Fiery Jack

(1)

My face is slack
And kidneys burn
In the small of my back
Will never learn
Well I'm not going back
To the slow life
Cos every step is a drag
And peace is a kite of materials
You never catch
Come up for a snatch,
Up from hell
Once in a while

Cause I am Jack
From a burning ring (2)
My face is slack
And I think think think

I just think think think
Too fast to write
Too fast to work
Just burn burn burn

I sat and drank
For three decades
I'm 45
Cause I am Jack
From a burning ring
And my face is slack
And I think think think
I just drink drink drink
Too fast to work
Too fast to write
I just burn burn burn

I eat hot dogs
I live on pies
I'm 45
Cause I am Jack
From a burning ring
My face is slack
And I think think think
Just think think think
Too fast to write
Too fast to work
Just burn burn burn

And put down left-wing tirades
and the musical trades (3)
And/or free trade  (4)
I say eat this grenade
To defend free trade
I said eat this grenade

Cause I am Jack
Some men from the docks (5)
They are smart
Their brains are half

They never end
Just follow trends

But I am Jack
From a burning ring
My face is slack
And I think think think
Just think think think
Too fast to write
Too fast to work
I just burn burn burn
I am Jack
And put down left-wing tirades
and the musical trades
And/or free trade
I said eat this grenade
I said eat this grenade
And all free trade
I said eat this grenade

Notes

1. From Renegade

I've always written from different perspectives, but that one seemed to have more weight to it. I still see "Fiery Jack" types like that. They're quite heartening in a way. Manchester has always had men like that, hard livers with hard livers; faces like unmade beds.

Even though they're clearly doing themselves damage, there's a zest for life there. And that's a rarity. They're not as oblivious as you might think. Drinkers have a good sense fo the absurd. I like that. (89)

Drinkers or not, the song clearly seems to be about a speed freak. The character may have been a heavy drinker, but here he proclaims himself "too fast to drink." The burning kidneys also suggest speed use.

From a 1980 interview:

One of the points of "Fiery Jack" is ageism. People go round and think they're smart when they're 21 but these old guys you see have been doing it for years and a lot of them have more guts than these kids will ever have. It's like the skinheads throwing cans, they know fuck all. I know twenty times more than them and I could knock them over in a pub if I wanted to. Everybody's as good as each other, there is no tough figher, there is no 'young' thing, everybody's as good as each other. Everybody KNOWS that, but everybody keeps living it out and it makes me sick...in a mystical way, Fiery Jack is the sort of guy I can see myself as in twenty years...

The title probably comes from the muscle and joint balm called "Fiery Jack" which was probably not an altogther unknown commodity in the home of 45 year old laborers in 1980, although it was apparently discontinued some time in the early 21st century.

In a 2003 interview, MES mentions that the title character used to attend meetings at the Christian Psychic club that inspired "Psykick Dancehall," but "he wasn't that much into it."

Dan says:

"There are strong indications in the lyric that Jack is demonic, at least. But another echo is of - not Wearside Jack as above, but the 19th century Jack the Ripper: the infamous 1888 "From Hell" letter."

This is a letter sent from someone purporting to be Jack the Ripper, and posted along with half a kidney (the author claiming to have eaten the other half!) to the head of the voluntary Whitechapel Vigilance Committee, a George Lusk:

 

From hell

Mr Lusk
Sor
I send you half the
Kidne I took from one women
prasarved it for you tother pirce
I fried and ate it was very nise I
may send you the bloody knif that
took it out if you only wate a whil
longer.

signed
Catch me when
you Can
Mishter Lusk.

(Note "My kidneys burn/In the small of my back...")

^

2. The reference to a "burning ring," and the line "I burn burn burn," is reminiscent of Johnny Cash's "Ring of Fire." MES has frequently proclaimed himself an admirer of Cash, and the song recalls the sound of Cash's 1950s Sun recordings like "Hey Porter," "Cry Cry Cry" and "Big River" more so than "Ring of Fire" itself, although the chugging rhythm section and bouncing bass is still in the same ballpark. The reference to Cash was often rendered explicit when the Fall performed the song; in at least one performance, "Ring of Fire" was interpolated into the Fall song. The main riff, on the other hand, is almost identical with the opening riff of "Lost Girl" by the Troggs.

^

3. This literally refers to music trade magazines, but there is an implied reference to Rough Trade Records, whose left-wing politics were beginning to annoy MES (see note 4 below).

^

4. From the interview quoted in note 1: "I mean that song's about twenty things. It's about anti-left wing. Also the Transmitters did a song called 'Free Trade,' saying 'this is mine,' which is so hypocritical." It's hard to reckon up exactly what's going on here. The Transmitters were a somewhat obscure New Wave band, with jazz fusion and psychedelic elements, who did a song in 1979 called "Free Trade." Judging by MES's remarks, and what I can make out of the lyrics, they were agin it. The song has a repeated refrain of "It's mine!" In any case, a quick perusal of the material available at the price of a click of the above link shows MES at the moment, in 1980, when he seems to have permanently found his interview voice: belligerent, digressive, indifferent to facts or reason, and beneath it all (but above all) very humorous. Perhaps it was the "Fiery Jack" character(s) who inspired MES to adopt this particular persona, which suggests nothing so much as an aging and loquacious barfly.

^

5. MES was a clerk on the Salford docks when he was around nineteen. 

^

Comments (17)

Huckleberry
  • 1. Huckleberry | 22/07/2013
Fiery Jack is a "deep heat" rub used to relieve muscle aches. I think it was popular in the north of England (the first time I heard about it was in a magazine about Yorkshire and I've never seen it on sale in the south) but it has apparently been discontinued in the UK.

http://www.netdoctor.co.uk/aches-and-pains/medicines/fiery-jack-cream.html
Huckleberry
  • 2. Huckleberry | 22/07/2013
"Some men from the docks" - MES worked at one time as a clerk at Manchester Docks.
John
  • 3. John | 01/08/2013
MES once said that FJ was a vision of what MES might be like at 45.
Colin
  • 4. Colin | 16/12/2013
Jack is the name of Mark's late father, who was middle age when the song was written. That's gotta mean something.
dannyno
  • 5. dannyno | 28/09/2014
From Uncut magazine, October 2003:

"That was a feller I used to know. He was around at the psychic meetings too, actually, but he wasn't that much into it..."

http://thefall.org/news/pics/03oct-uncut.html
N.F.
  • 6. N.F. | 12/03/2015
I always wondered if this song contained elliptical references to Jack the Ripper and/or the Yorkshire Ripper case, which would have been big news in northern England at the time of the recording and release of "Fiery Jack", and if MES conflated the speed-freak dock worker with ideas about the serial killers to create the Fiery Jack character.

In 1979, there was a tape, later proven a hoax, delivered to police from someone claiming to be the Yorkshire Ripper, the first lines of which were "I'm Jack. I see you're having no luck catching me." Due to the accent of the man speaking on the tape, authorities erroneously concluded that the Ripper was from the Wearside area and he became briefly known as "Wearside Jack" in the press. I'm no expert on British geography, but from the looks of the map, it seems that Wearside would be an area with no shortage of dock workers.

Also, there is the famous "From Hell" letter from 1888 associated with the Jack the Ripper case with which the author (presumably Jack the Ripper) included a piece of a victim's kidney. Additionally, both Jack the Ripper and the Yorkshire Ripper targeted prostitutes.

Perhaps it's a case of me stretching to make a few coincidences meet up, but these famous cases always come to mind when I hear this song's mention of "kidneys" and the lines "You never catch/ Come up for a snatch/ Up from hell/ Once in awhile"
dannyno
  • 7. dannyno | 13/04/2015
Your last paragraph is persuasive that there could be a nod to the Wearside Jack case. Wearside would have been known for shipbuilding and mining; I'm not sure whether the profile of the Ripper would have included lorry driving in 1980 , but I will check that.
dannyno
  • 8. dannyno | 10/02/2016
There are strong indications in the lyric that Jack is demonic, at least.

But another echo is of - not Wearside Jack as above, but the 19th century Jack the Ripper: the infamous 1888 "From Hell" letter:
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/From_Hell_letter
Jubal
  • 9. Jubal | 22/05/2016
Free Trade by the Transmitters is on Spotify. Having checked it out, it appears to be a character piece about a compulsive shoplifter - although a lot of it is hard to make out, so I may be wrong. However, it definitely contains repeated shouts of "It's mine!"
bzfgt
  • 10. bzfgt | 24/06/2016
Thanks, Jubal, I can never understand how to use Spotify, it's not actually a web site but software or something? I signed up once or twice and then I go there and nothing happens.

In any case the song is on Youtube now. I assume it wasn't when I wrote that note, either that or it's the laziest note I've ever done...
bzfgt
  • 11. bzfgt | 24/06/2016
Yeah, they say "It's mine!" I assumed it was something else because MES's position is ridiculous, basing it on the lyrics. But in light of what I say above, about his interview voice, he likely knows he's being ridiculous, he sort of revels in it, doesn't he?
Bob
  • 12. Bob (link) | 28/02/2017
There were no Docks in Manchester, the Docks were in Salford and are now for the most part called Salford Quays/Media City UK
bzfgt
  • 13. bzfgt (link) | 03/03/2017
Thanks, Bob!
dannyno
  • 14. dannyno | 03/03/2017
Bob is incorrect.

There were docks actually in Manchester:
https://www.theguardian.com/cities/2014/aug/07/pomona-lost-island-manchester-dockland-wasteland-oasis

See also the detailed explanation here:
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Manchester_docks [not all the docks under this heading were in Manchester mind]
bzfgt
  • 15. bzfgt (link) | 03/03/2017
Fuck, damn it, where did he work? Wikipedia says "Salford," and the rest doesn't matter in that case since I need make no claims about other docks in other locations.
dannyno
  • 16. dannyno | 03/03/2017
MES worked at the Salford docks. I just didn't want the idea that there weren't any docks actually in Manchester to take root.
duncandisorderly
  • 17. duncandisorderly (link) | 01/09/2017
pranksters would rub fiery jack ointment onto toilet seats so that the next occupant would gradually feel their arse burning up.

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