She Sits on the Table – Tom Paxton

<div class="at-above-post addthis_tool" data-url=""></div>Thomas Richard “Tom” Paxton is one of the most famous american folk singer and songwriter. Paxton’s songs can be emotionally affective and cover a wide range of topics,...

Thomas Richard “Tom” Paxton is one of the most famous american folk singer and songwriter. Paxton’s songs can be emotionally affective and cover a wide range of topics, from the serious and profound to the lighthearted and comical, at the same time.

His extraordinary narrative skills bring the audience into stories that often have a strong message delivered, hidden by irony, dialogues and metaphors, accompanied by his unique voice and the gentle sound of his finger-picked guitar.

This song embodies all of the above-mentioned features: it is called She Sits on the Table”  written and recorded by Paxton in 1980 and included in his album “The Paxton Report”. The song is also featured, with vocals and banjo by Anne Hills and Bob Gibson, in Best of Friends” a live album released in 2004 which is the only available recording of this three-fold supergroup taped during a 1985 concert at Holsteins, then one of Chicago’s finest folk clubs, and broadcast on the city’s WFMT-FM station.

A girl sits on a table in a hospital after being beaten by her husband. While she contemplates her fate she meets three characters: a nurse, a doctor and a policeman.

The nurse “is all sympathy” and with her “voice of experience“, the one of a nurse (and woman) who is in some way used to it, tells the girl that the eye, black because of the hits by her husband, “will look bad for a week, maybe moreThen, she warns the girl to have a cry which can help to relieve the pain and the sorrow. And it’s probably the only thing she can do.

The doctor is competent and professional. The girl is overwhelmed by all the certificates and diplomas on the walls and so ashamed by his presence that “she finds she must look at the floor“. While he is examining her eye, ribs and arms whose “every last inch is sore” he affirmed disapprovingly: “What did you do to deserve such a beating from him?” There must be a reason for such a beating! The girl must have done something to deserve it! A common and hard-to-eradicate belief concerning domestic violence against women.

The policeman, one of her husband’s friend, is waiting for her outside the room, concerned about possible charges against him. He treats the girl like a child and he can’t hide his anger for the whole situation, for which of course the girl is responsible and that also is not that serious.

At the end, “isn’t she secretly glad for a man who’ll keep her in her place“? Another common belief about domestic violence against women is that victims “ask for it” because they secretly like the idea of a man who rules the house and punish them when needed.

Each verse of the song is dedicated to each one of the character above described but there is a fil rouge linking the three of them: victims of gender based violence have to face not only the violence itself and its consequences but also the skeptical, paternalistic, minimizing and blaming attitude of people.

The chorus which divides the three verses, is the girl’s cry reflecting on her situation. On one hand she resigned to her destiny (How can I leave him, she is crying. What could I do, where would I go?) but, on the other hand, she almost justifies her husband, sure that he will change because he loves her so eventually. (He didn’t mean it, he will change someday. Oh, God, how he used to love me so).

She sits on the table in a dress made of paper
Diplomas all over the wall
One university, one school of medicine
She’s overwhelmed by it all
The nurse is all sympathy, voice of experience:
Let’s have a look at that eye
It’s going to look bad for a week, maybe more
Go on, darling, it’s all right to cry

(Chorus): How can I leave him, she is crying
What could I do, where would I go?
He didn’t mean it, he will change someday
Oh, God, how he used to love me so

The doctor is busy, his manner professional
She finds she must look at the floor
He looks at her eye, at her ribs and her arm
And it seems every last inch is sore
The doctor is handsome, he smells of cologne
And his figure’s athletically slim
He speaks disapprovingly: What did you do
To deserve such a beating from him?


The policeman is waiting outside in the corridor
He speaks to her as to a child
He’s friends with her husband, he’s angry with her
And he asks if there’ll be charges filed
She says she’s not sure, she needs time to recover
She feels beaten down in disgrace
The policeman asks isn’t she secretly glad
For a man who’ll keep her in her place


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Marco Principia

Born in Rome, his beloved city. Graduated with honors in Political Science and International Relations at Università degli Studi "Roma Tre". Currently employed at CIES - ONLUS as Fundraising Manager. Huge fan of A.S. Roma.
One Comment
  • Roger Hawcroft
    roger Hawcroft
    3 December 2015 at 4:02 pm
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    In the vein of Woody Guthrie and others, Tom Paxton carried on the tradition of folk musicians in passin on the oral history and record of the times in which they lived. Folk music has been and remains particularly powerful in imparting with startling clarity, stories that illuminate the experiences, joys and hardships of the general populace of a particular place and time. Good folk songs are masterful at transmitting the feelings of ordinary people and their living conditions, relationships to one another and to wealth, power and privilege. They echo the literary tradition of writers such as Steinbeck and Dickens and are powerful and moving, whilst at the same time, often extremely lyrical, compelling and entertaining.

    Tom Paxton stands well alongside such artists as Derroll Adams, Pete Seeger, Townes Van Zandt, James McMurtry, Lucinda Williams, John Hartford, Bobby Bear, John Prine and many many more, not forgetting, of course, the young Bob Dylan.

    This trend of the oral tradition in music, the folk song, continues throughout “popular music” – which is really just a term to describe “the music of the people”, i.e folk music. It can be found in popular music from the rock’n roll of the 50’s right through to the RAP and HIP HOP of today. Exponents of the genre are, of course, to be found in many countries and languages and because it is really the musical conduit of the oral tradition, it does adapt and change with the times, hence the difficulty people have in defining it, for it is not so much a genre as a tradition that transcends genre. It is a vehicle through which people transmit their very experience; social and political consciousness and feeling, with a convincing clarity yet one in which their has to be an awareness and relationship to the message for real understanding. As such it has been a vehicle for protest and appeal, down through the ages, just as were the fables and satires of court jesters, travelling entertainers and story tellers who were the people’s media of the past.

    Thank you for another great addition to Sounds From The Bucket.

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