“The Poor House”

“The Poor House”

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: The Story Behind the Song

Billy Bob Thornton
“The Poor House”

Written by Billy Bob Thornton
Recorded by The Boxmasters

When I was a kid, no matter what anything cost, my parents and grandparents would always say, “You’re gonna put us in the poor house.” And that was an understatement even though it was only $.35 to get into the movies then! We were very poor. In the old days, there were literally poor houses; they were like jails.

I always try to write songs that have a story, although they are often dark. Most of the characters in the Boxmasters’ songs, you might see on “Cops.” This song is about a guy who’s not that bright and his decision making ability is not always the best. He was on drugs and alcohol most of the time. He has a wife and kids, works at a menial job and probably gets fired a lot.

This guy is like Ralph Kramden on “The Honeymooners.” His quick fix solution to his financial problems is to take the little bit of money they have, go to Reno and gamble it to win his fortune.

It’s actually a sweet song at the end of the day because when it’s all said and done, he calls his wife, tells her he didn’t win money but he’s bringing back the only thing he has, which is love for her and the kids. He’s really trying, he just doesn’t know how.

My mom loved this song when I played it for her. She’s in her seventies now but pretty hip. She gave me my interest in music. Every night she would play a record on her record player in her bedroom, which was right next to mine. That’s where I got my musical influences, mostly from the artists of Sun Records. Also, artists like Jim Reeves and Ray Price. My first album was given to me by my mom — it was King Creole. She still listens to music all the time.

I played drums in her brother’s country band as a teenager. Her brother was kind of like the guy in “The Poor House.” For example, a drinking buddy of his had just bought a new pickup truck even though he couldn’t afford it. They were going out drinking one night and his buddy ran out of money for liquor so he took the passenger door off his new truck and sold it to a parts place. My uncle had to sit next to the open door hoping he wouldn’t fall out. The apple doesn’t fall far from the tree in this song.

This was The Boxmasters’ first single so it is sentimental to the band.

“The Poor House”

Reno is sparkling ahead honey.

I thought I’d give you a call

Lookin’ for tomorrow to be sunny

In the midst of this snowfall.

I let you and the kids down

For way too long now

Hopin’ to turn our life around

If I can just figure out how.

I’m workin’ on a plan

To save our home,

Keep us out of the poor house

Pay off those loans.

I’m workin’ on a plan

To save our home,

Keep us out of the poor house

And I won’t do it stoned.

I’ll sit with the granny’s at the nickel machines

And pull handles till my hands are blue

I’ll do just about anything

To bring a future home to you.

I put down the pills and liquor

You know I tried to keep a job.

I just think this’ll be quicker

If I can win a little off the mob.

I’m workin’ on a plan

To save our home,

Keep us out of the poor house

Pay off those loans.

I’m workin’ on a plan

To save our home,

Keep us out of the poor house

Now that I’m not stoned.

Well, my plan didn’t work exactly honey

But I do have a little good news.

I’m not bringin home any money

But I didn’t turn back to booze.

I guess it’s back to the drawin’ board

Ideas are starting to brew

I’m bringing back all I can afford

And that’s love to the kids and you.

I’m workin’ on a plan

To save our home,

Keep us out of the poor house

Pay off those loans.

I’m workin’ on a plan

To save our home,

Keep us out of the poor house

And build a house of stone.

Words and Music by Billy Bob Thornton. © 2008 Salve Man Music (BMI). Worldwide Rights excluding the United States and Canada Administered by Baffle Music. Rights in the United States and Canada Administered by Cherry River Music Co. International Copyright Secured. All Rights Reserved. Photo credit Sandrine Lee

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