Time

Album: Rain Dogs (1985)

Songfacts®:

  • "Time: time is a precious commodity," Tom Waits said on the introduction to this song on the Rain Dogs Island Records promo tape. That sums up the essence of the story here.

    Each verse of "Time" deals with a street character and the hardships they're facing. It's followed by the chorus, which repeats the word "time" over and over but is just saying "it's time that you love." This line can have multiple meanings. The obvious assumption is that it means "it's time that you find someone to have a romantic relationship with." However, the song and the turn of phrase are ambiguous enough that it could also mean "you love time itself," or simply that "you love" in the broader spiritual sense of loving life broadly.
  • The third line places the character in East St. Louis. St Louis is also mentioned in Waits' "Train Song," "I Beg Your Pardon," and "Hold On."

    East St. Louis is generally a rough place with a lot of crime. Tom Waits Fan suggests that East St. Louis may be "a Waitsian metaphor for being in the worst part possible of any town."

    Waits has said he has no particular reason for using St. Louis. He told Jonathan Valania of The Magnet in 1999, "No, never lived there. It's a good name to stick in a song. Every song needs to be anatomically correct: You need weather, you need the name of the town, something to eat - every song needs certain ingredients to be balanced. You're writing a song and you need a town, and you look out the window and you see 'St. Louis Cardinals' on some kid's T-shirt. And you say, 'Oh, we'll use that.'"
  • The term "smart money" generally just means a safe bet or good investment.

    "When they're on a roll" probably has a double-meaning, considering it's followed by the line "she pulls a razor from her boot." To be "on a roll" means to have a lucky streak, but "to roll" someone can also mean beating them down and taking their money.

    "And pay the fiddler off" refers to the Middle Age legends of the Pied Piper of Hameln, who rid the town of Hameln of a rat infestation. The mayor refused to pay the piper, so he then used his mystical musical ways to draw all the children off with him, just as he'd done with the rats. In some versions of the tale he killed the kids, in others he returns them upon receiving payment.

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