Live at the Witch Trials
We're still one step ahead of you
I still believe in the R and R dream
R and R as primal scream (1)
Tied to the Puritan Ethic (2)
Nonsympathetic to spastics
After all this, still a lonely bastard.
1. This track is anything but a primal scream, a term that apparently originated with Arthur Janov's 1970 book The Primal Scream: Primal Therapy: the Cure for Neurosis. The book was something of a sensation, and Janov famously treated John Lennon, whose 1970 album John Lennon/Plastic Ono Band drew on his experiences with the experimental therapy, which involves revisiting suppressed trauma and freaking out about it.
In the late 1970s several of the members of the Fall were living in an apartment behind a mental hospital, and MES mentions hanging out with the patients from time to time. Kay Carroll was a psychiatric nurse, and Una Baines was soon to spend time in a mental ward as a patient. It seems likely MES was familiar with some counter-cultural or, as we would say today, "alternative" ideas in psychology and/or psychiatry, but in any case he'd probably have passing familiarity with the phenomenon of primal screaming due to Lennon and the consequent high profile Janov's ideas had in the 70s.
As for the idea behind MES's use of the phrase, Dan found some material that gives us more insight on this:
From "Stopping, Starting, and Falling All over Again," interview with MES and Bramah by Graham Lock (NME, 7 April 1979, p.7-8, 40):
One of the most intriguing moments on the albums [sic] is the brief title track, a rap which has Mark proclaiming "I still believe in the R&R dream, in R&R as primal scream". I ask him for elucidation.
Mark: "I regret doing that, it came over more serious than I though [sic] it would. But it's true. I still believe in a kind of purity, that we come from a long line of people who've tried to do things like that - like Gene Vincent - people who were in rock 'n' roll 'n' doing it well but whose attitude was different."
Martin: "It's like you're giving a part of yourself. You're not trying to be something else, but be as real as you can."
Mark: "Trying to leave summat really. The dream of doing that. Like, you can use primitive methods to communicate - which is why I'm in it 'cos I haven't got any skills and you need a backer in most of the arts - but rock 'n' roll is the only form where you can do that. Which is why it's beautiful. Rock 'n' roll isn't even music really. It's a mistreating of instruments to get feelings over. And the way people abuse that dream in the music business is terrible."
From Rip it Up and Start Again:
“I’m not attacking southern people, it’s northern people I’m attacking in that.” Which I think means he’s critiquing the attitude of inverted snobbery, or defensive superiority complex. He further clarified, or muddied the waters, in a later interview (January 1980 NME), saying "the 'white crap that talks back' thing was due to people in London being told that people in the North are thick, or warm, friendly people. A lot of bands masquerade, pretend that they're the 'Northern thing'.... We're neither white crap, nor like 'We're talking about Art here, aren't we?'"
Scottish band Primal Scream took their name from this song.
Bobby Gillespie told Q magazine (October 2008) that his band Primal Scream took their name from this line:
"...and they didn't take their name from the inner-child-healing primal-scream therapy that John Lennon and Yoko Ono underwent at the hands of US psychologist Arthur Janov in the 1970s. 'See, it's all shite,' Gillespie shrugs, sipping tea in his publicist's office. 'We got the name from the first Fall album ["I still believe in the R&R dream/R&R as primal scream," from the title track of 1979's Live at the Witch Trials]. It sounded like a great name for a band."
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2. This is perhaps a clue to another song, "New Puritan." The latter is sometimes seen as an attack on politically involved punks for their Puritanism, but MES associates the latter with discipline and a positive work ethic which is contrasted with the self-involved decadence of many of his peers. At the same time, and as usual, it's not that simple; Smith associates the Puritan-led witch trials with triumph of the scientific world view over imagination. From Mark Sinker in The Wire (quoted by K-punk):
- "So he plunges into the Twilight World, and a political discourse framed in terms of witch-craft and demons. It's not hard to understand why, once you start considering it. The war that the Church and triumphant Reason waged on a scatter of wise-women and midwives, lingering practitioners of folk-knowledge, has provided a powerful popular image for a huge struggle for political and intellectual dominance, as first Catholics and later Puritans invoked a rise in devil-worship to rubbish their opponents. The ghost-writer and antiquarian M.R. James (one of the writers Smith appears to have lived on during his peculiar drugged adolescence) transformed the folk-memory into a bitter class-struggle between established science and law, and the erratic, vengeful, relentless undead world of wronged spirits, cheated of property or voice, or the simple dignity of being believed in."
3. The Story of the Fall provides a plausible take on this line:
'We were early and we were late' possibly indicating the gruppe being ahead of its time and late in their concerns for making sure their first album was released in the white hot moment of punk's initial flaming. I remember at the time how The Fall were always portrayed as never 'fitting in'. Cliques never die. A pox on those naysayers, say I.
4. MES belts out this line as though it were the introduction to the real song, which promises to be a barn-burner...which then comes to a full stop, before the intro to "Futures and Pasts" comes in. In general with the Fall, these sorts of declarations are never straightforward, as we are refused the easy anthemic identification they seem to promise (see my remarks on "Bombast"). ^
-Is the “I still believe in the R&R dream” line sarcastic or serious?
MES: It’s half and half. It’s ambiguous. But I do, in a lot of ways. Like, people say The Fall aren’t rock ‘n’ roll, you know. My attitude is that we are rock ‘n’ roll and no other fucker is.
Marc: It’s just what they consider to be rock ‘n’ roll, like screwing and –
MES: Like, if you get down to the basics of rock ‘n’ roll, if you go back to the mid-50s, those bands had the right attitude.
-I was going to ask whether you consider yourself rock ‘n’ roll…
MES: I do. I consider other bands not rock ‘n’ roll. The term rock ‘n’ roll is overused and it stinks, which is why I used R&R as an abbreviation.
-Why do you consider other bands not rock ‘n’ roll?
MES: Because a lot of them don’t keep to the spirit. Bands get into technique, they get into effects in the studio, and they get into playing their instruments. Or they get into bringing singles out; bringing albums out; doing tours. That’s not rock ‘n’ roll. Like people used to say “Oh, you’ve got a really good drummer” or “You’ve got a really good guitarist.” That’s a fucking stupid thing to say. Audiences don’t know who’s a good musician, but they know what’s good. They feel it. It’s like me – I can’t sing but I know it’s good. You don’t play instruments in rock ‘n’ roll. And bands that do are copping out in my estimation. Bands that go into the studio, do a guitar solo, then go back and put loads of effects on it… that’s not a guitar solo, it’s an effects board you’re listening to.