The music and original words to this song date back to the autumn of 1986, but the lyrics underwent a major overhaul about five years later. The inspiration for the rewrite was a reading of James Joyce's The Dead-- a short story about a man's withdrawal into his own egotism. The plot of The Dead centers around a Dublin schoolteacher who buys a computer and starts a blog.
Okay, seriously now...
The first verse contains some of the Joyce's own imagery--- the gas lamps, the big party, the sound of the dresses of the dancers sweeping against the door.
The second verse is a remnant from the original version of the song. Much of it is a "Southernized" recitation of a passage from the book of Proverbs, though the ending is decidedly un-Biblical. Thematically, this verse falls out of synch with The Dead (though the theme is resumed in verse three) but I kept it out of laziness, I guess.
The third verse presents a scene of self-absorption to the point of self-destruction. The "you" of the song has spurned the human company of the party and is now partying alone with just "jim beam and the radio" as companions. Just as Gabriel Conroy in Joyce's story experiences some sort of ambiguous revelation, the ego in the song smiles at the realization of a vague prospect for joy that this solipsistic evening might hold- one involving even further isolation, as indicated by the locking of the door.
Joyce is probably rolling over in his grave.
Note: "Horseleech" is an archaic term for doctor.
the gaslights burn so brightly
in the corners of the room-
all's still in the crowded parlour
and then the band begins to play an old familiar tune
in a most peculiar way-
the people start to move and the room begins to sway-
you step out in the hall
and there you hear the sound of the ladies' dresses brushing up against the door
the horseleech has two daughters
they both cry 'give me more'
three things are never sated
four things can never have enough-
one's the open grave
and one's the barren womb
one's the dried out earth just crying for some rain
and one's the fire that burns- it never stops
and, girl, you know i burn for you and i can never have enough
late night in a lonely bedroom
jim beam and the radio-
water drips through your rented ceiling
drip, drip, drip onto the floor-
they play your favorite tune and you drink a little more
and fumble with your keys as you move to lock the door-
you've only left to smile cause now you know
tonight's the night you're gonna feel just like you've never felt before