"Today's Lesson" as written by and Nicholas Cave....
Little Janie, she wakes up from a dream
A gun like a jawbone down the waistband of her jeans
Mr Sandman can recite today's lesson in his sleep
He says
There oughta be a law against me going down on the street

Little Janie pipes up and she says
We're gonna have a real cool time tonight

Down the back of Janie's jeans she had the jawbone of an ass
Mr Sandman runs around the corner
Trying to head her off at the pass
He sticks his head over the fence and yells
Something way to fast
It's today lesson
Something about the corruption of the working class

Little Janie wakes up on the floor and she says
We're gonna have a real cool time tonight

Janie says we are all such a crush of want
Half-mad with loss
We are violated in our sleep and we weep
And we toss
And we turn
And we burn
We are hypnotised
We are cross-eyed
We are pimped
We are bitched
We are told such monstrous lies

Little Janie wakes up on the floor and she says
We're gonna have a real cool time tonight

Mr Sandmans has a certain appetite for Janie in repose
He digs her pretty kness and that she is completely naked underneath all her clothes
He likes to congregae around the intersection of Janie's jeans
Mr Sandman the inseminator, he opens her up like a love-letter and enters her dreams

Little Janie wakes up on the floor and she says
We're gonna have a real good time tonight
We're gonna have a real good time tonight
C'mon, c'mon, c'mon, c'mon
We're gonna have a real cool time tonight

Lyrics submitted by xdvr

Today's Lesson song meanings
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  • +3
    My InterpretationYou can interpret this as a literal story or as something more abstract, and I think the Cave intended a bit of both. Some other commenters have done pretty good work on the narrative, so here's what I think about the more abstract side of things.

    At the start of the song we are introduced to "Little Janie" (emphasizing her youth and vulnerability) waking from a dream (childhood?). The "gun like a jawbone down the waistband of her jeans" links violence and destruction with the power of sex (note the play in words with the phrase "jawbone of an ass" later on). Contrasted with this is Mr. Sandman, who "can recite today's lesson in his sleep", suggesting the extent to which he has been shaped and taught by society. What is "today's lesson"? In the second verse we get a partial answer -- "something about the corruption of the working class"... There's a pretty clear dichotemy here, where Janie represents innocence and Mr. Sandman cynicism and corruption, and their association suggests the inevitable loss of innocence that comes with adulthood.

    The bridge serves to connect the song in more ways than one. With the use of the first person plural "we", the lyrics emphasize that Little Janie and Mr. Sandman are stand-ins for the listener, personifications of aspects of the human condition. These lines emphasis the power of desire -- "we are all such a crush of want", etc. The phrase "We are violated in our sleep" perhaps alludes to emerging sexuality in dreams, and connects back to the loss of childhood innocence in the first verse. Later lines elaborate on the role society plays in this process: "we are pimped, we are bitched / we are told such monstrous lies". We are all exploited and lied to by society, literally or figuratively. Something potentially positive, sex, is transformed into something exploitative, prostitution, by the influence of greed and dishonesty.

    The last verse, probably the most intense, describes the link between Mr. Sandman and Janie. Mr. Sandman likes to see Janie sleeping (innocent and vulnerable), and he "digs her pretty knees and that she is completely naked underneath all her clothes" -- again, this nakedness suggests vulnerability, as well as sexual attractiveness. These lines suggest the allure that youth and has for the older, more experienced and cynical members of society. And the result is that "Mr. Sandman the inseminator, he opens her up like a love-letter and enters her dreams". This can be understood on at least three levels. First, sexual -- "Mr. Sandman the inseminator [...] opens her up [...] and enters her" -- a direct reference to sexual intercourse. Second, societal - Mr. Sandman as the corrupting influence of society now "enters [Janie's] dreams". And finally, personal - Mr. Sandman is the force of sexual desire within Janie, which acts as the "inseminator" (think fertility, vitality) that "opens [Janie] up like a love letter" -- bringing what was formerly latent and secret out into the world -- and "enters her dreams" as adult desire and awareness.

    And what is Janie's response to all this? "We're gonna have a real cool time tonight."... I'll let you draw your own conclusions.
    treanton April 01, 2013   Link
  • +2
    General CommentI think the song is generally about a young girl and her much older drug dealer, who is referred to in the lyrics as "Mr. Sandman".

    The first line where it says "Little Janie, she wakes up from a dream..." could be talking about her coming done from a drug high, which would make "Mr. Sandman" her dealer as in conventional meaning Mr. Sandman is the one who sends us of to sleep and gives us dreams. Also note where it says "There oughta be a law against me going down on the street". Why should such a thing be true unless he was engaged in illegal activity?

    Janie may also be in some sort of trouble with her Sandman as is evident in the lyrics "Mr Sandman runs around the corner/Trying to head her off at the pass/He sticks his head over the fence and yells/Something way to fast...". Perhaps she owes him money?

    She's a cautious girl, though. The "jawbone" done the waistband of her jeans is undoubtedly a gun as they are vaguely shaped like the jawbones of certain four-legged animals.

    There's also a lot of sexual desire in the Sandman for Janie as can be seen in virtually the entirety of the last verse.

    I dunno, there's a lot to read into hear. A LOT.
    floydzkriegon November 11, 2008   Link
  • +1
    General CommentMaybe it's a tiny bit pretentious of an interpretation, but it really looks like it's meant to be about female sexual awakening, and the adult fear of it? The combination of all the sexual references with the insistence on "little Janie" only being a kid is one part of it. The sandman in this case being her realisation of sexuality, hence why he keeps on causing all her sexual feelings, congregating around the waistband of her jeans and all. But he's only a sandman- he isn't real, he's a mental process.

    Now, the second part of it is more interesting. There's something very, very sinister about the sandman- the name itself evokes a kind of bedtime monster. And similarly, there's lines like "there oughta be a law against me" reflect the feelings the narrator has towards him. Overall, it seems like "little Janie" is portrayed as very innocent and passive, and the sandman is the corrupting influence.

    But if the sandman is nothing but Janie's thoughts herself, then it ends up as meaning that the narrator (and, I suppose, society itself) is scared of her growing up. And to prove it IS Janie who is the sandman after all, the chorus shows her being her own influence, going "we're gonna have a real good time tonight". So overall it really seems like that's the main was to interpret the song?
    Appers66on February 01, 2009   Link
  • 0
    General CommentC'mon someone, what's it mean? I know I like it but I aint no poet. Whats it all about? Sandman comes in your dreams and stuff. It sounds sexual but it also doesn't. Hmmm.
    iAMnotTHEoneon April 27, 2008   Link
  • 0
    General CommentI'm not sure it means anything! A lot of the songs on the Lazarus album make no logical sense at all, unless it's dream logic. The Sandman is mentioned in 'Tupelo' & Cave has a song called 'Little Janey's Gone' - I suppose that might be relevant. As for that jawbone, well, Samson killed a load of Philistines with the jawbone of an ass. But how it all fits together is anybodys guess. Great song, tho', sounds very late Velvet Underground.
    morbid moragon May 15, 2008   Link
  • 0
    General CommentIt's about seedy old men staring at young girls who parade around unaware of the nefarious sexual energy being directed at them.
    mackkaon June 18, 2008   Link
  • 0
    General CommentThis sounds so much like something else and I can't figure out what... it's driving me mad.
    magickmidgeton August 04, 2008   Link
  • 0
    General CommentIt seems something sexual, mabey prostitution?
    Musetasticon September 12, 2008   Link
  • 0
    General CommentI agree with Appers66
    o0conduitxXxforxXxmusic0oon March 02, 2009   Link
  • 0
    My InterpretationHaving read all the above comments (and enjoying the song), i must say that for me, one phrase keeps me thinking that the drug dealer / user references are most appropriate: "Little Janie wakes up on the floor" (used a couple times).

    Waking up on the floor not so much the normal approach. More like the passed out on the floor.

    and the next line, the syrupy "We're gonna have a real cool time tonight". reminds me of that Sheryl Crow song where "all i wanna do is have some fun", but all she really does is drink in a bar.

    i'm thinking pimp and (underage) prostitute who's lessons are now coming other than from school.

    after all, as the song says, Today's Lesson is "about the corruption of the working class..."
    montanaiowa4on November 18, 2009   Link

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