New Puritan


Totale's Turns:

Hail the new puritan (1)
Maelstrom, cook one

And all hard-core fiends
Will die by me 
And all decadent sins 
Will reap discipline (2)

New puritan

This is the grim reefer
The snap at the end of the straw
With a high grim quota 
Your star karma gin  (3)

New puritan

In LA the window opener switch
Is like a dinosaur cackle 
A pterodactyl cackle 
Jet plane circle 
Over imported trees 
All the film ghosts will rise up 
With the sexually abused and the new youth (4)

In Britain the scream of electric pumps in a renovated pub
Your stomach swells up before you get drunk  (5)
Don't call me Peter I can't go  (6)
Salem's just up the road 
I've got work to do (7)

Hail the new puritan
Out of hovel-cum-coven-cum-oven 

[spoken] (right you go back to that riff)

Hail the new puritan
Out of hovel, cum-coven, cum-oven

And all hard-core fiends
Will die by me 
And all decadent sins 
Will reap discipline

New puritan

I curse your preoccupation
With your record collection
New puritan has no time 
It's only music, John (8)

New puritan

Ungodly mass 
Thick ass


[Mark Riley]:

New Puritan Et Domini
New Puritan Et Domini  (9)


The grotesque peasants stalk the land

And deep down inside you know everybody wants to like big companies

Bands send tapes to famous apes

Male slags, male slates, famous apes
Water, cater
Now: great thoughts

The whole country is post-gramme
(Echoes of the past)

Hail the new puritan

Righteous maelstrom, cook one

And all hard-core fiends
 will die by me

All decadent sins
 will reap discipline

New puritan

This is the grim reefer

The snap at the end of the straw

With a high grim quota

Your star karma, Jim

New puritan

New puritan

The conventional is now experimental, 
the experimental is now conventional
It's a dinosaur cackle

A pteradactyl cackle

In LA a drunk is sick on Gene Vincent's star on Hollywood Boulevard (13)

Ha-ha, ha-ha 

Stripping takes off in Britain's black spots   (14)

The Kensington white rastas run for cabs

This I have seen

New puritan
 in Britain
The scream of electric pumps in a renovated pub

Your stomach swells up before you get drunk

The bars are full of male slags

At 10:35 they play "Send in the Clowns" (15)

Why don't you ask your local record dealer how many bribes he took today?
What do you mean "What's it mean? What's it mean?" 
What's it mean? What's it mean?

New puritan

New puritan

Hail the new puritan

Out of hovel, cum-coven, cum-oven

And all hard-core fiends
 will die by me

And all decadent sins
 will reap discipline

New puritan new puritan new puritan

New puritan 
new puritan 
new puritan
 new puritan
New an

I curse the self-copulation of your lousy record collection

New puritan says: "Coffee table LPs never breathe"

New puritan 
new puritan 
new puritan 
new puritan 

new puritan says...

New puritan 

Discordian (17)

New puritan 

New puritan 

New puritan


1. The two released versions are as different as can be, and both are indispensable. The version from Totale's Turns, which I have placed first here in deference to chronology, sounds and feels almost like some kind of Lomax field recording, despite being one of two studio tracks on an otherwise live album; MES claims the song was recorded "at home during which said home was attacked by a drunk, which accounts for the tension on that track." The Peel version is the more venerated of the two, and it is a fearsomely intense performance, one of the most intense of the Fall's career, in fact. Via Davelnut, in the comments below: "In, I think, 1984 or 1985 John Peel gave this whole session a repeat play, which I recorded. The recording is long lost but I remember that after New Puritan was played Peel said something like: 'I always thought that was about me you know? Ah, vanity.'"

Lyrically, this is the single most foundational song for the interpretations I have (sporadically) assayed in the notes on this site, as far as getting at whatever it is that makes the Fall what they are; everything else they have done before and since seems to me to emanate from this like spokes from the hub of a wheel. This song is also the perfect examplar of the kind of lyrical subtlety that has always set the Fall apart from the vast majority of bands associated with punk. Furthermore, this is the case despite the fact that the lyrics, on the face of it, seem to consist largely of the kind of hectoring cant which is common in punk songs and which is not, to say the least, distinctive for its subtlety. The fact that MES fashions this style of discourse into such a nuanced artifact is not only impressive, it is tempting to say that this blend of fury and ambivalence, which is the Fall's signature combination, is itself the message of the song, although of course there's much more to it than that. But the form of the song is by no means incidental to its meaning, as though the form were merely there to comvey some sort of message. The idea of the New Puritan is elusive because, like all genuine Fall themes, the theme of the song exceeds its idea; the song does not have a message that could be paraphrased and thus explained. Rather, the song "says" more than it says; clearly, then, it says more than my commentary will be able to say on its behalf. One way to put it is that "New Puritan," like many of the best Fall songs, isn't content to say something, it must also be something, and what it says and what it is maintain a somewhat dizzying running commentary on one another. It is when we analyze the song, which on its own functions as a unified whole, that this commentary will emerge. But that will also mean that the commentary, as opposed to the song itself, will only be able to appear in another medium--in this case, my words: the goal is for my comments to be a way in which the song (as opposed to just the lyrics) is able to speak. And, for reasons established by the song itself, this can only happen insofar as my commentary permits itself to take the risk of presenting something new, something not found in the song. 

"New Puritan" is riddled with ambiguity; if MES seems not to ever fully decide whether Puritanism is his credo or his target, as we will see, that is because in a sense it is both, and the aim of the song's critique is to establish a distinction between these two senses of "Puritan," i.e. the one with which the voice of the song identifies, and the one which is the target of its puritanical wrath. Thus, while the song is narrated by the Puritan in his role as witch-hunter and avenging angel, some of the characters who have aroused his disdain seem fairly puritanical themselves. It becomes clear that the narrator has no patience for vegan, "straightedge" (although the term was not yet coined in 1980) and/or anarchist punks, or, for that matter, people who take their record collections too seriously. The puritanical tendencies of such people are derided (actually, that's too mild: judged is better, with "jury and executioner" perhaps implied); at the same time, the primary strategy of the lyrics is to insist on a stern Purtitan work ethic in the face of punk decadence and dissolution (see also my remarks on "Live at the Witch Trials.") In fact, as we will see, the basic philosophy of the Fall, if I can put it that way, is expounded in this song, in which Puritanism is "sublated," in the Hegelian sense--this means negated, but also preserved in modified form--in a kind of ecstatic vision that can only be attained through rigorous discipline.

We will soon see that sin is a path toward transcendence for the New Puritan--but sin that reaps only more sin (rather than "discipline"--see note 2 below) is to be condemned.


2. On the face of it, the point seems to be not that discipline is the reward of decadent sins, but that it is their punishment. Thus, the titular "Puritan" is a witch-hunter. However, there is a second way to take this line: the point could also be that, as Blake has it, "The road of excess leads to the palace of wisdom." Excess in itself, however, yields nothing without the New Puritan ethic. The Puritan's targets, in that case, are those whose sins reap nothing but more sin, whose excess is meaningless and cannot be appropriated for the purposes of creativity.

Smith has always praised the virtue of work, both in songs and interviews. At the same time, if he does identify with the Puritan ethic (again, see "Live at the Witch Trials"), the goal is nevertheless what seems to be the opposite of discipline: the singer strives toward ecstasy, laboring to reach the point where language runs away with him, as it often does in this song. If a certain tense complementarity between discipline and ecstasy is one of the major themes of Smith's work, nowhere is it more richly exemplified than in his ambiguous treatment of the figure of the Puritan. Excess itself is a form of work, which must be undertaken in a disciplined manner, and the resulting ecstatic vision is neither work, insofar as it leaves the strictures of the latter behind, nor merely excess either, to the extent that it could not have arisen from a lazy or haphazard indiscipline. Fall lyrics often seem to walk a fine line between recondite and nonsensical, but what they aim at is, ultimately, neither. It is a shimmering vision that rises from the song, but this vision cannot be paraphrased or explained, which means that you must do the work yourself or the song will not speak to you, and the vision will appear as a senseless haze. The song demands that the listener submit to a kind of discipline, which is the work of interpretation. 


3. Here in the second stanza, it seems like the avenging Puritan is associated with drugs in one way or another, and is perhaps expressing contempt for those who are too fastidious or teetotalling for Smith's taste (see also, for instance, "Sons of Temperance" and "(Jung Nev's) Antidotes"). At the same time, "the snap at the end of the straw" could be seen as cutting off someone's supply of cocaine or meth before it reaches their nose. In that case, "the grim reefer" could be emphasizing the grimness rather than the reefer. 

Here we have an opportunity to consider the ethos of the New Puritan, which is a kind of ironic contempt. The chief irony in the New Puritan's contempt is the fact that it is ironic or ambiguious at all, as comtempt usually eschews irony and ambiguity in favor of extra large portions of sound common sense. That is to say, if the object of contempt cannot even understand what it is about itself that inspires contempt, the attitude risks the worst kind of failure: becoming incoherent or even ridiculous in the eyes of its intended target. This is especially so even in the case of contempt that is hurled from an elitist or supposedly intellectually superior position: the ignoramus has to know all too well what she is ignorant of, even if she couldn't say the first thing about it. If not, the contemner becomes at best an object of derisive amusement. In fact, contempt cannot allow itself to become objectified at all in the eyes of its target; it cannot become the passive partner in the relationship or it becomes a cartoon Oxford don, an out of touch patrician, or an inept politician. In other words, even if contempt is motivated by a supposedly superior intellect, possessed of powers of subtlety denied to the vulgar, as contempt it is almost always, necessarily, utterly simple and transparent. For this reason, the New Puritan's attitude, a subtle contempt, is the most dangerous position a contemner can put himself in. And who's to say it is successful? This can't be an automatic assumption, but can only be earned, again and again, every time the needle drops, so to speak. The only way to do this is to demand that the listener vacate the position of the victim and scale the heights of contempt herself--i.e., to identify with the critique. Failure to do so also requires the recognition of this failure on the part of the one who fails, which is necessary in order for the contempt to strike its target. To have such a recognition, however, is already to begin to climb out of the hole. Thus, the ethos of the New Puritan is a surprisingly compassionate contempt, since it frees those that it strikes to the heart of, and leaves the rest of us free to laugh it off. 


4. It is Interesting that the "sexually abused" are lumped in with the "new youth"; the former seem an odd target for a puritanical attack, but "new youth" could never be a positive epithet in MES's lexicon, so we probably have to assume that the lyric is expressing contempt.

For some reason the sounds of technology are waking the dead and provoking quite a disparate horde. It's never easy to interpret passages like these, and as always there seems to be a will to let language and imagery run riot that keeps even MES's most virulent Jeremiads from revealing an easily grasped agenda. 

The rising of the "film ghosts" in LA reminds me of the mob scene at the end of Nathanael West's The Day of the Locust, when Tod Hackett and Homer Simpson are swarmed by an angry mob outside the premiere of a movie. The mob at the theater has gathered in the hopes of seeing movie stars in the flesh, not satisfied with their "ghostly" appearance on the screen. A remarkable passage from the Wikipedia entry for the book could almost be a description of the Fall:

"As some critics point out, West's novel was a radical challenge to modernist literature. Modernists set themselves up in opposition to mass culture; West depicts it and makes it an integral part of the novel. West's use of grotesque imagery and situations establishes the novel as a work of Juvenalian satire. His critique of Hollywood and the mentality of 'the masses' depicts an America sick with vanity and the harbor of a malignant sense of perversity."

According to the Encyclopedia Britannica, "Juvenalian satire: in literature, any bitter and ironic criticism of contemporary persons and institutions that is filled with personal invective, angry moral indignation, and pessimism."

The proximity in which the "New Puritan" places himself to the subjects of his wrath is consonant, to me, with Wikipedia's description of West's adoption of mass culture as a topic of literature; even as he satirizes it, West elevates mass culture to the status of art by creating art that makes itself complicit with mass culture by writing in its idiom. The voice of a satirist is also the voice of his target, rendered grotesque (compare MES's diatribes about plagiarism, for instance, a topic which is addressed in the notes to "C 'n' C-S Mithering," and which is one of many instances where MES is in some ways very close to his own description of the target of his invective). 


5. From davedeath on the Fall online forum:

This line is all about how the breweries of Britain were at the time taking old pubs, with their gravity (read hand-pull) pumps selling real ale, ripping out what made these pubs unique, and replacing them with a generic one-size-fits-all lager palace, hence the "stomach swelling" line. 

See also Joseph Holt's comments below.


6. This is, of course, a near-quote from "Sixteen Tons," originally recorded and perhaps written by Merle Travis (the authorship is disputed), and turned into a number one song by Tennessee Ernie Ford. The song was also recorded by one of MES's heroes, Bo Diddley, on Bo Diddley is a Gunslinger (1960). The original line is "Saint Peter don't you call me 'cause I can't go, I owe my soul to the company store." Notably, this song also seems to take an ambiguous attitude toward work: the original recording by Travis contains a recited passage after the first chorus that proclaims: "Yes, sir, there's many a Kentucky coal miner that pretty near owes his soul to the company store. He gets so far in debt to the coal company he's a-working for that sometimes he goes for years without being paid one red cent in real honest-to-goodness money. But he can always go to the company store and draw flickers or scrip: you know, that's little brass coins that you can't spend nowhere, only at the company store. So they add that against his account, and every day he gets a little farther in debt. That sounds pretty bad but even that's got a brighter side to it." Unfortunately, Travis never makes clear what this brighter side is, and one's imagination struggles to fill in the blanks. Nevertheless, the miner is portrayed not as bitter, but as hardened and proud (Ford's version omits this interlude altogether). Like "New Puritan," "Sixteen Tons" closely identifies the discipline of work with a kind of righteous violence: "Well, If you see me comin', you better step aside/A lotta men didn't, and a lotta men died/One fist of iron and the other one of steel/If the right one don't get you, then the left one will." The life of a miner is portrayed as brutal and unfair, but it has shaped the narrator's character in a way of which he is quite proud. This attitude is as common as it is hard to explain--I think that for many people, the mere fact that we are what we are is seen as a source of pride, even as we despise the hardships that have made us this way. Those who brag about being "working class" exemplify this phenomenon. 

The New Puritan, unlike the miner, is hardly concerned with the coercion of others--with what Isaiah Berlin called "negative liberty"-- at all, but is occupied entirely with the pursuit of a kind of "positive liberty," the emancipation work brings not from financial servitude but from "mind forg'd manacles," to quote Blake, who is a major touchstone for MES. For Travis' miner, work is a burden that frees him and delivers him to his truest nature--a nature that, however, is only meaningful in terms of the imposition of others and the triumph over this imposition by an identity that is largely formed by this struggle. Take away the company store, unfortunately, and there is nothing left of the miner, and however much we admire his independence, this independence is thoroughly ironic insofar as it is itself a form of dependence (the miner depends on the company's oppression to make him what he is). Perhaps despite himself, then, MES has something like a communist notion of work--in other words, work is seen as a source of freedom rather than merely a means to an end (see also "Blindness"). Whatever the limitations of this latter notion of work, they are of an entirely different kind than the limitations that form the miner's character. While the miner, in Loverboy's memorable phrase, is working for the weekend, for the New Puritan the weekend itself is work. In the case of the miner, work defines himand for that very reason he is alienated from his work--which is to say, from himself, as his character is forged in opposition. At the same time, the New Puritan least of all seeks work for work's sake--he remains in his deepest essence separate from it and, perhaps paradoxically, this is his triumph over alienation. Or, to back up for a moment, work is after all vehicle of transcendence for the Puritan, but it is not a mere means to an external end, it does not lead to an end that is separate from itself; means and end, if the distinction still holds, occupy the same space, whereas the illusory weekend of the miner (and the decadent sinner, who is the sort of flipside of the miner) is a prison from which there is no escape. For the New Puritan, work can mean taking drugs and drinking oneself into a stupor as much as it means anything else: these activities seem to be part of the New Puritan's job description, but this type of work isn't confined to any single identifiable process and, in fact, the details are perhaps almost indifferent. For the New Puritan, only in the process of working is there freedom, but work is not the goal. The goal is the ecstatic moment of realization that cannot be separated from the work because it can be found nowhere else but in the work--it is not modular, it cannot be removed or dissassembled, it happens as it were alongside work. The goal is not the work, but it does not have an independent meaning separable from work. In other words, "discipline" means that something happens when the New Puritan works that is a kind of transcendence, one that is not defined by its opposition to the immanent sphere of work, but emerges in the enactment of the work. 


7. Once again, the title character dons the black hat of a witch-hunter, heading to Salem to clean up the trash. A possible inspiration is Robert E. Howard's Solomon Kane; although he's no witch hunter--theologically, he seems a bit confused, as one of his allies is an African witch doctor, whose methods Kane gladly adopts--Kane is a black-clad Puritan who grimly stalks the land, avenging various wrongs. Kane's adoption of heathen methods for puritanical aims is quite consistent with the type of Puritanism proclaimed by MES in this song (see particularly notes 2 and 4 above).


8. This is another instance of the song's ambiguity, as one can imagine it is at least in part the po-faced seriousness of the puritanical record collector that raises the Puritan's ire. It isn't certain who "John" the record collector is; John Peel would be an obvious candidate if this remark were from the Peel version. As it is, I have not uncovered any clues, and it is possible that "John" is intended as a generic form of address like "Mac." The line is also reminiscent of the David Bowie song "John, I'm Only Dancing."


9. This is from Marc Riley on Twitter:

david cavanagh ‏@davidcavanagh24h

@marcrileydj Settle an argument. What exactly do you sing on New Puritan? 'New Puritan will dominate'...? 'New Puritan has come of age...'?

marc riley ‏@marcrileydj2h

@davidcavanagh2 Et Domini !

Domini is either the genitive form of the nominative Dominus or the nominative plural, hence "New Puritan Et Domini" is either the ungrammatical "New Puritan and the Lord's..." or the grammatically correct but perhaps polytheistic "New Puritan and the Lords" (although Dominus doesn't have to mean God, but has all the connotations of the English "Lord"). 

On at least one live version (1980/6/13) MES seems to sing male Puritan et domini...


10. "Male slags, male slates" echoes "Slates, Slags, Etc."  

On his 4 March 1986 show, John Peel said the following:

"[I've] always thought they were having a go at me in that you know, all that sending tapes to famous apes. Vanity though, why should they? That's The Fall..."

Thanks to davelnut and Dan.

Grimo suggests this line alludes to The Apes of God by one of MES's literary heroes, Wyndham Lewis:

The novel is set in 1926, leading up to the General Strike in May. It has an episodic structure, following a young simpleton called Dan Boleyn from one encounter with the literati to another. Dan follows the directions of an infatuated sixty-year-old albino, Horace Zagreus, who believes him to be a genius. The 'Apes of God' that he meets are imitators of true creators; they are characterised as "prosperous mountebanks who alternately imitate and mock at and traduce those figures they at once admire and hate." (Wikipedia)

From Dan: "It occurs to me that Gibraltar is home to some famous apes -- the Barbary Macaques, who live on "the Rock." Might there have been somewhere in Gibraltar where bands were sending demo tapes at the time?"


11. A reference to speed, as with the album Grotesque: After the Gramme and the song "Gramme Friday." Again there is ambiguity: how much MES identifes with his narrator is in question, since it is the singer's own documented drug habits that ought to spring to mind at the mention of speed. At the same time, the New Puritan ethic seems to be about a way of doing things (such as drugs) rather than containing a proscription of, or a prescription for, drug use. 


12. This line also turns up in "C'n'C-S Mithering."


13. The rockabilly pioneer Gene Vincent is one of MES's most frequently-mentioned musical heroes. Songs Vincent recorded that were covered by the Fall include "Rollin' Dany," "Say Mama," "Race With the Devil," and "White Lightning." Vincent indeed has a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame, but it is on Vine Street rather than nearby Hollywood Boulevard (thanks to Martin for pointing this out). The Walk of Fame occupies 15 blocks of Hollywood Boulevard and three blocks of Vine Street. 


14. Dan: "STRIPPING TAKES OFF IN BRITAINS' BLACKSPOTS" appears (typed in capitals like that) in the press statement/rant for "Grotesque."

And: "Released in 1980 was a film called The Great British Striptease, which seems to have been a documentary about Bernard Manning hosting a striptease competition in Blackpool. Maybe the line is inspired by the film, or draws on a line in the film, or on comments made in the press either on the occasion of the film's release or hanging a feature on it's release; and, it was the supporting feature in cinemas showing George Romero's Dawn of the Dead, which MES would be quite likely to go and see."


15. "Send in the Clowns" is a song by Stephen Sondheim, from the musical A Little Night Music (1973), and later recorded by Judy Collins, Frank Sinatra, and Barbra Streisand, among others. Sondheim has averred that the "clowns" in question are intended to be garden-variety idiots rather than circus clowns. MES actually sings "Send in the Clow....ones," or something like that. The Lyrics Parade opts for "'Send in the Clowns' once," but this doesn't seem right to me. The vocal track seems to cut out in the middle of the word, and it doesn't cut back in on "wns" but rather something like "one."

According to davedeath on the Fall online forum

[A]t the time this was written, all pubs in the UK had to stop serving alcohol at 10:30pm, Monday to Thursday, 11:00 on Friday and Saturday, and 10:00 on Sundays; the customers were allowed 10 minutes drinking up time and then they had to leave. Had to. The police checked. A lot of pubs had "goodbye" songs to indicate to the customers it was time to bugger off. In this case it was "Send In The Clowns".


16. From dannyno in the comments below:

"The Peel session version was recorded 16 September 1980. 

On 18 August 1980, Granada TV's World in Action programme alleged that some record companies were falsifying the charts, by obtaining faked sales returns from record shops.

According to The Times of 19 August 1980, bribes of free records, satin jackets, and bottles of wine, among other things, were being offered to shops.

WEA were among the companies accused of this."

John Fruin, the head of both WEA (Warner Music Group's manufacturing division) and BPI (British Phonographic Industry, the British record industry's trade accociation), had to resign as a result of the scandal, which mostly involved directly bribing the chart compilers. At the time, however, it seems to have been common for record dealers to overreport sales in exchange for free or discounted merchandise. Although I have not tracked down the original Times report cited by dannyno, I have found ample corroborating anecdotal evidence on the internet; whether or not these are reliable, what is important is that MES was presumably aware of the perception that these practices were widespread when he included this line in the recording. 


17. DIscordianism would seem, at first blush, to be more or less the opposite of Puritanism. Based on the text Principia Discordia, or How the West was Lost by Malaclypse the Younger (Gregory Hill) and Omar Khayyam Ravenhurst (Kerry Wendell Thornley), and (somewhat) popularized by Robert Anton WIlson, Discordianism claims to venerate the goddess Eris, Greek deity of chaos and discord, although how seriously the whole thing is meant to be taken is an open question. Indeed, the Puritan arguably resembles one of the sect's primary cosmic villains, "Greyface," who preached the virtues of order and taking life seriously. At the same time, however, if we examine the targets of the narrator's Puritan rage, it is arguable that the New Puritan does indeed resemble a properly Discordian character. For instance, "A Discordian is required to, the first Friday after his illumination, Go Off Alone & Partake Joyously of a Hot Dog; this Devotive Ceremony to Remonstrate against the popular Paganisms of the Day: of Roman Catholic Christendom (no meat on Friday), of Judaism (no meat of Pork), of Hindic Peoples (no meat of Beef), of Buddhists (no meat of animal), and of Discordians (no Hot Dog Buns)" (Wikipedia). This sort of antinomian ritual, which imposes form on excess, is right in line with New Puritanism as I understand it. It is a testament to the song's subtlety (much more subtle, it must be noted, than Principia Discordia) that New Puritanism is difficult to pin down ideologically, and yet the picture that emerges is by no means incoherent; rather, it is the mystery of the Fall itself that is propounded here, and many of MES's half-serious screeds in interviews and lyrics over the years should be referred back to this song. Any time one is tempted to dismiss him as a self-parodying pub ranter, go back and look at the blueprint, which is indeed what we have here--the song is nothing short of a manifesto, but it is one that, like most good Fall lyrics, refuses to be translated into slogans or principles to put into practice: it is the polysemous and beating heart of the Fall, both the ecstasy of discipline and finally, above all else, the discipline of ecstasy, that one encounters here. While the song insists that genuine illumination is denied to the lazy, the illumination it promises is by no means grim. And here we also see the limits of annotation and commentary: paraphrase and explanation can never cross the final threshold of genuine Fallness. Here, then, I must leave you.  


Comments (62)

  • 1. Martin | 13/04/2013
Maybe the record dealers might have been taking bribes because the charts were based on the sales of certain (randomly selected?) record shops whose sales formed the basis of said charts? I dunno, but while one way to get your records in the charts would be to buy records in these particular "chosen" shops would simply be to buy them there, a simpler (and maybe cheaper( method would be to bribe the shops to send back false sales figures to the people who were responsible for those charts? Or that record dealers were bribed to put certain records in prominent positions in their shops, or to discount them?
  • 2. bzfgt | 13/04/2013
Thanks, Martin; that all sounds really plausible, even likely--I hope I can find some kind of corroboration of it, or something like it.
  • 3. dannyno | 14/04/2013
Why don't you ask your local record dealer how many bribes he took today?

The Peel session version was recorded 16 September 1980.

On 18 August 1980, Granada TV's World in Action programme alleged that some record companies were falsifying the charts, by obtaining faked sales returns from record shops.

According to The Times of 19 August 1980, bribes of free records, satin jackets, and bottles of wine, among other things, were being offered to shops.

WEA were among the companies accused of this.
Joseph Holt
  • 4. Joseph Holt | 10/07/2013
I always took "It's only music, John" as a play on "John, I'm only Dancing" by Bowie.
Joseph Holt
  • 5. Joseph Holt | 10/07/2013
Forgot to add...

... Electric pumps bit is a reference to the growth of keg beer that was very prevalent around the late 70s early 80s. Basically, pubs were replacing hand drawn beers with those that could be dispensed quickly and easily under pressure via electric pumps. Needless to say, the 'new' beer was nastier and gassier. Hence the stomach swelling. The UK's Campaign for Real Ale sum up the objection pretty well,

CAMRA's Internal Policy document states that real ale can only be served from cask without the use of additional carbonation. This policy means that "any beer brand which is produced in both cask and keg versions" are not admitted to CAMRA festivals or supported by CAMRA
  • 6. bzfgt | 20/07/2013
Great stuff, Joseph, I'll move some of that up to the notes when I get the chance, but I hope my visitors read all these comments anyway.

That line always made me think of the Bowie line too, but for some reason I didn't think to put it in the notes...
  • 7. Martin | 30/09/2013
Listening now to the last (known) live performance of New Puritan, in Manchester on 11 May 1982. Riley definitely sings either "et/est domini". It sounds to me more like "est", but that's not to say that I'm right!a
  • 8. bzfgt | 07/10/2013

That may be so, but listen to the first time Riley says it (before MES comes in) on the Peel version, and it seems very clear he is saying "Et Domini," just as he claims on Tweeter. I'd be surprised if you listened to it and did not agree. "Est Domini" may be more grammatical (could it mean "New Puritan is of the Lord"?) and hence make more sense. Maybe not, though, I don't really know Latin.

In any case, here we have--probably for the first time ever (as opposed to "Guest Informant" and "Cyber Insekt," at least) a band member telling us what was sung and it actually sounds exactly like that on the recording, so "Et Domini" would be hard for me to want to change. However, your comment is now also on the record, which is a very good thing since we can never be 100% sure of these things.
  • 9. Paul | 02/12/2013
Et domini. Domini can also be the the plural nominative, so it could mean 'and the lords'.
Joseph Mullaney
  • 10. Joseph Mullaney | 20/03/2014
Re. note 8. The fact that MES doesn't say `John' on the Peel version could alternatively suggest that it is Peel being referred to here, and that MES preferred not to risk offending him on the version recorded for his show. Who knows though.
Ann Kittenplan
  • 11. Ann Kittenplan | 05/05/2014
MES seems not to ever fully decide whether Puritanism is his credo or his target.

Well, blimey. That's articulate. I see what you mean about the notes to New Puritan capturing the general approach to these lyrics.

Your credo or your target?

It's about being intolerant of intolerance, puritanical about puritanism.

Thanks for this.
  • 12. bzfgt | 13/05/2014
Thanks for the comment! I often revise this one to try to say things more clearly, but I'm glad you found that formulation successful.
  • 13. Martin | 30/09/2014
Not adding anything to the interpretation of the song, but it seems that MES still has a couple of lines from it in mind in 2014:

26 September 14 Electric, Brixton:

- "The crack at the end of the straw with a low (?) quota" (almost the same lyrics as found in New Puritan at the beginning of The Remainderer

If anyone with access to the youtube video of this gig can have a listen to help me with the word I can't catch - in brackets - then this would be much appreciated.
  • 14. maready | 14/10/2014
Just discovered your hugely exciting work-in-progress during the most recent of my re-discoveries of The Fall. Great to see somebody taking on the task of working on the texts of MES using the appropriate tools i.e. the same close reading of the actual words that one uses to prise apart the texts of, say, Emily Dickinson or J.H. Prynne. I've been lost in Smith-land since hearing 'Grotesque' in '81/'82. And 'lost' is the word, especially for an American trying to parse Northern slang 'truth' and all TV/media/pop cult vocabulary. Kudos also to those leaving comments, every one of them worth reading and pondering. Just noticed one typo in this entry ('Hawthorne' for 'West' in the first mention of 'Day of the Locust')

Thanks again!
  • 15. bzfgt | 18/10/2014
Thanks, Maready, and thanks for finding the typo!
  • 16. bzfgt | 18/10/2014
I actually can't believe I wrote "Nathaniel Hawthorne"...dumb.
  • 17. Martin | 18/11/2014
"Self-corpulation" sounds more like "self-corpulection [sic] to me.
  • 18. bzfgt | 23/11/2014
I just checked it, it still sounds like "copulation" to me but I see where one could think that.
  • 19. Shrimper | 23/11/2014
Martin you are correct:

I am the magnificator! The snap at the end of the straw! With a high grim
Quota! (the rest I can never make out)

This is the regular intro now to The Remainderer at live gigs.

I think Bzfgt is onto something .....
  • 20. Martin | 18/12/2014
Gene Vincent's star isn't on Hollywood Boulevard. It's on Vine Street, a few minutes' walk away.
  • 21. dannyno | 10/01/2015
"Jet plane circle
Over imported trees "

He's talking, of course, about the palm trees of LA and southern California, most (all but one, apparently) of which are imported species.
  • 22. dannyno | 10/01/2015
Martin observes:

"Gene Vincent's star isn't on Hollywood Boulevard. It's on Vine Street, a few minutes' walk away"

Good observation. However, I think a fuller account is necessary:

"The Hollywood Walk of Fame comprises more than 2,500 five-pointed terrazzo and brass stars embedded in the sidewalks along 15 blocks of Hollywood Boulevard and three blocks of Vine Street in Hollywood, California."

It's all the same project, in other words.
  • 23. bzfgt | 31/01/2015
Shit, good call with the trees, but I'd have to move an awful lot of notes and rename their associated anchors to get it in now. I will do it at some point, and I hope I don't forget, but I can't bring myself to do it tonight...
  • 24. bzfgt | 31/01/2015
Dan, I already have that information in my note!
  • 25. bzfgt | 31/01/2015
Oops, my last comment was about the Walk of Fame (note 13).
  • 26. Davelnut | 07/03/2015
Re. point 8. In, I think, 1984 or 1985 John Peel gave this whole session a repeat play, which I recorded. The recording is long lost but I remember that after New Puritan was played Peel said something like: "I always thought that was about me you know? Ah, vanity".
  • 27. Zack | 23/04/2015
"Film ghosts" reminds me of some of MES's comments in the TNSG Omnibus Edition booklet. In his remarks on "LA" MES speaks fondly of the prevalence of ghosts in Los Angeles. Sorry I don't have the booklet handy at the moment.
  • 28. Geuz (link) | 03/10/2015
Notes are done very well, although some what long.

This conclusion "hence, it must be God or at least a fictional character. " as a conclusion is very descriptive on how many art works. When painting, it is not only the decisions the painter makes, but also what the material and object to paint directs to. Often accidents while working on a painting play an important part in a finishing touch, for getting the art away from any personal experience of the painter. This lyric is made in that way, it should speak for it self. The text however, as the colors in painting are a building material to create the painting, refers to historical experience of the British people. Puritans created Oliver Cromwell, and the peasant boy was mentioned by William Tyndale, when talking to a papist priest: "I will make a boy behind the plow have more knowledge of the Bible than thou does."
And he was right. The defense effort against popery is, as I understand the lyrics, put down as: "Don't call me Peter I can't go", referring to the Vatican as Peter's Chair.
The struggle of the British people for many centuries.

For as far the purpose of a New Puritan is to achieve, papist priests have won the battle over knowledge on the Bible today. Okay, facts are not mentioned, only emotion. A real New Puritan is impossible with the amount of propaganda these days. This was illustrated in the notes as comparing a puritan revolt with communism, but folks don't know that Communism is an ideology created by Counter Reformation.

The Battle between Reformation and Counter Reformation is the truth about politics.
The Fall also made the album Middle Class revolt. That is the same as peasant revolt, if you consider that there was no Middle class in the Dark Ages. Middle Class was created by the Reformation.
  • 29. bzzy | 15/11/2015
Thanks Geuz, it is a vice of this site that the notes are often too exhaustive, or even digressive--this is kind of my outlet for prose, and I abuse the crap out of it sometimes. It should be said that your comments aren't always exactly laconic, either! As usual this one strikes me as a mixture of acutely perceptive and errant.

There are some songs I'd like to go back in and try to pare down the notes, but this would be a big project at this point!

I'm not sure why MCR has to be about the middle ages...
  • 30. Ned | 16/11/2015
Just to re-iterate what Davelnut says above, when Peel first played the session - he said something like "Famous apes, could they possibly mean me?" Probably not connected but I always mishear "water" in the next line as "Walters" - John Walters being Peel's producer at the time.
  • 31. James | 09/12/2015
Is it not "The smack at the end of the straw"? Referring to chasing the dragon
  • 32. bzfgt | 13/12/2015
Damn it, Jim, I got excited by that possibility, as it's always great to correct a lyric long assumed to be otherwise--it makes one feel almost drunk with power. I put on Peel and I could not tell for the life of me whether it was "snap" or "smack." Unfortunately, I then listened to the Totale's Turns version and there it seems decisively to be "snap."
  • 33. James | 13/12/2015
Ah well. I'm happy you felt thrilled for a while at least. I only know the Peel version, from Kicker E.P,, and "smack" made sense. I should have known better; that by making complete sense, in regard to Fall lyrics, it would be wrong :-)
  • 34. bzfgt | 23/12/2015
Yes, I think he is somewhat averse to making complete sense. Keeps me in business though...
  • 35. Bob (link) | 27/06/2016
Regarding the "Salem's just up the road" line it may be coincidental but at the time the track was laid down The Fall Foundation HQ was on Bury New Road - opposite the tower block in which I used to live - and there was a Salem Church on Wellington Street East behind the now demolished "House That Jack Built Pub". Given that Smith has tended to reflect local geography in his lyrics it always struck me that he could be referring to that.
  • 36. bzfgt | 29/06/2016
Bob, what is the Fall Foundation HQ?
  • 37. Bob (link) | 29/06/2016
The Fall Foundation was a temporary HQ set up by Kay around 1981/2. The address is given on the rear cover of the vinyl version of Grotesque.
  • 38. dannyno | 27/07/2016
If Bob is right about the Church, which he seems to be, then I think he's right it's likely to be what's referred to, double meaning and all, in the lyric.

I'd quite like a picture to locate it, but not been successful yet. No church on that road now.

  • 39. dannyno | 14/03/2017
"Stripping takes off in Britain's black spots"

"STRIPPING TAKES OFF IN BRITAINS' BLACKSPOTS" appears (typed in capitals like that) in the press statement/rant for "Grotesque".
  • 40. dannyno | 15/03/2017
"Stripping takes off in Britain's black spots"

Released in 1980 was a film called "The Great British Striptease", which seems to have been a documentary about Bernard Manning hosting a striptease competition in Blackpool. Maybe the line is inspired by the film, or draws on a line in the film, or on comments made in the press either on the occasion of the film's release or hanging a feature on it's release.
  • 41. dannyno | 15/03/2017
"The Great British Striptease" was apparently the supporting feature in cinemas showing George Romero's "Dawn of the Dead". It strikes me that MES would be quite likely to go and see "Dawn of the Dead", and if so will have seen "The Great British Striptease" too.
  • 42. Lloyd | 31/03/2017
I hesitate, given that my last comment on this website was to suggest that Iceland was referring to Marcel Proust, but isn't the title referring to Milton's famous line, "New presbyter is but old priest writ large"? Seems to me that line and poem sum up at least one of the strands in the song, along with the whole of, say, Cary Grant's Wedding and what have you.
  • 43. bzfgt (link) | 01/04/2017
Lloyd, the phrase alone is not enough reason to think that, but your rationale may be--could you spell it out please? (and if you're reading this go do the same for Proust!)
  • 44. dannyno | 23/04/2017
Comment #25, Davelnut

26. Davelnut | 07/03/2015
Re. point 8. In, I think, 1984 or 1985 John Peel gave this whole session a repeat play, which I recorded. The recording is long lost but I remember that after New Puritan was played Peel said something like: "I always thought that was about me you know? Ah, vanity".

Not quite. It was the 4 March 1986 show, and Peel said the following [sourced from]:

... always thought they were having a go at me in that you know, all that sending tapes to famous apes. Vanity though, why should they? That's The Fall...
  • 45. dannyno | 12/05/2017
"Is like a dinosaur cackle
A pterodactyl cackle "

Just a thought. From 1977-1979 there was a British children's TV series called "Oscar" about a rabbit, and also featuring a pterodactyl called "Gnasher", who apparently cackled. Puppet characters. Haven't found any footage to support a theory....
  • 46. bzfgt (link) | 13/05/2017
I tried to reduce the notes to this and gutted them a little so I don't know if my meaning is sufficiently clear any longer. Next time I'm all caught up and have a couple hours to spare I need to do an overhaul, this used to be the flagship for my more activist notes--my interpretive ventures--but I think it's missing something now.
  • 47. bzfgt (link) | 13/05/2017
"On at least one live version (1980/6/13) MES seems to sing male Puritan et domini..."

Anything to add about this, Martin?
  • 48. dannyno | 01/07/2017
"the sexually abused and the new youth" (something to add to note #4?)

So the back cover of "Dragnet" has some collaged text from apparently various sources:


Note that one of the clips includes the text "THE REAL NEW YOUTH LIVES HERE IN O.C."

This text comes from a letter to Claude Bessy's "Slash" magazine from someone calling themselves "Flip (Amyl Nitrate Boy)" (vol 2. no. 8, September 1979 p.10. available online here:

Here's some key bits of the letter (which is printed entirely in capitals):


I don't know what the "new youth" phrase represents in the context of the song, but letter aside it sounds like the kind of sociological concept that would get into the newspapers. There was also in San Francisco a "New Youth Productions" group which was set up by fans and musicians ostensibly as a non-profit company to promote punk concerts - The Clash played a benefit concert for them in 1979.
  • 49. grimo | 08/07/2017
The 'famous apes' line would likely connect to the literary imitators in Wyndham Lewis's "The Apes of God." Themes in the song support this.
  • 50. bzfgt (link) | 15/07/2017
Good! The summary I quoted is as MESian as you'd like...
  • 51. dannyno | 13/08/2017
"Famous apes"

It occurs to me that Gibraltar is home to some famous apes - the Barbary Macaques, who live on "the Rock" (to make that link to other lyrics).

Might there have been somewhere in Gibraltar where bands were sending demo tapes at the time.
  • 52. Hugo | 26/01/2018
Regarding the line "Send in the Clowns" the notion that this is a reference to a "Last Orders" song makes sense, but I have always heard MES saying "Send in the Clap." Not sure if "the Clap" is only American slang, but that reading allows for the line to be both a reference to the "Last Orders' song and the notion that this is the time when hook-ups happen, which then spread sexually transmitted diseases.
  • 53. dannyno | 10/02/2018
Note 6, on Sixteen Tons. Worth observing that a version appears on "Bo Diddley Is a Gunslinger", one of MES' favourites.

  • 54. bzfgt (link) | 17/02/2018
I don't know if I should have included that Gibraltar thing, tonight it seems to tenuous...oh well, I guess it's there now.
  • 55. bzfgt (link) | 17/02/2018
Could be clap, to me it sounds like "Cl....ones." (Not "clones," but "cl...wons.")
  • 56. bzfgt (link) | 17/02/2018
Does MES list that specific album somewhere?
  • 57. dannyno | 17/02/2018
comment #56: Ooh, no, actually just had a look and haven't found it.

He does talk about Bo Diddley's 16 All-Time Greatest Hits. See: But that doesn't have Sixteen Tons on it.

There's that early notional setlist with timings that lists "Bo Diddley is a Gunslinger" (but that's just the song).

But I bet he did know the album. So ner.
  • 58. Huckleberry | 05/03/2018
"Send in the Clowns". Perhaps it's "Send in the clo..." [pause] "...wns" because the music is interrupted in mid-song and mid-word at 10.30 for the landlord to call last orders (cf MES calling last orders on side 1 of "Totale's Turns - licensing hours are of course more liberal in the UK nowadays).
Joseph Mullaney
  • 59. Joseph Mullaney | 09/03/2018
Re. 'send in the clowns'- it sounds to me like the mic cuts out in the middle of clowns, and the 'one' is MES testing it or counting himself back in, or both.
John Howard
  • 60. John Howard | 19/03/2018
LA is of course home to the La Brea tarpits, A dinosaur graveyard.
I always have heard "snap at the end of the straw" in two ways:
1. The sound made when pulling through a straw at the bottom of an empty drink or as all of the powder you snort goes up your nose
2. the proverbial straw that broke the camels back
so an end point
John Howard
  • 61. John Howard | 19/03/2018

In addition to the weed reference, reefer is a newspaper term for a front page story that leads to a larger story inside and a pea coat.

Plus this from wikipedia:

Reefing is the means of reducing the area of a sail, usually by folding or rolling one edge of the canvas in on itself. The converse operation, removing the reef, is called "shaking it out." [1] Reefing improves the performance of sailing vessels in strong winds, and is the primary safety precaution in rough weather. Reefing sails improves vessel stability and minimizes the risk of damage to the sail or other gear. Proper skills in and equipment for reefing are crucial to averting the dangers of capsizing or broaching in heavy weather.
  • 62. bzfgt (link) | 31/03/2018
Yeah I knew about reefing sails, but I never heard of a "reefer" in that context...I mean, I don't think there's someone whose job that is, although when someone's reefing a sail they might in that moment perhaps be referred to as a "reefer"...

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