"Underground" as written by and K. Thomas I. Martin....
Rattle big black bones in the danger zone
There's a rumblin' groan down below
There's a big dark town, it's a place I've found
There's a world going on underground

They're alive, they're awake
While the rest of the world is asleep
Below the mineshaft roads it will all unfold
There's a world going on underground

All the roots hang down
Swing from town to town
They are marching around down under your boots
All the trucks unload
Beyond the gopher holes
There's a world going on underground

Lyrics submitted by yuri_sucupira

"Underground" as written by Thomas Alan Waits

Lyrics © AUDIAM, INC, BMG Rights Management

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Underground song meanings
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  • +4
    My InterpretationThis (being the first track on Swordfishtrombones) actually marks the turning point in Tom Waits' music moves from his early style to his later, more Waitsian (is there any other word you can use to describe it?) work.

    So maybe this song is autobiographical, documenting the point where his eyes are suddenly opened to a new world that has been there all along but has been invisible until now.
    "there's a big dark town/it's a place I've found/there's a world going on/underground"
    wolfticketon March 21, 2009   Link
  • +1
    General CommentLike Zemi said it is probably about some " lower class beings ". It could also be about ants. But of course it has a double meaning. We humans think we own the earth, but ants are much more numerous than we are, and they are almost everywhere on the planet. Perhaps, if all humanity dies, they will still live. It's about fearing people who work harder than you. One time or another, they will throw you out of your throne and you will find yourself UNDERGROUND!
    Ex Abruptoon July 09, 2007   Link
  • +1
    General CommentAgree with wolfticket. Waits at this point moved away from his manager Bones Howe and started a personal and working relationship with his wife Kathleen Brennan.
    To me underground is about musical transition. From this point on we hear a more experimental Waits with more avant garde influences such as beefheart. I love this track and I think a transition musically is the meaning behind this.
    mrsiegalon September 23, 2015   Link
  • 0
    General Commenti first heard this song on ROBOTS and i knew right away that it was waits. he is well known for his stories like this with dark settings.
    reckless1on June 30, 2006   Link
  • 0
    General CommentI've been a fan of Tom Waits since I heard "God's Away on Business", and I've sort of been struggling to consume as much of his music as I can all at once, but this one rings as my personal favorite. I'm of two minds on the content; on one hand, it seems to be a song about a sort of underlying seediness (omnipresent in Waits' work throughout, especially his newer stuff), some kind of quiet, rolling hum beneath the Ivory Tower, perhaps the working class or the underbelly of any given city or society. On the other hand, it also reminds me distinctly of my night-shift work, which, I guess, ties into the 'working class' feel. I could be wrong, but, that's the vibe I get from it. It's about the metal-fire and the chemical stink of the high industrial guts of any major metropolis.
    Zemion October 02, 2006   Link
  • 0
    General CommentIt could also be about the underground music scenes, Tom Waits is an underground musician afterall...
    jpr227on May 05, 2008   Link
  • 0
    General CommentImho this is a song about the unseen industrialism in many major cities not just in the U.S. but in many countries. Little sweat-shop areas where the normal citizen would never consider acknowledging.
    TheKylePhractoron October 21, 2008   Link
  • 0
    General Commentthis interview fragment from when Big Time came out (1988) has Waits opining crazily about moles at the beginning. So perhaps this song is really about burrowing animals and their "cities" and societies, and not allegorically about music at all.

    iceboxon March 16, 2018   Link
  • 0
    My InterpretationWhile I don't think this is the intended interpretation, I've always taken this song's lyrics as being literal, having the song be about a man discovering an underground civilization made up of large, black, groaning skeleton or skeleton-like creatures. Maybe they aren't creatures at all, but rather robots, golems, or automatons of some sort? Perhaps the roots he mentions are some sort of wiring, such as those you'd see on telephone poles?
    YipTheMechanicalFoxon March 09, 2019   Link

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