the setting sun - but he doesn't. At least not yet...

    fransjosefon March 25, 2006   Link
  • 0
    General Comment

    the title is a reference to a car accident he was in

    ZoloftSmoothieon August 26, 2007   Link
  • 0
    General Comment

    Even though my life has had a very different trajectory than Lanegan's, I believe I've been in the place he sings about in this song--that desolate sort of place where you're "in between the worlds," not dead but yet strangely aloof and detached from the world of the living. The narrator of this song is surprised that he's still alive, and still feels close to death--that "frozen border"--but knows that his "number isn't up," that it isn't his time to die. What's left is to "janitor the emptiness"--which is all any of us ever really do, it's just that the narrator of this song has the haunting knowledge of it.

    nobody_on February 27, 2008   Link
  • 0
    General Comment

    Reminds me of Tom Waits's "The Ocean Doesn't Want Me" from Bone Machine. There seem to be thoughts of suicide.

    I also agree with nobody_'s interpretation.

    azkmon September 17, 2008   Link
  • 0
    General Comment

    Lord Pembroke has it pretty much right. It's about someone who is waiting to die, they feel like their life is about over. They feel lonely and just want it to be over as their freinds have all gone leaving them nobody to lean on;

    And where are your friends? They've gone away It's a different world, they left you to this To janitor The emptiness So let's get it on

    The frozen border to me at least is clearly 'passing on'. The sun is finally going down is metaphor picturing your life as a single day and the sun is setting on it so it's time to go to sleep and end it. That's how they feel, but they're 'still above the ground' and their number isn't yet up but it's what they long for. Awesome song.

    LeylandLaticon April 19, 2010   Link
  • 0
    General Comment

    I always thought of it (though this is just a personal interpretation, not based in anything other than what the song makes ME think about), of it as a song about doing drugs with someone in a hotel, and you come to or check the bathroom or something and they're dead, but you aren't, and just the surreal detachment and existential pondering that comes along with that.

    Rereading the lyrics in light of what some of you posted, your interpretations actually make more sense. Related ideas, but particularly the lyric 'Blood Running Warm' I was thinking of as someone who has recently died (perhaps slitting wrists or something) but hasn't even had a chance to get cold yet... thus: his/her blood is still warm, and has that particular scent.

    Then 'Did you call for the night porter' is a massive understatement of: 'Shit, well something should probably be done about the body', also the term 'Janitor' might have conjured up this image as well.

    Finally, to my interpretation, he is then turning out the lights so he doesn't have to see the body, or have the body see him as he get's high again before he must leave, which is 'Hard to Swallow'

    erich10206on July 14, 2016   Link
  • 0
    General Comment

    “Night porter” was something Kurt cobain used to call lanegan back in the day. Because mark used to stay up all night delivering heroin to people for money, if I’m not mistaken. (Source: Sing Backwards And Weep, mark lanegans memoir, chapter name is “did you call for the night porter”)

    klub100on April 18, 2024   Link

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