Janet, Johnny + James

Lyrics

(1)

What if the world crashed down
Refolding behind your eyelids
Cracked your mind
Cracked your mind

Janet and Johnny and James
Crash your mind
Behind your eyelids

The people behind you
With nepotism
Explodes
All that rubbish you create
In the lock
Suddenly cranking   (2)
Nepotism

Janet and Johnny and James
Janet and Johnny and James

Dearest Lord, hear me now
Janet and Johnny
Coming over the mountain
From New Guinea
They see the star
From you, our creator
A startling vision of a future that didn't happen
Ian and Eric
The stars trace
Over Janet and Judy
And James
And Susan and Johnny
The skies reflect
Dear Lord, help them in their abject search
From the Guineas and the bearded man
From the hills
Never seen again
Janet and Johnny and James
Reflect on your life

 

Janet vs. Johnny (The Fall vs. 2003 EP):

What if all the world
Carroted and mashed
Into your eyelids

Nepotism


It's me and Him
Through your collar
Janet and Johnny

And James

Crash your mind
Crash your mind

Eager, smug and positive

With appointment

You never make it


Janet and Johnny

And James

Crash your mind
Crash your mind

I, weak man

With too much power

Droop out the door

A weakened person


The discarded columns

Form a circle

On your rubbish throwout

What if all the world
Carroted and mashed
It happens all the time


Janet and Johnny
And James

Crash your mind
Crash your mind

Notes

1. My first impression of this song was that it seems to me to be about an apocalyptic event where disaster is almost, but not quite, avoided. It is possible that JJ and J (and Ian and Eric) are indeed survivors, but it seems equally likely that the song describes their last moments. It is either a dumbfounded moment before disaster envelops them, or a shocked and traumatized limp away from a smoking crater toward an uncertain future (one that is no longer the one they expected). I hear "a startling vision of a future that didn't happen" as quite possibly suggesting that the song is describing a sort of flashing-before-one's-eyes moment before death, however. 

At the same time, it's possible that all the action takes place "behind" the "eyelids," and that the track is about a conversion, inner vision, or drastic shift in consciousness undergone by one or more of the title charcters. At this point, they either passively wake up to the petty and crass nature of their usual reality, or perhaps even undertake some drastic action. All of this seems possible, and it's also possible there's an interpretation I'm missing that would prove to be a better one.

Harley points out that there is a UK children's book series from the 50s called "Janet and John."

According to Wikipedia, "Janet and John were portrayed as average English children, living a typical middle-class life that reflected many of the stereotypes of the time, and the books consisted of stories that progressively incorporated key words needed in the development of reading skills."

 

PJ Harvey performed this song 12 times in the Fall of 2004. 

^

2. Paul G. says: "Rather than 'cranking' I hear 'kranken' - a german word which means to suffer from or sick.

The lock could be a water lock rather than one opened with a key - there is no need for it to crank."

 

^

Comments (15)

dannyno
  • 1. dannyno | 31/12/2013
Might be worth checking out "wantokism", which is a form of nepotism, as practiced In Papua New Guinea .
dannyno
  • 2. dannyno | 31/12/2013
References to the bearded man in the hills, in relation to New Guinea and the region make me think of cargo cults such as that of John Frumm/Frum. Again, google it!
dannyno
  • 3. dannyno | 08/09/2014
Typo in currently transcribed Janet vs Johnny version of lyrics: it's "nepotism", not "neopotism"
harleyr
  • 4. harleyr | 15/04/2016
Two thoughts -

1) Most of the song takes place outdoors - a cranking lock, a mountain, the stars, the skies, the hills
2) Janet v Johnny: as in the Janet and John series of children's books? https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Janet_and_John. Janet and John have grown up, and are now at odds with each other.
bzfgt
  • 5. bzfgt | 19/05/2016
Thanks, harley. Incidentally, could someone transcribe Janet vs. Johnny? If no one volunteers I'll get to it eventually, but I'd be grateful if you guys would let me farm it out...
Paul G
  • 6. Paul G | 18/05/2018
Rather than 'cranking' I hear 'kranken' - a german word which means to suffer from or sick.

The lock could be a water lock rather than one opened with a key - there is no need for it to crank.
bzfgt
  • 7. bzfgt (link) | 15/07/2018
That is entirely possible, but how does one "hear" kranken rather than cranking/crankin'?
Paul G
  • 8. Paul G | 18/07/2018
Very good question bzfgt! It's something I've thought since first listen. I guess it's a combination of not hearing the 'ing' sound and knowing that Smith has thrown German words in throughout his career.
bzfgt
  • 9. bzfgt (link) | 22/07/2018
Right, it's something that's entirely possible, as I said, but devilish hard to confirm...I think the presumption has to be for the English, but I'll put the German in a note.
Andre Dee
  • 10. Andre Dee | 28/07/2018
It is entirely possible, and also completely incorrect that the song is an anti-BBC cryptic polemic.

Smith was often scathing of BBC employees and of their output which he often considered sub-par. How does this theory fit with "Janet, Johnny and James"?

It's not the first time linked watching TV with the lasting effects of TV behind the eyeball. Think "A Lot of Wind" - an anti-tv tract from 'Shiftwork' where Smith writes about having "Octagonals in my eye lids from watching lot of wind..." Here, on this track he re-uses this image but it has taken on more profound and even spiritual proportions.

The reference to Janet and James is an indirect reference to the type of middle-class, nice but dull, personalities the BBC uses and will always draw upon to host tv and radio. The BBC, according to Smith, will 'crack your mind' due to their banality, or even worse, subversion of existence which leads us from the vast mystery of being.

The title works alliteratively but also as a snide comment on the club you have to be in to work at the BBC. In interviews Smith alluded to the nepotistic nature of the organisation and was deeply amused that the BBC re-located to Salford Lock, in Manchester to save money.

The prayer section of the song relates to the idea that these middle-class types are out of their comfort zone in the post industrial North of England hence the 'Guinea' metaphor.

The second section is a little more difficult to square with my theory but the ultimate message is that these media types pervert human communication with profound and spiritual, constantly feeding perception from their own P.O.V. and ultimately are not to be trusted in their interpretations of reality.
bzfgt
  • 11. bzfgt (link) | 29/07/2018
Yes I think you're onto something. This theory may not be the right one, but there is certainly a kind of key to this song, I no longer think the kind of vague and visionary hinted story without a source I imply in my note is the way MES works. There's something to this. I think something like the BBC fits with

The people behind you
With nepotism
Explodes
All that rubbish you create

and whether it is actually the BBC or something else, I think it's something specific. Do you have a citation for the "nepotism" thing? I'd like to track something like that down before making any more specific suggestions.
bzfgt
  • 12. bzfgt (link) | 29/07/2018
The only google result I get for the word in conjunction with MES is interviews with Brix where she says critics of the time thought her being in the band was nepotism...
bzfgt
  • 13. bzfgt (link) | 29/07/2018
It seems like it could also be about the plot of a program of some kind, I thought of Lost; but I don't think it's literally that, but for some reason something somewhat like that seems to fit, a crash, bearded people staggering around...
dannyno
  • 14. dannyno | 06/08/2018
I'm just wondering why MES would write a cryptic polemic against TV or the BBC. Just seems like an odd occupation for someone willing to dish it out in distinctly uncryptic form. However, there is definitely something in the idea that a specific inspiration can become written out into something more allusive, and elusive. As we dig deeper into these songs, that kind of thing looks much more common than has been suspected.
bzfgt
  • 15. bzfgt (link) | 16/08/2018
I feel like it's the opposite...more things that seemed cryptic and allusive turn out to have definitive sources.

Add a comment

You're using an AdBlock like software. Disable it to allow submit.