Birthday Song



And though, my darling,
There is another side you never see
Another side   (2)
And know, darling,
You know it’s there, on the right
I’m pointing to it now
While you, your fragrance drags
It conveys me to the country

And is...
your birthday?

As if by flight, behold
I am sat in a leafy winding spiral ablaze
Clad stones
Stocked up with pebbles
Trying to, like you, navigate without pains
And in dreams I stumble towards you, (3)
Knees knocked, as you evaporate
Though I am teed up  (4)
I am in the next room with you always (5)


1. From Reformation:

Julia Adamson on the track: "It was initially an instrumental I called it Birthday Song as it was 
my sister's birthday and I gave it to her on a CD for a present.
MES always liked it.  On a separate occasion I asked him to write a 
'love' poem and after a couple of goes was finished and fabulous I thought. 
MES decided to put the instrumental and poem together for The Marshall Suite."

A very short excerpt of this is heard at the end of "Ibis-Afro Man."  


2. Note Mike Watts's comment, "the phrases are similar to those of a medium talking through a 'spirit guide'."


3. Dan points out the allusion to Roy Orbison's "In dreams I walk with you." His entire comment below (comment 1) is outstanding, in fact; do not skip it.


4. "Teed up" can mean ready to go, as in a golf ball on a tee, or it can mean intoxicated.  


5. Paul Go submits:

"To follow up on the 'spirit medium' angle of the song, "I am in the next room' could be inspired by a line from 'Death is Nothing at All,' a popular poem for funeral services.

That poem, by Henry Scott Holland (1847 - 1918), has 'I have only slipped away into the next room' as its third line."

(See More Information for the text of the poem)



More Information

Birthday Song: Fall Tracks A-Z

The Story of the Fall: 1999

Death Is Nothing At All

Death is nothing at all.
It does not count.
I have only slipped away into the next room.
Nothing has happened.
Everything remains exactly as it was.
I am I, and you are you, and the old life that we lived so fondly together is untouched, unchanged.
Whatever we were to each other, that we are still.
Call me by the old familiar name.
Speak of me in the easy way which you always used.
Put no difference into your tone.
Wear no forced air of solemnity or sorrow.
Laugh as we always laughed at the little jokes that we enjoyed together. Play, smile, think of me, pray for me.
Let my name be ever the household word that it always was.
Let it be spoken without an effort, without the ghost of a shadow upon it. Life means all that it ever meant.
It is the same as it ever was.
There is absolute and unbroken continuity.
What is this death but a negligible accident
Why should I be out of mind because I am out of sight
I am but waiting for you, for an interval, somewhere very near, just round the corner.
All is well.
Nothing is hurt; nothing is lost.
One brief moment and all will be as it was before.
How we shall laugh at the trouble of parting when we meet again!


Henry Scott Holland

Comments (18)

  • 1. dannyno | 13/11/2016
Is this "love" song all it appears?

"There is another side you never see
Another side
And know, darling,
You know it’s there, on the right
I’m pointing to it now"

Those lines seem really funny. "There's another side you never see" can mean a quality of personality, maybe a romantic side not usually displayed. But here is seems to literally mean another side - "look, there, I'm pointing at it!" Very ambiguous.

"While you, your fragrance drags
It conveys me to the country"

To describe a fragrance (a perfume, or bodily odour?) as "dragging" seems a negative, and while being conveyed to the country could be taken to mean something fresh and natural, it could also mean smelling of manure.

"And is...
your birthday?"

Has the narrator forgotten? Are they not sure?

"I am sat in a leafy winding spiral ablaze"

Did someone set fire to a hedge-maze? Or is this verse about the country to which the narrator has now been conveyed?

"Clad stones
Stocked up with pebbles

Dry stone walls are often plugged with smaller rocks and pebbles. Does "rumbling" indicate the wall is falling down?

"Trying to, like you, navigate without pains"

Do we associate the narrator with MES, who suffered from broken hips and would presumably find navigation painful some of the time.

"And in dreams I stumble towards you"

Roy Orbison's song "In Dreams", has the line:

"In dreams I walk with you"

"Knees knocked, as you evaporate"

Roy Orbison's "In Dreams" has the lines:

"But just before the dawn
I awake and find you gone"

"Knees knocked" could mean bumping knees, or it might mean the involuntary fear-reaction. Or it's part of the "stumbling" image.

"I am in the next room with you always"

Always being in the next room is a phrase that would normally indicate something being always just out of reach. Here the narrator and the subject of the song seem to be together in the next room, which seems ambiguous. Not in "this" room?
  • 2. bzfgt | 19/11/2016
Excellent comments, Dan, some of it is stuff I vaguely thought and some of it quite novel but very suggestive and at times very convincing in its way (I mean you're talking about ambiguities but it's very convincing that they are there). Really, a great commentary, in all, thanks for that.
  • 3. dannyno | 30/11/2016
Mark E Smith, reviewing the singles, NME, June 27 1992, "I'm a big fan of Roy Orbison..."
Mike Watts
  • 4. Mike Watts | 09/04/2018
Music and vocals are etherial, as mentioned, Birthday Song has a dream like quality about it... but as with all MES work the lyrics are jumbled, and even more dream-like than usual.

The first verse takes me back to 'Live At The Witch Trials', those songs about mediums and spirits - the phrases are similar to those of a medium talking through a 'spirit guide'.

The second verse is more poetically cryptic, but the last line appears to me, to be a spirit talking to the living through a medium...
(if you read the notes on this website about the Fall's song 'Psykick Dancehall,
you will see that Mark was fairly knowledgeable about mediums...)
  • 5. dannyno | 05/05/2018
You're right, that first verse is redolent of mediumship.
  • 6. bzfgt (link) | 09/07/2018
I don't know what's up with the weird fonts on this early stuff, I think it was before I was hip to "clear formatting." In any case I changed the color to blackish on some of it.
  • 7. Bazhdaddy | 11/09/2018
Isn't it "And oh my darling there is another side universe"? If so it makes sense of all the adjacency in the lyric "on the right", "in the next room". The song seems preoccupied with roads not taken, the sort of thing one might dwell upon on a birthday
  • 8. bzfgt (link) | 13/10/2018
That's a good thought, I think, it does sound like "universe" to me, but if I try to hear "You never see" I hear that. Was this ever done live? Of course, "another side" is itself suggestive of adjacency, so I'm not sure that gets us anywhere. I would like if a few people would listen hard and weigh in, but I feel like I always put that call out and it's rarely answered by the hoped-for multitude...this is under consideration for now I guess.
  • 9. bzfgt (link) | 13/10/2018
There's a brief pause and then a 4th swallowed syllable so I'm still leaning toward "you never see"
  • 10. dannyno | 13/10/2018
"you never see" sounds like it's edited to me. It seems to end on the "s" sound. But I am hearing it as "you never see" rather than "universe" based on pronunciation.

But I'm also now hearing "And though" as "And Oh..."
  • 11. Bazhdaddy | 17/10/2018
I think it's relevant that it's the one part of the text he sings rather than narrates, which I would say accounts for the pronunciation. "Oh my darling" is a common phrase of course but it brings to my mind the Prisoner episode "Do Not Forsake Me Oh My Darling"
  • 12. bzfgt (link) | 21/10/2018
This is another maddening juncture. In the car last night it did sound like "universe," but when Iistened on headphones last night I was inclined toward our original rendition. I'll listen on headphones again and see if I can make a change. One unfortunate consequence of this task is we canonize mistakes, i.e. if something is a toss-up it tends to stay whatever it was when the first person transcribed it...although this is bound to render the correct lyric sometimes, the reverse is equally sure.

Right now this is indeed sounding like a toss-up via headphones. This is such a beautiful narration I'd love to get it right. There was never another version recorded, was there?

(time passes) Yes, Reformation! has it played live 23 times! I don't think I have any of those. I would like to put out a plea to anyone who has one or more of these to please check it out, although it's possible he never gives that line at all, I'm not sure what a live version of this particular number actually implies, as I've never heard one...
  • 13. bzfgt (link) | 21/10/2018
Right now between "/r/" and "/s/" sounds more like an elongation than a pause, so "universe" is very much in play. Last week it might have been expectation that made me hear it as more clearly the one than the other...
Paul G
  • 14. Paul G | 16/10/2019
To follow up on the 'spirit medium' angle of the song - "I am in the next room' could be inspired by a line from Death is Nothing at All, a popular poem for funeral services.

That poem, by Henry Scott Holland (1847 - 1918), has 'I have only slipped away into the next room' as its third line.

Full poem here:
  • 15. harleyr | 13/11/2019
There's a live version here (13th May 1999) which ends with the disputed phrase. Might help.
  • 16. bzfgt (link) | 16/11/2019
Thanks harley, it is very distinctly "you never see" on that recording.
  • 17. --__--chz.3w____ | 17/09/2023
Agree with dannyno, I hear the first two words as "And oh" (or maybe, "And O" ... you know, poetical-like)
  • 18. --__--chz.3w____ | 06/10/2023
Also, this is that I am seeing at the end of stanza one:

"While you, your fragrance drags me to the country"
The word Drags is crossed out, with "conveys" written above,, to be more poetical-ish. The narrator reads from the page As Is, saying the crossed out drags then (with possible tape edit) inserting the amended "it conveys me."

This is what I saw, listening at 16:01 Oct. 6 2023.

Add a comment