Drink up, baby, stay up all night
With the things you could do, you won't but you might
The potential you'll be that you'll never see
The promises you'll only make
Drink up with me now and forget all about
The pressure of days, do what I say
And I'll make you okay and drive them away
The images stuck in your head

People you've been before
That you don't want around anymore
They push and shove and won't bend to your will
I'll keep them still

Drink up, baby, look at the stars
I'll kiss you again, between the bars
Where I'm seeing you there, with your hands in the air
Waiting to finally be caught
Drink up one more time and I'll make you mine
Keep you apart, deep in my heart
Separate from the rest, where I like you the best
And keep the things you forgot

The people you've been before
That you don't want around anymore
They push and shove and won't bend to your will
I'll keep them still

Lyrics submitted by EnjOy IncUbus

Between the Bars Lyrics as written by Steven Paul Smith

Lyrics © Universal Music Publishing Group

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Between the Bars song meanings
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  • +23
    General Comment

    I don't actually think there's supposed to be another person involved here, I don't think it's romantic, exactly. It's about the power of addiction, the call of drink. He used to be someone else, someone with potential, but he knows he'll never live up to it because he can't get out of the grip of his addiction. The alcohol lets him "forget all about the pressure of days" and disappear in to another night that goes on too long. The people he's been before were people with ambition, friends, a life, and he can't stand to listen to those voices any more, only the drink can make them silent again. His pain can be relieved and he can experience beauty again through alcohol, but as long as he relies on this he won't ever be free - kisses between the bars of his cell. Of coure, maybe I'm just projecting, but I know Elliot was an addict himself and I know really well what it feels like to start drinking again and know that it'll go on for one more night... how wonderful it is to have that best friend in the world back, and also know that you'll be worse off than where you started in the morning.

    kaffeine_krazyon April 07, 2004   Link
  • +13
    Song Meaning

    Elliott Smith has actually explained before that he began writing this song one evening when he was getting fairly plastered (with his favorite liquor, Johnny Walker Red), and was watching an episode of "Xena Warrior Princess"....a chick he claims to have had a major childhood crush on. Anyways, although it doesn't directly relate to the experience of the song, he went on in the interview to describe that these lyrics were in fact, and quite literally, the bottle of alcohol PERSUADING him to drink. Giving him false promises and seductive persuasions, the bottle was personified as a human being, and was actively trying to delude and coax him to drink more and forget about all the entanglements of reality for as long as possible. He intends on showing the bottle as genuine solace or protection, "The People you've been before that you don't want around anymore/ they'll push, and shove and won't bend to your will/ I'll keep them still", however the resonance of this song truly lies in the fact that it is so melancholy, as if Elliott knows the bottle is lying to him but he still reciprocates its love so deeply.

    Scammedon April 30, 2013   Link
  • +12
    Song Meaning

    Wow, obviously very few here have ever taken a college lit course, or even graduated high school. Elliott Smith is a BRILLIANT songwriter, capable of creating very complex metaphors to convey complicated emotions. This song is one of my favs, and it also happens to be very straighforward... allow me to enlighten all the amateurs here:

    THIS IS A SONG ABOUT ALCOHOLISM. The NARRATOR IS ALCOHOL ADDICTION (or any addiction, really) personified as an warm and comforting intimate partner (aka girlfriend), who also happens to be emotionally manipulative, abusive, and possibly even a sociopath. If you're still having a hard time seeing it, allow me to walk you through...

    First verse: "Drink up baby, stay up all night..."
    She's seducing him by exploiting his insecurities (the "potential...he'll never see"). She says it with a smile and gentle touch (calls him "baby"), knowing he has left her before and the only way she'll win him back is by breaking his spirit first ("the promises you'll only make"... to himself, to stay away from this toxic relationship).

    Second verse: "Drink up with me now..." She's offering him company while he's lonely and vulnerable. She's basically saying wouldn't it be nice to "forget all...pressure" and to "drive away" those ugly "images stuck in your head"?? Of course it would be nice, let me "make you okay". ...but you gotta "do what I say", cause I'm a controlling bitch. haha.

    Chorus: "The people you've been before..." "the people you've been before" is referring to all the mistakes and bad decisions he has made throughout his life. (his memory of the dumb teenager that sipped booze for the first time, the jerk who broke a former gf's heart with his selfish drinking, etc). He doesn't want them "around anymore", cause he's a good person and the memory torments his conscious ("push and shove and won't bend"). But as painful as they are, that is how you become a better person...by learning from your mistakes. This bitch knows better, but she offers him a shortcut, an easy way out, by offering to "keep them still"

    Third verse: "Drink up baby, look at the stars..." Isn't it nice to just forget about your problems, and just stare "at the stars"? Now Elliott brilliantly throws in a metaphor on a metaphor... alcoholism as a manipulative yet seductive ex-gf is also like a cop. Elliott is a fugitive on the run... he's escaped her grasp before but being a fugitive takes its toll. She (the cop) knows he's tired of running, and soon will be "waiting to finally be caught" with his "hands in the air". When a fugitive is caught, they go back to jail. But she is saying its okay, jail won't be so bad because "I'll kiss you again between the bars", (even though she's the one who keeps him locked up). Alcoholism is jail but at least your girl will still come and visit so it's not so bad, right?...brilliant.

    Fourth verse: "Drink up one more time and I'll make you mine..." He's drinking again, she kept her promise to "make you mine." She is jealous and possessive, "keeping him apart" from family and friends, "separate from the rest". She really does love him "deep in my heart", but for her love is all about control and dominance. She insists upon being in control of every aspect of his life. Now that she has won him back, the last thing she wants is for him to remember all the reasons why he originally left. That is why she'll "keep the things you forgot"... those things are the "people you've been before" (from the chorus). The only way we improve as humans is by remembering our mistakes. She knows that if she keeps those "things" from him, he will be her pawn forever.

    drmike123on March 05, 2012   Link
  • +9
    General Comment

    I'm gonna have to disagree with the personal alcoholism explaination. I think this song is definitely about two people, specifically Elliott and a love interest. I interpret this as Elliott's way of saying he will stay with this woman, even through her alcohol addiction. He begins by explaining their relationship; "drink up baby, stay up all night... the potential will be that you'll never see the promises you only make" - he is referring to the way she lives her life, and in turn, treats him. The girl is unhappy with herself and perhaps drinks to cope with her self-loathing. Elliott promises to keep "The people she's been before that she doesn't want around anymore." He uses "between the bars" as a pun. On one end, it could mean he will kiss her between bars, as in the ones where you get alcohol, implying that he doesn't mind her drinking and loves her anyway. The other side uses "bars" as a metaphor for the prison of her addiction; he will "kiss her again between the bars," meaning he will stay with her, even through her addiction. He sees her "with her hands in the air, waiting to finally be caught," meaning that she is subtly crying for help, which he promises to provide her. I definitely see this song as Elliott's promise to stay with a woman through her troubles, not as a personal lament about his alcoholism, though it is well-documented.

    springheeledCJon April 19, 2004   Link
  • +3
    General Comment

    does anyone know what "between the bars" means?

    pandorah85on January 28, 2002   Link
  • +3
    General Comment

    I think he is walking from a bar he was at where he drank, and then is leaving thinking to himself, and arrives at another bar to repeat the process, and he realizes that this is all his life is, goining BETWEEN BARS!...but that is just my opinion, i could be wrong, amazing song either way

    Sublime24on July 27, 2002   Link
  • +2
    General Comment

    god, i love this song. it makes me sad, but the lyrics are wonderful. and the music is beautiful. if only elliot was younger...

    difference_in_shadeson August 21, 2002   Link
  • +2
    General Comment

    i think everyone's meaning (except the date rape one) have good standing and are all unique to each person. what i get from this song is talking about someone he loves not accepting themselves and not really loveing who they are. i get this meaning because i have a similar experiance with someone i love. its difficult to see that person hate themselves and never truely be happy. its rough but you have to go through life with these things, it makes you stronger. anyway, i love this song and its sad to see this great artist pass away the way he did. im gonna miss the music.

    nopoeticon April 29, 2004   Link
  • +2
    General Comment

    ImpaledOnion on 11-23-2004 @ 10:32:43 AM
    Man, I am honestly, very surprised to find that people actually listen to such level of music and actual attempt to interpret this low-level charade. Not quite fond of this particular type of music, I find it rather repititive and it also gives the music industry the vibe as a means to increase capital.

    umm, am i the only one on here to notice what a rediculous statement this is? Why are you posting on an elliott song if you think its a low level charade?? why would you bother to look up his song, so you can tell us that it surprises you that people actually listen to such a level of music in an attempt to insult us as well as the work of a brilliant artist. Any time elliott used repitition it was very necessary and only added to the song, but a lot of his songs where just poety, no repetitve choruses like most music. Not to mention increasing capitol? Umm, he was not an artist that made a lot of money if thats what youre getting at. Fool.

    lisalynnon December 18, 2004   Link
  • +2
    General Comment

    I feel as if he's talking as if he's the alcohol; sort of how it can just kind of speak to people, especially alcoholics, luring them with the belief that it'll take away all of their problems.

    unicorngirlon June 26, 2011   Link

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