In These Times

Lyrics

In These Times - a flat season
In These Times - vision gone
In These Times 
- picture frame it
In These Times - say so long

My Aqua-cat is where it's at
New to mammal range (1)
But you know it would never suit
Territories Alpine

In These Times - Meeowww
In These Times - Fishcat Mother
In This Time - Spectral Filter (2)
In These Times - Feline Nutter (3)

In These Times

A man down south, he did go out
He did kill fifteen (4)
What the papers could not grasp or work out
Was his life in a flea brain (5)

In These Times - universal tepid
In These Times - stagnant mind
In This Time -  in these times
In These Times - they're both the same (6)

Diluted Jesuits pour out of mutual walkmans
From Elland Road to Venice Pensions  (7)
And down the Autobahns

In This Time - if that's it I'm leaving
In These Times - leave this planet fast
In These Times - it affects my sleeping
In This Time - my dreams are one to miss
One to be avoiding
In times like this

I often hope in years ahead
My gossamer-thin gate,
Will keep out the trash in which
My psychic streets emershed (8)

In These Times - Spectral Filter
In These Times - in Your Midst
In These Times - this song's a belter
In This Time - for times like this

In These Times - I picture framed pre-teen rap gangs,
With Alsatians on street corners
I imagine beige and red curtains
I made inquiries 
Scapa Flow steel became
inexpensive   (9)

A first season - vision gone
Picture frame it - and say so long
They say "Give up, Buster!" 
"Cram it, clown!"    (10)
But I grow stronger, and break their mindsssszzz

Notes

1. I've found references to a boat and a contact lens solution called "aqua cat," neither of which, I don't think, have anything to do with this song. Here the subject seems to be a cat that has until recently been an aquatic creature, and now is adapting to life on land, but is not quite ready to head off into the mountains. Nobody said it had to make sense.  

More generally, the song is a delightfully oblique paranoid meditation on that favorite topical topic, modern life in the modern world. This is depicted as a crazy and violent world, barely kept out by the "gossamer-thin" front gate. The cat has crawled out of the ooze and developed lungs, but these are not yet strong enough for rarefied mountain air...to make a metaphor of this would render the song too ridiculous, but we'll allow ourselves to find it vaguely suggestive.

^

2. A lens that filters out certain parts of the light spectrum. If aqua cat contact lenses were around in the 1980s, maybe there is a connection here; I don't know if they were.  

^

3. Maybe the cat just thinks it's aquatic. I don't think these lyrics are necessarily striving for coherence, though.  

^

4. A plausible hypothesis has been suggested that this is a reference to the 1987 Hungerford Massacre, in which a young man named Michael Ryan shot and killed 16 people, including his mother, wounded 15 others, and shot and killed himself.  

^

5. This puts me in mind of Blake's painting "The Ghost of a Flea," but Danny has preëmpted me with a much more likely connection, the Gene Vincent song "Flea Brain":

Flea brain, (flea brain) hop-hop-hop
Flea brain, (flea brain) a-rock-rock-rock
Flea brain, she's got a hole in her head
If she wasn't good lookin' she'd be better off dead.

There's a brand new lassie moved in down the block
She's got a classy chassis and she knows how to rock
Stacked just right from her head to her shoe
She acts like somethin' that escaped from the zoo

Flea brain etc.

Well I took her over to a soda fountain over on bo's
She had an ice cream sundae and a hot cup of joe
She leaned way back just to starighten up her hose
Well the ice cream melted and the coffee froze

Flea brain etc.

Well I took flea brain up to lover's hill
I had it in my mind to get a, get a thrill
Stuck to me like a chicken to the roof
Thought that cat would never turn me loose

Flea brain, (flea brain) hop-hop-hop
Flea brain, (flea brian) rock-rock-rock
Flea brain, she's a real hep kid
Flea brain knows more than I thought she did.

The suggestion is that the kid is stupid but also perhaps, disturbingly, that he "knows more" then we "thought he did." 

Blake's "The Ghost of a Flea" is a fantastical painting which originated as a drawing which Blake claimed to have been the likeness of an apparition who was kind enough to pose for him. For Blake, the spiritual world and the visions of imagination were one and the same, so while his friend John Varley, for whom Blake made the sketch, was doubtless a bit credulous, Blake was not exactly deceiving him, even if Varley's interpretation of the incident was much more literal than one imagines the theologically unconventional Blake intended it to be. According to Blake, the helpful spirit explained that fleas bore the spirits of bloodthirsty humans after their demise. Providence, in its wisdom, was supposed to have housed these souls in such small vessels to mitigate the harm they would otherwise do. Although the painting, like everything Blake did, is strikingly brilliant, it is not without bathos...

The connection of this lyric with "The Ghost of a Flea," just under the surface of the (more certainly correct) association with Gene Vincent, may have been intentional, as MES is an avowed fan of both Vincent and Blake. If so, it fits rather neatly into the theme of the verse--more neatly, in fact, than "Flea Brain"--as it is only logical to assume that the deceased murderer would wind up haunting (aqua?) cats in his next go-round. The painting, apart from its claim to be an accurate portrait of an actual spectre, is a depiction of the personality of an unimaginative and fearful person who can only connect with the world through violence. It is the degradation of a human soul that Blake's flea conveys, to which the obtuseness of "the papers" provides an unfortunate complement.

Zack ties it all together:

More evidence for the William Blake / Gene Vincent connections in the "flea brain" lyric: "Ghost of a Flea" is MES's favorite work by Blake, but he is most certainly familiar with Vincent's "Flea Brain" as it appears on the same album as "Rollin' Da[n]ny" (covered by The Fall in 1985) and "Brand New Beat" (semi-covered by The Fall as "It's The New Thing" in 1978). I don't know of any other band that stands at the crossroads of visionary poetry and rockabilly, as The Fall have covered both William Blake ("Jerusalem") and Tommy Blake ("F-Oldin' Money").

^

6. Although cryptically worded, the connection made between "universal tepid" and "stagnant mind" seems to be a suggestion that the banal and unfulfilling nature of the times in general is inseparable from the violent frustration, self-destructiveness or nihilism of individuals like Ryan. In this respect, "The Ghost of a Flea" (see note 5 above), which identifies violence with a weakened imagination, illuminates the lyrics even if the allusion is unintentional. 

^

7. Elland Road is a football stadium in Leeds where a lot of rock bands played in the 1980s, and in 1987 the stadium hosted a convention of 15,000 Jehovah's Witnesses. While Jehovah's Witnesses are not actually Jesuits, some of the nuttier low church Protestants claim a connection between the Jehovah's Witnesses and Catholicism, who are both, from the perspective of the aforementioned nuts, worshipers and servants of Satan. 

What may be more apposite is that the Fall supported U2 at Elland Road, also in 1987, the year prior to the release of The Frenz Experiment. Zack makes the connection:

"MES claims that 'people were going "Satanists! Satanists!" and throwing Bibles and crosses at us' when The Fall supported U2 at Elland Road on July 1, 1987."

Need it be said that we should take the "Bibles and crosses" with a grain or two of salt?

A "pension" is a European boarding house, akin to what is nowadays called a "Bed and Breakfast" in the United States.  

^

8. This is the line I inherited from the Lyrics Parade, and I promptly changed it to something that made sense, but now Robert has come and announced that "the limited edition box set of the Victoria single contained a lyric sheet for this song (for no apparent reason as it wasn't on the single)" and, sure enough, "emershed." Maybe it's a portmanteau of "emerged" and "enmeshed" or something? Honestly, it sounds just as likely to be "emerge," but I suppose I should respect the text...

The lyric sheet also has "gossamer front gate" two lines up from "emershed," but my ears are certain it's "gossamer-thin."

^

9. An Alsatian is a person from the Alsace region of France (the word can also refer to a German Shepherd). Scapa Flow is a bay in the Orkney Islands region of Scotland where Britain had its primary naval base during both World Wars. At the end of World War I, the German fleet was interned in Scapa Flow as per the terms of the Armistice. The German commander, Ludwig von Reuter, ordered the fleet scuttled in order to keep it out of the hands of the Allies; despite the efforts of the British Navy, the scuttling was largely successful. The ships subsequently became a major source of low-background steel, which is steel produced before the end of World War II. Steel produced after the second world war, due to the nuclear attack on Japan and nuclear testing around the world (502 devices were detonated between the end of the war and 1963, when the Limited Test Ban Treaty prohibited above-ground nuclear testing), is contaminated with higher levels of radiation than pre-war steel, so the latter is in demand for certain medical purposes, the making of Geiger counters, and other applications where low radiation levels are required.

^

10. Egg has identified the source of this line (see the comment section below). In the 1960s, a so-called urban legend had it that a child contestant on Bozo the Clown's television show missed a chance at winning a prize. According to one version, Bozo handed him a towel as a booby prize, and the child said "Cram it, clown!" Bozo is said to have responded, with perfect aplomb, "That's a Bozo no-no!" Snopes stops short of pronouncing this definitely apocryphal, but the story is unlikely to be true, alas. 

It should be noted that the lyric sheet (see note 8 above) has "cram it down," but he clearly sings "clown."

^

Comments (25)

Stephen Parkin
  • 1. Stephen Parkin | 29/04/2013
Aqua Cat: Maybe Turkish swimming cat (such as The Cat Aubrey, who I have as my Av on the FOF). All cats are nutters at times.

Stephen.
Robert
  • 2. Robert | 01/05/2013
I've always heard this as "the trash in which my psychic street's enmeshed." Which makes more sense than "are merged."
Al Rea
  • 3. Al Rea | 14/08/2013
It sounds like 'gossamer-thin gate'. That makes more sense to me.
dannyno
  • 4. dannyno | 27/12/2013
"Buy you know"

"But you know" is what it is - presumably a typo.
dannyno
  • 5. dannyno | 27/12/2013
"Flea Brain" is a song performed by Gene Vincent.

Penultimate verse. This is what I'm hearing (hard to make out):

"In these times - I picture framed pre-teen rap gangs with Alsatians
On street corners, I imagine beige [] and red curtain []
I made enquiries
Scapa Flow steel is inexpensive"
bzfgt
  • 6. bzfgt | 22/01/2014
Thanks; yes, typo...
bzfgt
  • 7. bzfgt | 22/01/2014
Good suggestions, almost all adopted...I still think I hear "are merged" more than "enmeshed," but it hasn't been settled on yet, and in any case your alternate is now recorded.
egg
  • 8. egg | 17/05/2014
Two observations:

1. I always assumed the "aqua-cat" to be some sort of just-invented genetically modified cat ("new to mammal range"). The type of thing that one would read about as a "human interest" article in a newspaper, which links to at least the first half of the song.

2. Re "Cram it down" - is it not, as per the urban legend, "Cram it, clown!"
http://www.snopes.com/radiotv/tv/bozo.asp
bzfgt
  • 9. bzfgt | 22/05/2014
Yes, great work with "Cram it, clown!" He does indeed seem to say "clown," that is surely correct.
dannyno
  • 10. dannyno | 29/05/2014
An "aqua cat" is a boat. Knowing this does not take us much further forward.
bzfgt
  • 11. bzfgt | 15/06/2014
Yes, I already mentioned that in my note, I feel compelled to defend myself by pointing out! And no, it doesn't really take us anywhere.
Zack
  • 12. Zack (link) | 03/12/2016
Re: Elland Road

In the interview linked above, MES claims that "people were going 'Satanists! Satanists!' and throwing Bibles and crosses at us" when The Fall supported U2 at Elland Road on July 1, 1987 - the year before The Frenz Experiment was released.
bzfgt
  • 13. bzfgt | 21/12/2016
Zack, forgive me as it is 6 AM and I am not sharp, what interview are we talking about? I know it's probably obviously linked somewhere above but I am not seeing it! Sorry. If you respond it will remind me to come back and do something about this and I want to stop doing this for the night, though.
Zack
  • 14. Zack | 09/01/2017
^ U2 / Elland Road stuff: http://thefall.org/gigography/93jul10.html

More evidence for the William Blake / Gene Vincent connections in the "flea brain" lyric:

"Ghost of a Flea" is MES's favorite work by Blake (http://thefall.org/gigography/93dec11.html), but he is most certainly familiar with Vincent's "Flea Brain" as it appears on the same album as "Rollin' Danny" (covered by The Fall in 1985) and "Brand New Beat" (semi-covered by The Fall as "It's The New Thing" in 1978).

I don't know of any other band that stands at the crossroads of visionary poetry and rockabilly, as The Fall have covered both William Blake ("Jerusalem") and Tommy Blake ("F-oldin' Money").
bzfgt
  • 15. bzfgt | 04/02/2017
Sorry, I did not see the little thing that says "link", I never knew that was there.

That "Bibles and crosses" thing is classic, maybe one of my three favorite MES quotes (the other two being, paraphrased as best I can, "Mark Riley was out of control, putting on a cowboy hat for 'Container Drivers' and all that sort of thing," which I vaguely remember being very disappointed to learn may actually be true, and "What do you think of Sonic Youth?" "What, that guy Scott Thurston who was going with Courtney Pine and that? No wonder he shot himself!").
bzzfgt
  • 16. bzzfgt | 04/02/2017
I would be equally disappointed to learn someone actually threw a Bible or a cross. Seems unlikely, though.
bzfgt
  • 17. bzfgt | 04/02/2017
Someone may have yelled "Satanist!" I prefer to think the whole thing is a fabricated dig at Bono's Xtianity, though.
Robert
  • 18. Robert | 18/02/2017
I discovered that the limited edition box set of the Victoria single contained a lyric sheet for this song (for no apparent reason as it wasn't on the single). According to which the "psychic street" line is:

"Will keep out the trash in which my psychic street's emershed"

Which makes less sense than either "are merged" or "enmeshed" but there you have it.

It also says "gossamer front gate" but on the record it's not really clear what he sings there.

http://images.45cat.com/the-fall-victoria-1988-6.jpg
dannyno
  • 19. dannyno | 27/06/2017
I was just coming here to link to the lyrics from the Victoria box set, but see Robert in comment #18 has already done so, identifying where lyric sheet and annotatedfall lyrics differ. Also worth noting that the lyric sheet may not actually be what MES sings on record.

Worth noting that the lyric sheet has "cram it down" not "cram it clown"
bzfgt
  • 20. bzfgt (link) | 15/07/2017
Funny, I seemed to remember--and have now confirmed--that it came to me as "emershed" (from Lyrics Parade) but I had changed it. I suppose I should bow to the inevitable and restore "emershed"...I'll have to look into the phonetics of "cram it..."
bzfgt
  • 21. bzfgt (link) | 15/07/2017
I wonder why I didn't have "emerge," it sounds more like it and makes more sense. In any case it's back to "emershed"...
bzfgt
  • 22. bzfgt (link) | 15/07/2017
He definitely says "clown."
lee
  • 23. lee | 13/09/2017
diluted Jazz is what pours out of mutual walkmans..
bzfgt
  • 24. bzfgt (link) | 07/10/2017
I always liked this song! I'm checking the jazz, and whether there's another printed source...
bzfgt
  • 25. bzfgt (link) | 07/10/2017
I hear "Jesuits" quite clearly! Listen again and tell me I'm wrong...

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