High Tension Line



High tension line, step down

Jeanette Fletcher is strange but not in a horrible way
And Michelle Spencer is this tight
Come and hear her today
And see 40-year olds in multicoloured shirts (2)
It never used to concern me
But now it's making me say

High tension line, step down

Buying houses and doing them up far far away
Got at my shoulder
CDTI and behind me TDK (3)
You have to go far for the simple and unadorned
And please excuse my words, wandering

High tension line, step down

At my feet CDTI breakdown
And I pick up the phone, no-one
And am far too far fast for sampling
Just spend my time avoiding

High tension line, step down

Life is nothing more than a disposable facial tissue (4)
In a brass bin and spawn
Take it out, I notice face imprint
And please excuse my words, I'm wandering

High tension line, step down


1. It's worth reproducing what Reformation has on this one:

According to Simon Ford in his book "Hip Priest", the song's title "came from an obscure source, composer La Monte Young's 'The Second Dream of the High Tension Line Stepdown Transformer' (1963), a piece of music with no apparent beginning, middle or ending. " Ford goes on to say that MES had some trouble persuading Phonogram to bring it out as a single, given that it was the fourth such from the group in a year. 

The lyrics were supposed to be topical, and while this is debatable, the video featured the band wearing SS uniforms. In one of his more infamous statements, MES said in an interview with Stephen Dalton, "Not Falling, Soaring· (Vox, June 1991), "I just thought it would be a good crack...All these bands into shocking people are as tame as fuck. I made everyone conver up the SS symbols and swastikas. I'm very anti-Nazi, actually. What they did was criminal. They put German art back about one hundred years." 
As for subject matter, here's MES himself with sarcasometer turned up full from a Sounds interview of the time: 'Records should reflect what people think at the time and it's tense in England at the moment. Everyone's worried about their mortgages and stuff. You know me, I'm a man of the suburbs.' 
I really have no idea what the song has to do with Nazis, or for that matter what the point is of dressing in Nazi garb with the insignia covered up. Anyway, the video is here, if it provides any valuable clues I'm too thick to dope it out.
La Monte Young's The Second Dream of the High Tension Line Stepdown Transformer consists of four notes played by eight muted trumpets, and was inspired, apparently, by the actual sounds of electric transformers, which Young liked to listen to as a boy:

This continuous steady hum is the ancestral origin of my work with sixty-cycles, which is the frequency that the electrical companies provide the power to us in the United States: 60 cycles per second. Everywhere we go, we hear this 60 cycle drone and, or, other frequency components that are related to this drone. Eventually I began to tune all of my music that I do in the U.S. with electronics to this 60 cycle per second drone, because even in today's year, 2001-2002, and even with the best equipment, there is still some residual hum. (60 cycles per second.) If you create music that is in tune with this hum, then there can never be an interference with the music that you are creating. It's the idea that it is the strongest drone in our vicinity.

A step-down transformer converts electricity from a higher to a lower voltage, and perhaps, apart from the homage to Young, Smith intended the refrain to suggest a lowering of the tension alluded to in the verses. 
There is a song called "High Tension Wire" on the Dead Boys' 1977 debut album, Young Loud and Snotty. The absence of a comma after "Young" was taken as definitve proof of society's degeneration by many at the time, but in the age of social media, the Dead Boys appear prescient. There's not really much connection between the songs, although they have a similar tempo. 
2. For someone who's known as a curmudgeon, MES has at times shown a surprising amount of contempt for middle aged people, or at least middle aged people other than himself; while he procliams his pride in "50 Year Old Man ," members of his own band come in for a dose of (admittedly, perhaps good-humored) contumely in "The League of Bald Headed Men." He sometimes brags that that the Fall still draws a lot of young people, as if this were self-evidently a good thing, and ever since the Hanley era he has stocked his band with musicians significantly younger than himself. Ageism? You decide, reader! It should be remembered, however, that he always has a sense of humor about these things.
3. CDTI is apparently Clean Diesel Technologies, Inc. TDK is a Japanese electronics company that makes popular casette tapes. According to Blue Moth on the Fall online forum:
I saw a movie, maybe it was one of those Highlander ones 
and a silly fight on a roof of a building and there was a huge glowing sign 
TDK behind these two fighting it out.
4. Dan points out that an old joke runs ""Life is like a kleenex, not much good once you've blown it." This doesn't quite work, does it? One blows one's nose, not a Kleenex...


More Information

Comments (14)

  • 1. Martin | 26/01/2014
There are at least 53 people called Jeanette Fletcher on the UK electoral roll. There are also many people with the name Michelle Spencer. I can't give links as the websites in question charge you for looking for more than one free name.
  • 2. Mark | 21/05/2014
If "'The Second Dream of the High Tension Line Stepdown Transformer" is supposed to have no apparent beginning, middle or end, do you think that's why this song fades in and out?
Leon Massey
  • 3. Leon Massey (link) | 06/03/2015
[image][/image]facial tissue in a brass bin at dawn?
  • 4. bzfgt | 28/03/2015
Leon, what am I supposed to glean from that link? I see a list of non-album releases but nothing about the lyric you quote, HTL is not mentioned...
  • 5. dannyno | 08/10/2016
"Life is nothing more than a disposable
Facial tissue"

Reminiscent of the joke phrase/saying, "Life is like a kleenex, not much good once you've blown it".
  • 6. Junkman | 05/03/2018
I took MES's line about his crowds getting younger to be him stating that he wasn't just appealing to a stale, aging fanbase. Of course, he could've been getting new fans that were his age or older - but that fact would've been invisible to him. Looking out from the stage and seeing young people was the concrete proof that he was still reaching new people.
  • 7. bzfgt (link) | 17/03/2018
Why is "aging" "stale"? Why can't old people be "new"? It seems like a conflation of different meanings of "old"--the antonym of "new," and the antonym of "young"...
  • 8. bzfgt (link) | 17/03/2018
Sorry, I get what you're saying, I hate that whole youth fetish business which made me skip over where you addressed that the first time I read your comment...I got into the Fall when I was 45...so there.
  • 9. dannyno | 09/07/2018
Jeanette Fletcher is strange but not in a horrible way
And Michelle Spencer is this tight

For what it's worth, the blue lyrics book has:

Janet Fletcher is strange,
But not in a terrible way,
And Michelle Spenser is dead tight,
Come and hear it today.

The spelling may be as accurate as the rendered lyric, there, ie. not very.
  • 10. dannyno | 06/09/2020
Typo in the url for this page!


  • 11. dannyno | 06/09/2020
  • 12. bzfgt (link) | 06/09/2020
I don't think there's anything I can do about that
Mining this interview
  • 13. Mining this interview | 14/11/2020
I'd like to ask you about a couple of songs from the new album. I like
'High Tension Line' a lot, can you tell me what that's about?

"Ehm... I just liked the music and I liked to do it like that, wanted
to make it bit of a classical-type ('Classical'-type?) sounding
song. Didn't go down to very well. But it's on the CD now, so let's
see what happens. It's good. The production was really good, I
thought, by Grant and me, it's good. It's a bit ahead of its time, I
think. Take a while to sink in. If you listen to it the first time it
sounds like the Rolling Stones or something, but if you listen to it
properly it's quite good. If you listen to it the first time it sounds
like any other Fall song, but if you listen to it properly it's
good. The arrangement is quite unique."

And the lyrics?

"It's just basically a statement, you know. I think there's a lot of,
like, information anxiety around in the world, people are trying to
come to grips with computers and DATs and TDKs and shit like
that. They can't really handle it, so they get into this
anxious state. It's like an over-anxious state, I see it all the

You say something like, 'It never used to concern me...'

"...but now it's getting me down, yeah."
  • 14. dannyno | 15/11/2020
Comment #13. Should be a law about linking to sources of quotations!

This one is another from the Miejer interview, text archived here: https://web.archive.org/web/20201115085004if_/https://sites.google.com/site/reformationposttpm/Home/bibliography/1991---early---miejer-interview

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