Song of the Day #3,765: ‘Stripping Paper’ – Elvis Costello

‘Stripping Paper,’ track four of Elvis Costello’s Look Now, is my favorite on the album so far. It is top notch both musically and lyrically.

Costello’s songs are often hard to analyze, between the British aphorisms (mostly lost on a Yank like me) and his flights of linguistic fancy. ‘Stripping Paper’ is a refreshing exception, easy to decipher and emotionally resonant.

Once again writing in the voice of a woman, Costello portrays a wife and mother who finds herself alone. As she tears wallpaper from the wall, she recalls happier times with her husband.

The song turns even more poignant in its final verse, as a sexual encounter leads to the birth of a child. The mother peels through layers of childhood wallpaper and notes the “pencil of a measuring mark” before lamenting that the child now has “no place in her heart.”

It’s one thing for a marriage to break up, but this poor woman split from her daughter, too?

I got time on my hands I’m just
stripping paper
It’s amazing what you will find
Stripping paper
When you get down to the past

Back then we didn’t have means
For fine decorations
So we painted while mixing wine
With flirtation

There in the mess of it all
He took me right there in the thrill
Not quite against my will with my
back to that rococo wall
We slipped right down to the floor

I kicked closed the door
He complimented my taste
I anointed his serious face with
wallpaper paste
I wish we could laugh like that now
But what seemed to follow that
ended up hollow was our vow

Tear a strip or two
See what came not much later
Here’s a pony and a toy balloon
Behind a vine that withered
all too soon
Here’s the pencil of a
measuring mark
And a monster she spied in the dark
Now I’ve got no place in
her heart…
Let me go back to the start…

I got time on my hands I’m just
stripping paper
I got time on my hands I’m just
stripping paper
I got time on my hands I’m just
stripping paper

3 thoughts on “Song of the Day #3,765: ‘Stripping Paper’ – Elvis Costello

  1. Dana Gallup says:

    This is an early favorite of mine as well. Beautiful musically and poignant lyrically.

  2. Nice write up. Got a question: As she strips the paper, she sees images from the past, right? But the lyrics imply a few objects in ways that I can’t quite grasp. “A toy balloon,” and “the pencil of a measuring mark..”? Wouldn’t she be seeing the actual measuring mark that was made on the wall but not a pencil? I know this sounds nit-picking and I certainly don’t mean it that way. I love this song so much. Thanks!

    • Clay says:

      I believe the toy balloon is part of the pattern of previous wallpaper from when the daughter was a child. And the “pencil of a measuring mark” is the smudged line, not the pencil itself.

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