Paranoia Man in Cheap Sh*t Room



Paranoid man
In mid 30s (2)
At the height of paranoia
At the zenith of his powers
By bed, replica shooter (3)
Zenith dissolving (4)
By his bed replica shooter

Paranoid man in his early 30s
at the zenith of his powers

When girls pass, puts head down, in the street
His neighbors now are listening to this
Shakes in the chemist's (4)
While buying his vits (5)
Puts his head down
when girls pass

Puts his head down when girls pass in the street

Shakes in the chemist's
Paranoid man in his late 30s
32, 45
Reaches its summit
Male, mid 30s, white, paranoia

Goes down to the dance

Goes down to the dance

Going down fast

Goes down to the dance
Going down fast.

No heebies, creepies
Or hallucinogenics
It's the height of paranoia
Male, white, mid-to-late 30s
Serial Number 54129 (6)
Going down fast

Goes down to the dance

Going down fast

Serial number 5129
Leather jacket, baggy black pants

Going down to the dance
Very clever

Mid-30s paranoia man
Not as good as it was at 2:30
This afternoon
Nostalgia, Spangles (7)
Late, mid 30s

Paranoia man goes down to the dance

Going down to the dance
And drooped mental inertia
Mid 30s man in the grip of paranoia
Just like I told ya
[Prefers?] karaoka. (8)
Cheap shit half-dollar man
Sky, calendar, (9)
Bar, home,



1. The title of this is probably a reference to the Twilight Zone episode, "Nervous Man in a Four Dollar Room." The use of the wrong word here--"paranoia" instead of the expected "paranoid"-- is not an altogether unprecedented kind of thing in Fall lyrics. On the Peel version, the censored title is compounded at one point when MES sings "cheap shut room." 

In the episode, a small time crook named Jackie Rhoades is ordered to go to a bar and kill a man who has apparently not paid his protection money. Most of the episode is a prolonged argument between Rhoades and his reflection in the mirror, which comes alive and insists he take control of his own life and make decisions for himself. I've seen it said that the refliection is Rhoades' conscience personified, but this is a simplistic view: in fact, the reflected "Rhoads" is that part of him which still has the aspirations, strength, and integrity of his youth, and winds up taking control of Rhoades, who at the end decks his boss and strides out of the room, determined to take responsiblity for his own life. The refliction is not merely concerned with right and wrong, but is the repository of all Rhoads' aspirations and still holds onto the last bit of love for a woman whom Rhoads wanted to marry. 


2. From Reformation: "MES said (in an interview with Simon Reynolds broadcast on the BBC World Service on 4 June 1993) that the track was based on general observation: 'You just see a lot of them walking around. If you go to these revival discos, there's a lot of blokes who are like that. I'm not blaming them. I was reading this psychiatric book - that's what sparked me off - and it said that most paranoiacs are from the age of 33 to 38, which is the sort of bracket I'm in. So all you 34 to 38 men out there, don't worry!'" At the time of the song's release, Smith was 36.


3. The Twilight Episode "Nervous Man in a Four Dollar Room" (see note 1 above) is about a petty criminal who has been ordered to kill someone. The man is talking to himself in a mirror for much of the episode, hence "replica shooter."


4. "Zenith," of couse, means the highest point in the orbit of a heavenly body (so the paranoid man is at the peak of his powers), but it can also mean the highest place in the sky, or where a body will be when it reaches the highest point of its orbit. In any case, I think "Zenith dissolving" can indicate that the man's life is falling apart at his peak, but I think it can also refer to sunrise, when whatever star or planet occupies the zenith dissolves into daylight; the denouement of "Nervous Man in a Four Dollar Room" occurs very early in the morning (Rhoades' boss "George" shows up at 2:30), and by the time day strikes, Rhoades is a new man (perhaps literally, depending on the metaphysical status of his reflection). So the line could be read in two opposite directions.


5. In England, a chemist's shop is what in the US is called a pharmacy.


5. Vits=vitamins.


6. Numbers often appear in Fall lyrics, often without much evident rhyme or reason. Here it is perhaps the anonymity of the man that is stressed.

Mysterious strings of digits also appear in "Fortress," "Eat Y'Self Fitter," and "50 Year Old Man" (thanks to Reformation for the list).   


7. Spangles were a hard candy sold in the UK from the 1950s to the early 1980s, and any longing for their return is also disparaged in "It's a Curse" and "A Past Gone Mad" from the same album as the song under consideration (The Infotainment Scan). Although it isn't particularly odd that MES associates Spangles with nostalgia in all three songs, since Spangles were discontinued, it seems to me that the converse is a little strange: he seems to associate nostalgia with Spangles.  


8. Apparently a corruption of "karaoke." Mispronunciations are common in Fall songs.


9. The man may be tracking the stars, or it is possible this is the name of a place (in which case it should be capitalized), or it may be a line MES just liked the sound of. Harleyr in the comment section below recalls the men's magazine Sky, which was an entertainment magazine published from the late 1980s until the early 2000s, and which produced a calendar. Flickering Lexicon (on the Fall online forum) has arrived at a theory which is also plausible:

Here's my theory: it's about equivalents. 

"Sky = Calendar

Bar = home."

The sky is his calendar, i.e.: he can tell what time of year it is by looking at the sky, rather than using a conventional calendar. And the bar is Home....





Comments (7)

  • 1. harleyr | 16/03/2013
I think it's 'Sky calendar' - as in Sky magazine, which If I recall correctly was a late 80's men's lifestyle magazine, a sort of precursor to lad's mags such as Loaded which coexisted with them for a while. Like a lot of those mags it probably had an annual giveaway of a pull-out calendar.
  • 2. bzfgt | 17/03/2013
Hey, Harley, that's a promising lead, thanks for that; however, I haven't been able to find a reference to "Sky" magazine online--was that the exact title?
  • 3. Martin | 28/01/2014
"News International/Emap, February 1987-2001

Rupert Murdoch's News International magazine division launched the pan-European youth magazine Sky, in a joint venture with French group Hachette, led by publisher Peter Jackson. Sky started out as a fortnightly for 16 to 25-year-olds, but failed to meet a 200,000 sales target and was cut back to a monthly in November. Its audience was refined to 18 to 22-year-olds and was increasingly influenced by the lad's mags in the 1990s. Murdoch pulled out of magazine publishing, and the Hachette partnership, which included Elle, was taken up with Emap, until it was dissolved in 2002. Sky closed in 2001."
  • 4. dannyno | 29/04/2014
See my comment on the forum last year:
  • 5. James | 03/05/2014
I think it's Sky as in tv, the man using the televised football, news etc. in his bar-home to tell what day it is. He no longer notices the sun rise because he's drunk for weeks on end.

The Premier League started in 1992-93 - a rebranding of Division 1 in order to get revenue from Sky.

"Not as good as it was at 2:30/This afternoon" Matches all kicked off at 3pm on Saturday then. Even if you support a crap team, you'd be excited at 2.30. Less so by 5.45.
  • 6. Zack | 29/01/2017
Replica shooters (firearms) are a key plot point in "The Man in the High Castle" by MES fave Philip K. Dick.
  • 7. harleyr | 05/10/2017
I've often wondered why Smith makes such a meal of PM 'going down to the dance'. Is our man going down(hill) fast?

Today I saw on page one of Friedrich Nietzche's Thus Spoke Zarathustra (Penguin Classics edition 1987 reprint):

"Behold! I am weary of my wisdom, like a bee that has gathered too much honey; I need hands outstretched to take it.
I should like to give it away and distribute it, until the wise among men have again become happy in their folly and the poor happy in their wealth.
To that end, I must descend into the depths: as you do at evening, when you go behind the sea and bring light to the underworld too, superabundant star!
Like you, I must /go down/ [italicised] - as men, to whom I want to descend, call it.
So bless me then, tranquil eye, that can behold without envy even an excessive happiness!
Bless the cup that wants to overflow, that the waters may flow golden from him and bear the reflection of your joy over all the world!
Behold! This cup wants to be empty again, and Zarathustra wants to be man again.

Thus began Zarathustra's down-going."

And from the translator's notes:

"Untergehen has three meanings: to descend or go down; to set (as of the sun); and to be destroyed or to go under. There is much play upon this triple meaning throughout the book. The noun Untergang is treated in a similar way."

We all know Smith likes his Nietzche. Paranoid Superman in cheap shit room?

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