A Man For All Seasons

“Some call on Jehovah / Some cry out to Allah / Some wait for the boats that still row to Valhallah”

This is Al Stewart here, so please have your encyclopedias at the ready to look up all historical references and big words. Thomas More and Henry Plantagenet I trust you’ll know of. Actually, Stewart is fudging his history a bit here, presumably for poetic reasons. Henry II aka Plantagenet ruled from 1154 to 1189; Thomas More’s beef was with Henry VIII, four centuries later. That Henry was not even a member of the Plantagenet dynasty. (I know these things because I’ve been to England a couple of times, and the knowledge just magically seeped in.) The title of the song is a reference to the title of a play, written in 1954 by Robert Bolt, based on the life of Thomas More (mostly the exciting end bits.) The play paints More – who as you may remember had the gall to outspokenly disapprove of  Henry VIII’s marital habits and was eventually beheaded for his troubles – as an idealized man of conscience who stood by his moral convictions all the way to the executioner’s block. More has been held up as an embodiment of the Renaissance Man in general; he was widely accomplished as a political figure, as well as a thinker, writer and philosopher. What Al Stewart is asking in his song, is whether all the intellectual and spiritual ideals of such a ‘man for all seasons’ really mean anything when you’re locked in the Tower of London awaiting an ax to the neck; was all that accomplishment worth it, in the bitter end?

What if you reached the age of reason
Only to find there was no reprieve
Would you still be a man for all seasons?
Or would you just have to leave
We measure our days out
In steps of uncertainty
Not turning to see how we’ve come
And peer down the highway
From here to eternity
And reach out for love on the run
While the man for all seasons
Is lost behind the sun

Henry Plantagenet still looks for someone
To bring good news in his hour of doubt
While Thomas More waits in the Tower of London
Watching the sands running out
And measures the hours out
From here to oblivion
In actions that can’t be undone
A sailor through the darkness
He scans the meridian
And caught by the first rays of dawn
The man for all seasons
Is lost beneath the storm

And I should know by now
I should know by now
I hear them call it out all around
Oh, they go
There’s nothing to believe in
Hear them,
Just daydreams, deceiving
They’ll just let you down

What if you reached the age of reason
Only to find there was no reprieve
Would you still be a man for all seasons?
Or would you just disbelieve?

We measure our gains out in luck and coincidence
Lanterns to turn back the night
And put our defeats down to chance or experience
And try once again for the light
Some wait for the waters of fortune to cover them
Some just see the tides of ill chance running over them

Some call on Jehovah
Some cry out to Allah
Some wait for the boats that still row to Valhallah
Well, you should try to accept what the fates are unfolding
While some say they’re sure where the blame should be falling
You look round for maybe a chance of forestalling
Bot too soon its over and done
And the man for all seasons
Is lost behind the sun

Advertisements

Making Flippy Floppy

Have you ever paid attention to these lyrics? I don’t blame you if you haven’t. I haven’t  either. I’m usually too busy dancing. The incredible kinetic energy that Talking Heads achieved on their so-called ‘afro-beat’ albums tends to overwhelm all other considerations. But we should stop not-making-sense to note what an impressively surreal word soup David Byrne came up with as well. This is verbal Cubism, in which the message – a commentary on the frustrations of modern life – is broken down into shards and assembled in a disordered way that doesn’t have an obvious narrative structure but still makes for a skewed but compelling whole. It is both fully literary and fully musical. The lines are designed to fit the beat, so much so that the words become one with the instruments and thus can easily go consciously unnoticed. Yet, surprisingly, it reads poetically on paper too. This collection of lines would feel right at home in your Norton Introduction to Modern Literature.

“Making Flippy Floppy”

Nothing can come between us
Nothing gets you down
Nothing strikes your fancy
Nothing turns you on
Somebody is waiting in the hallway
Somebody is falling down the stairs
Set someone free, break someone’s heart
Stand up help us out

Ev’rything is divided
Nothing is complete
Ev’rything looks impressive
Do not be deceived
You don’t have to wait for more instructions
No one makes a monkey out of me
We lie on our backs, feet in the air
Rest and relaxation, rocket to my brain

Snap into position
Bounce till you ache
Step out of line
And you end up in jail
Bring me a doctor
I have a hole in my head
But they are just people
And I’m not afraid
Doctor Doctor
We have nothing in our pockets
We continue
But we have nothing left to offer
Faces pressed against the window
Hey! they are just my friends
Check this out don’t be slick
Break our backs it goes like this . . .

We are born without eyesight
We are born without sin
And our mama protects us
From the cold and the rain
We’re in no hurry
sugar and spice
We sing in the darkness
We open our eyes (open up)

I can’t believe it
And people are strange
Our president’s crazy
Did you hear what he said
Business and pleasure
Lie right to your face
Divide it in sections
And then give it away

There are no big secrets
Don’t believe what you read
We have great big bodies
We got great big heads
Run-a-run-a-run it all together
Check it out – still don’t make no sense
Makin’ flippy floppy
Tryin to do my best
Lock the door
We kill the beast
Kill it!

Maggie’s Farm

So basically, Bob Dylan’s having a snitty-fit about the protest folk movement that made him famous. Not that I blame him. It was good movement but he was right to feel limited. Idealism and social consciousness are important wonderful things, but they don’t necessarily make for interesting music.

I ain’t gonna work on Maggie’s farm no more
No, I ain’t gonna work on Maggie’s farm no more
Well, I wake in the morning
Fold my hands and pray for rain
I got a head full of ideas
That are drivin’ me insane
It’s a shame the way she makes me scrub the floor
I ain’t gonna work on Maggie’s farm no more

I ain’t gonna work for Maggie’s brother no more
No, I ain’t gonna work for Maggie’s brother no more
Well, he hands you a nickel
He hands you a dime
He asks you with a grin
If you’re havin’ a good time
Then he fines you every time you slam the door
I ain’t gonna work for Maggie’s brother no more

I ain’t gonna work for Maggie’s pa no more
No, I ain’t gonna work for Maggie’s pa no more
Well, he puts his cigar
Out in your face just for kicks
His bedroom window
It is made out of bricks
The National Guard stands around his door
Ah, I ain’t gonna work for Maggie’s pa no more

I ain’t gonna work for Maggie’s ma no more
No, I ain’t gonna work for Maggie’s ma no more
Well, she talks to all the servants
About man and God and law
Everybody says
She’s the brains behind pa
She’s sixty-eight, but she says she’s twenty-four
I ain’t gonna work for Maggie’s ma no more

I ain’t gonna work on Maggie’s farm no more
No, I ain’t gonna work on Maggie’s farm no more
Well, I try my best
To be just like I am
But everybody wants you
To be just like them
They say sing while you slave and I just get bored
I ain’t gonna work on Maggie’s farm no more

Lover, Lover, Lover

Leave it to Leonard Cohen to take the most desperate and pathetic combination of five words in the English language and insert them into a chorus in a song that speaks of much deeper things than the flightiness of lovers.

“Lover Lover Lover”

I asked my father,
I said, “Father change my name.”
The one I’m using now it’s covered up
with fear and filth and cowardice and shame.
Yes and lover, lover, lover, lover, lover, lover, lover come back to me,
yes and lover, lover, lover, lover, lover, lover, lover come back to me.

He said, “I locked you in this body,
I meant it as a kind of trial.
You can use it for a weapon,
or to make some woman smile.”

Yes and lover, lover, lover, lover, lover, lover, lover come back to me
yes and lover, lover, lover, lover, lover, lover, lover come back to me.

“Then let me start again,” I cried,
“please let me start again,
I want a face that’s fair this time,
I want a spirit that is calm.”

Yes and lover, lover, lover, lover, lover, lover, lover come back to me
yes and lover, lover, lover, lover, lover, lover, lover come back to me.

“I never never turned aside,” he said,
“I never walked away.
It was you who built the temple,
it was you who covered up my face.”

Yes and lover, lover, lover, lover, lover, lover, lover come back to me
yes and lover, lover, lover, lover, lover, lover, lover come back to me.

And may the spirit of this song,
may it rise up pure and free.
May it be a shield for you,
a shield against the enemy.

Love Minus Zero/No Limit

Well, at least he explains the title. Bob Dylan’s not one to do a lot of explaining, but this explanation is great and makes a lot of sense. As for everything else, you know the drill; figure it out whichever way you want to.

My love she speaks like silence
Without ideals or violence
She doesn’t have to say she’s faithful
Yet she’s true, like ice, like fire
People carry roses
Make promises by the hours
My love she laughs like the flowers
Valentines can’t buy her

In the dime stores and bus stations
People talk of situations
Read books, repeat quotations
Draw conclusions on the wall
Some speak of the future
My love she speaks softly
She knows there’s no success like failure
And that failure’s no success at all

The cloak and dagger dangles
Madams light the candles
In ceremonies of the horsemen
Even the pawn must hold a grudge
Statues made of matchsticks
Crumble into one another
My love winks, she does not bother
She knows too much to argue or to judge

The bridge at midnight trembles
The country doctor rambles
Bankers’ nieces seek perfection
Expecting all the gifts that wise men bring
The wind howls like a hammer
The night blows cold and rainy
My love she’s like some raven
At my window with a broken wing

Lives

Depressing but true. Really reflects that dull sense of ennui that we are so often faced with when contemplating our own lives. I’ve always said Isaac Brock was a great songwriter, and at some point he’ll get recognition for that.

Everyone’s afraid of their own life
If you could be anything you want
I bet you’d be disappointed, am I right?
No one really knows the ones they love
If you knew everything they thought
I bet that you’d wish that they’d just shut up
Well, you were the dull sound of sharp math
When you were alive
No ones gonna play the harp when you die
And if I had a nickel for every damn dime
I’d have half the time, do you mind?
Everyone’s afraid of their own lives
If you could be anything you want
I bet you’d be disappointed, am I right?
Am I right? And it’s our lives
It’s hard to remember, it’s hard to remember
We’re alive for the first time
It’s hard to remember were alive for the last time
It’s hard to remember, it’s hard to remember
To live before you die
It’s hard to remember, it’s hard to remember
That our lives are such a short time
It’s hard to remember, it’s hard to remember
When it takes such a long time
It’s hard to remember, it’s hard to remember:
My mom’s God is a woman and my mom she is a witch
I like this
My hell comes from inside, comes from inside myself
Why fight this
Everyone’s afraid of their own lives
If you could be anything you want
I bet you’d be disappointed, am I right?

 

Lily, Rosemary and the Jack of Hearts

Sony copyright strikes again! There isn’t a single YouTube video of this song that isn’t a cover version, overwhelmingly amateur. So here’s Joan Baez. Bob Dylan was having great fun doing his own version of a traditional narrative folk song, and who better to interpret that form that Baez? She is, after all, one of the reigning figures in that genre. Nobody does traditional folk songs better than she. And though Dylan’s songs don’t require good singing to be effective, it’s always a pleasure to hear them done by someone with a golden voice.

The festival was over and the boys were all planning for a fall
The cabaret was quiet except for the drilling in the wall
The curfew had been lifted and the gambling wheel shut down
Anyone with any sense had already left town
He was standing in the doorway looking like the Jack of Hearts.

He moved across the mirrored room “Set it up for everyone” he said
Then everyone commenced to do what they were doin’ before he turned their heads
Then he walked up to a stranger and he asked him with a grin
“Could you kindly tell me friend what time the show begins ?”
Then he moved into the corner face down like the Jack of Hearts.

Backstage the girls were playing five card stud by the stairs
Lily had two queens she was hoping for a third to match her pair
Outside the streets were filling up, the window was open wide
A gentle breeze was blowing, you could feel it from inside
Lily called another bet and drew up the Jack of Hearts.

Big Jim was no one’s fool, he owned the town’s only diamond mine
He made his usual entrance looking so dandy and so fine
With his bodyguards and silver cane and every hair in place
He took whatever he wanted to and he laid it all to waste
But his bodyguards and silver cane were no match for the Jack of Hearts.

Rosemary combed her hair and took a carriage into town
She slipped in through the side door looking like a queen without a crown
She fluttered her false eyelashes and whispered in his ear
“Sorry darling, that I’m late”, but he didn’t seem to hear
He was staring into space over at the Jack of Hearts.

“I know I’ve seen that face somewhere” Big Jim was thinking to himself
“Maybe down in Mexico or a picture up on somebody’s shelf”
But then the crowd began to stamp their feet and the house lights did dim
And in the darkness of the room there was only Jim and him
Staring at the butterfly who just drew the Jack of Hearts.

Lily was a princess she was fair-skinned and precious as a child
She did whatever she had to do she had that certain flash every time she smiled
She’d come away from a broken home had lots of strange affairs
With men in every walk of life which took her everywhere
But she’d never met anyone quite like the Jack of Hearts.
The hanging judge came in unnoticed and was being wined and dined
The drilling in the wall kept up but no one seemed to pay it any mind
It was known all around that Lily had Jim’s ring
And nothing would ever come between Lily and the king
No nothing ever would except maybe the Jack of Hearts.

Rosemary started drinking hard and seeing her reflection in the knife
She was tired of the attention tired of playing the role of Big Jim’s wife
She had done a lot of bad things even once tried suicide
Was looking to do just one good deed before she died
She was gazing to the future riding on the Jack of Hearts.

Lily took her dress off and buried it away
“Has your luck run out?” she laughed at him.
“Well I guess you must have known it would someday
Be careful not to touch the wall there’s a brand new coat of paint
I’m glad to see you’re still alive you’re looking like a saint”
Down the hallway footsteps were coming for the Jack of Hearts.

The backstage manager was pacing all around by his chair
“There’s something funny going on” he said ” I can just feel it in the air”
He went to get the hanging judge but the hanging judge was drunk
As the leading actor hurried by in the costume of a monk
There was no actor anywhere better than the Jack of Hearts.

No one knew the circumstance, but they say it happened pretty quick
The door to the dressing room burst open a Colt revolver clicked
And big Jim was standing there you couldn’t say surprised
Rosemary right beside him studying her eyes
She was with big Jim but she was leaning to the Jack of Hearts.

Two doors down the boys finally made it through the wall
And cleaned out the bank safe it’s said that they got off with quite a haul
In the darkness by the riverbed they waited on the ground
For one more member who had business back in town
But they couldn’t go no further without the Jack of Hearts.

The next day was hanging day the sky was overcast and black
Big Jim lay covered up killed by a penknife in the back
And Rosemary on the gallows she didn’t even blink
The hanging judge was sober he hadn’t had a drink
The only person on the scene missing was the Jack of Hearts.
The cabaret was empty now a sign said. “Closed for repair”
Lily had already taken all of the dye out of her hair
She was thinking about her father who she very rarely saw
Thinking about Rosemary and thinking about the law
But most of all she was thinking about the Jack of Hearts.