1. From Dan:
On the LP, the song in These Times was written at a time last year when things were pretty shocking and tasteless. There's a bit in the song relating to when I went to Italy for the first time in four years for a holiday with Brix. I thought at least I'd get away from cars and U2. And the first thing I heard were these two street-theatre people doing U2 songs on acoustic guitars, mixed with Beatles' songs. It was a nightmare.
Source: Radio Silence, interview with MES by Dave Haslam, Cut, vol 3 (4), April 1988, p.27. See note 8 below, "Diluted Jesuits."
2. 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.
3. 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.
4. Maybe the cat just thinks it's aquatic. I don't think these lyrics are necessarily striving for coherence, though.
5. 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.
6. 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").
7. 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.
8. From Dan:
So U2 played Elland Road, but MES also heard their songs in Italy (perhaps Venice). (See Note 1 above!)
MES cast U2 as religious, or possessing a Bible bashing audience. Perhaps he regarded U2 as "diluted Jesuits".
Walkmans were not "mutual", they were individual. But a "mutual walkman" might refer to speakers - "mutual" because everyone can hear them. Bit of an odd would-be clever bit of wordplay.
So the line just means that U2 could be heard coming out of speakers all the way from Elland Road to Italy.
It is less likely that this is related to the above lyric, but Craig Scanlon and Steve Hanley would be referred to as "Jesuits" by both Karl Burns and MES, who perhaps picked it up from the former. From a chapter entitled "Wythenshawe Jesuits" in Hanley's The Big Midweek:
‘So he finally let you sad bastards join the band, did he?’ Karl Burns’ dodgy teeth force his speech into a gravelly rasp. ‘I always knew if you followed us around long enough you’d worm your way in somehow. Fuck me, Mark! How come you’re letting the Wythenshawe Jesuits take over?’ he jokes, his busy eyes assessing the current dynamics.
And from the "Volume Four" various artists compilation booklet feature/interview by David Cavanagh, released 14 September 1992:
The marriage had failed, and here was Smith picking gingerly through the fallout. Yet again he fell back on Scanlon and Hanley. They provide the backbone of "Shiftwork", a stripped-down, primitive sorrow-drowner par excellence. "They're fuckin' hard as nails, actually, them two," Smith enthuses. "They're really far out. Freaks me out, you know. Very super-intelligent fellows, but they're really reticent. Reticent isn't even fuckin' in it, I'll tell you. They're perfect." Do they ask him what the lyrics are about? "They don't ask me about the lyrics, they don't ask me about anything, I just love them to death. Jesuit lads, you know. I've had people in the group and they go on about money, and give me this and give me that and I wrote half of this. What's this song about and fuckin'... Steve and Craig are brilliant".
The CD featured Arid Al's Dream.
Thanks to Dan for the above information.
9. 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.
10. 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."
11. 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.
12. 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."