“Everything Is Broken” (1989)

An irony with “Everything Is Broken” would be that the rhyming in it never breaks down. The song is packed with successive pairs of terminal rhymes or couplets.  And many of them are full or perfect rhymes, meaning both elements of the rhyme are precisely matched as all of the rhymes are in the first four lines:

Broken lines, broken strings
Broken threads, broken springs
Broken idols, broken heads
People sleeping in broken beds

The fourth stanza has nothing but perfect terminal rhymes:

Broken cutters, broken saws
Broken buckles, broken laws
Broken bodies, broken bones
Broken voices on broken phones
Take a deep breath, feel like you’re chokin
Everything is broken

There’s only one chink in the armor of all this perfection and couplet creating going on and it’s with the word “jiving” found near the end of the first verse:

Broken lines, broken strings
Broken threads, broken springs
Broken idols, broken heads
People sleeping in broken beds
Ain’t no use jiving
Ain’t no use joking
Everything is broken

“jiving” sits there alone as the only un-rhymed line ending word.  Yes, “joking” ends in “ing” as does “jiving” so you get the “ing” sound symmetry, but wasn’t “joking” meant to rhyme with “broken”?

Even more curious is that the first verse is the only one with seven lines; besides the two bridges, the other verses contain six, so it stands to reason that one word would be the odd man out.

Maybe the word “jiving” needs to stand out because maybe nothing really is broken.  The second bridge suggests that it may all be a perception, a psychological shift in perspective when the speaker is left without someone:

Every time you leave and go off someplace
Things fall to pieces in my face

Yes, everything feels broken when you’re gone–the whole litany of broken things is a jive, except that one about broken hearts:

Streets are filled with broken hearts

That one maybe the speaker can attest to, no jiving there.

Here’s Neil Young and Tom Petty with a cover of the tune from a 1989 Bridge Benefit.

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