Take a little walk to the edge of town
And go across the tracks
Where the viaduct looms
Like a bird of doom
As it shifts and cracks
Where secrets lie in the border fires
In the humming wires
Hey man, you know
You're never coming back
Past the square, past the bridge
Past the mills, past the stacks
On a gathering storm
Comes a tall handsome man
In a dusty black coat with
A red right hand

He'll wrap you in his arms
Tell you that you've been a good boy
He'll rekindle all the dreams
It took you a lifetime to destroy
He'll reach deep into the hole
Heal your shrinking soul
But there won't be a single thing that you can do
He's a god, he's a man
He's a ghost, he's a guru
They're whispering his name
Through this disappearing land
But hidden in his coat
Is a red right hand

You don't have no money?
He'll get you some
You don't have no car?
He'll get you one
You don't have no self-respect
You feel like an insect
Well don't you worry buddy
'Cause here he comes
Through the ghettos and the barrio
And the Bowery and the slum
A shadow is cast wherever he stands
Stacks of green paper in his
Red right hand

You'll see him in your nightmares
You'll see him in your dreams
He'll appear out of nowhere but
He ain't what he seems
You'll see him in your head
On the TV screen
Hey buddy, I'm warning
You to turn it off
He's a ghost, he's a god
He's a man, he's a guru
You're one microscopic cog
In his catastrophic plan
Designed and directed by
His red right hand


Lyrics submitted by Nelly, edited by smallwonderrobot, AdamAitch

Red Right Hand song meanings
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  • +10
    General Comment

    Cheers to Bentol and others:

    No one mentioned that "Red Right Hand" is from John Milton's "Paradise Lost".

    This is even spelled out on another Nick Cave album "Murder ballads" in "Song of Joy":

    " Quotes John Milton on the walls in the victim's blood. Police are investigating at tremendous cost. In my house he wrote 'His red right hand' " That I am told, is from 'Paradise Lost' "

    Milton wrote: " Chained on the burning lake? That sure was worse. What if the breath that kindled those grim fires, Awaked, should blow them into sevenfold rage, And plunge us in the flames; or from above Should intermitted vengeance arm again His red right hand to plague us? What if all Her stores were opened, and this firmament Of Hell should spout her cataracts of fire, Impendent horrors, threatening hideous fall "

    You can see the obvious allure for our pal Nick. All that old trestament wrathful divinity that fills much of his poetry.

    The beauty of art is it's ability to become what the viewer sees or even wishes to see. For my money, though, the tall, handsome man in this song might be the brutal God of the Christian tales, indiffrent to man's sense of self-destruction.

    Cave is one fo my favourite poets who happens to be an excellent musician.

    -phase

    warmPhaseon February 06, 2006   Link
  • +6
    General Comment

    I always wondered if Nick Cave is a Stephwn King fan, because this song is a perfect description of Randall Flagg in The Stand. Everything about it is so perfect for that character, especially the lines 'On the gathering storm comes a tal handsome man in a dusty black coat with a red right hand.'

    CHAKAon January 25, 2005   Link
  • +3
    General Comment

    Bentol's on to something -- between the Paradise Lost and the trinity references, God is a good call. One of my two favourite theories for this song.

    Going with the god-theory: Rather than actual god, I think ol' Nick's describing the -idea- of god, drawn from the prayers of the wretched of a modern capitalist society. Divinity is meaningless, mercy and salvation are meaningless. All that matters is what you can get out of it, and so it doesn't matter who you're talking to (the 'ghost, god, man, guru' -bit). This is also why the description is so horriffic -- this is God as a dealer, the kind of guy who treats his congregation as customers. Pay your dues (in faith) and you'll get your fix of good stuff, don't and your life will be hell because always you'll be haunted by what you may ahve missed.

    My problem with that theory is that it leaves the first verse (all that modern industrialist imagery) completely hanging. That's why I'd suggest a second identity for the man with the hand. On the one hand, it's the vindictive dealer image of God that runs through American politics. On the other, it's secular government as a controlling, identity-stealing and individualism-crushing force. That's what the lyric seems to be saying to me: "Big Brother is watching, he knows all about you, he's everywhere, and this is -his- world. Conform to what we want you to want, or be ground down."

    delayon February 10, 2006   Link
  • +3
    Song Meaning

    red right hand means he has killed people. red as in blood. I think they are talking about a government man. A shady unknown man that has done bad things involved with the government, such as war, illegal testing, corruption, and such. they are talking about uncle sam / the government. / the unknown and faceless government agent.

    he will comfort you, that can represent the way they may give you a job and say you are protecting people, and it is in the interest of the nation, while in reality you are doing shady things. stacks of green paper in his red right hand, well that's obvious, the government has money to spend, and they have power and are corrupt.

    this song was used in the x files tv series. In the show, they show shady government figures, like the cigarette smoking man, skinner, and others, that are involved with corrupt plots and cover ups. Some of them are murderers, aka "red right hand" (in my opinion, I think that is what the show and song is driving at)

    "black coat" = government agent

    my opinion is that it has nothing to do with the devil, that's just my opinion.

    there are lots of different opinions about this song, but this is what came into my mind when I heard it. great song by the way. (I like the music, not the lyrics)

    "you are one microscopic cog in his plan" = one small agent, amidst a vast network,, a large machine., one cog in a big machine.

    "take me to the town, and go across the tracks.... " = see? its anytown usa, it can happen anywhere. They can find you, any place, any where... no secret is safe.

    mike34on May 10, 2012   Link
  • +2
    General Comment

    i think john andrew philot is more or less right except that his explanation is about as cryptic as the song. the man with the red right hand is a broad metaphor for something/someone which can make you feel better but not actually make you better. perhaps something which tricks your body or your mind into feeling more at ease, drugs for example or perhaps a fashion label. things you have been convinced to like by other people and those people (the ones with the red right hands) make "stacks of green paper" out of your addiction.

    i really hope thats true about this whole song being adlibbed but i doubt it.

    joeytheboyon July 18, 2005   Link
  • +1
    General Comment

    Scary eh? Thats neat. When I read the lyrics my first idea was a description of satan or a satanic figure, but when i actually listen to the song i get no such images of anything scare or demonic like that. Rather i get a picture of a person the kind who's status as hero or criminal is widely debated. Someone to be deeply respected and yet wanted dead by others. Someone with a shady background and the capability to be your worst nightmare or your best friend and asset. Meh.. just the imagery i get.

    squeegie^weegieon September 17, 2004   Link
  • +1
    Song Meaning

    Randall Flagg, from the Stephen King Book mini series, THE STAND, is the person mentioned in this song. Watch The Stand, and you'll know!

    TheLoneMarineHickson December 03, 2008   Link
  • +1
    General Comment

    What if the breath that kindled those grim fires, Awaked, should blow them into sevenfold rage, And plunge us in the flames; or from above Should intermitted vengeance arm again His red right hand to plague us?

    en.wikisource.org/wiki/Paradise_Lost/Book_II

    According to Wikipedia the action of books I-II amongst other things centres around "a debate [between the rebels] on what to do next in relation to the war in Heaven." The extract is spoken by Belial, who has been symbolic of many differing qualities throughout history. However, in Book I of Paradise Lost he is represented as:

    Belial came last; than whom a Spirit more lewd Fell not from Heaven, or more gross to love Vice for itself. To him no temple stood Or altar smoked; yet who more oft than he In temples and at altars, when the priest Turns atheist, as did Eli's sons, who filled With lust and violence the house of God? In courts and palaces he also reigns, And in luxurious cities, where the noise Of riot ascends above their loftiest towers, And injury and outrage; and, when night Darkens the streets, then wander forth the sons Of Belial, flown with insolence and wine. Witness the streets of Sodom, and that night In Gibeah, when the hospitable door Exposed a matron, to avoid worse rape.

    en.wikisource.org/wiki/Paradise_Lost/Book_I

    On th' other side up rose Belial, in act more graceful and humane. A fairer person lost not Heaven; he seemed For dignity composed, and high exploit. But all was false and hollow; though his tongue Dropped manna, and could make the worse appear The better reason, to perplex and dash Maturest counsels: for his thoughts were low— To vice industrious, but to nobler deeds Timorous and slothful. Yet he pleased the ear, And with persuasive accent thus began:—

    en.wikisource.org/wiki/Paradise_Lost/Book_II

    So Belial in the extract that Nick cave refers to in his song Red Right Hand is attempting to persuade atan that the rebellion against God and the war in heaven is lost and to give up the fight. It is interesting to note that the phrase "Red Right Hand" refers to God and the fear of God's retaliation and not Satan or a lesser demon of hell, which isn't suprising since in religous terms right hand path denotes judeo-christian beliefs and left hand path alternative/satanist views.

    Now how does Nick cave use the phrase "Red Right Hand" in his song and what is he implying?

    Firstly, you have to decide weather the figure represents Christianity or the Devil. The song is quite ambigous and could be interpreted either way.

    savage suggested this song was about an evangelist and these lines certainly support that argument:

    He'll wrap you in his arms, tell you that you've been a good boy He'll rekindle all the dreams

    as Awwsugar pointed out these lines reflect the paradoxical nature of the trinity of god:

    He's a god, he's a man, he's a ghost, he's a guru

    Could it be that the Guru along with the Evangelical aspects of the song is Nick's suspected form of the second coming of Christ?

    Anyway I've spent enough time beating around the bush, I agree with the whole idea of Red Right Hand being a retelling of Faust but would add that the figure in the song is distinctly Christian and possibly a manifestation of God.

    I juat wanted to end by saying that the interpretations that you guys offer are really fascinating and to keep up the good work. However, I doubt Nick Cave reads Stephen King. He tends to like the deeper, philosophical artists not the paperback novellists but you never know....

    I doubt that this song was entirely ad-libbed, or even partly ad-libbed. it was probably well-thought out and written well before recording.

    Also, ever noticed how Nick cave likes his serial killers, murderers and anti-heroes to be handsome and sexually alluring?

    Dressed2Depresson July 26, 2006   Link
  • +1
    General Comment

    I've read through all of these and have only found one member (John Andrew Philpot) who makes mention of what i think is a well crafted metaphore for drugs and addiction.

    Take the verse Here he comes.. Through the ghettos and the barrio and the bowery and the slum A shadow is cast wherever he stands Stacks of green paper in his red right hand

    This, to me anyway, points to nothing other than drugs. Coming in through the poorer sections of a city and leaving it's shadow cast on every where it's presence is known. Then, of course, the stacks of money piling up in it's red right hand.

    Also, the last verse in the song can explain to anyone who's dealt the addiction (and maybe hasn't) the extent that it can overwhelm every

    It's debatable, i know - but Nick's own struggles with addiction put this meaning over the top for me. Also, suggesting that the song is taken at face value as being about some evil, possibly supernatural devil-like figure belies the masterful song writer that is Nick Cave. Would he simply write some scary little tune about a Randal Flagg type persona? i don't believe it's in his character - particularly not on an album that isn't, say "Murder Ballads."

    StickityWicketon June 17, 2008   Link
  • +1
    General Comment

    Great article on Cave here:

    themonthly.com.au/monthly-essays-peter-conrad-good-son-nick-cave-1851

    exert: "... A “Manichean divide”, as the novelist Will Self has said, runs like an embattled frontier throughout Cave’s mental universe. In ‘Song of Joy’, he quotes Milton’s Satan, who in Paradise Lost refers to the “red right hand” of a jealous, vengeful God. In Milton’s poem the hand is red because it blazes with fiery potency; in Cave’s song it belongs to a murderer who has scrawled the citation in his victim’s blood..."

    Robsteron February 10, 2010   Link

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