What does 'Down on Me' mean in this Janis Joplin song?

Down on Me
Well, down on me, Lord, down on me.
I said it looks like everybody in this whole round world,
Yeah hey yeah all right, is down on me yeah.
Yeah yeah yeah yeah.

I'm sceptical about the 'oral sex' meaning here.

  • 2
    Interpretation of lyrics is generally considered off topic. Jan 23, 2013 at 10:49
  • 3
    @BarrieEngland that seems a reasonable rule. In this case though it happens to be an idiom the querent doesn't know, so maybe we should consider it as chancing into on-topic matters?
    – Jon Hanna
    Jan 23, 2013 at 11:05
  • Yes i'm new here, but thanks for the info. Just tryin' to learn your beautiful language. i will bookmark this site Jan 23, 2013 at 11:17
  • Zoltán Oláh If you are not a native English speaker (as it appears), say that may get you some leverage. Also, a member must focus more on the main point of the question.
    – Kris
    Jan 23, 2013 at 11:59
  • 1
    And: look in a dictionary! In this case Oxford Dictionaries Online has exactly the answer required in its entry for "down on".
    – Andrew Leach
    Jan 23, 2013 at 12:00

7 Answers 7


It looks like everybody in this whole round world Down on me

It seems like everybody in the world is hostile to, negative toward, or critical of me.

The "Down on me" refrain at the beginning can't be understood on its own, until you get to the fuller sentence. This is quite common in songs.

You're correct that it has nothing to do about oral sex, and I suspect that any explanations claiming such are either joking, or wishful thinking. That said, Leonard Cohen's "Chelsea Hotel No.2" with the line "Giving me head, in the unmade bed, while the limousines wait in the street." was about Joplin.

  • Thank you, English is not my first language, that's why it's difficult to understand some lyrics sometimes :-) Jan 23, 2013 at 10:53
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    @Zol: Sometimes even native speakers have trouble understanding lyrics because they're so unclear, so personal, so slangy (but not my slang), and so cryptic.
    – user21497
    Jan 23, 2013 at 11:38
  • Yes, in this case there was indeed an English expression being used that you didn't understand, but often if you have difficulty understanding lyrics, that won't be the case.
    – Jon Hanna
    Jan 23, 2013 at 11:47
  • Just got this anon edit to review. Posting as comment: Leonard Cohen: Chelsea Hotel #2 www.leonardcohen-prologue.com> he apologizes for naming Janis Joplin. I did not write the above post but Rumors, shouldn't be spread about anyone, not even the dead. The above statement is false and should be corrected
    – Tushar Raj
    May 21, 2015 at 21:34
  • A bizarre comment: He was right to apologise for naming her IMO, but that suggests that my statement was indeed correct, no?
    – Jon Hanna
    May 22, 2015 at 9:30

It looks like everybody in this whole round world is down on me.

ODO on down on:
be (or have a) down on
British informal feel hostile or antagonistic towards:
she had a real down on Angela

"It looks like the whole world feels hostile or antagonistic towards me."


From my experience of living in those days with people her age, her fans, and in that culture, the exact translation of, "everybody is down on me," would be, "Everybody is upset with me."

Their response to her would have made her feel 'down', or 'sad'.

Had she done something while drunk or drugged, that she was now ashamed of, and was being punished by others (through shunning, curt remarks, cancelled appointments, angry fan mail), she would feel 'down', and would say 'they are down on me', to bring her own feeling of 'down' into their feelings about her. It was an expression created by those expressing feelings while high.


Everyone's down on Janis Joplin for the song, but you should be aware that she did not write the lyrics, although she did expand on them. It's a traditional song from the 1920's that Joplin arranged for her album. The albums on which the song appears are all attributed to "Trad. arr. Joplin".


Wikipedia has an interesting (though brief) article on the song "Down on Me". The article supports Cyberherbalist's observation that the song is traditional, but also points out that Joplin "created new lyrics" for it. From the Dock Reed version of the song:

Mary and Martha, Luke and John, All God's prophets dead and gone. Looks like everybody in this world round down on me.

And from the Janis Joplin version:

Believe in your brother, have faith in man, Help each other, honey, if you can Because it looks like everybody in this whole round world Is down on me.

I agree with the previous answerers who consider Joplin's version of the song nonsexual. However, I note that Peggy Caserta alluded to the song in a highly sexual way in her rather lurid tell-all biography of Joplin, Going Down With Janis, which appeared in 1973. I haven't read the book, but I remember a contemporaneous review that criticized its exploitativeness (it appeared within three years of Joplin's death and was especially keen on detailing Joplin's sex life). It may well be that some people's interpretation of "Down on Me" is colored by Caserta's Going Down With Janis.


Though it's hard to ignore the fact that she chose that phrase to describe her feelings towards how others felt of her (or society, the world, etc.), it's pretty evident to me that she wanted the listener to think of oral sex as well as her actual message. Why she did this I don't know, but hey, she's Janis Joplin.


From my point of view down on me could mean that everybody is against her and they all wish she would die.

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