Genre not found
Artist not found
Album not found
Song not found

Telephone Call From Istanbul
Tom Waits Lyrics


Jump to: Overall Meaning ↴  Line by Line Meaning ↴

All night long on the broken glass
Living in a medicine chest
Medite-Romanian hotel back
Sprawled across a roll top desk
The monkey rode a blade on an overhead fan
They paint the donkey blue if you pay
I got a telephone call from Istanbul
My baby's coming home today

Will you sell me one of those if I shave my head?
"Get me out of town" is what fireball said
Never trust a man in a blue trenchcoat
Never drive a car when you're dead
Saturday's a festival, Friday's a gem
Dye your hair yellow and raise your hand
Follow me to Beulah's on dry creek road
I got to wear the hat that my baby done sewed

Will you sell me one of those if I shave my head?
"Get me out of town" is what fireball said
Never trust a man in a blue trenchcoat
Never drive a car when you're dead
Saturday's a festival, Friday's a gem
Dye your hair yellow and raise your hand
Follow me to Beulah's on dry creek road
I got to wear the hat that my baby done sewed

Well, take me down to buy a tux on red rose bear
I got to cut a hole in the day
I got a telephone call from Istanbul
My baby's coming home today

Sell me one of those if I shave my head
"Get me out of town" is what fireball said
Never trust a man in a blue trenchcoat
Never drive a car when you're dead
Saturday's a festival, now Friday's just a gem
Dye your hair yellow and raise your hand
Follow me to Beulah's on dry creek road
I got to wear the hat that my baby done sewed, whoa

Overall Meaning

Tom Waits’s “Telephone Call From Istanbul” is a surrealist journey into the exotic sights and sounds of a far-off land. The song takes us through a series of disconnected images, beginning with the broken glass and medicine chest of a hotel room. In this world, monkeys ride on ceiling fans and donkeys are painted blue for a fee. Against this backdrop of sensory overload, the singer receives a telephone call from Istanbul, announcing that his lover is on her way home.


Throughout the song, Waits’s lyrics are full of cryptic phrases and references. Fireball, for example, is a recurring character who advises the singer to “get out of town.” Meanwhile, the blue trenchcoat-wearing man seems to represent an untrustworthy presence. Amid all these strange and elusive details, the sense of urgency conveyed by the repeated “I got a telephone call from Istanbul” solidifies the song’s emotional core.


The song is a kaleidoscopic adventure, full of mystery and intrigue. Like many of Waits’s works, “Telephone Call From Istanbul” demands a listener who’s willing to immerse themselves in the song’s off-kilter world and find their own meaning in its imagery.


Line by Line Meaning

All night long on the broken glass
The singer has been up all night on the floor surrounded by broken glass, possibly from drinking or partying.


Living in a medicine chest
The singer feels trapped or confined, like they are living inside a medicine chest or pill bottle.


Medite-Romanian hotel back
The singer is staying in a hotel that is a blend of Mediterranean and Romanian culture, or possibly just uses those names to sound exotic.


Sprawled across a roll top desk
The artist is lying across a roll top desk in a state of exhaustion or drunkenness.


The monkey rode a blade on an overhead fan
This line is nonsensical, but could suggest a surreal or absurdist quality to the artist's experience.


They paint the donkey blue if you pay
This line is nonsensical, but could suggest that anything is possible or can be bought for the right price in this world.


I got a telephone call from Istanbul
The singer received a phone call from someone in Istanbul, indicating a long-distance or overseas connection.


My baby's coming home today
The artist is excited that their loved one is returning home after being away for some time.


Will you sell me one of those if I shave my head?
The artist is possibly in a marketplace or shop, asking if they can purchase something in exchange for shaving their head.


"Get me out of town" is what fireball said
Fireball, who may be a person or a thing, is expressing a desire to leave town or escape from a situation.


Never trust a man in a blue trenchcoat
The singer is warning against trusting someone who looks suspicious or untrustworthy, specifically a man wearing a blue trenchcoat.


Never drive a car when you're dead
This line may be interpreted as a humorous or ironic warning against reckless behavior.


Saturday's a festival, Friday's a gem
The singer is suggesting that Saturday is a celebratory day, while Friday is a valuable but underappreciated day.


Dye your hair yellow and raise your hand
This line is nonsensical, but could suggest a rebellious or nonconformist attitude.


Follow me to Beulah's on dry creek road
The singer is inviting someone to go with them to Beulah's, which could be a specific place or a metaphorical destination.


I got to wear the hat that my baby done sewed
The artist is wearing a hat that was made by their loved one, indicating a sentimental attachment.


Well, take me down to buy a tux on red rose bear
The artist is asking someone to take them to buy a tuxedo, possibly at a place called Red Rose Bear.


I got to cut a hole in the day
This line is ambiguous, but could suggest a desire to make a change or escape from a routine.




Lyrics © Universal Music Publishing Group
Written by: THOMAS ALAN WAITS

Lyrics Licensed & Provided by LyricFind
To comment on or correct specific content, highlight it

Comments from YouTube:

@bjelliott

"Never drive a car when you're dead." You can't argue with advice like that!

@QualityCrazy1967

😅😅

@dvrcdsuka

👌🏻😁

@jokerjolly5873

😂😂😂

@fl366

I can't dissagree.

@marycrawley3828

And you simply have to obey the order: “Dye your hair yellow!”

@davidbartel4144

God, we're lucky to live on a planet with Tom Waits on it...

@causti9744

28653 other species cry about this

@kylefer

You can never stop discovering him, be it through his many movie appearances or highly contrasted tunes.

@ReactionShot

That may well be one of my very favorite comments about Tom Waits of all time.

More Comments

More Versions