Scenario

Lyrics

(1)

The pals of my childhood days
Pal of my childhood days
You taught me in worldly ways
I was a baby
Me, everything for me
I stole the gold from your hair
Who put the shaven threads there?
I don't know any way to repay
My pal of my childhood
Or find my pals of my childhood days
It doesn't get me high
It only makes me cry
For the one who bore me
The November Day poppy on TV

Chindits... and Jap is impeached, reached (2)
I don't know any way
Mother, I can ever repay
My pals of my childhood days
It doesn't get me high
It only makes me cry
For the one who bore me
The November Day poppy on TV
The one who bore me
And the one who bore him
And what for the one who threatened ye?
With no money
Your Veterans Day poppy on TV
Everything for me
I stole the gold from your hair
Put the shaven threads there
I don't know any way I can ever repay
My pals of my childhood days
It doesn't get me high
It only makes me cry
The November Day poppy on TV
I don't get me high
It only makes me
Mother, the one who bore me
The November Day poppy is on TV
The one who bore me
And the one who bore him
And what for the one who threatened ye?
With no money
Veterans Day poppy
It doesn't get me high
It only makes me cry
For the one who bore me

 

Notes

1. Like "Over! Over!," this song musically borrows from "Coming Down," by the United States of America. Many of the lyrics are adapted from "Pal of My Cradle Days," which was written by Al Piantadosi (music) and Marshall Montgomery (lyrics). The latter was published in 1925, and was evidently a parlor song, i.e. a song which was released in sheet music format to be played in the home, usually at a piano. It has been recorded by various artists over the years (see tempertantrum's comment below). The original lyrics are as follows:

What a friend, what a pal, only now I can see,
How you dreamed and you planned all for me,
I never knew what a mother goes through,
There's nothing that you didn't do.

Pal of my cradle days, I've needed you always.
Since I was a baby upon your knee,
You sacrificed everything for me.
I stole the gold from your hair.
I put the silver threads there,
I don't know any way I could ever repay,
Pal of my cradle days.

Greatest friend, dearest pal,
It was me who caused you
Every sorrow and heartache you knew,
Your face so fair Is wrinkled with care,
I placed every line that is there,

Pal of my cradle days, I've needed you always.
Since I was a baby upon your knee,
You sacrificed everything for me.
I stole the gold from your hair.
I put the silver threads there,
I don't know any way I could ever repay,
Pal of my cradle days.

The second stanza above, however, is reproduced in the blue lyrics book in the hand of one Charles Walter Thomas, and credited as one of two poems he composed in his lifetime. The caption says Thomas wrote both of these while serving in Burma in 1943. Since "Pal of my Cradle Days" dates back to 1925, it seems he copied it into his notebook and MES assumed he was the author (the caption says he only ever "wrote" two poems, but it seems like a stretch to take this literally). I have not been able to locate an external source for the other poem, entitled "The Chindit" (see note 2 below), so it is possible that Thomas was the author of that one--in fact it is quite likely, since the transcript includes passages with words struck out and replaced. It is a bit less professional an affair, with lines like "Until objective is reached/And Jap is impeached."

The rueful "I stole the gold from your hair/I put the silver threads there" from "Pal of My Childhood Days" turns, in "Scenario," into into the bizarre whodunit "I stole the gold from your hair/Who put the shaven threads there?" Weird song, weird album, and, let's face it, weird band...

The lyrics also borrow from Captain Beefheart's "Veteran's Day Poppy." The borrowing is heavy enough to warrant printing those lyrics here too:

I cry but I can't buy
Your Veterans Day poppy
It don't get me high
It can only make me cry
It can never grow another
Son like the one who warmed me my days
After rain and warmed my breath
My life's blood
Screamin' empty she crys
It don't get me high
It can only make me cry
Your Veterans Day poppy.

Veterans Day (usually spelled without an apostrophe) is a US holiday. The day was originally called Armistice Day, and commemorated the armistice signed on November 11th, 1918 to end World War One; in 1954, on the heels of World War Two, the holiday was renamed and expanded to commemorate all American Veterans (Armistice Day became Remembrance Day in several European countries for similar reasons).  The poppy is an internationally accepted symbol of the day; in some countries, Remembrance Day is called "Poppy Day." The impetus for the adoption of this symbol was probably John McCrae's "In Flanders Fields." McCrae, a Canadian Lieutenant who saw action in Belgium, wrote the poem after presiding at the funeral of a friend who was killed in the Second Battle of Ypres:

In Flanders fields the poppies blow
Between the crosses, row on row,
That mark our place, and in the sky,
The larks, still bravely singing, fly,
Scarce heard amid the guns below.

We are the dead; short days ago
We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,
Loved and were loved, and now we lie In Flanders fields.

Take up our quarrel with the foe!
To you from failing hands we throw
The torch; be yours to hold it high!
If ye break faith with us who die
We shall not sleep, though poppies grow In Flanders fields.

George Orwell (Eric Arthur Blair, 1903-1950) famously snatched "We are the dead" for his dystopian classic, 1984

Note that "Pal of My Cradle Days" is a child singing about a parent, whereas the Beefheart song seems to be a parent singing about a child. MES's "It doesn't get me high/It only makes me cry/For the one who bore me" appropriates Beefheart's words whilst adopting the perspective of "Pal of My Cradle Days." 

^

2. The Chindits were British special forces who fought against the Japanese and Indian armies in Burma and India during World War Two. The name, which was suggested by an officer of the Burmese army, is a variant or corruption of Chinthe, which is a lion-like creature that is often depicted in statues guarding the entrance to Buddhist temples. Smith mentions a personal connection with the Chindits in an interview:

TSP: There’s a song, ‘Scenario’, where you’re singing about ‘November day poppies on TV’. What’s that about?

MES: A friend of mine, his dad was in the Chindits [British forces who served in Burma during World War II] and he gave me some poems of his dad’s. I thought, ‘This is really good shit.’ And, it turns out, quite topical. Way before all this shit that’s going on now.

As usual, Smith is vague, and the interviewer doesn't pursue it; "shit that's going on now" could refer to the wars in Irag and Afghanistan, or to massive anti-government protests that were happening in Burma in 2007 (the year Reformation was released and the year of the above interview), although the connections between any of these events and Smith's lyrics are somewhat oblique. Burma was a British colony from 1824 to 1948.

As for "The Jap is impeached," it's hard to be aure what it means, but after World War Two Hideki Tojo, who was Prime Minister from 1941 to 1944 (and held this office at the time of the attack on Pearl Harbor), was convicted of war crimes by the International Military Tribunal for the Far East. Tojo was hanged on December 23rd, 1948.

^

Comments (4)

dannyno
  • 1. dannyno | 20/05/2014

The blue lyrics book reproduces two poems attributed to Charles Walter Thomas, the friend's father who served in the the Chindits. The first one is apparently the one incorporated into these lyrics. However, above you identify them as originally by someone else. What do we make of this?

bzfgt
  • 2. bzfgt | 22/05/2014

Sorted, I believe.

tempertantrum
  • 3. tempertantrum | 24/03/2016

"Pal of My Cradle Days" was indeed recorded many times before 1983.

Here is a shellac from 1925, performed by Charles Warren and Frank Sterling:
https://www.discogs.com/Charles-Warren-Frank-Sterling-Pal-Of-My-Cradle-Days-West-Of-The-Great-Divide/release/8012390

Another one from 1925, by Paul Whiteman and his Orchestra:
https://www.discogs.com/Paul-Whiteman-And-His-Orchestra-Pal-Of-My-Cradle-Days-Ukulele-Lady/release/6861236

There are others too from the same era listed on discogs.

I'm also finding the song on a couple of 60's barbershop records, and it's also the title track of a 1973 album by Bob Davenport.

bzfgt
  • 4. bzfgt | 30/04/2016

Thanks, tt! I don't know why I didn't find any of that, it is possible (believe it or not) that I wasn't yet hip to discogs at that time...in any case, every once in a while I have an inexplicably failed web search, and someone has to set me straight...so, an embarrassed 'thank you' is in order.

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