The people I like
The people I like
The people I like live
In kitchens and halls
I can't reach a decision on this.
Can I come back to you on this?
Hitler lost his nerve on it
Dr. Morell prescribed it well (2)
It's fast debts
I am Robinson Speedo
and this is my Gramme Friday (3)
Skin drops slow to the bones
But I've got my hunger anyway
I'm on Gramme Friday
Work and eat spontaneous
Enter the house of weariness
It's Fastnet (4)
1. "Gramme" is the British spelling of "Gram," or the latter is the American spelling of the former, as the case may be. "Originally defined as 'the absolute weight of a volume of pure water equal to the cube of the hundredth part of a metre, and at the temperature of melting ice' (later 4 °C), a gram is now defined as one one-thousandth of the SI base unit, the kilogram, or 1×10−3 kg, which itself is defined as being equal to the mass of a physical prototype preserved by the International Bureau of Weights and Measures." (Wikipedia) The song is apparently about amphetamine use, otherwise known as "speed." It is not a controversial claim that MES has had a taste for the stuff, and perhaps still does. Anyone who wants to can probably find out more substantive information about this via Google, but unless it directly affects lyrical content in a demonstrable way, I'm uncomfortable presenting what may seem like gossip about anyone's drug use. Suffice it to say that I do not condemn anyone for using drugs; although some of the concomitant behavior or effects may be worthy of opprobrium, in principle I do not have a problem with it. I feel it is proper to make this statement here because I do not want to appear as though I am taking either a self-righteous or a prurient interest in someone's drug consumption.
Dan suggests that it is not a coincidence that "Gramme Friday" is reminiscent of "Gavin Friday," whom MES was palling around with around this time.
2. Dr. Theodor Morrell was Hitler's personal physician. From Wikipedia: "When Hitler had trouble with grogginess in the morning, Morell would inject him with a solution of water mixed with a substance from several small, gold-foiled packets, which he called 'Vitamultin,' whereupon Hitler would get up refreshed and invigorated. A member of Himmler's SS acquired one of these and had it tested in a laboratory, where it was found to contain methamphetamine." Note however that this may be an overblown case of misidentifying an addiction based on wishful thinking plus misinterpretation of old medical records in light of modern norms; see jules's acute comments below. In any case, what is most relevant is what MES knew or thought he knew, and even then he needn't have believed it to have made use of it.
3. This is, of course, a reference to Robinson Crusoe, from Daniel Defoe's novel of the same name. Crusoe, whose story was loosely based on that of the Scottish castaway Alexander Selkirk, discovered, on his otherwise deserted island, a native whom he dubbed "Friday," after the day on which Crusoe first encountered him. Friday became Crusoe's assistant, and this is the origin of the descriptor "Friday" to describe an assistant or a sidekick (as in, frequently, someone's "man Friday" or "girl Friday").
4. Fastnet or Fastnet Rock is an islet at the southernmost tip of Ireland. It is basically a giant rock, which is probably why it is in the lyrics--it seems that MES is singing about a huge rock of speed. Note that this was one of the maritime locations commonly mentioned on the Shipping News which would come on very late in Britain when TV stations were signing off (thanks to Russell Richardson).
The rock would have been in MES's mind around the time he was recording Grotesque (After the Gramme). The biannual Fastnet yacht race, in which sailors navigate around the rock, resulted in 18 deaths in August 1979 when the weather turned rough, and consequently the 1981 race probably garnered a lot of media attention at the time. So the connection between racing and "speed" can also account for MES's use of the word here, possibly.
Aubrey points out that this also resembles certain words in German that refer to a carnival. From a blog about German culture:
There are three different words in German for “Carnival” or “Mardi Gras”: Karneval, Fasching and Fastnacht. Although all three refer to the same pre-Lenten observance, each has a different tradition and reflects somewhat different customs in different regions of the German-speaking world.
The word Fasching dates back to the 13th century and is derived from the Germanic word vaschanc or vaschang, in modern German: Fastenschank = the last serving of alcoholic beverages before Lent. In olden times the 40-day Lenten period of fasting was strictly observed. People refrained from drinking alcohol or eating meat, milk products and eggs. The English word “fast” (to refrain from eating) is related to German fasten.
Fastnacht... refers to the Swabian-Alemannic carnival, which differs in some ways from Fasching and Karneval, and is found in Baden-Württemberg, Franconia (northern Bavaria), Hesse and much of Switzerland. Although this word looks like it comes from the German for the “eve of Lent,” in fact it is based on the Old German word fasen (“to be foolish, silly, wild”). Thus the word, sometimes spelled Fasnacht (without the t) actually means something like “night of being wild and foolish.”
Fastnacht translates to English as "Shrovetide," i.e. Lent, (thanks to Mike Watt). The literal meaning of the word is "almost night."
And from Wikipedia, we learn that one of the names for the carnival is Fasnet:
In parts of East and South Germany, as well as in Austria, the carnival is called Fasching. In Franconia and Baden-Württemberg as well as some other parts of Germany, the carnival is called Fas(t)nacht, Fassenacht or Fasnet; in Switzerland, Fasnacht.
Finally, some commenters have pondered the content of the name--fast, like speed, a net, like the net of addiction, stuck fast, etc.
See the comments below for much discussion about Fastnet...