Blindness

Lyrics

Fall Heads Roll


(1)

The flat is evil
Welcome: living leg-end (2)

I was walking down the street
I saw the poster at the top

I was all on one leg (3)
The streets were flagged

And the poster at the top of street said:
“Do you work hard?” (4)

I was only on one leg
The road hadn't been fixed
I had to be in for half six

I was only on one leg
My blue eyelids were not active
There was a curfew at half nine
For my kids

There was a poster at the top of the street
Encapsulated in plastic
It had a blind man

So I said: “Blind man, have mercy on me.”
I said: “Blind man, have mercy on me.”

The flat is evil and full of Cavalry and calvary (5)
And Calvary and cavalry.

“Do you work hard?”
It said, “I am from Hebden Bridge. (6)
Somebody said to me: I can't understand a word you said."

Said: “99% of non smokers die” (7)
“Do you work hard?”
“Do you work hard?”

I was walking down the street
And saw a picture of a blind man

The flat is evil
Of core(?) cavalry and calvary

Of core(?)
Blind man, have mercy on me
Said, blind man, have mercy on me

I am looking at my feet
My blues eyes get ID'd
My curfew was due half eight
Now its half past six

My curfew is at 9:30
I said. “Do you?”
Blind man! Have mercy on me
Blind man! Have mercy on me
Blind man! Have mercy on me

I’m on one leg
My eyes can’t get fixed
And my kids
Can’t blue eyes get fixed?

Blind man! Have mercy on me
Blind man! Have mercy on me

Peel Version

And all humans
Cavalry or calvary (8)
And not a drop of water (9)
Or paper
Or paper
J.W. said "walking bass, walking bass" (10)
Don't forget, don't forget
You expected Aristotle Onassis
But instead you got Mr James Fennings from Prestwick, in Cumbria (11)
Do you...
The flat is evil
Full of cavalry and calvary
His first appearance was on Moscow Road (12)
The poster came first
At first I thought it was just a poster
I was talking to Jane Seymour (13)
Eyes wide open
The neck was slightly dislocated
But then I walked up the street
There was a repellent plastic
Said poster with a picture:
"Do you work?"
I was on one leg
At the top of the street
There was a poster
A plastic front
From Moscow Road it came
From Deansgate it came
From Narnack Records it came (14)
I was on one leg
I had to be in by 9:30
I said walking bass
Paper times 2
Paper times 2
Paper everywhere and not a drop of water to be seen
I said
I was by the ocean
I saw a poster
I am [?]
I am [?]
Everywhere I look I see a blind man
I see a blind man
Everywhere I look
I see a...
I can't get my eyes checked
My blues eyes can't get checked
I'm only on one leg
I said to poster, "When's curfew over?
I said, "Blind man, have mercy on me."
I said, "Blind man, have mercy on me."

Blind man have mercy on me
Oh Great One I am a mere receptacle
The egg tester for your sandlewood and other assorted woods
In dark green
Blind man have mercy on me!
I got a metal leg - truth
Flat is the evil of calvary and cavalry 

(15)
 

Notes

1. In a 1991 New Musical Express "Portrait of the Artist as a Consumer" (a weekly feature in which the NME asked various musicians to list their favorite cultural artifacts such as music, books, movies, etc.) MES lists the Panther Burns as one of the bands he is interested in. The Panther Burns, also known as Tav Falco's Panther Burns, were formed by Falco and Alex Chilton in Memphis in the late '70s, and in 1981 they were the Fall's labelmates at Rough Trade. Their mission was to bring roots music--particularly, but by no means limited to, rockabilly and blues--together with punk and avant-garde sensibilities. The Panther Burns recorded a song called "Blind Man" on their debut album, Behind the Magnolia Curtain; "Blind Man had earlier been recorded by Muddy Waters, although I am not sure of the ultimate source (the song is not the same as "Blind Man Blues," which Muddy also recorded). The song has the repeated refrain "Lord, have mercy on me." The Panther Burns also covered Leadbelly's "Bourgeois Blues" on the same album, which the Fall were to record for 2003's Are You Are Missing Winner, and the Fall did "Funnel of Love" (originally popularized by Wanda Jackson), which the Panther Burns recorded in 1995 for Shadow Dancer, on Your Future Our Clutter in 2010. 

 
On the Fall's appearance on Later...With Jools Holland, MES paraphrases Glenn Campbell's "Try A Little Kindness," which runs "'And if you try a little kindness/Then you'll overlook the blindness/Of narrow-minded people on the narrow-minded streets".
 
"Why dont you try a little kindness/(to compensate?) for the blindness..." 
 
The drum part resembles "Superstition" by Stevie Wonder (who is, of course, blind). In Renegade, MES praises the song: "Anyway, I was more influenced by [Gary Glitter] than the stuff Friel and Baines were listening to. It had more edge. Stevie Wonder's "Superstition" was another. Unlike Weather Report it doesn't force its quality, it isn't false; it's very much a record that's aware of its own strengths. I like the direct poetry of its lyrics, too, the economy. Journalists ramble on about Dylan being a poet and all that, how his words have the ability to do this and that--totally overlooking stuff like "Superstition"; probably because most of the journalists writing that stuff are white males who grew up trying to be Dylan and now can't move on from that same wave of thought."
 
The bassline closely resembles "Witness" by Roots Manuva (in turn inspired by the Doctor Who theme; also see Russel Richardson's excellent comment below, and Dan's comment with Manuva's remarks). According to Jim Watts on the Fall Online Forum:
 
"We took a break from Tuff Gong to go for a drink in The Original Wire pub. Pretty much the worst pub in warrington. I remember a cloud of flies buzzing around in there.
And in the car on the way back we heard witness by Roots Manuva and Spencer got very excited. We were inspired by the groove and I think Spencer started the beat, then Steve came up with the bass and me and Ben came in with our guitar parts.

Then it was put forward to Mark as a demo and he went in to do his vocal sessions and he made it a Fall song. I remember the sessions were pretty much -day one band recording - day two vocals - day three mixing. Or something close to that, wasnt a long recording.

I dont even know how it is credited as by that point I had lost the will to battle over credits. But the above is exactly as I remember it."
 
Note it isn't the exact bass line as the notes are a bit different (not just the key, but the intervals). 
 
MES has claimed that this is about blind British Labour Party politician David Blunkett (via Reformation): 
It's about the blind politician [David Blunkett] we've got here in Britain. He wants to set up camps for people, camps for dysfunctional fathers, and camps for dysfunctional kids. Luckily they got rid of him, but he's come back now, so that's quite timely. And he's blind, as well. From Sheffield. [laughs]"
 
It is difficult to explain all of the lyrics as being about Blunkett in any straightforward way, but because of MES's statement this is the jumping off point for any interpretation. Certain parties insist that the song is at least partly about Masonic intiation, in which the candidate is blindfolded and made to kneel on one leg at the altar. There is a certain elegance to this theory, which identifies a formal symmetry in the power relations displayed in the song: Blunkett, the blind politician, as Home Secretary initiated anti-terrorism measures which earned him the enmity of proponents of civil liberties (a concern he seems to have contemptuously dismissed; despite his relatively left-leaning background, he was one of many politicians who veered to the right on civil liberties in the face of the terrorist threats of the first decade of the 21st century). According to Wikipedia:
 
A controversial area for Blunkett was civil liberties, which he famously described as "airy fairy". As Education Secretary, he had repeatedly expressed the intention that, were he to become Home Secretary, he would make the then-incumbent Jack Straw, who had been criticised for being hard-line, seem overly liberal. An indication of what he meant came in October 2002, when there was a serious riot at Lincoln Prison. Martin Narey, then Director General of HM Prison Service, later claimed that when informed of the riot, Blunkett became hysterical and 'shrieked' that the prison must be re-taken without regard to loss of life and that rioters should be machine-gunned if necessary. Narey concluded that Blunkett was not up to the job. Blunkett denied this version of events.

The candidate in a Masonic initiation, on the other hand, is not genuinely blind, but is blindfolded and helpless. According to R. Totale on the Fall online forum:
 
It's about at least two things - David Blunkett and the Freemasonic initation ritual. The two are quite separate - as often in Fall songs - but have a literary and symbolic effect on each other. It's about forms and images of domination. The blind man has been blindfolded in a masonic ritual, he was on one leg. He's being threatened with death, but in Blunkett's case, is threatening death.  

Whether or not Totale is on the money about MES's source of inspiration, it is an attractive interpretation (although, like the Blunkett element, it leaves much unaccounted for). As Totale suggests, juxtaposed images of power and powerlessness abound in this song, even as they continually reverse polarity: in the Peel version James Fennings of Prestwick is substituted for Aristotle Onassis (see note 10 below), the geographical reference to Cumbria underscoring the modesty of an ordinary man as compared to a Greek billionaire. At the same time, Fennings is a synechdoche for the Fall as pure advent: a pre-show DJ for the band in the early 2000s, Fennings' tracks heralded the arrival of the group onstage, so the line boastingly suggests the hubris of a rock event, with "Fennings" indicating the moment of adumbration in which the band is all potential, a synesthetic thought-image of angry superheroes looming over the venue. Onassis is the money shot, vulgarly redundant at the point of its arrival.

Blunkett's blind eyes look down on the city from what is presumably a campaign poster. Although he cannot see, his power lies in being seen; his image functions as a symbol of an all-seeing power introjecting itself into the psyche of the population. One such poster, created by the opposition, alludes to the '60s tv show The Prisoner: dubbing Blunkett The Imprisoner, it warns that "Compulsory ID cards will mean you are presumed guilty, until proven innocent." Blunkett's sightless glare conveys the threat of a curfew ("I had to be in by 9:30") backed by the threat of government violence in the name of preventing terrorism, the violence of the powerless. Such violence is most brutally effective when it is not being exercised, wagering in its desperation that the power of fear can overcome the fear of power. Calvary, the place of Christ's passion and thus a symbol for the power of undergoing rather than performing violence, is paired with "cavalry," as the passive violence of religion is both in opposition to and supplemented by the active violence of the State. In another reversal, this same juxtaposition reappears as religious terrorism, which further blurs the distinction between active and passive, or actual and potential, power (the State is powerful enough to preach non-violence and religious tolerance, while the terrorist impotently trumpets violence in the name of religion, and in the name of resistance to the violence of the State).  MES himself, finally, is a supplicant "on one leg," as opposed to the so-called "walking bass," which is, as it so happens, the actual protagonist of the song; on the Peel version, the litany "From Moscow Road it came, from Deansgate it came, from Narnack Records it came" seems to be about nothing so much as the relentless bass line, which is not in fact a "walking bass" in the usual sense, but it certainly marches. 
 
In a reversal of the Masonic ritual, Blunkett, the blind man, occupies a position of power while the sighted protagonist asks for mercy, the politician who cannot see compelling the hobbled pedestrian to look at him, his own power of sight betraying him into weakness before the sightless one. Sight is traditionally figured as a capacity or a potency, but here it is an impotent potency, the capacity to be dominated. The politician's incapacity in a certain way makes him invulnerable. Blunkett reverses the polarity of sight, turning blindess into strength and sightedness into weakness, just as Christ reverses the polarity of violence, turning the water of martyrdom into the wine of salvation and, ultimately, world domination in the form of the triumphant Church. Most explicitly, work ("Do you work hard?", the "New Puritan"'s credo turned into an accusation by the singer of "Chicago Now!", here becomes a politician's unrefusable demand, ratifying economic coercion with guilt) is now the utmost weakness, since those who do so, do so for those who do not, as Marx recognized long ago. To work is to literally create the world--and in that sense work is power as such--and to effectively lose one's power over it in the same blow. This is a surprising enough message in a song by a lyricist whose contempt for Marxism has always been paired with the glorification of work, in fact for whom the two have often been inseparable ("Communists are just part time workers"). And yet, "Blindness" is not so much a departure from the ethos of the "New Puritan" as it is a continuation and broadening of the latter's themes: "New Puritan"'s convolutions of disipline and decadence become the labyrinth of power and impotence through which the protagonist of "Blindness" blindly winds, but which the lyricist sees quite clearly. (Or is it the protagonist and not the lyricist who sees? MES may say more than he means here which is, after all, the goal of pretty much every Fall lyric.)
 
 
 
2. "What About Us" from the same album (Fall Heads Roll) and the same Peel session (#24) begins: "Well, leg-end...living/We are living leg-ends/The living leg-end." In both cases the word is pronounced with a hard 'g,' like "leg end." Henry Cow's first album is called Leg End (or, depending on the source, Legend); the Fall covered Henry Cow's "War" on Middle Class Revolt, a song not from Leg End but from their follow-up, In Praise of Learning. This is probably a punning reference to the line, "I was on one leg."
 
 
3. In March, 2004, Smith broke both his leg and his hip when slipping on some ice, and toured in a wheelchair for awhile (which he would do again in 2009).
 
 
4. This lyric first appeared in "Chicago, Now!" in 1990.
 
 
5. Cavalry is mounted artillery. Calvary was the mount in Jerusalem where Jesus was crucified. The hill is called Golgotha ("place of the skull") in the Gospels; the Latin calque Calvariae Locus is the proximate origin of the English "Calvary."
 
 
6. Hebden Bridge is a town in West Yorkshire. Apparently it was culturally very isolated, at least in the early part of the 20th century, to the extent that residents had a distinctive accent that was not shared even by people from neighboring towns.
 
According to Russell, "Hebden Bridge is indeed that village - but in the 1980s it had been largely abandoned, and (for what reason I know not) bought up by whole swathes of media and 'alternative' people from London. It very swiftly became an enclave of Southern middle-class (bohemian?) life in a desolate Northern emptied countryside. As such - especially re the accents - a perfect target for the wrath of MES."
 
 
 
7. I have been unable to confirm this.  
 
 
8. See note 5 above.  
 
 
9. This echoes Coleridge's "The Rime of the Ancient Mariner": "Water, water everywhere/Nor any a drop to drink" (thanks to Clay for pointing this out). 
 
 
10. "J.W."=Jim Watts, who had been the bass player in the Fall, but was playing guitar by the time this session was recorded (Steve Trafford plays bass on the song). "Blindness" does not, in fact, feature what is usually termed "walking bass."
 
 
11. Aristotle Onassis was a Greek shipping magnate who was perhaps most famous for being Jacqueline (Bouvier) Kennedy's second husband. As for James Fennings, I am indebted to Smudger from the Fall online forum for unearthing the following (see also note 1 above): 
 
And so we spent a day in the company of Marshall Jefferson, one of Bacardi’s ‘ambassadors’, who are on hand to take the great tracks that today’s up-and-coming talents have produced to the next level. The winner of the Bacardi Remix competition (in the funky house genre) was James Fennings of Prestwich, Manchester. James, already a tour DJ for The Fall for the best part of a decade in his non-house guise, won himself the chance to remix his track – which had been composed with elements laid out on the Bacardi DJ website – with Marshall’s fabled assistance. 
 

Prestwich is in Bury, in Greater Manchester, and is where MES hangs his hat. Cumbria is about 90 miles to the north. However, it is possible that Cumbria is also a street or neighborhood in Prestwich.  
 
 
12. There is a Moscow Road in Greater Manchester.   
 
 
13. Or maybe "James Seymour," as the Lyrics Parade has it. Jane Seymour was the Queen of England for about a year in the 16th century, as the third wife of Henry VIII. There is also a famous English actress named Jane Seymour who was in Live and Let Die, among other things. James Seymour was an 18th century English painter who mainly painted horses, and the people who ride them.  
 
 
14. Deansgate is one of the main streets of Manchester and, incidentally, dates back to Roman times. Narnack Records was the American distributor of Fall Heads Roll.  
 
 
15. Captain's Log, Supplemental: More versions, more variations. From Zack:
 
There's an alternate version of "Blindness" on the US vinyl edition of FHR. This version, much like "Sparta FC #2", seems to be an attempt to recapture the magic of an earlier Peel Session recording. Significant lyrical variations include "You expected the ancient brain boxes like Aristotle Onassis - Do you work hard? - But instead you got Mr. J. Fenning from Prestwich. His first appearance was on Moscow High Road" and "The flat is evil and is the epitome of calvary and cavalry."
 

SaveSave

Comments (25)

dannyno
  • 1. dannyno | 26/04/2013
"Mr James Fennings from Prestwick, in Cumbria "

Prestwick is in Scotland. Surely Prestwich?
dannyno
  • 2. dannyno | 26/04/2013
.. although, having said that, I just listened again to the Peel version and the line is definiteluy "Prestwick", not "Prestwich".

It's all very disorientating.
dannyno
  • 3. dannyno | 15/12/2013
Just bunged this on the Fall Forum:

MES likes Tav Falco's Panther Burns (see: Portrait of the Artist as a Consumer: i.e. http://www.culturewars.org.uk/images/mesconsumer.jpg)

On the Panther Burns' first album, "Behind the Magnolia Curtain" is a track entitled "Blind Man".

http://youtu.be/ICiFKKg6jsk

One of the lyrics of which is:

"Lord have mercy on me"

And of course another track on that album is a cover of "Bourgeois Blues".
russell richardson
  • 4. russell richardson | 03/05/2015
re note 6:
Hebden Bridge is indeed that village - but in the 1980s it had been largely abandoned, and (for what reason I know not) bought up by whole swathes of media and 'alternative' people from London. It very swiftly became an enclave of Southern middle-class (bohemian?) life in a desolate Northern emptied countryside. As such - especially re the accents - a perfect target for the wrath of MES.
russell richardson
  • 5. russell richardson | 21/10/2015
There is no mention of this 'up there', but sn't 'Blindness' bass-line the same as the Dr. Who theme? The series had been abandoned, but restarted and upgraded after a decade long hiatus right before the release of 'Fall Heads Roll'. The first 'new' Dr. Who in this more adult oriented show (the original was classic kids tea-time TV) was Christopher Ecclestone, of Manchester, an ultimately successful but at the time rather surprisingly gritty & northern choce to kick start the re-boot.

I would imagine the show got a lot of interest in Manchester.

For pure fun, listen here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VkcHgI_TIYQ
and pay especial attention to the segue between the original 1963 version and it's remixed 1966 version. The changeover sounds like its own pre-cog of typical Fall mixing, not least of the splicing in 'Blindness' (of, more markedly in 'Bury'). Food for thought.
bzfgt
  • 6. bzfgt | 23/11/2015
Thanks, Russell, I put in a brief mention and directed readers down to your comment--damn, these notes are too long, I have to come back and pare them down some time.
bzfgt
  • 7. bzfgt | 04/12/2015
This is a test.
Purple Prince
  • 8. Purple Prince | 04/12/2015
Fantastic job you are doing here. My first post having only recently joined the Fall forum despite being a listener from the long, long days.

From first hearing Blindess, what immediately stood out for me was the Freudian, surrealist motif of the blind man and blindness. In his 1919 essay Das Unheimliche, translated as The Uncanny, Freud links the motif of blinding in Hoffmann's story 'The Sandman' to the threat and act of castration. The essay is long and moves ultimately towards his theory of the uncanny as a post-sacred recognition of mortality. The importance for our song here is the overwhelming dread and uncanny power that becomes associated with Blindness. When I hear 'Blind man, have mercy on me', that's my immediate connection. I'd be surprised if MES wasn't aware of this when writing it though I guess we'll never know that. Freud underpins surrealism and a host of surrealist art plays on the impact and meanings of blinding. Anyone familiar with Buñuel and Dalí's Un chien andalou and L'Âge d'or, for example, will know what I'm talking about. The first scene of the eye slashing in Un Chien andalou is both a threat and challenge to the viewer and a forerunner to the Oedipal scenario that follows. In L'Âge d'or, the character M. X kicks over the blind man, who is a reference to the extreme right wing forces of Patriot League.

It goes without saying that there is a surrealist quality to Smith's writing but the Blind man along with being 'on one leg' and the mention of the (prosthetic?) metal leg in the Peel version - classically surrealist/Freudian images of castration - both point to this dimension to me. Within this context it's perfectly understandable why the voice in the song might entreat the blind man to 'have mercy'. There's no explanation of the whole song in this connection, of course, but there might be more to it and the above is as far as I've got!
bzfgt
  • 9. bzfgt | 06/12/2015
Thanks for that, PP. There is a heap of speculation in these long notes already...I wonder if I could do something like keep clarifications, references and allusions identified, facts, etc., in the notes, and then add another section for more speculative stuff so readers who were not interested in our interpretations wouldn't have to wade through all that? I'm kind of bugged by how long some of the notes are lately, and worry that it's not sufficiently user-friendly. Anyway, just an (for now, at least) idle thought...
Purple Prince
  • 10. Purple Prince | 06/12/2015
Please, do anything you like with this. For what it's worth, I enjoy the longer, speculative commentary. It may be useful to separate out the more substatiated, 'factual' notes.
clay
  • 11. clay | 12/01/2016
This might be too obvious to be worth mentioning, but for the sake of thoroughness: "Paper everywhere and not a drop of water" in the Peel version is a blatant perversion of Coleridge's famous "Water, water everywhere/Nor any drop to drink" from "The Rime of the Ancient Mariner".
Jeff Wheeler
  • 12. Jeff Wheeler | 16/01/2016
in "I am [?]" I think Mark says "I am looking at my feet" but really fast like "loogyamafeet"
Nothing else would really make sense with the rest of the lyrics anyway
bzfgt
  • 13. bzfgt | 19/01/2016
It's not too obvious to be worth mentioning (or adding a note), it's just too obvious for me to have noticed there was a need for a note but now it's pointed out it should absolutely be there (and in fact now is).
bzfgt
  • 14. bzfgt | 19/01/2016
Thanks, Jeff. I'm not going to check it tonight, I just ran it and if anyone thinks it's wrong I'll revisit it.
frogg
  • 15. frogg | 24/05/2016
Is the chorus a deliberate reversal of a line in the Bible, where a blind man asks Jesus to have mercy on him?
bzfgt
  • 16. bzfgt | 24/06/2016
Yeah man, I hadn't thought of that but it seems patent once it's pointed out. Of course the reversal happened long before MES, which adds another layer of uncertainty in a sense, at least if we're worried about authorial intentions...
Zack
  • 17. Zack (link) | 06/12/2016
"Blindness" does not feature a walking bassline but "Clasp Hands" from the same Peel Session does.

Jim Watts is credited with playing both guitar and bass on Peel Session #24. When I asked him which song(s) featured his bass playing (see link above), Jim said he "probably" played bass on "Clasp Hands."
bzfgt
  • 18. bzfgt | 27/12/2016
I finally figured out where your "links" are, this is so confusing
Zack
  • 19. Zack | 01/03/2017
There's an alternate version of "Blindness" on the US vinyl edition of FHR. This version, much like "Sparta FC #2", seems to be an attempt to recapture the magic of an earlier Peel Session recording. Significant lyrical variations include "You expected the ancient brain boxes like Aristotle Onassis - Do you work hard? - But instead you got Mr. J. Fenning from Prestwich. His first appearance was on Moscow High Road" and "The flat is evil and is the epitome of calvary and cavalry."
dannyno
  • 20. dannyno | 26/04/2017
Comment #5:


5. russell richardson | 21/10/2015
There is no mention of this 'up there', but sn't 'Blindness' bass-line the same as the Dr. Who theme?


The similarity of Blindness to the Doctor Who theme is attributable to the similarity of Roots Manuva's "Witness (1 Hope)" to the Doctor Who theme:

See this 2013 interview with Roots Manuva: https://www.theguardian.com/music/2013/jan/24/roots-manuva-whole-career-massive-mistake


Is it true the beat on Witness (1 Hope) came about because you were trying to recreate the Doctor Who theme tune?

Yeah, how did you know that?

I've been doing my research.

Good on you, man. Most journalists are just rubbish. I've got a different quality of journo here. I would never have thought.

This is The Guardian, you know.

But you're all supposed to be resting on your laurels. You've all become designer socialists, wearing Clarks and going to Bestival every year.

Amazing. How close do you come to recreating the Doctor Who theme?

That's the glory of my production-making and my musicality. I'm really rubbish at recreating things so I always go miles off the mark, but I ended up sticking with it.
bzfgt
  • 21. bzfgt (link) | 13/05/2017
I know there are a lot of notes here, but the "Doctor Who" connection is mentioned in the first note, and has been there since 2015.
bzfgt
  • 22. bzfgt (link) | 13/05/2017
I shifted it up a little now to make the direct connection with Roots Manuva.
bzfgt
  • 23. bzfgt (link) | 13/05/2017
Oh, sorry, I didn't notice you were quoting the old comment from 2015, Dan. Didn't mean to get snippy, I thought you were quoting a new comment so anyway any snippiness was directed at whoever that would have been.
dannyno
  • 24. dannyno | 13/05/2017
It's alright, I don't take such things personally anyway.
bzfgt
  • 25. bzfgt (link) | 11/08/2017
Another dead link, no more tale of James Fennings...

Add a comment

You're using an AdBlock like software. Disable it to allow submit.