I was bruised and battered, I couldn't tell what I felt
I was unrecognizable to myself
I saw my reflection in a window, I didn't know my own face
Oh brother are you gonna leave me wastin' away
On the Streets of Philadelphia

I walked the avenue, 'til my legs felt like stone,
I heard the voices of friends vanished and gone,
At night I could hear the blood in my veins,
Black and whispering as the rain,
On the Streets of Philadelphia

Ain't no angel gonna greet me
It's just you and I my friend
My clothes don't fit me no more,
I walked a thousand miles
Just to slip this skin

The night has fallen, I'm lying awake,
I can feel myself fading away,
So receive me brother with your faithless kiss,
Or will we leave each other alone like this
On the Streets of Philadelphia

Lyrics submitted by oofus, edited by ice1092977

Streets of Philadelphia song meanings
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  • +12
    MemoryThose of us who are gay, who lived through the 1980s know what this song is about. We were dropping like flies, wasting away, getting all kinds of weird diseases like Kaposi's Sarcoma and PCP Pneumonia. We died, sometimes in horrible agonizing pain, sometimes slowly drowning from the fluid in our lungs. And nobody cared. Nobody gave a damn.

    But even if you weren't there, you don't have to do a lot of deep thinking to understand the meaning of this song. The lyrics are perhaps too literal for comfort. We would start losing weight uncontrollably, losing maybe a few pounds, maybe more, every week. Literally "wasting away". It's not surprising that pretty soon we were "unrecognizable to [ourselves]" and our "clothes don't fit me no more". I was down to 112 pounds when the first treatment came out. I literally looked like I had been in a concentration camp.

    Every week the paper would come out, and the weekly obituaries. Up to twelve pages in the Washington Blade in a single week. Every week, another friend got sick. Every week, another friend died. Every weekend was spent going to funerals and visiting hospitals. Our friends were literally "vanished and gone".

    And indeed there was "no angel gonna greet me". Our churches threw us out. They were afraid to touch us, afraid to share a meal, for fear they would catch it. It was "just you and I my friend".

    The movie Philadelphia was the first mainstream film to deal with the issue of AIDS. It even showed a bit of what Kaposi's Sarcoma looks like, although the filmmakers had to water it down a lot to get the film made. If they showed the true horror of AIDS, nobody would pay to see it. But this song captures the pain, the loss, and the loneliness that was AIDS for those of us who lived through it.

    Follow this link to see an award winning photograph of Ken Meeks, a real victim of the plague, with Kaposi's Sarcoma. My partner had it in the 1980s. He had it on his skin, and also on his organs -- his kidneys, liver, and intestines. Kaposi's is a terribly painful way to die. He couldn't face his fate, and he killed himself.

    dmerrillon July 09, 2012   Link
  • +4
    General CommentThis song is fantastic and Bruce is a wonderful storyteller.

    It was written back in the early 1990s when AIDS was relatively new to the world. At that time there was a lot of fear about how the disease could be spread and so much heartless discrimination against gay people who had the disease.

    Bruce wrote this song for the film "Philadelphia' which was based on the true story of a lawyer who sued his law firm for dismissing him because he had AIDS. It was one of the first films to deal with AIDS discrimination and homophobia.

    I remember at the time how sad it was that people who were dying of this terrible disease were also having to deal with the incredible cold-heartedness of a society that feared and banished them when they were at their most vulnerable.

    I think Bruce's words are very moving and perfectly highlight how the discrimination was a heartbreaking reaction to a tragic disease:

    "Oh brother, are you gonna leave me wastin' away"
    words8musicon February 15, 2012   Link
  • +4
    General CommentI was a young doctor in training when the AIDS epidemic hit so hard (1983-1988) We were treating dozens of victims. At first most of the patients had hemophilia and had received monthly blood transfusions since birth. Their infection rate was almost 100%. Sometime after that the young gay men started coming in to the ER. Most of them had Pneumocystis pneumonia for which we had no treatment. They died anonymously on the ventilator and we never got to know them but we met their grief stricken families. Some of the later victims had slower fatal diseases and we got to know them. At that time they were routinely shunned by the community at large and felt so isolated and alone. It was tragic. Somehow Bruce tapped in to that feeling perfectly and the ability to do that confirms his genius.
    maconlistson June 16, 2012   Link
  • +2
    General CommentFucking hell, this is a powerful song.
    myleswiggylooon April 27, 2005   Link
  • +2
    General Commentone of the best songs ever.
    Shonakon June 03, 2010   Link
  • +2
    General CommentHauntingly beautiful.
    gnugenton September 21, 2011   Link
  • +1
    General CommentJon Demme (the Director of the film Philadelphia) went to Bruce Springsteen and asked him to write a song for the film. All Demme had in mind was the beat of the song. Bruce picked it up as "walking beat" - He wrote the song in 30 minutes and it was cut on the first take. Demme was blown away.
    JoeLou22on March 25, 2005   Link
  • +1
    General CommentFreakin' heart-breaking my friends.
    I read an interview with my idol where he said that this song can be about an AIDS sufferer or a man who has given up on life. He said it's better for us to decide which one affects us more.

    springsteen: the greatest
    The Magic Raton October 22, 2005   Link
  • +1
    General CommentOn a deepr level, I think its about the anonymity of people in the city, losing their identity, "will you leave me brother alone like this.."
    It seems like hes talking about his death, alone, disrientated. Quite sad, but probably a prominant feeling for many people.
    productofthe80son August 07, 2006   Link
  • +1
    General Comment"....I was unrecognizable to myself
    voices of friends vanished and gone
    And my clothes don't fit me no more"

    If you go beyond AIDS, to one of its human consequence is there isolation, a feeling which could be experienced by anyone. The line "And my clothes don't fit me no more" suggests a height of separation where even one's own clothes does not fit anymore.

    I love the line "And my clothes don't fit me no more".
    Every time I listen, it takes me on a ride.
    asnowfallon February 22, 2007   Link

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