A plate steel object was fired
And I did not feel for my compatriots
Hated even the core of myself
Not a matter of ill-health
It was fear of weakness deep in core of myself
The fact attainment was out of...
To be humbled in Iceland
Sing of legend, sing of destruction
Witness the last of the god-men
Hear about Megas Jonsson (2)
Cast the runes against your own soul (3)
There is not much more time to go
Work fifteen hours for the good of the soul
And be humbled in Iceland
Sit in the gold room (4)
Fall down flat in the Cafe aisle (5)
Without a glance from the clientele
Good coffee black as well,
Hair blond as hell
Cast the runes against your own soul
Roll up for the underpants show
And be humbled in Iceland
And the spawn of the volcano
Is thick and impatient
Like the people around it.
See a green goblin redhead, redhead
Make a grab for the book of prayers.
Do anything for a bit of attention
Get humbled in Iceland
What the goddamn fuck is it,
That played the pipes of aluminium? (6)
A Memorex for the Krakens (7)
That induces this rough text
And casts the runes against the self-soul
And humbles in Iceland
1. The intro has a voice on cassette, apparently speaking Norwegian; according to jensotto it says "'I want to know...' and '...talk louder.' Sounds like It's taken from a film originally from TV."
From Melody Maker: The song was recorded in Iceland when the Fall played three gigs there in 1981. "'Right, no dicking about, let’s get set up - we’ve wasted enough money already,' Mark Smith yells at at his 'lads' as we shamble into the recording studio.
'What’s he going to do, then?' asks Tony, the English engineeer 'Don’t ask me - he never tells anyone what he’s doing.' says Kay, watching assorted Falls tinkling abstractly on various instruments.
The Fall eventually rattle out two tracks - the mildly funky “Look Know” and the weird haunting 'Hip Priest'- both on first takes. Everyone holds their breath on playback and looks expectantly at Mark, who’d been pacing the floor outside. Mark just mutters 'it’s okay', and we all start grinning.
Mark then announces they will try a new song. Craig patters out a tune on the piano, Marc Riley starts to play banjo, making it sound like a sitar, and you suddenly recognise the abstract tinkering they’d done earlier. 'Is he going to sing?' asks the engineer. Kay didn’t know. Grant goes to find out. 'He’s going to play a cassette first, and then he’s going to sing,” says Grant. The engineer scarcely blinks. “I see,” he says. “A cassette. I do like these easy sessions.'
Mark plays his cassette - of the wind howling against his hotel room window - and launches into the verbals... 'To be humbled in Iceland ... sing of legend sing of destruction...witness the last of the Godmen...hear about Megas Jonsson...to be humbled in Iceland...sit in the gold room...fall down flat in the Cafe Iol...without a glance from the clientele...the coffee black as well...and be humbled in Iceland...'
'No, we didn’t know what he was going to do either,' says Riley in a state of euphoria later. 'He just said he needed a tune, something Dylanish, and we knocked around on the piano in the studio and came up with that. But we hadn’t heard the words until he suddenly did them. We did "Fit And Working" on "Slates" in exactly the same way.Yeah, I suppose it is amazing really...'"
The song sounds nothing like Dylan (although Scanlon claims to have been trying to play the melody of "The Times They Are A'Changin'" on the piano, I can't hear it). Apparently MES was incensed with Riley for spilling the beans about the "Dylanish" directive (see Paul Hanley's Have a Bleedin' Guess, page 45).
Rip It Up : Smith: "'Sixteen track. It was ... er ... it's funny,'cos all the walls
were lava, y'know, so you could play really quiet and you didn't
sound weedy. You could actually hear what you were doing
while you were doing it, which is really unusual. Expensive,
but it was worth it.'"
According to Paul Hanley (Have a Bleedin' Guess) MES is playing two guitar parts at the end of the track.
The sleevenote to this song reads:
Valhalla brochure bit White face Finds Roots, boys don't even notice & look for games machines
2. Melody Maker: "Our hosts play us tapes of a man with a cracked voice and a Dylanish air and describe him as 'the father of Icelandic rock’n’roll.' And they tell us the story of Megas, who ridiculed the sacred Sagas of the land, wrote scathing, surreal lyrics, got heavily into booze and drugs, was barred from radio and shunned by society. In 1979 he released a double album called 'Plans For Suicide' announced his retirement, and hasn’t performed in public since he’s now a dock worker.
Mark Smith is entranced by the story, and rivetted by the music. The following day Megas, a pale, gaunt figure, turns up at The Fall’s concert at the Austurboejarbio and shakes him by the hand. Mark will return to England clutching a parcel of Megas records under his arm."
It's not clear whether Jonsson indeed became a dock worker; Dan found a report that in 1981 he enrolled in the Icelandic School of Fine Arts and Crafts to study as a visual artist, although one doesn't preclude the other.
On the other hand, in a 2013 interview MES says:
"[H]e was a big deal back when I was there, and I got some of his LPs. But I’ve never met him or anything."
In his book Have a Bleedin Guess, however, Paul Hanley says that they did meet.
Clay contributes re: "Last of the god men": I think that MES is making reference here to the speculative historical/anthropological idea that modern day Scandinavians are the descendants of a "godlike" Hyperborean race that supposedly existed around the Arctic Circle at some point before the dawn of civilization as we know it. The fact that MES mentions "the Thule group" in "Gut of the Quantifier" strengthens this interpretation (Thule and Hyperborea being viewed, more or less, as equivalent).
3. Joseph Mullaney reminds us that "Casting the Runes" is a story by MR James, in which a researcher for the British Museum is cursed by a character thought to be based on Aleister Crowley...James is also referred to in Spectre vs. Rector.
4. The Hotel Borg in Reykjavik has a gold room. According to Dan, although the Fall stayed at the Hotel Esja, the Borg was apparently a place where people hung out, and where two of the Fall's gig's were played.
4. The Lyrics Parade had "Cafe Iol," and the following note: "Cafe Iol is a famous meeting spot in Reykjavik where MES hung out when in Iceland."
And Dan points out that the incident that inspired this line can be found in the contemporary Melody Maker article I cited above (cf. note 1), about a gig the Fall played at the Hotel Borg (see note 3 above):
"Mark decided to go for a coffee in the cafe across the road. He tripped, and tumbled across a pile of tables. Nobody laughed. Nobody got upset. Nobody blinked. They thought he was a drunk. It happens all the time in Iceland…"
Note that the article from Melody Maker also has the lyric as "Iol." But we have not found any evidence that there was a Cafe Iol at any time.
Iceland, in Icelandic, is "Island," so "Cafe Isl" would be more likely (but there's no evidence of one of those either).
So, in lieu of a revelation, at this point "aisle" seems most likely.
According to the article
5. Note the lyrics to "Masquerade" (circa 1996):
And what is that branch?
What branch is it
That has the pipe
Sprawling underneath it?
6. A kraken is a legendary sea monster, sometimes thought to actually refer to a real sea monster, the giant squid. Memorex was a brand of cassette tape--people of my age or older will remember the advertising slogan "Is it live, or is it Memorex?"
Krakens are also mentioned in "Winter," also on Hex Enduction Hour.
Seems it got reported somewhere as "Iol" (I first read it in the Brian Edge book) and has been repeated as such ever since.
Has a Cafe Iol ever existed? Searching for it online reveals reference only to these lyrics.
I mentioned Hotel Borg above. Apparently the Hotel Borg has a "gold room": a restored banqueting suite:
Don't know if it was called that when the song was written...
This article has been cited already, but I can't believe this bit hasn't been quoted:
I'm sure this is "Saga legend, Saga destruction".
A Kraken is a sea monster: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kraken
Memorex are an electronics brand. Presumably in the early-80s, they were dealing with cassettes and tapes?
What's going on there? Fired as in gun? Or put in a furnace? If the former, would "plate steel" indicate a tank or cannon?
Iceland is well known for aluminium, which is used for piping hot water around - geothermal energy is big business due to the volcanic geology.
(Awful, I imagine...)
The "pipes of aluminium" I always took to be the sound of the wind whistling between the corrugated aluminium buildings, as recorded by MES at the start of the track
For me, this is the most mysterious and intriguing Fall song, combined with some utterly unique music
And I did not feel for my compatriots"
I was wondering if there might be something of the story of the torpedoing of the USS Kearny during WW2 in this. I can't stand it up at all, but it's a thought.
Paul Hanley, in Have a Bleedin Guess says that Colin Irwin confirmed to him that the meeting took place (p.65, and note p.52).
Lloyd is obviously taking the mickey. He's had one too many madeleines.
It's clearly a reference to Marcel Duchamp.
"The core of marcelf".
Duchamp wrote some pieces of aleatoric music. Alea means dice. From wikipedia:
"Compositions that could be considered a precedent for aleatory composition date back to at least the late 15th century, with the genre of the catholicon, exemplified by the Missa cuiusvis toni of Johannes Ockeghem. A later genre was the Musikalisches Würfelspiel or musical dice game, popular in the late 18th and early 19th century. (One such dice game is attributed to Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart.) These games consisted of a sequence of musical measures, for which each measure had several possible versions and a procedure for selecting the precise sequence based on the throwing of a number of dice.
The French artist Marcel Duchamp composed two pieces between 1913 and 1915 based on chance operations."
The Dice Man. It's obvious! The name Marcel is merged with elf. We know MES was obsessed by elves. It all fits.
Signed R. Mutt 1917.
This is what Lee says:
It records an intention, but it doesn't explicitly say he actually found a cafe of that name, and he definitely doesn't say he drank coffee there.
I should add that I have done my best by researching in every 1980s Icelandic business and telephone directory I can find to locate any sign of a cafe Iol, and so far I have found nothing.
(Source: the Icelandic newspaper Visir, 9 September 1981 p.28: https://timarit.is/files/11556835#search="Fall")
Wherever the cafe from the article was, and whatever it was called, it was near the Hotel Borg, not the Esja.
But that could just be another phonetic rendering without certain warrant, like "Iol" and "aisle".
Well, maybe, but I found this short item in the Icelandic newspaper Dagblaðið, 25 June 1981, p.28:
Translation (thanks to google translate):
(Btw I take it you know about the Oh Brother podcast soon come?! The Hanley Bros are on Twatter with this hashtag; not sure when the actual podcast will drop but it's the Hanley Bros. talking about their time in The Fall. SQUEAL
Except that the Icelandic for "Iceland" is, of course, "Ísland". So it could be perhaps an abbreviation of the name the country: "Cafe Ísl", like "Cafe UK" or "Cafe Brit". Or, er, something.
See some posts on the FOF here: https://www.tapatalk.com/groups/thefall/the-annotated-fall-megathread-t35700-s1373.html
Dan, I cannot open your link about the Esja. We know that they were in the vicinity of the Borg while at the cafe?
Re: the Hotel Esja. Try this link: https://timarit.is/files/11556835
Or a picture of the piece:
More to it than that - The Fall played two of their gigs there.
Well, one thing is for sure, the original LP note has to be false, as the Cafe Iol at this point, if it existed, was certainly not "famous," or someone would have confirmed its existence by now....
So Krakens were especially culturally salient in 1981, as well as being part of Scandinavian mythology that MES was clearly interested in on visiting Iceland.
On the other hand, krakens are mentioned in performances of Winter from early in 1981 prior to the release of Clash of the Titans. But, on another hand entirely (one of the Kraken's additional ones, perhaps), Variety magazine reviewed it as early as December 1980 (https://variety.com/1980/film/reviews/clash-of-the-titans-2-1200425014/).
A Kraken, yesterday
From Colin Irwin's Melody Maker article:
The transcript at https://web.archive.org/web/20170813184526/http://thefall.org/news/iceland.html incorrectly renders the band name as "C4U", but it appears correctly in the original as "Q4U".
About Q4U: https://www.darkentriesrecords.com/bands/q4u/
I'm pretty sure one of the Hanley brothers' books, which I don't seem to be able to lay my hands on at the moment, mentions (specifically in reference to this song) an incident at Icelandic immigration control where one of the band had to strip to his bills.
I've always heard this as "a bit of tension", which I think makes more sense in the context.
So indeed, a Memorex for the Krakens would be a sonic weapon.
You've misremembered the detail, because there was no stripping, but you made a good call otherwise.
From Paul Hanley's Have a Bleedin Guess:
When I first read this, evidently too quickly, I didn't take this in properly as describing something that happened at customs in Iceland, it sounded more speculative, or something, than that. So I ignored it in favour of the Q4U story.
But re-reading it now it seems clearer that it's referring to such an incident, and of course it works in the context of the "humbled in Iceland" repeated line.
There was a famous and quite posh cafe opposite hotel Borg, called Cafe Paris. The sort of place where if you fell over, no-one would flinch, in a very Northern (Arctic) way. Closed now, but I had coffee there and Bjork was at the next table in all her finery and no-one gave her a second glance.
The lyric has several mythological references, so i don't agree that krakens make less sense in context.
I'm sorry to say that Cafe Paris is also a red herring.
The Cafe Paris was established in 1993, over a decade after this songs was written. Nor was that building home to a cafe in 1981/2.
I researched this location (Austurstræti 14) a couple of years ago in fact.
You can read what I found here: https://www.tapatalk.com/groups/thefall/the-annotated-fall-megathread-t35700-s1371.html
There are some Icelandic-language sites which talk about the history of the building which I mention in that thread. An example:
So we can confidently rule out both Cafe Paris, and any previous occupant of that building.