Bill is Dead

Lyrics

(1)

Last week after "Dynasty" (2)
I had crows feet under my eyes
Paid two days for getting high

Freezing
Wheezing
Got pasted in a bar
  (3)
I hope I've got the number

These are finest times of my life
This is the greatest time of my life
This is the greatest time of my life
These are the biggest times of my life

But just lately seeing you
I rise a.m. off pink sheets
I am renewed
I am aglow
Red brick and green is the streets
You dressed today as if for riding school
Your legs are so cool
Came twice
You thrice  (4)

These are the greatest times of my life

Notes

1. From Reformation:

"Bill is Dead - which everybody assumed was about my dad and his mate Bill - began as a piss-take of The Smiths. Only later did it become something a little more personal."

And:

Interview on La Stampa, Holland, broadcast 5 April 1990: " 'Me and Craig got together and Craig said let's do something Smithslike, and the original lyrics were like, 'My heart is going, I'm at the bus stop, ooh ooh ooh', all that sort of stuff. But then Craig wrote a really nice tune so I thought we can't do that, so I wrote it off the top of my head. Bill was my father's best friend, but that was the original piss-take title."

The title tips its hat to Captain Beefheart's "Bill's Corpse," the last line of which is "And you should have us all/ oh, you should have us fall..."

Dan quotes the following from an interview in the Sounds magazine of February 3, 1990 (behind a paywall, unless your a British University student) "Mark E Smith Extricates Himself":

"We wanted to do something slow, but it’s not a love song — it’s about the Manchester scene a year ago, before it got fucked up. I don’t go to the Haçienda any more. I used to go once a month but it’s like mainstream now. It’s full of A&R men, students and people from Surrey."

From Ivor Cutler's "Phonic Poem," about a family that gets into a car accident (thanks to Peter):

Dad has a cut on his lip, it hit the wheel as he drove fast
Mum cut her cheek, see how it shines
Bill is dead, he lost his blood in the crash
Kate, Ann and Ted are sad for Bill, he was their chum

^

2. Dynasty (1981-1989) was a "prime time soap opera" which told the story of the oil-rich Carringtons of Denver, CO. It has been speculated that "Bill is Dead" is about Brix. This may or may not be the case--both Smiths have denied that the songs on Extricate are, in general, about the former Mrs. Mark. However, the show was canceled before the marriage was, which may or may not be significant.

From Hanley's book (thanks to Dan):

‘This is it!’ she exclaimed, her eyes wild. ‘We’ve gotta gig in Woolwich and no fucking drummer. I can’t take this anymore. I have spent the best part of three years in fear of my life because of that man [Karl Burns]. Like when we played with Khmer Rouge and he crouched in the wings to shoot fireworks at them. Marcia’s my friend. How could he do that? And that time in Liverpool when I ordered a TV for backstage and he took it apart, piece by piece, so I’d miss Dynasty.’ She pronounces it Die-nasty. 

[Note to Yanks: the Brits pronounce it "Din-asty," as MES does here] 

^

3. See "The Air" by Frank Zappa (Uncle Meat) which contains the line "I'm freezing/I'm wheezing." MES is known to be a fan of Zappa, particularly the 60s material (thanks to Thop Daverty from the Fall Online Forum). 

"Pasted," according to some of my lime sucking comrades, can mean "drunk," but more commonly means "beaten up" (we lack consensus on this). I am pretty sure it is the former meaning that is intended here, and Rob points out that if he was beaten up, the usual form would be "I got a pasting in a bar." If that is correct, the suggestion could be that MES has met a woman in a bar and wakes up hoping he got her number. However, if he got the crap kicked out of him, the "number" in question is a little more difficult to interpret--license plate number? Woman he met before he was beaten? Lottery number, so that he can pay the loan sharks who beat him up if it hits? Who knows?

^

4. Reformation again:

In an interview with Paul Lester in Melody Maker on September 1, 1990 MES made the presumably throwaway remark that the song was "about the ecstasy of the sex scene [in Manchester]." One hopes this verse isn't meant to be taken as straightforwardly sincere, in any case, at the very least for "Your legs are so cool."  

^

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Comments (27)

dannyno
  • 1. dannyno | 13/10/2013

After that final line, "came twice, you thrice" the complete outro goes like this:

"These are the greatest times of my life
These are the greatest times of my life
These are the greatest times of my life
These are the biggest times of my life
This is the greatest time of my life
These are the biggest times of my life
This is the greatest time of my life
These are the biggest times of my life
This is the finest time of my life
These are the greatest times of my life"

dannyno
  • 2. dannyno | 06/01/2014

Worth noting the equivalence of the title "Bill's Dead" with that of the track "Bill's Corpse" from Captain Beefheart's Trout Mask Replica.

dannyno
  • 3. dannyno | 04/06/2015

From

"Mark E. Smith Extricates Himself", John Robb interview with MES, 'Sounds' magazine 3 Feb 1990.

MES says, following up on Scanlon's comment that the guitar "was for a love song":


"We wanted to do something slow, but it’s not a love song — it’s about the Manchester scene a year ago, before it got fucked up. I don’t go to the Haçienda any more. I used to go once a month but it’s like mainstream now. It’s full of A&R men, students and people from Surrey."

dannyno
  • 4. dannyno | 18/07/2015

"Got pasted in a bar"

i've always thoughtlessly taken "pasted" to mean "completely drunk" or "wasted" (the latter word appears in 'The Air' too). But actually, now I come to think about it, it actually means "beaten up". Which is also a theme in "The Air". I can't believe I've misinterpreted this all these years.

dannyno
  • 5. dannyno | 18/07/2015

I mean, "pasted" can mean either drunk or beaten up. I think the latter seems more common, but I don't know.

It gives us an opening to think about the song in different ways anyway.

bzfgt
  • 6. bzfgt | 24/07/2015

I don't know, I don't ever remember saying or even really hearing "pasted," it must be a limey thing. I put some nonsense about it above, let me know if you have aught to add.

bzfgt
  • 7. bzfgt | 24/07/2015

Apparently with Extricate the Fall "returned to form" (that Sounds thing)...they are eternally getting bent out of shape and returning to form, and I think sometimes the return to form becomes the bend out of shape when the next one comes along...I think though that that's a common notion about Extricate, isn't it?

Simon
  • 8. Simon | 03/09/2015

Mark E Smith was probably put on to Dynasty by Brix. In Hanley's book he mentions that Brix watched Dynasty (while on tour), so I came to think that there might be a reference to Brix in the Dynasty line. Or at least given their proximity, Mark and Brix watched it together. There might be something similar going on equity Eleni and Gossip Girl... Ha. (I can find the quote from Hanley if interested, but I fear this level of obsession and involvement over who watched Dynasty may be bordering on insanity.)

bzfgt
  • 9. bzfgt | 05/09/2015

No, no, by all means find the quote! We can't be worried about our sanity whilst there's work to be done...

dannyno
  • 10. dannyno | 10/03/2016

This is the Hanley quote:


‘This is it!’ she exclaimed, her eyes wild. ‘We’ve gotta gig in Woolwich and no fucking drummer. I can’t take this anymore. I have spent the best part of three years in fear of my life because of that man. Like when we played with Khmer Rouge and he crouched in the wings to shoot fireworks at them. Marcia’s my friend. How could he do that? And that time in Liverpool when I ordered a TV for backstage and he took it apart, piece by piece, so I’d miss Dynasty.’ She pronounces it Die-nasty.

TM
  • 11. TM | 01/06/2016

Pasted much more often used to mean very drunk than beaten up when I was growing up (welcome to the Midlands 80s/90s). Though might be used to describe how one team lost to another so yes, beaten... But I always read it here as very drunk (and so may have mislaid the number)

bzfgt
  • 12. bzfgt | 29/06/2016

Yes, to me it seemed he obviously meant "drunk," from context and all. I do think Dan overthinks it sometimes but if it's rare one way and common the other we have to at least consider it means something less intuitive.

rob
  • 13. rob | 18/10/2016

I think if someone means beaten up they would write 'got a pasting' in a bar - never heard anybody say they got pasted but heard plenty people say it the other way

M.S. Pierce
  • 14. M.S. Pierce | 20/10/2016

To my ears, the first line is: "Last week, I felt a dynasty", a ruefully ironic sentiment given MES's subsequent hangover. I'm not convinced that the soap opera is at all relevant, despite the ostensible anecdotal evidence. Three syllables are clearly sung, and no "r" sound can be heard. I'm absolutely convinced that this is the line, and I encourage all to have another (very close) listen.

bzfgt
  • 15. bzfgt | 21/10/2016

There is an aspiration before "dynasty" that sounds like a subtle "a." But what the hell would "I felt a dynasty" mean? I've never heard anyone use the word that way in my life, nor do I have any idea what it would mean if they did. Google returns "No results found for "felt a dynasty"" so no one is on record saying that on the internet, even to speculate that MES is saying it, until now. And to me it sounds like "After (a-)Dynasty" as much as anything--there may be no "r" but he's English and they do that sometimes, and many people drop "r"s when they're singing, even Americans. And there is certainly no "t."

So, your opinion on this is recorded here for all to see, but I can't go along with it.

bzfgt
  • 16. bzfgt | 21/10/2016

Plus MES is on record all over the place with circumstantial evidence for Dynasty as he has mentioned being an aficianado of these kind of shows--I can't remember if MES himself has mentioned Dynasty but I seem to recall him mentioning Dallas[i], Falcon Crest[/i] and whatever that show Nate Will Not Return is based on...maybe not Falcon Crest. I just have a vague and general memory of him mentioning night time soaps in more than one or two places...

dannyno
  • 17. dannyno | 22/10/2016

Yeah, it's just an "aspiration", as you say. it's not a word.

dannyno
  • 18. dannyno | 22/10/2016

Yeah, it's just an "aspiration", as you say. it's not a word.

Matt Bryden
  • 19. Matt Bryden | 13/02/2017

I'm with M.S.Pierce on this - beautiful line

dannyno
  • 20. dannyno | 13/02/2017

The NME interview 19.7.86 MES says he has a tortoise named Bill. I wonder if it died in the bad winter of '89?

Martin
  • 21. Martin | 16/02/2017

The following analysis of the song taken from this website: http://songmeanings.com/songs/view/3530822107858632853/ may be of interest (the "great job" comment refers to whoever put up the lyrics on said site):

Great job overall, especially "riding school", which tends to throw some people off (I've seen "right in school" !), and improves the subsequent punchiness of "legs ... so cool."

However, while I could be wrong, I'm fairly certain you're missing the article "a" before "Dynasty", which should not be capitalized, as I assume the usage is slang in Marky's typically personal manner, likely referring to a night on the town involving various intoxicants and attempts to meet members of the opposite sex. Hence, "got pasted in a bar" coming just before "I hope I've got the number" refers to a phone number the protagonist procured from a potential acquaintance who, one can only assume, lacks a "Y" chromosome, and eventually becomes the lady friend he now wakes up with.

As you have it, "D"ynasty would have our narrator up all night watching a horrid American prime time soap opera while drinking stout, perhaps mildy entertaining but hard to imagine worth paying "two days" for and contributing to "the greatest time" of his life.

Taking this thought further, the contrast of the initial "last week", filled with hangovers, with "but just lately", and which he's "renewed" and "aglow" suggests a change and the potential for an ongoing relationship, the key word here being "seeing", which would not make sense for a mere one night stand, supported further by "you dressed today" (as opposed to how she dressed yesterday, last week, etc.). No, it seems our scruffy hero may have fallen into having a (gasp) honest-to-god girlfriend, the "pink sheets" telling us he's staying, or at least frequenting, an abode in which a female selects the bedding (good call on her part -- one can only imagine the condition his place is in!)

bzfgt
  • 22. bzfgt | 18/02/2017

Two things. I am not convinced even slightly, yet, by "felt a dynasty," but this is America after all and it is recorded here for anyone who wishes to differ.

Second, I have always suspected that MES was singing to more than one woman here, so the "lately" stuff and the "got the number" may be two people. But on the other hand he could also be time-jumping, as the comment suggests. I am not convinced more by one of these than by the other.

dannyno
  • 23. dannyno | 19/02/2017

What preceeds "Dynasty" is not the indefinite article, but an artefact of the way MES sings "after": "after-ah".

However, as we've found it is a bit difficult to work out the exact narrative. It is easiest to see the lyrics before the "greatest times" verse as referring to the past incident (albeit only a week away), and then we move after the "greatest times" verse into the contemporary situation.

bzfgt
  • 24. bzfgt | 25/02/2017

Dan, aside from the assertoric mode, that was exactly what my statements above were meant to convey about "a Dynasty." My judgment at the moment, that is, is that this is a meaningless aspiration, kind of like the famous "-ugh" only before a word rather than after.

Your conjecture about the temporality of the verses seems reasonable to me.

Martin
  • 25. Martin | 10/03/2017

"There can sometimes be an upside to the morning after. At least I think that's the message to take from the Fall's Bill Is Dead, in which an inveterate drunk is led to get "pasted in a bar", at which point he meets a new love, and the best time of his life ensues. Admittedly, the tone of the song is so miserable you think you might just be being had, but still."

https://www.theguardian.com/music/2010/jan/07/readers-recommend-hangover-songs

Peter
  • 26. Peter | 21/04/2017

Ivor Cutler's "Phonic Poem" (from the Velvet Donkey LP) includes the line "Bill is Dead". I remember John Peel playing it not long after Extricate came out. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bFSqpg2Y5gY

dannyno
  • 27. dannyno | 21/04/2017

I love Ivor Cutler. I'd be surprised if MES did, but I enjoy the connection anyway.

Peel played Phonic Poem, according to http://peel.wikia.com/wiki/Ivor_Cutler, on 22nd February 1992, two years after "Extricate" came out.

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