A Figure Walks

Lyrics

(1)

A figure walks behind you 
A figure walks behind you
A shadow walks behind you
A figure walks behind you

Days of booze and roses (2)
Shine on us, free us all   (3)
Who is not irascible
He is no genius (4)

A figure walks behind you
A figure walks behind you
A shadow walks behind you
A figure walks behind you

The old golden savages
Killed their philosophers (5)
Thought brought the drought about
Something followed me out
Goes out again

A figure walks behind you
A shadow walks behind you
A figure walks behind you
A shadow walks behind you

And if it grabs my coat tail
I will turn and hit it
It may remove the pegs
Keeping my eyes open

A figure walks behind you
A shadow walks behind you
A figure walks behind you
A shadow walks behind you

It's got eyes of brown, watery
Nails of pointed yellow
Hands of black carpet
It's a quick trip to the ice house
A quick trip to the ice house 

A figure walks behind you
A shadow walks behind you
A figure walks behind you
A shadow walks behind you
You

A figure walks behind you
A shadow walks behind you
A figure walks behind you
A shadow walks behind you

You 

And tales of terror
Which my father told me
They never scared me
But not only is it the blind
Who cannot see
That figure behind you
Behind you 
You 

That figure kept on walking
Behind you

There's a man on my trail
He's also behind you
Behind you

That figure kept on walking
Behind you

A figure walks

Notes

1. Reformation has preserved the words of MES for posterity:

A drum driven story of horror and fear. MES, quoted in TBLY no.8 (February 1997): "A song written during a long walk home wearing an anorak that restricted my vision by two-thirds...if you actually listen closely, though, it's not a human being at all that's following the character. It's actually from outer space. I like to think of it as my big Stephen King outing."  

And Dan reports:

At the gig at the Lyceum, London, 25 March 1979, MES introduces this song with these words:
 

This one's a slow one, dedicated to H.P. Lovecraft. The psychologist said that he thought the shadow was his father. The shad was his dad.

Dan reminds is that in Carl Jung's thought, the shadow is an aspect of the unconscious which represents the dark side of the self, which must be integrated into the personality for the sake of mental health, and remarks "Since MES dedicated the song to Lovecraft, maybe MES read something which psychoanalysed Lovecraft and linked his writing in some way to the fate of his father, who was declared insane and died in an asylum."

Also from Dan:

Some echoes here of William Blake's "My Spectre around me night & day": "My Spectre follows thee behind."

From the sleevenotes to the expanded edition: "A FIGURE WALKS (MES) ... a song written during a long walk home wearing an anorak which restricted vision by 2 thirds. Fiction breaks away from fact at the end i.e. it didn't catch me, obviously (?)"

^


2. Days of Wine and Roses was originally a 1958 teleplay on CBS, and more famously a 1962 movie directed by Blake Edwards and starring Jack Lemmon and Lee Remick. The film is about a couple that gradually succumb to alcoholism. The movie also spawned a hit song sung by Andy Williams, and Merle Haggard later copped the title line for his classic "I Threw Away the Rose."  

The ultimate source of the phrase seems to be a poem by Ernest Dowson, as Aubrey the Cat points out on the Fall online forum:

The "Days of Booze and Roses" lift/quote/parody is duly noted on bz's Annotated Fall site as being the title of a film and song, etc., but that title came from a poem by Ernest Dowson (a friend of Oscar Wilde's, sticking with him through and after the trial and staying with him in France once he came out of prison):


THEY are not long, the weeping and the laughter,
Love and desire and hate: 
I think they have no portion in us after
We pass the gate.

They are not long, the days of wine and roses:
Out of a misty dream 
Our path emerges for a while, then closes
Within a dream. 


Even kind of fits the song, kind of.

(A Dowson poem also provided the title for Gone with the Wind.)

 

^

3. The lyrics of Todd Rundgren's 1977 song, "Love is the Answer" (from the Utopia album, "Oops! Wrong Planet") contain the following:
 


Light of the world, shine on me
Love is the answer
Shine on us all, set us free
Love is the answer  

^

4. There is a 1964 biography of Charles Babbage (1791-1871) entitled Irascible Genius: The Life of Charles Babbage. Babbage was a mathematician and inventor who is credited with being the first programmable mechanical computer. Whether or not Smith had this in mind, it may be where he encountered the phrase; on the other hand, a Google search reveals that "irascible genius" is not an uncommon combination of words. There is probably something in the way we conceive of genius that makes such a phrase likely; geniuses are often assumed to be difficult people in many ways, and MES himself, if we consider him a genius, certainly fits the bill. As is so often the case with Fall lyrics, it may be possible to detect an echo of William Blake here; in The Marriage of Heaven and Hell, one of the "Proverbs of Hell" runs: "Improvement makes strait roads, but crooked roads without Improvement, are roads of Genius." It's notable, however, that Blake's proverb does not imply a cult of great men; he talks of genius as a quality or capacity, rather than saying what is required to be genius.   

^

5. Possibly a reference to the death sentence doled out to Socrates in 399 BCE, although the Athenians were hardly "golden savages." The latter phrase recalls Nietzsche's "blond beast," the unreflective and nobly born ancient who is likened to a lion, although the Nazis read a racial descriptor into it. From Nietzsche's perspective, the citizens of 4th-century Athens could be seen as upholding the "noble ideal" against the incursion of Socratic rationalism. Nietzsche is one of the authors that MES has mentioned appreciatively in interviews (his laconic but hilariously effective takedown of Shane McGowan on the subject is well worth checking out ).  

Also, Jean-Jacques Rousseau who, unlike Hobbes and Locke thought that human beings were pretty decent folk in their natural state, is often referred to as having an idea of a "noble savage" or, less commonly, "golden savage," probably in reference to a purported "golden age" (the periodization of ages in terms of metals comes from Hesiod).

^

Comments (21)

dannyno
  • 1. dannyno | 28/10/2013
The link to the infamous NME interview with MES, Cave and McGowan is broken. Here's one that works, for now: http://shanemacgowan.com/press/nme-talks-to/
bzfgt
  • 2. bzfgt | 29/10/2013
I fixed it, but that's a bummer; my site is probably going to be riddled with dead links as the years go by, and some of the sources will be totally lost, which sucks. It would be good to put up a site which reproduces all the sources I use here and just link to that, but that is a huge job in itself, and I wouldn't even know how to do it.
MerelyGifted
  • 3. MerelyGifted | 09/03/2015
https://archive.org/web/ ? Granted, not everything is (yet!) archived.
bzfgt
  • 4. bzfgt | 28/03/2015
Thanks, MG...in a couple years there will be a lot of work to do checking links and looking for ones that work, if I can be bothered...
testtes
  • 5. testtes | 29/05/2015
test
teechur
  • 6. teechur | 17/07/2015
B-
Antoine
  • 7. Antoine | 06/11/2015
I had never realized this before, but Captain Beefheart's Abba Zaba has a lot in common with this number - listen to the tribal-sounding drumming that sticks to the toms and the spidery guitar work over it, made even more significant by lines like

"Two shadows at noon, abba zaba zoom
Gonna zaba her soon
Babbette baboon abba zaba zoom
Gonna catch her soon"
Martin Gammon
  • 8. Martin Gammon | 21/09/2016
From Rime of the Ancient Mariner, Coleridge:
Like one, that on a lonesome road
Doth walk in fear and dread
And having once turned round walks on
And turns no more his head
Because he knows a frightful fiend
Doth close behind him tread
bzfgt
  • 9. bzfgt | 15/10/2016
Ah, good one, Martin!
dannyno
  • 10. dannyno | 22/11/2016
This song debuted live in February 1979.

On 25 December 1978, the BBC aired a short film entitled "The Ice House" as part of its "A Ghost Story for Christmas" series, which ran each Christmas from 1971-1978. It's not really a ghost story, mind you.

See: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Ice_House_(short_film)

I suspect a lyrical influence!
dannyno
  • 11. dannyno | 26/01/2017
Rousseau is supposed to have said something about "golden savages", but I haven't been able to find out exactly what.
bzfgt
  • 12. bzfgt | 11/02/2017
Dan, although he never actually said it, the notion of a "noble savage" is often imputed to Rousseau. Could that be what you're thinking of?
dannyno
  • 13. dannyno | 04/03/2017
Yes, the noble savage thing is Rousseau. But I'm finding "golden savage" mentioned too. Maybe it's an alternative translation.
dannyno
  • 14. dannyno | 04/03/2017
But here you, a new discovery.

"Shine on us, free us all"

The lyrics of Todd Rundgren's 1977 song, "Love is the Answer" (from the Utopia album, "Oops! Wrong Planet") contain the following:


Light of the world, shine on me
Love is the answer
Shine on us all, set us free
Love is the answer


The song was a hit for England Dan & John Ford Coley in 1979.
dannyno
  • 15. dannyno | 04/03/2017
At the gig at the Lyceum, London, 25 March 1979, MES introduces this song with these words:

This one's a slow one, dedicated to H.P. Lovecraft. The psychologist said that he thought the shadow was his father. The shad was his dad.


https://sites.google.com/site/reformationposttpm/pithy-smithyisms/in-the-1970s
dannyno
  • 16. dannyno | 08/03/2017
Golden savages: seems to have been a different Rousseau, now I've looked more closely. Was a bit confusing since JJ Rousseau doesn't seem to have used the "noble savage" phrase at all.
bzfgt
  • 17. bzfgt (link) | 19/03/2017
You're right, some people seem to refer to the phrase as though it's an idea of Rousseau's. And although I see it once in a kind of oblique connection with a George Rousseau or something (not imputed to him as far as I can tell, just mentioned in a note of a book about him) they are usually thinking of JJ when they say it, I'm pretty sure.
bzfgt
  • 18. bzfgt (link) | 19/03/2017
A book blurb:

Reminiscent of Rousseau's Golden Savage, the setting is 1839 in Bass Strait, and the most celebrated explorer of the age and his wife adopts a young aboriginal girl, Mathinna as an experiment to prove that the savage can be civilised -- only to discover that within the most civilised can lurk the most savage.

If it's George that would be like saying "When Washington crossed the Delaware..." and meaning when the students on "Welcome Back, Kotter" took a field trip to Philadelphia.
dannyno
  • 19. dannyno | 26/03/2017
Some echoes here of William Blake's "My Spectre around me night & day" (http://erdman.blakearchive.org/#b5.31)


My Spectre follows thee behind
dannyno
  • 20. dannyno | 16/04/2017
Dragnet sleevenotes (helps with note #1):

Image


A FIGURE WALKS (MES) ... a song written during a long walk home wearing an anorak which restricted vision by 2 thirds. Fiction breaks away from fact at the end i.e. it didn't catch me, obviously (?)
dannyno
  • 21. dannyno | 13/08/2017
Note 1: "the shadow was his father"

In Jungian terms, the shadow is an aspect of the unconscious: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Shadow_(psychology)

Since MES dedicated the song to Lovecraft, maybe MES read something which psychoanalysed Lovecraft and linked his writing in some way to the fate of his father, who was declared insane and died in an asylum..

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