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The Meaning Behind The Song: Jersey Girl by Tom Waits

The Meaning Behind The Song: Jersey Girl by Tom Waits

Tom Waits is one of the most celebrated songwriters of all time, and his song “Jersey Girl” is a fan favorite. The song has been covered by artists such as Bruce Springsteen and Holly Cole, and it remains one of Waits’ most popular songs to this day. But what is the meaning behind the song? In this article, we will explore the lyrics and dive deeper into the story behind “Jersey Girl.”

The Lyrics

Before we dive into the meaning behind the song, let’s take a quick look at the lyrics.

Well I’m all for leaving and you can stand behind me
Or take the lead, it’s up to you
But I’m not gonna stand here in this bar
And argue while this stranger tells my girlfriend what good taste she has
In music or anything else
That’s my girl and nothing else counts

Sha la la la la la la
Sha la la la la la la
Hey little girl, what’s your name?
Sha la la la la la la
Sha la la la la la la
Hey little girl, don’t you know
That I’m gonna miss you when you go?

The song starts with a conversation in a bar where a stranger is telling the protagonist’s girlfriend how good her taste in music is. The protagonist, who has been drinking, tries to argue with the stranger but eventually gives up. The song then shifts to the protagonist talking directly to his girlfriend, expressing his love for her and telling her that he will miss her when she goes.

The Inspiration

In an interview with NPR, Waits revealed that “Jersey Girl” was inspired by his wife, Kathleen Brennan. The couple met while they were both working on a movie set in Illinois in the early 1980s. Waits said, “She was from New Jersey, and I had never been there before. And you know, when you’re in love with somebody, you see everything for the first time.”

The song was written shortly after Waits and Brennan got married, and it was meant as a love letter to her. In the same NPR interview, Waits said, “The song was written not so much as an appreciation for New Jersey but for my wife. It’s a tribute to her.”

The Meaning

At its core, “Jersey Girl” is a love song. But it’s more than just a sappy ballad about a man in love with a woman. The song is about the power of love to transform us, to make us see the world in a new way.

In the first verse of the song, the protagonist is in a bar, arguing with a stranger. He’s angry, and he doesn’t want to back down. But as soon as he starts talking to his girlfriend, everything changes. He becomes vulnerable, expressing his feelings openly and honestly.

The chorus of the song is simple but powerful. The repetition of “Sha la la la la la la” gives the song a sense of joy and celebration. And the lyrics “I’m gonna miss you when you go” are heartbreaking in their simplicity.

Ultimately, “Jersey Girl” is a reminder that love is what really matters. It’s easy to get caught up in the day-to-day struggles of life, but when we find someone who we love and who loves us back, everything else fades away.

The Legacy

“Jersey Girl” has become an iconic song, not just for Tom Waits but for music as a whole. The song has been covered countless times by artists in a variety of genres, from Bruce Springsteen to Holly Cole to Emmylou Harris.

But the song has also become synonymous with New Jersey itself. In 1984, the state of New Jersey used “Jersey Girl” in a tourism campaign, and the song has been used in countless TV shows and movies set in the state.

And Waits himself has spoken fondly of the song over the years. In a 1991 interview with Musician magazine, he said, “I’m still plugged into ‘Jersey Girl.’ Every time I play it, it’s a new song to me.”

FAQs

1. Is “Jersey Girl” really about New Jersey?

While the song mentions New Jersey in the title and in a few of the lyrics, it’s not really about the state itself. The song was inspired by Tom Waits’ wife, who is from New Jersey, but it’s really a love song, not an ode to the Garden State.

2. Who has covered “Jersey Girl”?

“Jersey Girl” has been covered by a wide variety of artists, including Bruce Springsteen, Holly Cole, and Emmylou Harris.

3. When was “Jersey Girl” first released?

“Jersey Girl” was first released on Tom Waits’ 1980 album, “Heartattack and Vine.”

4. Why is “Jersey Girl” so popular?

“Jersey Girl” is popular because it’s a simple, heartfelt love song that resonates with people. The melody is catchy, the lyrics are relatable, and the song has been covered by countless artists over the years.

5. What is the significance of the “sha la la” in the chorus?

The “sha la la” in the chorus is meant to convey a sense of joy and celebration. The repetition of the phrase adds to the song’s overall sense of optimism.

6. What inspired Tom Waits to write “Jersey Girl”?

Tom Waits wrote “Jersey Girl” as a love letter to his wife, who is from New Jersey. The song was written shortly after they got married.

7. Is “Jersey Girl” the most famous Tom Waits song?

While “Jersey Girl” is certainly one of Tom Waits’ most popular songs, it’s not necessarily his most famous. Waits has a devoted fan base, and many of his songs have become beloved classics.

8. What is the significance of the bar setting in the first verse of the song?

The bar setting in the first verse of the song is meant to show the protagonist in a state of confrontation, as he argues with a stranger who is complimenting his girlfriend. The setting emphasizes the tension and conflict in the scene.

9. What do the lyrics “that’s my girl and nothing else counts” mean?

The lyrics “that’s my girl and nothing else counts” are meant to emphasize the protagonist’s loyalty to his girlfriend. No matter what anyone else says or does, his love for her is the most important thing.

10. Why has “Jersey Girl” become synonymous with New Jersey?

“Jersey Girl” has become synonymous with New Jersey partly because of the title and a few of the lyrics, but also because the song was used in a tourism campaign for the state in 1984. Since then, the song has been associated with the state in popular culture.

11. Is “Jersey Girl” Tom Waits’ only love song?

“Jersey Girl” is one of Tom Waits’ most famous love songs, but he has written many others over the years. Waits’ music often explores themes of love and relationships.

12. What makes “Jersey Girl” a great song?

“Jersey Girl” is a great song because it’s simple, catchy, and tells a relatable story of love and devotion. The song’s catchy chorus and uplifting melody make it easy to sing along to, and the lyrics are heartfelt and honest.

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