Routine was the theme
He'd wake up, wash and pour himself into uniform
Something he hadn't imagined being
As the merging traffic passed
He found himself staring down
At his own hands
Not remembering the change
Not recalling the plan
Was it?...

He was okay
But wondering
About wandering
Was it age?
By consequence?
Or was he moved sleight of hand?

Mondays were made to fall
Lost on a road he knew by heart
It was like a book he read in his sleep, endlessly
Sometimes he hid in his radio
Watching others pull into their homes
While he was drifting

On a line
Of his own
Off the line
Off the side
By the by
As dirt turned to sand
As if moved by sleight of hand

When he reached the shore of his clip-on world
He resurfaced to the norm
Organized his few things, his coat and keys
Any new realizations would have to wait
Till he had more time
More time

A time to dream
To himself
He waves goodbye
To himself
I'll see you on the other side
Another man moved by sleight of hand

Lyrics submitted by Trent, edited by Mellow_Harsher

"Sleight of Hand" as written by Jeff Ament Eddie Vedder

Lyrics © Universal Music Publishing Group

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Sleight of Hand song meanings
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  • +2
    General CommentAs a lifelong Pearl Jam fan, I have been listening to this song for 10 years now since it was recorded. It now takes on more meaning than ever to me (corporate job etc., all the other cliches). I just want to point out that Eddie Vedder has referenced this theme in several other songs. But specifically, the song "I'm Open" has the lyric, "When he was six he believed that the moon overhead followed him, by nine he had deciphered the illusion, trading magic for fact, no this is what it's like to be an adult." Also the song "Let Me Sleep" has the line, "Oh when I was a kid, oh how magic it seemed...oh please let me sleep, it's Christmas time." So back to this song, when I hear the line, "another man moved by sleight of hand," I think of how we grow up beleiving in magic, dreams, hopes and fantasies...only to realize eventually that these wishes of a fairy tale life usually go unfulfilled. All I can say is good luck to everyone who has posted here and to who is still searching for answers to life's riddles. But hear me out, if you listen to this song along with "Nothingman" too often, please hide your razor blades...
    Lummmberon September 21, 2010   Link
  • +1
    General Commentby Nasus on 06-01-2004 @ 04:14:57 AM
    'Clip-on world' is a great phrase to sum up the idea of the entire song. Fake, pre-packaged..just handed to him. And 'dirt turned to sand'..what a way to describe growing up..just being broken into smaller and smaller pieces..great stuff here, writer's block my ass
    I completely agree, This song is definitely not suffering from Eddie's "Writer's Block"

    I also completely agree with the theme of the song being about mid-life crisis....

    The intro for the song just has a quality about it, like driving down an urban highway at night time,..I know that is definitely a difficult quality to express with a guitar....

    Life's become routine, everything is predictable and has lost it's pizzaz...

    Perhaps it's about someone going through a midlife crisis and finding solace in isolation? or in sitting life out? and the regrets they have from the crisis is that they sat it all out... they didn't live,.. but here's where the meaning of the song gets kinda murky...

    the line"any new realizations would, have to wait" obviously suggests he has made some kind of change or came to a realization, but the previous verse is very shrouded in obscurity, it's very vague as to what it is exactly he has realized...

    "On a line of his own. Off the line of the side. Bye the by.
    As dirt turned to sand. As if moved by sleight of hand."
    ^ Honestly, I am probably missing something very simple here, but what the hell does this verse mean? it obviously holds the "realization" but it doesn't reveal what it is to us...

    The song really takes off after it hits the "More time" verse where the band kind of rocks out but slowly, more like pushing kinda... and Eddie closes the song out amazingly with the "I'll see you on the other side" line..

    And the other side line suggests obviously that the person has changed or has begun to change, but to what we don't know....

    This truly is a killer track, even if Binaural didn't sell many copies, I think this album is still better put together than alot of the half assed crap out there now...
    N0 C0DE 79on March 09, 2006   Link
  • +1
    General CommentThis song is about waking up from the doldrums. The guy who said "anyone who has worked in the corporate world" nailed it. The song beautifully captures the malaise of day-to-day existence fueld by going to your job and driving home, sleeping, repeating the cycle day after day after day. The subject of the song has snapped out of it for a moment, I picture him sitting in traffic at a stop light or something and just looking at his hands and looking up and seeing what used to be familiar in an entirely different light. He at once is remembering everything he dreamed of doing.

    He dreams of turning the dirt of his life into sand. Dirt is filthy, something that must be washed away. Sand is play, fun, relaxation.

    The final part of the song clearly reads two ways. He's either leaving his dreaming behind, gathering his things and getting back to the grind or he's doing the opposite, gathering his few things and just going for it. Sleight of hand refers to a magic trick. How changes in life can be so sudden and thougths can spur you to do things you never imagined were possible in an instant. The subject of the song is being reminded that each day he chooses this life. At any moment he can choose to wave goodbye to this routine, the uniform, these mondays, and go to the "other side" eg his dreams of a different life. The act of waving is the sleight of hand, the physical movement of a hand that symbolizes much more. By simply waving his hand goodbye to what his life presently consists of he can change it. Best song on this record.
    pavingon October 10, 2006   Link
  • 0
    General CommentI think this song is about a lonely middle aged man who has been working his whole life and is just kind burned out on life. The song talks about his putting on his uniform everyday and how routine it is. It was like a "book he read in his sleep." The only part I don't get is at the end where it says

    "A time to dream to himself. He waves goodbye to his self.
    I'll see you on the other side.
    Another man moved by slight of hand."

    Did he kill himself or did he make a change and lived a little more out of the routine thing?
    Stoneyon April 09, 2004   Link
  • 0
    General CommentI can't believe there's only one post, this is a great song. I think the dream to himself bit means to live his dreams. Going back to "Lost on a road he knew by heart"- he knows what he wants but can't get it. "a book he read in his sleep" is the life he wants and an obvious reference to dreams. So the life he wants is on the "other side" of sleep. However, in this alternate life ("another man"), he has also been "moved by sleight of hand" and his 'perfect' life is not so perfect.
    Regos the Saneon April 14, 2004   Link
  • 0
    General CommentBeautiful song. Regarding the ending, I think it could mean that he realizes that he cannot do or experience the things which he wants to in his current existence because of his society & environment ("And he knew realizations would have to wait"). He lets go of his dreams and desires, himself essentially, ("He waves goodbye to his self") until there comes a time when he can become himself again and experience what he wants, such as in another life or afterlife ("I'll see you on the other side"). Seemingly a critique of our society where many people live bland, routine-filled existenses and cannot achieve their full potential or real ambitions. They didn't plan or expect to be where they are presently and their lives seemed to have passed by very quickly ("Was his age by consequence or was he moved by sleight of hand?").
    InMyTreeon May 26, 2004   Link
  • 0
    General Comment'Clip-on world' is a great phrase to sum up the idea of the entire song. Fake, pre-packaged..just handed to him. And 'dirt turned to sand'..what a way to describe growing up..just being broken into smaller and smaller pieces..great stuff here, writer's block my ass
    Nasuson June 01, 2004   Link
  • 0
    General CommentIf you work in 'corporate america,' this song makes perfect sense. I remember the first time I heard it, it depressed me for a week. Here is my meaning:

    When they are young, everyone has dreams about what they want to be when they grow up - I want to be a fireman or I want to be rich or work for myself or be in a band etc. When you get out of school or whatever and you get health insurance and a wife and a car payment and a mortgage and a kid, you probably find yourself doing a job that you don't like or didn't intend which is where the subject of the song is (not recalling the plan...). And once you experience Mondays, rush hour traffic, and the rest of the coat and tie world, you can really feel what the song is saying - Time is huge. He is lamenting about not having any time; time to dream or hike the grand canyon or own his own business or live his dream. So he says goodbye to his real self that he sees in his dream and goes back to sleep in his 'clip on world'. The last line 'Another man moved by slight of hand'. - it happens to just about everyone and you know its comming you saw it with your parents. My advice is chase your dream. As they say - 'If you do what you love, you will never work a day in your life,'
    tommyboy54on June 29, 2005   Link
  • 0
    General CommentI think you guys are on the right track and figured I'd add a little. It's kinda of a mid-life crisis, not in the realization that your going to die, but that life was really want you dreamed it would be like. You get an apartment or buy a house, have a corporate job that leaves you unfulfilled, kids, family, bills, repairs,...the list goes on and on. This guy, like millions of others had responsibilities that take priority over his dreams or any chance to dream. "He was okay" - means that its not like he's starving or in perpetual pain, but still knows that his life should have been better. "Lost on a road he knew by heart" is like taking the same route to work everyday, but then one day remebering to look up and away, to step outside the routine (all that he is now) and appreciate the world, to think again, to dream again.

    The song then brings him back to understanding his responsibilities, he'll go back to work tomorrow, go through the same rituals, the same boring job. he "says goodbye to himself" - just means that he'll see that side (the hopeful side, the dreamer side) again, sometime in the future when he for some reason gets "moved by sleight of hand".
    EternalJamon December 09, 2005   Link
  • 0
    General CommentGreat Song!!

    I think its about society and how most people or at least manycome to realize too late that they have become something they didn't want to...and how all their dreams are now lost.
    Edward_Seversen IIIon February 17, 2006   Link

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