Futures and Pasts

Lyrics

(1)

I was in a sleeping dream
When a policeman brought my mother home
By the window I didn't scream
I was too old for that

I was in a drunken dream
The pubs were closed
It was three o'clock (2)
At the bottom of the street it seemed
There was a policeman lost in the fog (3)

I understand but I don't see it
I understand but I don't see it
I understand but I don't read it
Futures and Pasts  

You can cry for your lost childhood
Will you cry for our lost childhoods?
But remember how you hated it (4)
And worse cause you couldn't state it? (5)

I understand but I don't see it
I understand but I don't see it
I understand but I don't read it
Futures and Pasts 

Look at the woman of thirty-nine
Look at the man of forty-nine
You can read their lousy lives
You can see their ugly face lines

They understand but they don't see it
They understand but they don't see it
I understand but I don't read it
Futures and Pasts

I understand but I don't see it
I understand but I don't see it
I understand but I don't read it
Futures and Pasts

Notes

1. This song, an astoundingly mature lyric from the first Fall album, considers time as a kind of maze, always circling back round to the center, the isolated self bewitched by a procession of events that are factually varied but identical in their meaning, or perhaps it is more apt to say their lack of meaning. People stumble past one another in the fog, or encounter each other with unpleasant or disastrous results. The theme of time as a repetitious cycle is also explored in "Backdrop," whereas the possibility of the cycle being disrupted by revolution is addressed in "The N.W.R.A." In the latter song, a revolution fails to break the cycle, but it is raised there as a possibility, or at least as something thinkable. William Blake, one of MES's primary influences, thinks of historical time as a fallen and cyclical round of suffering and ignorance, only redeemable by the chance of a rupture, associated with the (for Blake, divine)  power of the imagination. In Blake's earlier works this rupture is more explicitly associated with a political revolution, whereas the later work seems more skeptical about political power in general. The earlier view is found in "America, a Prophecy," the source for MES's lyrics in "W.B."

^

2.   Dan: "Under the first world war Defence of the Realm Act 1914, pubs were restricted to 12:00-14:40 and 18:30-21:30. Obviously things liberalised over the years, but it wasn't until the 1988 Licensing Act that (most) pubs were allowed to open from 11am to 11pm, rather than having to close for the afternoon."

I always assumed it was 3 am. But if, as Dan says, the pubs in Britain close at 11 pm (wow! lame island, how 'bout it!) then it is at least as likely that the line means 3 pm.

^

3. The policeman in the fog hearkens back to the officer in the first verse who brought the protagonist's mother home. Fog stands out to me as a central symbol in this song, which hints at the gulf between infancy (infant literally means "unable to speak") and maturity, which is above all a state of linguistic competence (see note 3 below, which examines a line in the third verse where the connection between suffering and language is is made explicit, and in which I attempt to justify the "above all"). I don't take the fog to be infancy or maturity, but the gap between them: there's a gulf between the mute and therefore lawless child and the policeman who is a representative of the Law (I capitalize the word because I intend a broader scope for it then the statutes of Manchester city), the linguistic-conceptual matrix in which humans come to reside after being ejected from their original, speechless home that is the state of infancy. The narrator is here returned to a kind of simulacrum of infancy by his drunkenness, and sees time folding back in on itself as he gazes into the fog at the policeman. He is again at that precise state where he is "too old" to "scream"--if he did not want to scream, there'd be no point in mentioning it, but he can no longer express himself so immediately. Meaning and inner being are now separate for him, whereas if a scream is not quite meaningful, it does express perfectly the inner state of the infant: perhaps the only time an infant is able to fully communicate is when screaming, since pain may be the only experience or state of consciousness which is sufficiently simple not to require language to be accurately and unmistakably conveyed. Thus, the narrator is in a sense exactly where he was in the first verse again in the second: a state of mind between language and infancy, a state for which fog is an entirely apt symbol (a possible clue can be found in the opening lines of "Nate Will Not Return," which equate "Coming out of the fog" with "Grasping the connection/Grasping the deception"). That the policeman, representative of the Law (and emissary of misery!), is himself "lost in the fog" is another turn of the screw: there's a sense in which the suffering of the protagonist is not private. To be more precise, it is private, but it is a universal privacy, which is to say that everyone in the world revealed by the song is isolated and bereft of communication. Everyone in the song is lost in their own idiotic fog of privacy--the Law is itself lost in the fog. The time is not so much, as Shakespeare says, out of joint, as stuck in well-worn grooves, circling back on itself as events which are outwardly different are revealed to be an endless repetition of the same sorrows.

^

 

4. Anti-nostalgia is a common sentiment for the Fall, the problem with nostalgia usually being identified as the crappiness of the past.

^

5. "Worse cause you couldn't state it" concisely indicates the tragedy of childhood, the state of a linguistic being inhabiting a world of language but without being yet fully initiated into its mysteries. Such initiation is surely an ongoing process--sometimes I suspect that maturity and wisdom (if there is a difference between the two) is in many ways a process of becoming more adept at blending the world of one's innermost thoughts, which seems to be private and immediately present, with the public and therefore distancing world of language. No misery is worse than one that cannot be articulated or, what is perhaps just as bad, one that cannot be articulated properly. Indeed, the whole notion of the proper--a word which both implies what is fitting, and what belongs to me--can perhaps be understood not as static possession, but rather as a process in which one negotiates the distance between oneself and oneself: not enough distance means one is inarticulate and unreflective, but too much means one is alienated and lacks self-understanding. The horror of the first verse is that of being too old to scream: trapped between the animal immediacy of infancy and the linguistic competence of maturity, and unable to avail himself of either, the protagonist can only suffer silently. 

^

 

Comments (12)

dannyno
  • 1. dannyno | 19/11/2013

I guess it's the lyrics parade which has:

"And it's time for the note, see it
And it's time for the note, say it
And it's time for the note, read it
Futures and Pasts"

Nope, it's:

"I understand but I don't see it
I understand but I don't see it
I understand but I don't read it
Futures and pasts"

same as the other choruses!

bzfgt
  • 2. bzfgt | 23/11/2013

Thanks Danny, I never gave this song proper attention until tonight and I listened to it and confirmed what you say. I wonder, however, if the lyrics book has these lines? It would be odd for a transcriber to think she hears this, as it's the same as all the other choruses.

By the way, I finally "bought" the lyrics books--the Lough Press site said they sold them to me, but never took any money from me and seemingly never shipped the book. I chose "bank transfer," but they never took my information (they said "your order has been submitted"). Now I wonder if I should try to go back and enter a credit card number, but if their setup is that wonky it makes me nervous. Or are they out of business and the web page is just a remnant? In any case it puts me in a weird position since obviously the books are a necessity in my profession. But if you could check for me this one, I hope, last time, I'd appreciate it as always.

Martin
  • 3. Martin | 22/02/2014

The lyric book in question does have the chorus as Dannyo, above, says.

dannyno
  • 4. dannyno | 17/06/2015

"I was in a sleeping dream
When a policeman brought my mother home
By the window I didn't scream
I was too old for that

I was in a drunken dream
The pubs were closed
It was three o'clock
At the bottom of the street it seemed
There was a policeman lost in the fog"

I guess the assumption tends to be that the narrator is the same person (MES?) in both verses. And that works. But what if it isn't? What if the second verse is from the perspective of the narrator's mother?

And in any event, why has the policeman brought the mother home, and why would that cause screaming in a child, were they not "too old" to scream?

Has the mother been found drunk, or was she arrested, or what?

But there are other ways to see it. What if the mother has been out on a date with the policeman, for example? Or what if she picked him up while drunk when the policeman was lost (second verse), and has brought him back as a result?

If you were a child with a healthy disrespect for authority, seeing your mother come home with a policeman might indeed make you scream. I've tended to think that narrator would scream because he was upset. That's probably the most obvious interpretation. But it's not necessarily so,, and after all the mother has come home. Why would that make you scream, except maybe with shock or delight, or with horror because it's the police?

dannyno
  • 5. dannyno | 22/09/2016

"The pubs were closed
It was three o'clock"

Worth a note? Under the first world war Defence of the Realm Act 1914, pubs were restricted to 12:00-14:40 and 18:30-21:30. Obviously things liberalised over the years, but it wasn't until the 1988 Licensing Act that (most) pubs were allowed to open from 11am to 11pm, rather than having to close for the afternoon.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Alcohol_licensing_laws_of_the_United_Kingdom#History

bzfgt
  • 6. bzfgt | 15/10/2016

Wow, 11pm? That sounds horrible.

dannyno
  • 7. dannyno | 15/10/2016

Things have liberalised since then and pubs can now stay open much longer.

dannyno
  • 8. dannyno | 15/10/2016

So note 2 isn't quite right - I'm not saying the pubs *now* close at that time.

dannyno
  • 9. dannyno | 15/10/2016

See: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Alcohol_licensing_laws_of_the_United_Kingdom#Changes_since_2005

dannyno
  • 10. dannyno | 06/02/2017


The pubs were closed
It was three o'clock
At the bottom of the street it seemed
There was a policeman lost in the fog


On Sunday 6th January 1977, PC John Cameron (aged 27) of Radcliffe, was killed when his patrol car collided with a lorry, overturned and caught fire, in thick fog at the Heap Bridge junction of the M66 and M62, near Bury. He and his companion (who was injured but survived and marked 40yrs service in 2011) in were driving to be part of motorway fog patrols.

Could this have been in MES's mind?

dannyno
  • 11. dannyno | 07/02/2017

"Lost" as in "killed" rather than "lost" as in "missing" or "disorientated", you see.

bzfgt
  • 12. bzfgt | 11/02/2017

Oh, I see, all right. All too clearly...

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