Mess of My

Lyrics

(1)

A note of your own choice, boys and girls

Inadequate writers, methadone stubbies
You got energy vampires (2)
More hands on the tranquillisers

An unholy alliance
And jokes about faith
Oh, give me another drink! 
You're as strong as your weakest link

A mess of my age
A mess of my youth 
A mess of our radio

I remember the times
This was a beginning
Of a permissive new age
But it's the same old cabbage (3)

A mess of my age
A mess of my race
A mess of our, our, our, our... 

The dream was about taking some terrorists out, y’know, bombs etc.
But the targets could well be your own
There are no graves
There is an end to nutriments and retribution. (4)

A mess of my age
A mess of our race
A mess of our our our our

I don't look at myself
I have no health
Take no notice of me
I probably work for a record company

A mess of our age
A mess of my taste
A mess of our nervous systems

Cowering mockers
The company money's ran out
No longer hot properties
Get back in their closets

A mess of my age
A mess of my race
Fill the rest in yourself...

Notes

1. The only studio recording of this is the Peel version, and musically it is very much in the distinctive style of the Live at the Witch Trials band. Lyrically it is a vague jeremiad, and it is unclear exactly who the narrator is, but it is at least in part the music industry in MES's sights. His shot pattern is wide, however; some live versions contain the following lines:

I dream about taking some terrorists out for a quiet drink
You know, and getting them to stick a bomb up the TV man's arse
The hedonist slide show bullshit arse.

From Marc Riley's page on the BBC 6 website:

A record you'd like played at your funeral?

Mess Of My Age perhaps... the best track I played on when I was in The Fall.

It's an odd choice for a funeral, and also for the best track with Riley (not that there's anything wrong with it)...

According to Riley, it was written by sometime bass player "Eric the Ferret."

Note that Riley calls it "Mess of My Age," the first line of the refrain. According to Dan:

"Marshall McLuhan, "Counterblast" (1969/1970, inspired, of course, by Wyndham Lewis' "Blast"), p23:
'The medium is the mess age means the sensory effect of the environments created by innovations, for example the effect of writing on speech.'"

McLuhan is here punning on his most famous phrase, "The medium is the message," from Understanding Media: The Extensions of Man (1964).

Public Enemy may have been inspired by the same pun when they named their 1994 album Muse Sick-n-Hour Mess Age. 

^

2. From Sumsiadad:

"Note that 'Energy Vampires' is a track on Peter Hammill's Future Now album - released in September 1978 - an album which, given his tastes, MES would almost certainly have been familiar with."

Indeed he is. From Dan:

We can go further than "almost certainly" in relation to "The Future Now". There's a Wire "Invisible Jukebox" interview with Peter Hammill (August 1995) where he talks about a mooted collaboration with MES, and "The Future Now" is specifically mentioned as something MES was interested in: Hammill: ... He used to be in touch with me and send me the vinyl as it came out, but I haven't heard from him for a while. He suggested that we did something - the area of sound that he was particularly interested in was The Future Now [1978] which is a particularly difficult area to recreate. 

^

3. Martin finds a source for this expression:

"From Hegel's Philosophy of Right (originally published 1820): 'Some, who are thought to be taking a profound view, are heard to say that everything turns upon the subject-matter, and that the form may be ignored. The business of any writer, and especially of the philosopher, is, as they say, to discover, utter, and diffuse truth and adequate conceptions. In actual practice this business usually consists in warming up and distributing on all sides the same old cabbage.'"

This is from the 1798 translation by S.W. Dyde. The German is "Wenn man nun betrachtet, wie solches Geschäft wirklich betrieben zu werden pflegt, so sieht man einesteils denselben alten Kohl immer wieder aufkochen und nach allen Seiten hin ausgeben" (so "same old cabbage"--denselben alten Kohl--is a literal translation, but "warming up" deviates a tiny bit--immer wieder aufkochen, to boil up, or reboil, again and again ). 

Dan:

"According to Hans Schemann's German/English Dictionary of Idioms, 'kohl' is used in several German phrases to indicate rubbish, nonsense or boring crap (I paraphrase). So 'so ein Kohl' ("such a cabbage") means 'what a load of rubbish.' And 'aufgewärmter Kohl' means 'a boring old story' (literally, I guess, 'reheated/warmed over cabbage')."

This certainly seems related, conceptually if not historically, to the English expression "I don't chew my cabbage twice," which is better-attested than the way I first heard it as a lad, "I don't cook my cabbage twice" (when asked to repeat oneself). And this role for cabbage in our discourse is of ancient origin, as Dan has discovered:

"Crambo, earlier crambe, comes from the Latin phrase crambē repetīta 'cabbage reheated, re-served,' a phrase in Juvenal’s 'Seventh Satire' ('Reheated cabbage kills teachers') referring to unimaginative writing. The Latin crambē is a borrowing from Greek krámbē, a kind of cabbage. Crambo, the rhyming game, entered English in the mid-17th century; crambe, inferior rhyme, in the early 17th." As Ramsay (1918) has it, Juvenal goes on to say "Served up again and again, the cabbage is the death of the unhappy master!" And Juvenal identifies as a Greek proverb, “Dis kramb thanatos" (twice-cooked cabbage kills us).

More from Dan:

"Cassell's Dictionary of Proverbs, by David Pickering (2001).

Entry:
 


cabbage twice cooked is death[b] (Greek) Some things, like cabbage, should be discarded if not consumed or otherwise dealt with at once....  



Pickering quotes John Lyly, "Euphues: the anatomy of wit" (1578):
 


Which I must omitte, least I set before you, colewortes twice sodden.



and

[b]The Oxford Dictionary of English Proverbs, 3rd edition 1970, rev by F.P. Wilson:
 


Cabbage twice cooked (sodden) is death



gives the Greek, cites Juvenal and the English language citations also cited by Pickering."

 

So what it all boils down to is "the same old nonsense."

 

^

 

4. These four lines (between the two choruses) sound like they are sung through a megaphone. Thanks to Trevor Morris for deciphering the lyrics here (for variants see the comment section below).

^

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Comments (30)

Trevor Morris
  • 1. Trevor Morris | 16/11/2013
Megaphone bit - Peel Session
“The dream was about taking some terrorists out, y’know, bombs etc. but the targets could well be your own. There are no graves. There is an end to nuisance and retribution.”
Trevor Morris
  • 2. Trevor Morris | 16/11/2013
“Megaphone bit” variations
Liverpool 78
"I dream about taking some terrorists out for a quiet drink, y’know, and getting them to stick a bomb up the TV man’s arse, the hedonist slide-show bullshit’s arse. Y’know, dreams, y’know, where the only solution is retribution."
Marquee ‘78
“When I was stupid, I used to dream about terrorists (laughs) and what the left-wing hot properties, no knee-caps etc., an end to solutions and retributions.
Altrincham ‘79
The dream was about taking terrorists out, y’know, dreams etc., but the targets could well be your own. There are no graves and partays, even on your holidays with Cliff Michelmore. There is an end to dream solutions and retributions.”
Trevor Morris
  • 3. Trevor Morris | 16/11/2013
The version on the Liverpool ’78 Live CD is worth a listen, if only for the clarity of the alternative lyrics.

Mess of my… (Live Liverpool 78)
Intro
The next number is about videos and the signal din. A note of your own choice, gentlemen.

Swedish singers
with DLT
The energy vampires
more hands on the tranquilisers.

An unholy alliance
and jokes about rape
Fog-bound roads
South African heroes.

Mess of my age
Mess of my race
Mess of our radios

I remember the times
This was the beginning
Of a permissive new age
But you’re the same old cabbage

Mess of my age
Mess of my race
Mess of our, our, our, our, our, our…

(“Megaphone bit”)
I dream about taking some terrorists out for a quiet drink, y’know, and getting them to stick a bomb up the TV man’s arse, the hedonist slide-show bullshit’s arse. Y’know, dreams, y’know, where the only solution is retribution.

I don’t look at myself
I have no health
Take no notice of me
I’d probably work for a record company

Mess of my age
Mess of my taste
Mess of our nervous systems

TV rock
No leads plugged in.
Left-wing hot properties
Get back in their closets.

Mess of my age
Mess of my race
(off mic) Guilty social workers.

This version of the lyrics was performed, with different intros and some slight variations (sub. “radio man” & “TV pop man” in the so-called “megaphone bit”) through the early part of 1978. The first version with the Peel Session lyrics that I’ve heard is at Prestwich Hospital on Nov 25th 1978 (2 days before the Peel recording) & it’s then performed in that style in all the other live versions that I’ve heard (again with some interesting variations in the “megaphone bit”).
bzfgt
  • 4. bzfgt | 29/11/2013
Trevor,

Thank you!!!!! You have saved the day, and come up with some good variants...
bzfgt
  • 5. bzfgt | 29/11/2013
Although I don't think "nuisance" is right, there seems to be another syllable in there unless I'm mistaken.
Trevor Morris
  • 6. Trevor Morris | 19/06/2014
At first I thought it sounded like "there is an end to nutriment and wretched utriment" but MESs voice is properly f-ed up by the "megaphone". When I heard the last word as "retribution", I figured the distortion was creating the extra syllable sound. But I agree it's far fom definitive. Not sure about "graves" either frankly. Heard it as "grays" for a long time (UFO reference?). Could equally be "gays"? Figured "graves" might be might to allude to the dream nature of the "assassination".
bzfgt
  • 7. bzfgt | 24/06/2014
I'm convinced by "nutriments" now, nonsensical as it is. The "r" in "graves" is pretty clear, but it sounds like "grazed."
Martin
  • 8. Martin | 14/11/2014
It should be "Oh give me a another drink".

Also, at the same time as "youth" there's a backing vocal of (I think) one word which I can't identify. I'm on the Peel session version, by the way.
Martin
  • 9. Martin | 19/09/2015
From Hegel's Philosophy of Right (originally published 1820):

"Some, who are thought to be taking a profound view, are heard to say that everything turns upon the subject-matter, and that the form may be ignored. The business of any writer, and especially of the philosopher, is, as they say, to discover, utter, and diffuse truth and adequate conceptions. In actual practice this business usually consists in warming up and distributing on all sides the same old cabbage"

(No idea who the translator is, sorry).
Sumsiadad
  • 10. Sumsiadad | 30/01/2016
Note that "Energy Vampires" is a track on Peter Hammill's "Future Now" album - released in September 1978 - an album which, given his tastes, MES would almost certainly have been familiar with.
dannyno
  • 11. dannyno | 12/03/2016
We can go further than "almost certainly" in relation to "The Future Now". There's a Wire "Invisible Jukebox" interview with Peter Hammill (August 1995) where he talks about a mooted collaboration with MES, and "The Future Now" is specifically mentioned as something MES was interested in:


Hammill: ... He used to be in touch with me and send me the vinyl as it came out, but I haven't heard from him for a while. He suggested that we did something - the area of sound that he was particularly interested in was The Future Now [1978] which is a particularly difficult area to recreate.
bzfgt
  • 12. bzfgt | 19/03/2016
Does the original have square brackets around "1978"?
dannyno
  • 13. dannyno | 19/03/2016
Yes, the square brackets are there.
bzfgt
  • 14. bzfgt | 19/03/2016
Tarnation. I do not like it.
dannyno
  • 15. dannyno | 09/03/2017
Note #3: "Same old cabbage", and Hegel.


I do not know if this is a literal translation or calque, or whether this is an English idiom that is no longer well-known enough to be on the internet, but eventually I'll figure it out.


Here is the original German:


Wenn man nun betrachtet, wie solches Geschäft wirklich betrieben zu werden pflegt, so sieht man einesteils denselben alten Kohl immer wieder aufkochen und nach allen Seiten hin ausgeben


So "same old cabbage" / "denselben alten Kohl" is right there in Hegel. However, it seems "same old cabbage" is a literal translation.

According to Hans Schemann's "German/English Dictionary of Idioms", "kohl" is used in several German phrases to indicate rubbish, nonsense or boring crap (I paraphrase). So "so ein Kohl" means "what a load of rubbish". And "aufgewärmter Kohl" means "a boring old story" (literally, I guess, "reheated/warmed over cabbage")

And where Hegel has "den selben alten Kohl immer wieder aufkochen" , which translates literally as something like "the same old reboiled cabbage" or "the same old cabbage, boiled again and again", Schemann's dictionary has the pretty close "(den) alten Kohl (wieder) aufgewärmen", which is says means "to dredge up the past" or "drag up an old story".
dannyno
  • 16. dannyno | 09/03/2017
Apparently there's an Italian phrase, "Cavoli Riscaldati", which also literally means "reheated cabbage", and which idiomatically apparently means to rekindle an old love affair.

There's an Irvine Welsh book titled "Reheated Cabbage", which is an anthology of republished stories (apart from one new one).

The ultimate origin of all this seems to be Juvenal's "Seventh Satire" [see https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Satires_(Juvenal)], which includes the phrase "crambē repetīta", which translates literally from Latin as "cabbage repeated".

According to http://www.dictionary.com/wordoftheday/2017/01/13/crambo:


Crambo, earlier crambe, comes from the Latin phrase crambē repetīta “cabbage reheated, re-served,” a phrase in Juvenal’s “Seventh Satire” (“Reheated cabbage kills teachers”) referring to unimaginative writing. The Latin crambē is a borrowing from Greek krámbē, a kind of cabbage. Crambo, the rhyming game, entered English in the mid-17th century; crambe, inferior rhyme, in the early 17th.


In Ramsay's 1918 translation of Juvenal http://www.tertullian.org/fathers/juvenal_satires_07.htm, the line is rendered as:


Served up again and again, the cabbage is the death of the unhappy master!
dannyno
  • 17. dannyno | 09/03/2017
Latin original: http://www.thelatinlibrary.com/juvenal/7.shtml


occidit miseros crambe repetita magistros.
dannyno
  • 18. dannyno | 09/03/2017
... so my translation of that would be: "repeated/repeatedly reheated cabbage is the death of wretched masters/teachers".

According to Bartleby http://www.bartleby.com/81/4291.html:


Crambe bis Cocta [“cabbage boiled twice”].

A subject hacked out. Juvenal says, “Occidit miseros crambe repetita magistros” (vii. 155), alluding to the Greek proverb “Dis kramb thanatos.”


So we can push the origin back before Juvenal.

"Dis kramb thanatos" is "Cabbage served twice is death", or "repetition is tedious" (not a very Fall sentiment!)
dannyno
  • 19. dannyno | 09/03/2017
Ah, another reference.

http://biblehub.com/library/basil/basil_letters_and_select_works/letter_clxxxvi_to_antipater_the.htm


I am told that you have recovered your failing appetite by pickled cabbage. Formerly I used to dislike it, both on account of the proverb


... the proverb being the Greek one...

Dan
dannyno
  • 20. dannyno | 09/03/2017
Cassell's Dictionary of Proverbs, by David Pickering (2001).

Entry:


cabbage twice cooked is death[b] (Greek) Some things, like cabbage, should be discarded if not consumed or otherwise dealt with at once....


Pickering quotes John Lyly, "Euphues: the anatomy of wit" (1578):


Which I must omitte, least I set before you, colewortes twice sodden.


and

[b]The Oxford Dictionary of English Proverbs
, 3rd edition 1970, rev by F.P. Wilson:


Cabbage twice cooked (sodden) is death


gives the Greek, cites Juvenal and the English language citations also cited by Pickering.
dannyno
  • 21. dannyno | 09/03/2017
Oh, the bolding went a bit wrong there. Never mind.
dannyno
  • 22. dannyno | 10/03/2017
Tracking this back and forth a bit....

The Renaissance era Italian Politian (Angelo Ambrogini, aka Poliziano) identifies in his "Miscellanea" that Juvenal's cabbage phrase draws on the Greek proverb "δὶς χρὰμβη θὰνατος", which proverb is mentioned by Suidas (author of the Suda: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Suda).

I'm done here!
dannyno
  • 23. dannyno | 10/03/2017
... so in terms of the lyrics, what MES seems to mean by "it's the same old cabbage" is "it's the same old story". Which is kind of obvious really anyway. Who needs research?
bzfgt
  • 24. bzfgt (link) | 19/03/2017
Where's the "repeated' or "twice" in “Dis kramb thanatos"? What is "Dis"? I am not sure
bzfgt
  • 25. bzfgt (link) | 19/03/2017
One gr-to-eng translator says "billion chramvi death." So is "dis" basically "lots of times"? The other translator I tried just transliterates it, it may be they are not equipped for the ancient variety.
bzfgt
  • 26. bzfgt (link) | 19/03/2017
I was tempted to put every single thing you found in the note, it is all very interesting, but there is so much. On the other hand it's already down here so putting it in may be kind of redundant anyway. I'm never sure how many people might read the notes but not the comments.
bzfgt
  • 27. bzfgt (link) | 19/03/2017
Yes I am aware "it all boils down to" is a pun.
dannyno
  • 28. dannyno | 20/03/2017
bzfgt, comment #25: no, "dis" is Greek for "twice" or "doubly": http://biblehub.com/greek/1364.htm

and the entry in Liddell and Scott, A Greek-English Lexicon: http://www.perseus.tufts.edu/hopper/text?doc=Perseus%3Atext%3A1999.04.0057%3Aentry%3Ddi%2Fs
bzfgt
  • 29. bzfgt (link) | 23/03/2017
Yes so I think that means "lots of times." In ancient languages a specific number is often used to stand in for "a lot."
dannyno
  • 30. dannyno | 08/04/2017
"A mess of my age"

Marshall McLuhan, "Counterblast" (1969/1970, inspired, of course, by Wyndham Lewis' "Blast"), p23:


The medium is the mess age


Context:
"The medium is the mess age means the sensory effect of the environments created by innovations, for example the effect of writing on speech".

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