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  (2)
Businessman hits train  
His veiled sex seeps through his management sloth
The journey takes one hour

And its a hexen hour (3)
Hexen school
Hexen cursed
Hexen bowl boils  (4)
Hexen rule
Explain the mood harm
 

The DDR scene (5)
Alpine pullovers
Alpine give over 
You can clutch at my toes
You won't drive me insane 
You know nothing about it
It's not your domain  (6)
Don't confuse yourself with someone who has something to say
Cause its a hexen rain
You're hexen fodder 
Hexen cursed
Hexen bowl boils
Hexen rule explain the mood harm

While greenpeace looked like saffron on the realm (7)
Brown, shrivelled
A Kellogg's peace (8)
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 bile
Hexen rule
Hexen bowl boils
Hexen rule in the hour of the fall
 

It takes grace to play the second fiddle well (9)
Scab-ridden physog, the crusty knife(10)
Beware the one whose knees you wet
He 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 (11)
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.

Hexe means "witch" in German (plural: Hexen). This is of course etymologically related to the English word Hex, which means a magic spell, and quite often this in a negative sense, as in a curse. 

Dan: From the fanzine Grim Humour #4, June/July 1984, p.9 (but based on an interview dated to the Electric Ballroom gig on 8 December 1983):
 


G.H.: What's the 'Hexan' [sic] thing that crops up a lot in your lyrics?

MARK: Hexan [sic] is a German word for a group of witches around a cauldron. There's no such word as enduction, though I could have sworn I'd seen it after I wrote it down...

K-punk (Mark Fisher) 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?

Jonder: "It is worth noting that Blake's poem was first set in a post-punk musical context by Mark Stewart and Maffia on their 1982 single Jerusalem."

^

2. "Businessman hits train" reminds me of "Man Bites Dog." The origin of this phrase is the journalistic bromide, "When a dog bites a man, that is not news, because it happens so often. But if a man bites a dog, that is news." Of course, it's not as certain that "Businessman Hits Train" would be more newsworthy than "Train Hits Businessman." The surface meaning, of course, is just that a businessman gets on the train, but there may be an oblique reference or joke here concerning the inversion of terms.

^
 

3. A "hexen hour" should remind us of Hex Enduction Hour, two albums back, which is one hour long...note the album title contains the word "hexen."

 

^

4.A cauldron, Dan points out (see note 1 above): "The cover of Hex Enduction Hour features the word hexenkessel, which is German for 'witches' cauldron.'"

 

^

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

^

6. Dan: Paul Hanley's book, Leave the Capital, suggests that the line "You know nothing about it, etc" is a comment "on the role of the other members of The Fall." (p.177).

^

7. 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.

^

8. 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."

Dan points out a probable pun--a "Kellogg's piece," i.e. a (brown, shrivelled) cornflake...

^

9. 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." 

^

10. "Physog" (or "fizzog") is a slangy reduction of "physiognomy" (face).  

^

11. 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 (61)

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".
dannyno
  • 33. dannyno | 27/10/2017
Paul Hanley's book, Leave the Capital, suggests that the line "You know nothing about it, etc" is a comment "on the role of the other members of The Fall." (p.177).
Bazhdaddy
  • 34. Bazhdaddy | 22/09/2018
Suggest some minor changes
at 1:52 "you won't drive me insane"
at 2:09 "you're hexen fodder
and at 3:39 "Hexen bile"

Live versions and Peel have "Louis Armstrong tapes waft down the aisles, synthesized"

I think the first verse of the Strife-Knot bit at 4.27 is

"It takes grace to play the second fiddle well
Scab-ridden physog, the crusty neck
Beware the one whose knees you wet
He goes with you down, and pats your head"
bzfgt
  • 35. bzfgt (link) | 13/10/2018
at 1:52 "you won't drive me insane"

Accepted

at 2:09 "you're hexen fodder"

Accepted though there's a small chance it's "Yeah, hexen fodder"; sounds more like "You're" though

and at 3:39 "Hexen bile"

Accepted

Scab-ridden physog, the crusty neck
Beware the one whose knees you wet
He goes with you down, and pats your head

Accepted
dannyno
  • 36. dannyno | 13/10/2018
I like most of that, but I'm still hearing "crusty knife" not "crusty neck"
bzfgt
  • 37. bzfgt (link) | 21/10/2018
I went back to "knife," it sounds more like "neck" right up to the last phoneme where I hear '/f/'
Bazhdaddy
  • 38. Bazhdaddy | 28/10/2018
"Crustiness" maybe?
nutterwain
  • 39. nutterwain | 12/11/2018
The more I listen to this masterpiece the more I think it's about a 'business man' (punter) whose particular prostitute preference is a witch-like woman with mental health issues.
bzfgt
  • 40. bzfgt (link) | 21/11/2018
Speculative but could be...
Josseph
  • 41. Josseph | 26/11/2018
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jensotto
  • 42. jensotto | 02/03/2019
John Galsworthy's play Strife has been broadcast regularly since 1930 (BBC Genome) https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Strife_(play)

Hexen: Goethe, Faust, Hexen-einmaleins (1 id 10, 3 is 3(33) ... 9 is 1 and 10 is none). Orff's music in Badlands/73 (searching Genome for Murder & Mayhem - outside Norwegian black-metal scene early 90s)

Options: Hexenlied
Martin
  • 43. Martin | 11/05/2020
Re comments no. 18: Wiki:

"Lil Hardin Armstrong urged him to seek more prominent billing and develop his style apart from the influence of Oliver. She encouraged him to play classical music in church concerts to broaden his skills."

"He was baptized a Catholic in the Sacred Heart of Jesus Church in New Orleans."
dannyno
  • 44. dannyno | 03/09/2020
From the fanzine Grim Humour #4, June/July 1984, p.9 (but based on an interview dated to the Electric Ballroom gig on 8 December 1983) (spelling preserved unless I've made some accidental typos of my own!):


G.H.: What's the 'Hexan' thing that crops up a lot in your lyrics?

MARK: Hexan is a German word for a group of witches around a cauldron. There's no such word as enduction, though I could have sworn I'd seen it after I wrote it down...
Tim
  • 45. Tim | 21/11/2020
'Aluminium tiers' I always heard as 'A dominium of tears' which I think is an improvement.
dannyno
  • 46. dannyno | 06/12/2020
#45, if you're going that way, "dominion of tears" would be even better since it's an extant meaningful phrase/saying.

But it sounds very different to my ears to either dominium or dominion. It's "aluminium tiers" (or I suppose "tears") on all the versions I've got.
dannyno
  • 47. dannyno | 06/12/2020
Lyric:


Hexen bowl boils


Just occurs to me that a "hexen bowl" is a cauldron...
dannyno
  • 48. dannyno | 06/12/2020
I got told off for looking for the "red church on a hill".

But if I didn't do things just because people told me it was a daft idea, I'd never get out of bed.

So there's also this:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/St._John_Chrysostom_Church_(Delafield,_Wisconsin)

But no apparent connection to the song.
dannyno
  • 49. dannyno | 06/12/2020
And, perhaps "tied up to posts" is a reference to witches being burned at the stake?
bzfgt
  • 50. bzfgt (link) | 22/02/2021
"Hexen hour" "hour of the Fall" and somehow I had no note referring to Hex Enduction Hour

A duction is a movement of one eye only, if we wanted to wring something out of "hexen duction hour"...which we don't
bzfgt
  • 51. bzfgt (link) | 22/02/2021
Is there any indication if that interview was oral or written? It's almost certainly oral since there was no email, thus it's weird attributing "hexan" to MES, but I guess it has to stand....
dannyno
  • 52. dannyno | 23/02/2021
It seems to have been an in-person interview either before or after a gig. The interviewer may just not have known how to spell the word.
Tim
  • 53. Tim | 26/02/2021
He does sing 'a dominion of tears' - it's more clear in the Hacienda recording (excuse the bad spelling)
dannyno
  • 54. dannyno | 01/03/2021
Comment #53.

27 July 1983?

Just listened. I'm hearing "aluminum tears/tiers". I too find it very clear!

And the "d" of "insides" in the previous line is clear enough, so if there was a "d" as in "dominion" I think it would be discernable.

Mind you it's also "Brown, dishevelled" in that version.
Ti
  • 55. Ti | 02/03/2021
Nah, he uses the words domain/ dominium/ dominion in the song.
bzfgt
  • 56. bzfgt (link) | 27/03/2021
It seems there's a pun sloth/cloth, does that need to be noted?
dannyno
  • 57. dannyno | 31/03/2021
"You can clutch at my toes"

In Roald Dahl's The Witches, the witches have no toes. But it wasn't published until 1983.


"What else is different about them, Grand-mamma?"

"The feet," she said. "Witches never have toes."

"No toes!" I cried. "Then what do they have?"

"They just have feet," my grandmother said. "The feet have square ends with no toes on them at all.


Too late for this song, but I wonder if toes are part of witchcraft folklore...?
dannyno
  • 58. dannyno | 31/03/2021
"Brown, shrivelled
A Kellogg's peace"

There's another way of looking at this - could be a "Kellogg's piece" - a cornflake that is now brown and shrivelled. I think the pact interpretation is likely right, but I think there's a pun going on here too.
bzfgt
  • 59. bzfgt (link) | 03/04/2021
Huh now you say it it seems so
bzfgt
  • 60. bzfgt (link) | 03/04/2021
I'd say "shriveled" but I've been trying to always go with British spellings.

There's a site called WikiDiff which always comes up when I google spellings, and it seems to be entirely nonsense:

As adjectives the difference between shriveled and shrivelled. is that shriveled is wrinkled because the volume has reduced while the surface area of the outer layer has remained constant while shrivelled is wrinkled because the volume has reduced while the surface area of the outer layer has remained constant.

https://wikidiff.com/shriveled/shrivelled#:~:text=As%20adjectives%20the%20difference%20between,outer%20layer%20has%20remained%20constant.
dannyno
  • 61. dannyno | 03/06/2021
Re: cauldrons. The cover of Hex Enduction Hour features the word "hexenkessel", which is German for "witches' cauldron".

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