Middle Mass

Lyrics

(1)

The evil is not in extremes
It's in the aftermath
The middle mass (2)
After the fact
Vulturous in the aftermath

Summer close season (3)
A quiet dope and cider man
But during the season
Hard drugs and cider mates

The boy is like a tape loop
The boy is like a uh-uh

Not much contact
Drinking, the men wait
They are set at nought  (4)
Cause cripple state's a holy state
Cause cripple state's a holy state (5)
The Wehrmacht never got in here 
The Wehrmacht never got in here
The Wehrmacht never got in here
The Wehrmacht never got in here
Though it took us six years
The Wehrmacht never got in here
The Wehrmacht never got in here
The Wehrmacht never got in here
The worm never got in here (6)
And living here you whisper, bub
And living here you whisper, bub!

This boy is like a tape loop
And he has soft mitts
And he's the last domain
Of a very very back room brain
He learned a word today
The word's misanthropy
And he's running to and from
The cats from tin pan alley (7)
And he's running with and from
The cats from the alleys of tin pan
And he's going down the alley
Take the cats from the alleys of tin pan
The alley's full of cats from tin pan

The middle mass
The middle mass, vulturous in the aftermath

It's the back room brain

(8)


 

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Notes

1. Reader undigest identifies the title as a German-to-English calque, i.e. a "play on the German noun 'Mittelmaß,' meaning 'average' or 'mediocrity.'  This is almost certainly the correct derivation of the title as it fits perfectly in context. It should be noted that the calque is not necessarily MES's though, as this phrase sometimes appears in English.

As with C.R.E.E.P., this song is often thought to be about Marc Riley, who says lost repect for MES when he confronted him about it and the latter denied it, saying that it was about another guy named "Marc." This is from an interview with the Fall fanzine The Pseud Mag:

A question which you definitely don't have to answer if you don't wish to! Do you still think Middle Mass is about yours truly [sic]? 

Mark and I weren’t getting on at all. He’d pull all sorts of stunts. You’d get a record back from the pressing plant and the writing credits bore no resemblance to the people who wrote it – stuff like that - so I used to argue with him a lot. I overheard him saying to someone (Grant Showbiz I think) that Middle Mass was about me. I approached Mark about it and he denied it – that was it for me. Not that he’d written the song about me – just that he didn’t have the balls to admit it. ‘The boy is like a tape loop’! Ha! I took that as a compliment –and ‘he has cider mates’...well Steve, Craig and I were inseparable and had the same tight circle of friends so that seemed a bit of a misguided dig at me personally. From thereon in we were pretty much finished.

The following note from the Lyrics Parade throws light on the background of the song, or doesn't:

This song is apparently about Marc Riley. Riley had spent the previous summer staying in London at a flat in Denmark Street (the UK's "Tin Pan Alley") with Mike Gaines, a budding songwriter and notorious heroin addict. For a few months there was talk of Gaines and Riley forming their own group, or at least writing and selling their own songs. Smith got wind of this and there was a bit of a showdown - Smith taking the piss out of Riley for allegedly experimenting with harder drugs, messing about with "proper" tunes and hanging around with a loser like Gaines. Riley retorted by calling Smith a "misanthropic old git", which amused Smith as Riley said it more than once ("like a tape loop"), obviously pleased as punch with the new word he'd learned. "Soft mitts" refers to Riley's ineffectuality as a fighter. [Analysis by Fallnet's Paul Saxton]

ADDENDUM 2004: After the above "analysis" was repeated by Mick Middles in his book on The Fall, it came to light that the story had been a complete fabrication all along. But rather a clever one! [editor]"

On the other hand, according to Riley:  "I overheard [Smith] saying to someone (Grant Showbiz I think) that Middle Mass was about me."

According to Hanley's The Big Midweek, Riley was very upset when he heard the vocals being recorded, and confronted MES in the studio, at which point the latter denied that it was about the former.

Paul Hanley, on a panel at the 2013 Louder Then Words festival in Manchester, said he doesn't hear anything at all about Riley in the lyrics.

In his spoken introduction to the song on the Fall's 9/12/1981 gig at Austurbaejarbio, Iceland, MES says that the song is about football hooliganism, and this definitely seems to be one of the themes of these complex lyrics. Switzerland also seems to get mixed up in it somehow, as MES mentions it a few times in his patter before live versions ("you wanna know about Oslo, you wanna know about Switzerland"; "It's a pure prophecy as regards to Switzerland. Now, isn't that clear?"; "This is for all the Swiss in the audience.").

The title of the song may be a play on Middlemarch, the 1871 novel by George Eliot.     

^

2. Mark Smith often expresses contempt for the middle class, and more quotes like the following will not be hard for the enterprising reader to unearth:

"What really annoys me is that people can't really get into their head that there really isn't any threat from the left or the right really. The threat is some kind of standardized horrible society. Run by a bunch of fucking idiots." On at least one live version, "the boy" is "running from the middle mass."

^

3. "Close season" denotes the off-season in football (soccer). According to Wikipedia:

The off-season, vacation time, or close season is the time of year when there is no official competition. Although upper management continues to work, the athletes will take much vacation time off. Also, various events such as drafts, transfers and important off-season free agent signings occur. Generally, most athletes stay in shape during the off-season in preparation for the next season. Certain new rules in the league may be made during this time, and will become enforced during the next regular season.
As most countries which have a league in a particular sport will operate their regular season at roughly the same time as the others, international tournaments may be arranged during the off season.
For example, most European football league club competitions run from July or August to May, subsequently major international competitions such as the FIFA World Cup and UEFA European Football Championship are organised to occur in June and July.

Presumably the person the song is about (whether Marc Riley, someone else, or a hybrid or entirely fictional character) is fairly docile in the off-season but resumes his hooliganish ways when the season commences (see note 1). 

^

4. "Set at nought"--to to be disregarded, ignored, dismissed, treated with contempt-- also pops up in "Prole Art Threat."

^

5. Throughout the history of Christendom, people with disabilities were sometimes thought to be children of God, and in some way blessed. 

^

6. Although MES has at times expressed patriotic sentiments, I read this line as a sarcastic dig at the self-congratulatory smugness of the British middle class. "The worm never got in here" in the penultimate line may just be a flub ("the wehrm-") since it doesn't appear on any live versions or Peel. Still, it seems to fit. 

This may also be a reference to Switzerland (see note 1 above)! 

^

7. See the note from the Lyrics Parade quoted in note 1.

^

8. Martin transcribed the lyrics to "Middle Mass Explanation," a rap MES sometimes did before the song. This is from September 30, 1981:

Ride in my long varied career
Incident
English goes in every bar in Europe
And think, is it some kind of exception?
You wanna know about Switzerland
You wanna know about Oslo
Violence
Well, I sat down, he sat down
You always sit down
Anyway – this is M-Mass Explanation
And people go round and round Europe
And they think everything is an exception
They go in a bar and think there’s some kind of, er, wealth here
But they know it’s standard
When they know its standard
That’s when they hit out
A mere bold attentuation
M-Mass – S.H.

So, that explains everything! No more questions!

No? Ok, Dan expounds:

There were two serious football related riots in 1981, both connected to England matches as part of world cup qualification.

In May 1981, there were riots on the occasion of England's match against Switzerland in Basle.  

Then on 9 September 1981, there were riots on the occasion of the England-Norway match in Oslo.

Hence, Middle Mass Explanation is pointing out the prescience of Middle Mass, which of course predates the Basle and Oslo violence.

^

 

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Comments (45)

dannyno
  • 1. dannyno | 18/03/2013

"summer close season"

Does this refer to the closing of the transfer window in soccer?

bzfgt
  • 2. bzfgt | 18/03/2013

I took it to mean the closeness of the weather, it's hot and muggy which is when people say the weather is "close."

dannyno
  • 3. dannyno | 22/03/2013

But "close season" - that's not a phrase anyone uses, and it's not very MES language. Reads better if it's about soccer season vs non-soccer season.

bzfgt
  • 4. bzfgt | 23/03/2013

Here's Wikipediahttp://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Season_(sports)#Off-season:

The off-season, vacation time, or close season is the time of year when there is no official competition. Although upper management continues to work, the athletes will take much vacation time off. Also, various events such as drafts, transfers and important off-season free agent signings occur. Generally, most athletes stay in shape during the off-season in preparation for the next season. Certain new rules in the league may be made during this time, and will become enforced during the next regular season.
As most countries which have a league in a particular sport will operate their regular season at roughly the same time as the others, international tournaments may be arranged during the off season.
For example, most European football league club competitions run from July or August to May, subsequently major international competitions such as the FIFA World Cup and UEFA European Football Championship are organised to occur in June and July.

dannyno
  • 5. dannyno | 24/03/2013

In "The Fall Lyrics" (Lough Press), there's what is apparently a diary entry (on a page dated May 31), which reads:

"Date: Early Jan: write 'Middle Mass', a song about football vandalism, violent w/class, myself, record biz."

Make of that what you will.

bzfgt
  • 6. bzfgt | 02/04/2013

Cool, I'm convinced you're right about "close season" now, since he goes on to contrast it with "during the season." I'm going to get some of this up in the notes when I get a chance; in the meantime, I hope people read these comments.

John
  • 7. John | 01/08/2013

Some things I have gleaned over the years, mostly by listening to live versions:
The song (in grand MES tradition of being about several things at once) is also about Switzerland, as he says "here's to all the Swiss in the audience" in one live version and in Middle Mass Explanation (if I remember the title) he says "you wanna know about Oslo, you wanna know about Switzerland" and "you go into every bar in Europe and people think they are some sort of exception" and "when you know that they are standard, that's when they hit out". This also ties into "cripple states are holy states" (my interpretation of what he's saying). The whole "the Weremacht never got in here" is another huge reference for Switzerland.
Set at nought is an Elizabethan turn of phrase.
The middle class thing is emphasized in another live version where he talks about "it's the one who kicks the last....the one who throws that last book on the fire"

Martin
  • 8. Martin | 06/02/2014

Some during-gig quotes to back up the football and Swiss themes expounded on above:

31 May 1981 Oklahoma City: It's a pure prophecy as regards to Switzerland. Now, isn't that clear?" (before "Middle Mass")

(Same date): "This next one is about soccer, sort of...it's pure prophecy as regards to Italy."

11 June 1981 Spit, Boston: "OK, this is 'Middle Mass'. A form of true prophesy. True prophesy! When English boys get over to Europe they think this is an exception. But everywhere is like that! And they can't quite figure out why the welfare is twice their wages! Why they can't speak their language! Why Britain is not as great when you get overseas, mate!"

12 June 81 City Gardens, Trenton: "This is for all the Swiss in the audience."

12 September 81 Austerbaejarbio, Reykjavik: "To get back to football hooliganism... football hooliganism... there's a song about it called 'Middle Mass.'

Martin
  • 9. Martin | 06/02/2014

I suppose there's a case for including Middle Mass Explanation as a separate entry, both on this site and on Reformation!, given that it's included as a separate track on the red box set. Not sure, though...for me, it's more pre-song banter than real track.

Martin
  • 10. Martin | 07/02/2014

Here in any case, for completeness' sake at least, are the lyrics of Middle Mass Explanation as "sung" before Middle Mass on 9 September 1981:

"(Ride to?) my long varied career
(3 quick, almost unintelligible symbols, obscured by someone in the crowd shouting “Waheey!” – possibly just the word INCIDENT)
My English (closed?) in every bar in Europe
And think, is it some kind of exception?
You wanna know about Switzerland
You wanna know about Oslo
Violence
Well, I sat down, he sat down
You always sit down
Anyway – this is M-Mass Explanation
And people go round and round Europe
And they think everything is an exception
They (walk-in-a?) bar and think there’s some kind of, er, wealth here
But they know it’s standard
When they know its standard
That’s when they hit out
A mere [very quiet now] (bones?) attentuation
M-Mass – S.H."

bzfgt
  • 11. bzfgt | 12/02/2014

Wow, there seems to be something important hiding in those last few comments but I'm mystified. Maybe I'll do an "Explanation" entry ay some point...not tonight, though...

dannyno
  • 12. dannyno | 05/03/2014

"Hard drug and cider mates"

It's "Hard drugs".

Dan

dannyno
  • 13. dannyno | 05/03/2014

the last bit:

"And he's running to and from
The cats from tin pan alley
And he's running with and from
The cats from tin pan alley
And going down the alley
Take the cats from the alley
Up to them
The alley's full of cats from tin pan

Come into the back room Brian
And meet
The middle mass
The middle mass
Vulturous in the aftermath
Middle mass"

This is not what I'm hearing. What I'm hearing is this:

"And he's running to and from
The cats from tin pan alley
And he's running with and from
The cats from the alleys of tin pan
And he's going down the alley
To meet the cats from the alleys of tin pan
The alley's full of cats from tin pan
The middle mass
The middle mass
Vulturous in the aftermath"

I can't make out the line which here includes "Brian". I don't think it's "Brian". It's in parentheses in the Orange Lyrics book, for what that's worth.

bzfgt
  • 14. bzfgt | 11/03/2014

I just listened and made some changes, mostly what you have. I do think I hear "Brian," whatever it is it's less syllables than "come into the back room." I got it as close as I can for now.

bzfgt
  • 15. bzfgt | 23/04/2014

I can't believe I had "Wehrmacht" misspelled for over a year and Danny never noticed! Whew, that was a close one. I copied and pasted it from the Lyrics Parade and never noticed...if anyone was concerned with maintaining that site I'd tell them about it. I assume that if anyone ever does make any revisions over there it will be you, Danny, so if you ever do that, there's something for you to do...

dannyno
  • 16. dannyno | 13/08/2014

Steve Hanley's "The Big Midweek" tells the story of how Marc Riley confronted MES over the lyrics to this song, which he believed were about him.

p.75:

""That song's slagging em off," he says, "That song's about me!" .... <snip> ... "It's not about you, You're paranoid. You think everything's about you!" retorts Mark Smith."

dannyno
  • 17. dannyno | 11/09/2014

Paul Hanley said he couldn't hear anything relevant to Riley in the song, during the Louder Than Words interview: http://z1.invisionfree.com/thefall/index.php?showtopic=36396&view=findpost&p=22285134

bzfgt
  • 18. bzfgt | 03/11/2014

Martin, are you sure the MM Explanation you transcribed is from 9 September? It's pretty well identical to the one on the Box Set which the FOF discography says is September 30...

bzfgt
  • 19. bzfgt | 03/11/2014

What the hell is he talking about? What do people think is an exception but find out is standard? That everybody in Europe connects tons of welfare?

Martin
  • 20. Martin | 07/11/2014

Re commentary no. 18: yes, you are right. Typo on my behalf.

dannyno
  • 21. dannyno | 22/12/2014

I'm now getting Ayn Rand vibes from some of the lyrics of this song, especially the whole "evil is not in extremes" thing.

bzfgt
  • 22. bzfgt | 01/01/2015

You strike me as an ex-Randroid...am I right?

dannyno
  • 23. dannyno | 01/01/2015

Ha! No way! But I can see why you'd say that :-)

bzfgt
  • 24. bzfgt | 31/01/2015

It's because you're really articulate, spend a lot of time on the internet, and are a bit of a rationalist, so the rest was just guessing since so many people who meet that description are either Randos or ex-.

russell richardson
  • 25. russell richardson | 25/04/2015

no reason to add this, no 'proof' but I have always heard
"the women never got in here"
referring (in my mnd) to the last legal challenges for working men only 'clubs' (i.e. pubs, or sometimes even just the snug (partitioned off corner of a bar with unspoken restrictions for 'regulars')) one of which (on Cheetam Hill Rd MC) fought successfully (for 6 years?) to keep women out on the grounds that a club did not need to accept everyone as a member (though that wasn't the point). I seem to recall that a similar slant was used to keep blacks out... either way, it's an interesting and plausible line from the song.

undigest
  • 26. undigest | 27/09/2015

I always thought the title was a play on the German noun "Mittelmaß", meaning "average" or "mediocrity" -- http://www.wordreference.com/deen/Mittelma%C3%9F.

bzfgt
  • 27. bzfgt | 15/11/2015

Word to mama, undigest, that is perfect!

dannyno
  • 28. dannyno | 26/05/2016

"You wanna know about Switzerland
You wanna know about Oslo
Violence"

Nobody has noted the obvious yet, I see. This is all about football hooliganism.

There were two serious football related riots in 1981, both connected to England matches as part of world cup qualification.

In May 1981, there were riots on the occasion of England's match against Switzerland in Basle.
http://www.independent.co.uk/sport/football/international/switzerland-vs-england-it-cant-be-as-ugly-for-england-as-basel-81-9717345.html

https://footballviolence.wordpress.com/2012/11/23/switzerland-england-1981/

Then on 9 September 1981, there were riots on the occasion of the England-Norway match in Oslo.

https://footballviolence.wordpress.com/2012/12/21/norway-england-1981/

Hence, Middle Mass Explanation is pointing out the prescience of Middle Mass, which of course predates the Basle and Oslo violence.

bzfgt
  • 29. bzfgt | 24/06/2016

Yes, I have seen it said a bunch of places also that this is what "Middle Mass" is about in general, I'm surprised upon looking that I've barely alluded to it in the notes.

bzfgt
  • 30. bzfgt | 24/06/2016

Oh never mind, I had missed the first note somehow when I wrote that last comment.

bzfgt
  • 31. bzfgt | 19/11/2016

Dan, do you remember what Brix said? I thought the note (1) was thorough and I already incorporated it, but I did not; she gives an alternate non-Riley account, doesn't she? I'll have to search my Kindle...

bzfgt
  • 32. bzfgt | 19/11/2016

No, I was thinking of "C.R.E.E.P." Brix doesn't weigh in (it was before her time but I thought she claimed to know something).

Zack
  • 33. Zack (link) | 29/12/2016

A few words about song structures:

In the May 1983 issue of International Musician and Recording World, MES explained "Some songs are so structured, they're structured for like each word and the band knows exactly what word to change the beat or the tune on."

We hear this in a crude form on two songs on Grotesque in which MES shouts "switch" and the band does exactly that, but we hear it in a more sophisticated form on "Middle Mass." By comparing live versions, it is clear that when Smith sings "And living here you whisper, bub" for the second time, that is the drummer's cue to thud on the tom-toms four times and for the band to go into the second part of the song.

dannyno
  • 34. dannyno | 13/02/2017

"Learned a word today"

Echoes of Mary Poppins?!

"https://perryjgreenbaum.blogspot.co.uk/2011/01/supercalifragilisticexpialidocious-mary.html

Take a look and see what you think :-)


Because I was afraid to speak
When I was just a lad
My father gave me nose a tweak
And told me I was bad
But then one day I learned a word
That saved me achin' nose

dannyno
  • 35. dannyno | 09/03/2017

"They are set at nought"

Worth noting that in "Prole Art Threat", also on Slates, the phrase "set at nought like a Wimpey crane" appears.

dannyno
  • 36. dannyno | 09/03/2017

"And living here you whisper, bub"

Let's have an explanation of non-UK slang for a change. "Bub" is US slang for "boy" or Australian/New Zealand slang for "baby".

dannyno
  • 37. dannyno | 09/03/2017

Note #6 : the lyrics parade link no longer works.

The text is still accessible through the internet archive: http://web.archive.org/web/20080210140231/http://fall.byethost13.com/lyrics.html

bzfgt
  • 38. bzfgt (link) | 19/03/2017

Set at nought--oh yeah, quite right.

I added to note one "It should be noted that the calque is not necessarily MES's though, as this phrase sometimes appears in English." I had never seen it until recently. But now I wonder if it was a Fall-aware reporter or something--this is an English phrase, right?

bzfgt
  • 39. bzfgt (link) | 19/03/2017

I just blacked it, this place is becoming the place where links go to die. The enterprising reader will be able to figure out what the Lyrics Parade is. But I have to probably now either black them all out or hook them to the new lyrics pages, I suppose. The odds I'll commit to doing the latter are considerably less than zero.

bzfgt
  • 40. bzfgt (link) | 19/03/2017

Does "bub" really need a note? No one in England says "bub"?

dannyno
  • 41. dannyno | 20/03/2017

"Bub" is very uncommon. I don't recall ever hearing anyone say it in everyday life.

dannyno
  • 42. dannyno | 20/03/2017

"Set at nought" is an English phrase, yes. But I think its origins are in the King James Version of the Bible.

Proverbs I


But ye have set at nought all my counsel, and would none of my reproof


https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=Proverbs+1&version=KJV

Also in Shakespeare: Henry IV Part 2: Act 5, Scene 2:


Chief Justice: Be you contented, wearing now the garland,
To have a son set your decrees at nought?

dannyno
  • 43. dannyno | 20/03/2017

That should have been proverbs 1, verse 25, but it came out as an emoticon!

dannyno
  • 44. dannyno | 20/03/2017

Also:

Mark 9 : 12


And he answered and told them, Elias verily cometh first, and restoreth all things; and how it is written of the Son of man, that he must suffer many things, and be set at nought.


Luke 23 : 11


And Herod with his men of war set him at nought, and mocked him, and arrayed him in a gorgeous robe, and sent him again to Pilate.


Acts 4 : 11


This is the stone which was set at nought of you builders, which is become the head of the corner.


Acts 19 : 27


So that not only this our craft is in danger to be set at nought


Romans 14 : 10


But why dost thou judge thy brother? or why dost thou set at nought thy brother? for we shall all stand before the judgment seat of Christ.


"To set" means "to rate" or "to value", you see.

bzfgt
  • 45. bzfgt (link) | 23/03/2017

Odd. I wouldn't say it's common here, but it is common in the sense that everyone would at least know how it's used.

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