Your hand on his arm
Hay stack charm around your neck
Strung out and thin
Calling some friend trying to cash some check
He's acting dumb
That's what you've come to expect

Needle in the hay
Needle in the hay
Needle in the hay
Needle in the hay

He's wearing your clothes
Head down to toes a reaction to you
You say you know what he did
But you idiot kid
You don't have a clue
Sometimes they just get caught in the eye
You're pulling him through

Needle in the hay
Needle in the hay
Needle in the hay
Needle in the hay

Now on the bus
Nearly touching this dirty retreat
Falling out 6th and Powell a dead sweat in my teeth
Gonna walk walk walk
Four more blocks plus one in my brain
Down downstairs to the man
He's gonna make it all okay
I can't be myself
I can't be myself
And I don't want to talk
I'm taking the cure so I can be quiet
Whenever I want
So leave me alone
You ought to be proud that I'm getting good marks

Needle in the hay
Needle in the hay
Needle in the hay
Needle in the hay


Lyrics submitted by EnjOy IncUbus, edited by mobopro, boogie7601, mikael1172, Jate, GonzoMe, sokorny

Needle in the Hay song meanings
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  • +13
    My Interpretation

    This song is indisputably about heroin and no, you do not have to be a drug user to "get" it. You just need to be well-read enough to get the references (which is NOT the same thing as saying you need to be "smart" enough). Here's my line-by-line interpretation:

    Your hand on his arm The haystack charm Around your neck

    ==> The You and Him are ambiguous at this point. The haystack charm evokes the image of a common charm necklace with a charm in the shape of a haystack on it. That said, there's some symbolism/foreshadowing at work here. "Your hand on his arm" could reference basic familiarity/intimacy between friends or lovers, but it also conjures up images of "your hand" directing or leading "his arm", influencing him. Combine that image with the haystack "around your neck", not unlike a burden that drags you down like the archetypal "albatross" (see Coleridge's classic poem the "Rime of the Ancient Mariner" for the reference, or the Iron Maiden song if you must...). Peeling back the onion further, one could note that "your hand" is on his arm, the very place where the needle hidden in the haystack goes in the heroin interpretation of the song. Granted, we're only one stanza into the song, so much of this interpretation depends on what we learn later in the song, but Elliott chooses his words carefully so these things are not likely to be coincidental.

    Strung out and thin Calling some friend Trying to cash some check

    He's acting dumb That's what you've come To expect

    ==> Basic enough. Strung out on heroin, trying to cash a bad check to get money to score. The addict exhibits poor judgment and a pattern of bad behavior that alienates friends and loved ones who are continually let down by the addict's behavior. (Compare this to the lyrics of "Crumbling Down" by Polvo, which is an excellent song about drug addiction from the point of view of the addict's friend as seen from across that proverbial last burning bridge [artists.letssingit.com/polvo-lyrics-crumbling-down-xbwf76n].) But who is "you"?? We shall see, we shall see.

    Needle in the hay Needle in the hay Needle in the hay Needle in the hay

    ==> An obvious drug reference but also a thematic reference to the soul-searching futility and desperation that haunt the addict's life.

    He's wearing your clothes Head down to toes A reaction to you

    ==> This is where the He/You references get difficult and where we need to take an interpretive leap. It makes no sense to say "he's wearing your clothes" unless we look at the he/you division as a dichotomy within the narrator's self. Let's try this on for size: "You" is the the troubled past of the 'Elliott'/narrator character. (We all know Elliott was abused as a child.) This character's demons are what push him ("your hand on his arm") to drugs. "He's wearing your clothes" is not to be taken literally, but more to be a shorthand for saying that "you" (the demons) inhabit "him" the addict, completely and who "he" is, the strung-out dumb acting suggestible junkie, is literally a reaction to "you", the demons of his troubled past. It really seems to work as an interpretive frame, and would be a sadly common backstory for a drug addict.

    You say you know what he did But you idiot kid You don't have a clue

    ==> I think there are layers of meaning here, or a couple of competing possible interpretations. First, keeping with the you/him dichotomy within the narrator, the "you" is the abused child part of the narrator's persona, fully able to feel the pain, but nowhere near mature enough to understand the world of hurt that "he" has opened himself up to by "dancing with Mr. Brownstone" (forgive me for the G'n'R reference...). Second, the "he" here could also refer to the abusive stepfather of Elliott's actual past, and while the adolescent or emotionally stunted part of the narrator knows what he "did" literally, he has no capacity to appreciate how much it screwed him up and drove him to destroy his life with drugs.

    Sometimes they just Get caught in the eye You're pulling him through

    ==> "You" is trying to pull "him" through the eye of the needle. Symbolically, threading a needle is a common image for doing something painstakingly difficult. The damaged adolescent "you" is trying to pull the adult "him" through the difficulties of his life and out the other side, but, as the song says, sometimes you just get caught.

    Needle in the hay Needle in the hay Needle in the hay Needle in the hay

    Now on the bus Nearly touching This dirty retreat

    Falling out 6th and Powell A dead sweat in my teeth

    ==> You and Him are gone. The dichotomy of the internal struggle gives way to mememememe, the internal drumbeat of the junk-sick addict. The narrator is admitting defeat. He's on his way to score and he can nearly feel it in his blood (literally). The "dirty retreat" is falling off the wagon, or simply the decision to give in to the siren call of the junky nurse. The need for a fix is so intense he can feel it in his teeth.

    Going to walk, walk, walk Four more blocks Plus the one in my brain

    Down downstairs To the man He's going to make it all ok

    ==> Multiple Velvet Underground references here, and as well there should be since VU were the original junky band. The "walk, walk, walk" repetition is, I believe, a winking homage to the classic Velvet underground song of drug use and self-destruction "Run, Run, Run". The "man" (as in the Velvet's "I'm Waiting for the Man") is the dealer who is going to "make it all ok" ironically by making it all much, much worse.

    I can't beat myself I can't beat myself And I don't want to talk

    I'm taking the cure So I can be quiet Whenever I want

    ==> The ultimate admission of defeat, which succumbing to drug addiction truly is. This is "him" admitting that he can't beat his own demons. Rather than contemplate that failure, that personal tragedy, he shoots up so he can "be quiet" (ie. not have to listen to the demons in his head). He ironically refers to it as "taking the cure", which is a Victorian-era reference to visiting a health spa or sanatorium, or, more specifically, to visiting such a place for an extended period to cure tuberculosis. For Elliott, taking the cure does not mean ridding the body of the cancer within, but of giving the self over totally to that self-destruction. Moving and sad.

    So leave me alone You ought to be proud That I'm getting good marks

    ==> The "good marks", which he positively hisses out in the song, is a sly reference to track marks from shooting up. I believe he is telling his inner "you" to leave him alone since he drove him to the drug use in the first place. Don't judge me, he's saying, it was your hand on my arm, I'm this way in "reaction to you". This is the only way I can escape....

    Almost too sad for words. What a great, great song.

    parentheticalon August 23, 2010   Link
  • +8
    General Comment

    I disagree with Erisian, I don't think it's about drugs. It's about someone who's lost, and is jaded with life ("he's acting dumb, that what you've come to expect""you idiot kid, you don't have a clue"). He feels alone, different than everything around him, but could still pass off as being normal (the needle in the hay). "The man" he refers to isn't a drug dealer, but more of just someone - any one - who is down those stairs and can make his life worth living. "so leave me alone, you ought to be proud that i'm getting good marks" - Anyone who has ever been unhappy should understand that. You go through life, do well, and you think that should be enough. But it's not.

    -Michelle

    captainspooton August 12, 2002   Link
  • +5
    General Comment

    When you lose your comfort and you have no idea if anything's ever going to come along to give you an anchor again and you're in between. Those kinds of times are so strange.

    isaraon February 01, 2002   Link
  • +4
    General Comment

    It's about drugs. Probably heroin. The dead sweat in his teeth, the "he's wearing your clothes, head down to toes a reaction to you, but you idiot kid, you don't have a clue..." is looking in the mirror and screaming at yourself about how stupid you are. Walking to see the man is going out to score a fix. And the whole time, you try to keep it kind of secret, "so leave me alone, you ought to be proud that I'm getting good marks" and that's the part that tears you up most because you can't talk about it to anyone.

    Erisianon July 08, 2002   Link
  • +4
    General Comment

    i must agree with those who hold that the song is about drugs. to me, these lyrics:

    down downstairs to the man he's gonna make it all OK i can't beat myself i can't beat myself and i don't want to talk i'm taking the cure so i can be quiet whenever i want

    could be about little else than drugs and if, indeed, they concern something else, i find it hard to believe that mr. smith would not have seen the inferences that people would make, reading those lyrics, and yet there is no convincing evidence in the lyrics to suggest something other than drugs. hey, maybe i'm wrong but if so i must be missing something big.

    Mephon September 02, 2002   Link
  • +3
    General Comment

    Erisian- I agree with you, that's exactly how I interpreted the song. And Isara-I agree with you as well, only I think the speaker in this song has an anchor, being drugs of some sort, and he knows he's headed towards a dead-end, so he's looking for something else to anchor him-something which won't destroy him, but it's so hard to find-like a needle in the hay.

    StarClaireon July 23, 2002   Link
  • +2
    General Comment

    To start; the title: To me, if something is a needle inside of a haystack, then it's something that's especially hard to find -- to the point of frustration. For the character in the song (perhaps for Elliot as the singer) this is respite from a poor family life, or just from the chaos of life. And to the singer this respite is heroin.

    Gren901on August 22, 2002   Link
  • +2
    General Comment

    Some notes:

    gonna walk walk walk four more blocks plus the one in my BRAIN down downstairs to the man

    Note the correction.

    Also, I think Smith enjoys punning or using multiple meanings in his lyrics. I think "sometimes they just get caught in the eye/you're pulling him through" is punning on how a thread passes through the eye of a needle and is pulled through. As to what else he's saying, I'm not sure, perhaps the female (if she's the needle) got either the narrator (in the third person) or the other man hooked on heroin? I can't figure out if there are two or one males in this narrative.

    noteworthyon April 15, 2003   Link
  • +2
    My Interpretation

    Strung out and thin Calling some friend Trying to cash some check

    daily life (maybe trying to point out how dull it is)?

    He's acting dumb That's what you've come To expect

    criticizing himself

    He's wearing your clothes Head down to toes A reaction to you

    he doesn't recognize the person in the mirror anymore? he's lost his personality.

    Sometimes they just Get caught in the eye You're pulling him through

    like a thread on a needle, it follows right behind it (conforming). his addiction (whatever it is) is the needle, his personality is the thread being made to conform.

    Now on the bus Nearly touching This dirty retreat

    showing his disgust for society (or himself)? the bus transports us to our next destination. go to work, go to school, go home.

    Going to walk, walk, walk Four more blocks Plus the one in my brain

    he's forcing himself to go somewhere he doesn't want to go. walking the block in his brain is a metaphor to trying to reason with himself?

    Down downstairs To the man He's going to make it all ok

    first thing I thought of was "satan." in this case, it could be his own "satan."

    I can't beat myself I can't beat myself And I don't want to talk

    he's only capable of so much. he can only do what he can do, and nothing else. and it disgusts him (and I don't want to talk).

    I'm taking the cure So I can be quiet Whenever I want

    the cure being a reference to probably drugs? it's his escaping from the life he hates (so I can be quiet whenever I want).

    So leave me alone You ought to be proud That I'm getting good marks

    I still think he's talking to himself here. "good marks" would be a reference to... well... doing well in work, at school, etc... in this way, he is justifying his self destruction (to himself) by saying "atleast I'm doing something good even if I'm not happy."

    Needle in the hay

    this could be a reference to many things. personally I think it's a reference to how he can't recognize himself anymore. like he said before, he looks like a stranger to himself (from what I interpreted). so he is the needle, and society is the haystack.

    nekirhson August 09, 2009   Link
  • +1
    General Comment

    i think you can all make this osng out to be whatever you want. thats what hes trying to do, not specify how your supposed to feel about this song and what your supposed to think its about, but relate it to yourself and how your life has been similar to that and all the different emotions and feelings you had or still have

    DADSonACIDon August 20, 2002   Link

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