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Don’t Crash The Ambulance

On a (somewhat) lighter note, I’ve been listening to Mark Knopfler‘s Shangri-La a lot of late, and the song, “Don’t Crash The Ambulance” has become a recent favorite.

But hell if I can figure out what it actually means, y’know? It’s like a little one-act play, and I’ve got all sorts of theories as to who is saying what to whom, but here, I open it up for public discourse.

(And yes, I’ve heard the Bush Sr./Bush Jr. theory, but I think that’s rather…pedestrian, I guess, and it doesn’t sit well to me. Too literal, I suppose.)

Lyrics .

Don’t often open up this floor

since I handed in my gun

What all these keys are for

now my tour of duty’s done

You got to know the switches

now you got your turn

Watch and learn, Junior

Watch and learn

Now you will get your trouble spots,

Here’s one from down Voodoo way

Bragged he had me by the you-know-whats

Very funny, you don’t say

The Big Enchilada

Stealing elections

Had to go down there

trash collection.

Got his cojones on my desk in there

Made into a souvenir

Set of cufflinks, nice pair

The rest of him’s someplace up here

Sometimes you got to put a shoulder to the door

Not so fast, Junior

Listen to your Pa here, son

I’m handing over to you

Don’t crash the ambulance

Whatever you do

What we have here’s a dung-hole place

Thought it was fly shit on the map

Fat bastard, ugly face

Oh, and the personal crap

You can’t move the barriers

You can’t mess with oil and gas

Had to go down there

Stick a couple aircraft carriers in his ass

Fancy dress

Medals chest

It’s all in here for all the gigs

Gas mask

Bullet-proof vest

All the usual rigs

There’ll be things they missed

They didn’t mention

You’ve even got a whistle in here

For attracting attention

Well, I think you’re gonna be okay, son

You’ve had the tour, I guess

These two buttons, by the way

This one I hope you never press

Some holy fool, just watch

Not like you or me

That one’s the whole shooting match

Right there

It’s the whole shitaree

We don’t forget who put us here,

That’s Page One

We talk soft, but carry a big stick

And pack the biggest gun

We don’t like accidents

Major or minor

You don’t want yourself an incident

Don’t ever invade China

Here, son

I’m handing over to you

Don’t crash the ambulance

Whatever you do.

Theories, anyone?

13 Responses to Don’t Crash The Ambulance

  1. dewline

    Could be any moment of Presidential succession, really. It doesn’t matter who’s turning over the “keys” (or the “football”) to whom at all.

  2. jeditigger

    I compliment you on your musical taste, Greg.

  3. mercuryeric

    Well, he doesn’t come out and name the Bushes, but Knopfler refers to the song being political and being concerned with “transfer of power” in this NPR piece…

    Might be more targeted at British politicians, but it certainly seems a bit, um, Bush-related, pedestrian or no.

    Shrug. Good song, nevertheless.

  4. will_eslinger

    there’s some discussion on the meaning here:

  5. sd6

    I think the pedestrian answer is the right one here. When you look back on his work as a whole, though, Knopfler’s never really been one to mask his lyrical meanings too much. Hell, he quotes Ray Kroc directly in “Boom, Like That” – not that you’d have any trouble figuring out that the song’s about McDonald’s, anyway.

    I’ll never be a literal lyricist, myself, because I tend to write about emotional subjects and like to leave the personal interpretation open for each listener. Specificity isn’t necessary. I used to have a hard time connecting to literal lyrics, but time and age have really opened me up to that style. Knopfler has certainly always been one of the best at saying exactly what he means.

  6. snoristed

    Not the Duvaliers

    I agree that it could really be any moment of presidential succession. I just spent 20 minutes trying to figure it out and I’m still not sure. For a sec, because of the voodoo line, I thought it might be Papa Doc to his son. Anyway, good way to help me procrastinate from working, Rucka!

  7. admin

    Re: Not the Duvaliers


    You’re welcome!

  8. thatrogersguy

    Re: Not the Duvaliers

    Does the Voodoo line lead you to New Orleans maybe? If so then I’m going for the Bush angle.

  9. thatrogersguy

    Re: Not the Duvaliers

    scratch that, unless Knopfler has Nostradumus like powers. The song was a year before the hurricane.

  10. dewline


    Seems as if at least half the relevant experts with anything to say on the subject were willing to admit to an inkling that something like Katrina was going to happen to the Gulf Coast sooner or later. There was even a National Geographic feature sounding the alarm bells, if I recall correctly.


  11. thatrogersguy

    Re: Louisiana

    True. But I don’t think that he would have mentioned something that might be an issue in the song. Whereas if it had happened already and the associated problems with how Bush handled it then it would have made more sense.

  12. dewline

    Back to Haiti, Then…

    …but dealing with the fallout of ousting Aristide, perhaps?

  13. thatrogersguy

    Re: Back to Haiti, Then…

    Ah yes that makes sense.

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