Hexen Definitive/Strife Knot

Lyrics

(1)

Tied up to posts 
Blindfold so can't feel maintainance
Kickback art thou that thick?
Death of the dimwits

Businessman hits train
Businessman hits train
His veiled sex seeps through his management sloth
The journey takes one hour

And its a hexen hour
Hexen school
Hexen cursed
Hexen bowl boils
Hexen rule
Explain the mood harm
 

The DDR scene (2)
Alpine pullovers
Alpine give over 
You can clutch at my toes
You will drive me insane 
You know nothing about it
It's not your domain
Don't confuse yourself with someone who has something to say
Cause its a hexen rain
Hexen fodder 
Hexen cursed
Hexen bowl boils
Hexen rule explain the mood harm

 

While greenpeace looked like saffron on the realm (3)
Brown, shrivelled
A Kellog's peace (4)
The opposition was down
Red church on a hill
Red church on a hill 
Styrofoam insides
Aluminium tiers
Louis Armstrong tapes waft down the aisles
And its a hexen hour 
Hexen file
Hexen rule
Hexen bowl boils
Hexen rule in the hour of the fall
 

It takes grace to play the second fiddle well (5)
His cap emblazoned a crusty knife
Scab-ridden physog was these you ate (6)
Goes with you down, and pats your head

That's strife knot
Strife ker-not
Strife is life and don't forget it
Strife is life, you don't wanna hear it
Could be thirteen or thirty one of this mob
Could be thirteen or thirty one of this mob
Strife knot
Strife ker-not

 

Life is strife but you don't wanna hear it (7)
Strife is life and that's it
And that's it, and that's it
And that's it

 

 

Notes

1. These two songs were not always paired live, but I've kept them together here since they are very much of a piece on Perverted by Language. K-punk has some fascinating but highly speculative remarks on the concept of "hex" in Fall lyrics:

The Fall’s intuition was that social relations could not be understood in the ‘demystified’ terms of empirical observation (the ‘housing figures’ and ‘sociological memory’ later ridiculed on ‘The Man whose Head Expanded’). Social power depends upon ‘hexes’: restricted linguistic, gestural and behavioural codes which produce a sense of inferiority and enforce class destiny. ‘What chance have you got against a tie and a crest?’, Weller demanded on ‘Eton Rifles’, and it was as if The Fall took the power of such symbols and sigils very literally, understanding the social field as a series of curses which have to be sent back to those who had issued them.

Russell again delivers the goods:

'Trouble and strife' = wife in London Cockney slang. Tie the knot = get married, strife knot?

^

2. The DDR was the Deutsche Demokratische Republik (German Democratic Republic), i.e. East Germany (1949-1990).  

^

3. Greenpeace is an organization dedicated to environmental activism. MES's second wife was/is named Saffron Prior. They were married in 1992, but Zack points out that they may already have known each other at this point. Prior began working for the Fall some time in the 1980s, and her mother Tina Prior was the artist responsible for the cover of Dragnet.

^

4. The Kellogg-Briand Pact, signed by the USA, Germany and France in 1928, committed the signatories to not using war to settle disputes of any kind among them. Most of the other nations of the world subsequently signed on. The pact is named after US Secretary of State Frank B. Kellogg and French Foreign Minister Aristotle Briand. In practice, the result of the pact was that, within a few short years, nations began waging undeclared wars. It was partially on the basis of this pact that several of the defendents at the Numremberg trials were charged with "crimes against peace."

^

5. This line seems very true, and may be either a rare dislay of empathy on the part of the band leader, or a parting shot at Marc Riley. The source is probably a saying attributed to the famous 19th Century English Baptist Preacher C.H. Spurgeon, “It takes more grace than I can tell, to play the second fiddle well.” There is also a (perhaps apocryphal) statement attributed to Leonard Bernstein about the second fiddle. Bernstein was asked what the most difficult instrument to play was; and he is supposed to have replied, "Second fiddle. I can always get plenty of first violinists, but to find one who plays second violin with as much enthusiasm or second French horn or second flute, now that's a problem. And yet if no one plays second, we have no harmony." I'm not sure if a conductor would have referred to the instrument as a "fiddle," although he may have been playing on the proverbial sense of "second fiddle." 

^

6. "Physog" is a slangy reduction of "physiognomy" (face).  

In regard to the "cap emblazoned [with?] a crusty knife," Danny points out that the badge of the Special Air Service (UK) features a knife (so it may refer to something of this nature, even if not this particular badge or branch). The line probably refers to something idiosyncratic--I am not optimistic that we will ever understand it. 

^

7. It seems to me that "strife is life" is more muscular formulation, whereas "life is strife" strikes me as a bit trite. The title/refrain is reminiscent of the Gordian Knot, from an ancient legend (WIkipedia):

At one time the Phrygians were without a king. An oracle at Telmissus (the ancient capital of Phrygia) decreed that the next man to enter the city driving an ox-cart should become their king. A peasant farmer named Gordias drove into town on an ox-cart. His position had also been predicted earlier by an eagle landing on his cart, a sign to him from the gods, and, on entering the city, Gordias was declared king by the priests. Out of gratitude, his son Midas dedicated the ox-cart[1] to the Phrygian god Sabazios (whom the Greeks identified with Zeus) and either tied it to a post or tied its shaft with an intricate knot ofcornel (Cornus mas) bark. The ox-cart[2] still stood in the palace of the former kings of Phrygia at Gordium in the fourth century BC when Alexander arrived, at which point Phrygia had been reduced to asatrapy, or province, of the Persian Empire.

Alexander the Great resolved to loose the famously intractable knot, presumably because they said it couldn't be done and he was that kind of a guy. He either sliced it with his sword (the most common version) or lifted it from its pin before untying it, something that apparently nobody had thought of before. In any case, the story indicates the passing of an age, both historically and more metaphorically as, depending how you look at it, Alexander was a new kind of leader with a can-do attitude or else just a crude tyrant who hacked his way through problems. Star Trek fans will immediatelty be reminded of the Kobayashi Maru scenario, when a young Captain Kirk passed an unpassable Star Fleet ordeal by surreptitiously reprogramming the computer to allow him to win an unwinnable simulated battle. In each case, the problem was recontextualized, some would say illegitimately, in order to produce the desired result. Thus, today a "Gordian Knot" is a metaphor for a seemingly intractable conundrum that can only be solved by a shift in the entire terrain of the problem.

Dan submits the following quote from Louis Pasteur: "Let us therefore strive in the pacific field of Science for the pre-eminence of our several countries. Let us strive, for strife is effort, strife is life when progress is the goal." Danny also points out that the idea of strife being fundamental to life goes back to Heraclitus who famously said "War [or "strife," polemos] is the father and king of all."

Furthermore, Dan adds, "So 'life is strife' is a common enough sentiment, but just to note that it is used in Gertrude Stein's Wars I Have Seen. Feels relevant somehow."

^

 

Comments (32)

dannyno
  • 1. dannyno | 25/08/2013
Surely "kellogg's peace" refers to the Kellogg-Briand Pact of 1928?

Dan
dannyno
  • 2. dannyno | 25/08/2013
And also surely the "strife knot" is a reference to the Gordian knot of war/strife?
bzfgt
  • 3. bzfgt | 02/02/2014
Crap, that's embarrassingly dumb of me not to know that.
bzfgt
  • 4. bzfgt | 02/02/2014
Yeah, I don't know why I didn't put the Gordian Knot in there, it seems obvious.
dannyno
  • 5. dannyno | 21/03/2014
From "The Life of Pasteur":
http://archive.org/stream/lifeofpasteurtra02valluoft/lifeofpasteurtra02valluoft_djvu.txt

A toast given by Pasteur:

"Let us therefore strive in the pacific field of Science for the
pre-eminence of our several countries. Let us strive, for strife
is effort, strife is life when progress is the goal."

But I don't imagine "strife is life" is that rare a phrase really.
dannyno
  • 6. dannyno | 21/03/2014
As an idea it seems to go back at least to Heraclitus:

http://www.iep.utm.edu/heraclit/#H5
dannyno
  • 7. dannyno | 27/06/2014
"Red church on a hill".

This is the kind of line where you think there must be a real-world referent. But I've been looking on and off for years and not quite got there.

However, there is Seattle's East Shore Unitarian Church, (http://www.eastshoreunitarian.org/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=82&Itemid=99) nicknamed "The Little Red Church on the Hill". They would have peace interests, and it's also the kind of place you can imagine playing jazz and so on.

The Fall played the US the year before this song was debuted.

But there's probably lots of red churches on hills, and I've get to make a definitive connection.
dannyno
  • 8. dannyno | 27/06/2014
"His cap emblazoned a crusty knife"

Could this be a reference to the SAS cap badge?
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Special_Air_Service
bzfgt
  • 9. bzfgt | 15/07/2014
Danny, stop looking for the red church, are you crazy? Even if you narrow it down to 30,000 it will help us naught.
dannyno
  • 10. dannyno | 15/07/2014
Must. Find. Red. Church.

I get this itch...
Jill
  • 11. Jill | 12/03/2015
I thought he was saying, "Reject your hell." (Red church on a hill) But then again, I thought "A Jew on a motorbike." was "I chew on a mother bite."
russell richardson
  • 12. russell richardson | 05/05/2015
Strife Knot
'trouble and strife' = wife in London Cockney slang
tie the knot = get married

strife knot?
dannyno
  • 13. dannyno | 26/09/2016
So "life is strife" is a common enough sentiment, but just to note that it is used in Gertrude Stein's "Wars I have known". Feels relevant somehow.
dannyno
  • 14. dannyno | 26/09/2016
Just noting here for my own benefit that St Catherine's Church, Oppenheim, Germany, is a red church on a hill. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Katharinenkirche,_Oppenheim
Martin
  • 15. Martin | 16/10/2016
Was styrofoam used in many churches? The material doesn't seem to have a good reputation, as for example this article explains:

http://www.ucc.org/new-england-churches-styrofoam-free-04172014

More negative press here:

http://motherboard.vice.com/read/why-is-styrofoam-still-a-thing-cups-pollution-litter-garbage-environment-recycling-food-containers

By the way, aluminium (or other metals) has often been used for the type of tiered seating suggested in the song. And, though this almost goes without saying, Louis Armstrong songs (especially "What a Wonderful World") are a staple ingredient of many wedding ceremonies.

My next job is to determine just how early in live renditions the phrase "Red church on a hill" was first sung. I'll be back.
Martin
  • 16. Martin | 16/10/2016
Also, slight pre-cog with the mention of saffron in the lyrics, given that marriage seems to be a sub-theme of the song and that Mark E Smith married a certain Saffron Pryor a few years later.
Martin
  • 17. Martin | 17/10/2016
So, in the first three performances of the song:

12 March 1982 Bristol Polytechnic
19 March 1982 Palm Cove, Bradford
24 March 1982 Leicester Polytechnic

there's no mention of a red church, or its styrofoam or aluminium. These are first mentioned on 25th March 1982 (Hammersmith Palais, London).

This is not to say that Mark E Smith wrote the appropriate words between the two gigs on the 24th and the 25th. They could have been written before but simply not sung for some reason (the debut performance was the opening number, and the group could have been tentatively trying it out), the next two nights the song is truncated fairly abruptly for a segue into And This Day).

In the first three performances mentioned above, the lyrics concerning the DDR and Alpine pullovers are present. It's impossible, perhaps, to know how the red church came to form part of the song. Maybe a documentary on East Germany on the television which included one such building? Perhaps a memory of something from the German tour of the previous year? A line in a book he was reading?

Well, that's all I have at the moment...
dannyno
  • 18. dannyno | 21/10/2016
That might be useful.

"Louis Armstrong tapes waft down the aisles". i was thinking, in what circumstances would Louis Armstrong music be playing in a church? A disco or festival of some kind, a marriage, or a trendy vicar playing jazz? Maybe, as Martin, suggests, there was something on TV. I will go and look.
Martin
  • 19. Martin | 21/10/2016
There's a red brick church in Prestwich, which is MES territory:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Church_of_St_Mary_the_Virgin,_Prestwich#Interior

It's not particularly on a hill, though. But remember that Mark E Smith may have thought that Aspen is in Utah (see entry for Midnight in Aspen) and that his lyrics often conflate various names, times, locations...
bzfgt
  • 20. bzfgt | 21/10/2016
Martin,

I imagine styrofoam is/has been used a lot everywhere, although I don't think it's common as construction material, aside from maybe some insulation? I can't think of a use where it would really be evident or would warrant a line like "styrofoam insides," although I of course would be interested to see any examples of what this would imply.
dannyno
  • 21. dannyno | 22/10/2016
"Styrofoam insides
Aluminium tiers"

We tend to take these as in some sense descriptive of the church, but that might not be so. You could say of a person that they have styrofoam insides and aluminium tears...

Styrofoam is often used for cups, particularly probably in churches. So maybe the line is noting the effect that styrofoam cups could be having on stomachs.

But having noted that, it does seem that the lines are in fact referring to the church.
dannyno
  • 22. dannyno | 22/10/2016
Just coming back on the cockney rhyming slang idea with trouble and strife/wife and connecting that with tying the knot (which is not cockney slang).

I was going to say that for MES to use cockney slang would be incongruous. But I think there are other examples of it. We could do with cataloguing them all. I'll think about creating a FOF thread!
dannyno
  • 23. dannyno | 22/10/2016
Worth noting that the wedding of Charles Windsor and Diana Spencer took place in July 1981. This was a major event and public holiday in the UK. Now, it seems just a bit too long ago for MES to be commenting directly on it, but nonetheless if "strife knot" has that double meaning of "knot of war" and "tie the knot", maybe the associations are inescapable.
Martin
  • 24. Martin | 22/10/2016
After all the talk about red churches, Louis Armstrong, strife knots and styrofoam I would also like to point out that I have very little idea, if any, of the meaning of the opening four lines of the song:

"Tied up to posts
Blindfold so can't feel maintainance
Kickback art thou that thick?
Death of the dimwits"
bzfgt
  • 25. bzfgt | 29/10/2016
Yeah that's thick stuff even for MES.
Zack
  • 26. Zack | 15/01/2017
Given that Saffron Prior is the daughter of Dragnet cover artist Tina Prior, MES may have already been acquainted with Saffron whilst writing "Hexen Definitive."
dannyno
  • 27. dannyno | 16/01/2017
Well, but Saffron was about 22 when she and MES married in 1992. Which means she was about 12 in 1982...
Zack
  • 28. Zack | 04/02/2017
Dannyno: I don't mean "acquainted" in the biblical sense. Come on.
bzfgt
  • 29. bzfgt | 04/02/2017
I believe it is mentioned in Brix's book, and maybe elsewhere, that MES had known her since she was a child.
bzz
  • 30. bzz | 04/02/2017
Is there a "Biblical sense"? "And Adam became acquainted with his wife, and she was with child..." They moved fast back then, I would think.
dannyno
  • 31. dannyno | 11/02/2017
Brix's book says:


"He told me he was having an affair with Saffron Prior [the daughter of one of Mark's friends, whom we had first met when she was just sixteen]."


However, she also quotes the Priors, at that earlier meeting:


They introduced us to their daughter, Saffron, and reminded Mark that he used to babysit her. 'Wow!' Mark said. 'You're all grown up.'
dannyno
  • 32. dannyno | 12/10/2017
"Hexen" is German for "witches".

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