2nd Dark Age
And the commune crapheads sit and whine (7)
While the common near my birthplace is now a police college (8)
It's a second dark age
I could join a pray-peace group (12)
Spy in Norway
Cause groups can change the world (13)
and meet Miss Fjord and Benny
Miss Fjord and Benny
"Hi I am Benny" (14)
Go where the brave prance
No Czechoslovak food queues are a party rule
I am Roman Totale XVII
The bastard offspring
Of Charles I and the Great God Pan (17)
According to Dan, the song "veers from the general to the particular, but seems – where dates can be identified - to relate specifically to the politics of 1979. The year, lest we forget, that Thatcher became Prime Minister for the first time (the election was on 3rd May). Some of its themes seem to, maybe, vaguely (very vaguely) echo The Clash’s song “London Calling”, released in December 1979...The song has what seem to be clear references to contemporary political issues scattered throughout:
“return of the family” (obviously a Thatcherite theme)
“and single people are screwed” (tax policies?)
“No Czechoslovak food queues are a party” (there were recent news stories about food shortages in Czechoslovakia)."
Indeed, Dan has discovered that he song seems to derive its inspiration from an address in Parliament by Conservative politician William Whitelaw concerning penalies for criminal minors (see note 2 below):
"For these cases I have suggested a short sentence at a detention centre run on tough lines...This idea has been instantly condemned by some as returning to the dark ages of penal reform."
There is more to come from Dan's comments in what follows, and all quotes, unless otherwise indicated, are from he (occasionally with a little editing).
Nairng has pointed out what we had all intitially missed, an echo in the title of the famous first paragraph of "The Call of Cthulhu," with which MES is certainly familiar:
The most merciful thing in the world, I think, is the inability of the human mind to correlate all its contents. We live on a placid island of ignorance in the midst of black seas of infinity, and it was not meant that we should voyage far. The sciences, each straining in its own direction, have hitherto harmed us little; but some day the piecing together of dissociated knowledge will open up such terrifying vistas of reality, and of our frightful position therein, that we shall either go mad from the revelation or flee from the deadly light into the peace and safety of a new dark age.
I have given the title as it was spelled on its first release, which is my usual policy. Subsequent releases have "Second Dark Age."
2. Dan has done a great service to Falldom with his research on these lines (for the sake of readability I've removed most of his references, but anyone who is interested can find them in the original post):
In the British Army, a “glass house” or “glasshouse” is the colloquial name for a military prison. The name derives from the glass roof of the military prison at Aldershot barracks, and came to be applied more generally. The only remaining one is now the Military Corrective Training Centre at Colchester, which the army is keen to emphasise is not a prison), but which does have a unit which holds convicts before their transfer to the civilian prison system for sentences over three months.
Why would “fat conference women” (who?) be applauding their return?
To answer that we need to go back to 1902, when a youth detention centre – intended to provide places for young offenders who would previously have been sent into prison alongside adults – was opened at Borstal Prison, in a village called Borstal, Kent. The name “Borstal” came to apply to all such institutions until their abolition in 1982 (replaced by “youth custody centres”).
The Daily Mail praised them. They were supposed to be more about training and remedial treatment than punishment per se, the idea being that young offenders would eventually emerge and be able to get stable jobs, and that reoffending would be low. Whether or not that was true, the borstals seem to have had problems with bullying, etc. Sentences were indeterminate: youths would be released when deemed “reformed”.
The Labour government’s Criminal Justice Act, 1948, introduced a range of other institutions to deal with young offending, in particular “Detention Centres”, designed, in language borrowed from The Mikado, to administer a “short, sharp shock.”
The phrase “There is a type of offender to whom it appears necessary to give a short, but sharp reminder that he is getting into ways that will inevitably land him in disaster,” was used in the parliamentary discussion of the Act.
Unlike borstals, these Detention Centres were supposed to be all about punishment and deterrence, but convicts would be there only for a limited time compared to a borstal. The first one opened in 1952. In practice, it was realised before too long by staff that a hardline approach often just would not work, and so the culture softened. They effectively evolved into short-stay borstals.
The watering down of the “sharp” end of the intended system was objected to particularly on the right. Hence Margaret Thatcher’s 1961 speech during a parliamentary committee in which she used the phrase “a short, sharp lesson”.
In 1970, a subcommittee of the Advisory Council on the Penal System recommended that detention centres embrace the reforming purposes they had started to pursue in practice. Punishment was satisfied by the removal of liberty; education and training provision should become their main focus. These recommendations were accepted, formalising what was often already happening informally.
But opponents of what they saw as a “soft” approach were never going to be happy with that. They didn’t mind “short” so long as it was “sharp”.
Fast forward a few years.
In 1977, during a House of Commons debate on crime, the then Labour Home Secretary Merlyn Rees said:
“having read with the greatest interest the report issued by the Conservative Party, I believe that there is no way through on the glasshouse mentality. It is not true, in modern times, that after a quick, short period in the glasshouse with one's head shaved, one comes out and behaves properly. It is much more complicated than that.”
William Whitelaw, then the opposition Home Affairs spokesman, said:
For these cases I have suggested a short sentence at a detention centre run on tough lines. We have had such detention centres in the past, and they have been changed. I compared what I was saying with the Army glasshouse treatment, for one very good reason. Those who experienced treatment there were determined never to return.
This idea has been instantly condemned by some as returning to the dark ages of penal reform. On the other hand, I have had many letters of support, including some from those who experienced such treatment themselves and believe that they benefited from it.
Whitelaw had been in the Scots Guards during the second world war, hence his use of the military phraseology.
He was still using “glass house” in 1978:
“I want to go further and have one centre with severer discipline, along the lines of the glasshouse systems in the Services. This would provide a short, sharp, shock sentence under very severe conditions.”
The phrase caught on: the Daily Mirror referred in a headline to “Whiplash Willie’s Glasshouse Justice Plan”. The Times had a headline on 1 March 1978 that referred to “Tory plan for glasshouse regime”. The Guardian printed a critique on 6 March 1978 under the headline “Tory glasshouses don’t make sense”.
The 1979 Conservative Party manifesto stated:
“We need more compulsory attendance centres for hooligans at junior and senior levels. In certain detention centres we will experiment with a tougher regime as a short, sharp shock for young criminals.”
The Conservatives won the election in May 1979.
And so, on 10th October 1979, William Whitelaw spoke to the jubilant Conservative Party conference, as Home Secretary. He confirmed the launch of the new detention centre regime, and was cheered to the rafters.
The Guardian reported on 11 October 1979 (“Tories administer ‘short, sharp shock’ to fight juvenile crime”, by John Hooper, The Guardian, 11 October 1979, p.1):
“Mr Whitelaw said the scheme would be operating by next spring at the latest. He told the Tory party’s annual conference in Blackpool that “from 6.45 a.m. to lights-out at 9.30 p.m. life will be conducted at a brisk tempo.” Which suggests that young offenders will have to carry out tasks “at the double” as in the military “glasshouses.”
“Much greater emphasis will be put on hard and constructive activities, on discipline and on tidiness, on self-respect and respect for those in authority,” The Home Secretary added. “We will formally introduce drill, parades and inspections. Offenders will have to earn their limited privileges by good behaviour.”
Thus ends the quote from Dan, and I will just add that in the Mikado, a "short sharp shock" refers to being beheaded:
"To sit in solemn silence in a dull, dark dock,/ In a pestilential prison with a life-long lock/Awaiting the sensation of a short, sharp shock/From a cheap and chippy chopper on a big, black block."
Now that's getting tough on juvenile delinquency.
3. "In January 1979 the Shah of Iran went into exile [see note 4 below], heralding the return to Iran of Ayatollah Khomeini and the victory by the end of the year of the Islamic Republicans. The Iranians are not considered culturally Arabs (the official language is Persian, and only 2% of the population speak Arabic), but the energy crisis triggered by events in the middle east led to oil regimes benefiting from spiralling oil prices." While it is true that Iran is not an Arab nation, they were a part of OPEC (Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries). The majority of OPEC nations were culturally Arabic. OPEC was widely blamed for the steep increase in pertroleum prices during the 1979 "oil crisis," which was precipitated when instability in Iran, including a strike by oil workers, led to a decrease in oil production and export. In the USA, it is estimated that 150,000 gallons of oil were wasted every day by motorists waiting in gas lines with their cars idling. It was a time of panic, anxiety, confusion, and jingoism, and I say this in full awareness that on the one hand pretty much every era in the USA is characterized by these qualities, which are central elements of the nation's character; on the other hand, such generalizations are inevitably misleading simplifications: people still found time to watch Diff'rent Strokes. The world don't move to the beat of just one drum, and neither, of course, does America.
4. Dan points out the chants of "Death to the USA!" in Iran at this time, which was undergoing an Islamist revolution (see note 3 above). US client Shah Reza Pahlevi was deposed when an Islamic republic was estabished with the Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, to avoid any possible confusion, adopting the title of "Supreme Leader." It was a time of national anxiety in the USA, for various reasons. Dan mentions President Jimmy Carter's famous "malaise" speech of July 15th. I don't see any reason to think MES was thinking of that speech in particular; rather, the crisis in confidence" Carter identifies in the speech provides a clue to the general context in the USA at the time this song was written.
The usual story, which is true in many ways and also a simplification, is that the USA was riddled with anxiety and an identity crisis after Vietnam and Watergate, which Carter was elected to assuage, restoring trust and decency to Washington (although this psychologizes the situation unduly it has a lot of truth as a description of how things were perceived in the press). Carter, who would prove to be a one-term Johnny when his re-election effort failed to stop Ronald Reagan the following Fall (1980), failed to "heal the nations wounds" (in a popular cliché of the time) as things only got more chaotic during his Administration. The Iranian revolution precipitated an "oil crisis" and a standoff with OPEC in which the price of oil rose to the point where it cost more per barrel than it would again until the 21st century. During the crisis Carter gave his much-maligned "malaise" speech in which he attributed America's problems to a crisis in confidence--instead of looking for economic causes, he overshot in the other direction, essentially implying that, among other things, the US was taking slogans like "Death to the USA!" too much to heart. His critics quite reasonably pointed out that America wasn't simply depressed, but that there were, you know, problems.
There was no one in the USA in late 1979 did not have Iran constantly on her mind. The hostage crisis which began Nov. 4 was on TV every single day at all hours. Gasoline was being rationed, and the popular wisdom chalked this up to the perfidy of "the Ayatollah." Many of these same people made t-shirts with Mickey Mouse extending his middle finger and saying "Hey, Iran!" into a hot selling item.
It was in this atmosphere that Ronald Reagan, like Thatcher in England, was able to bring about the hegemony of conservative politics for the next decade or so (and arguably this contines until this day, regardless of which party controls the White House or the houses of Congress).
5. Dan identifies this as a Thatcherite theme, and certainly in the US the rhetoric of family was gaining traction in the politics of the time. The phrase "family values," which was to become ubiquitous in the 1990s, was included in the Republican party platform in 1976. The emphasis on family by poiliticians has mostly been associated with the Right and conservatism, and is usually invoked in the context of a jeremiad about the decline of morals and the decadence of modern culture; often the spectre of something like the "death of the USA" (or at least a serious illness) is invoked in the context of a speech about family values.
7. Mark Turner suggests, plausibly, that this is a reference to Crass. This may or may not be what MES had in mind, but it’s reasonable in any case to take them as representing a kind of left-wing impotence.
The same crapheads, or similar ones, are excoriated in "English Scheme": "The commune crap, camp bop, middle class, flip-flop/Guess that's why they end up in bands."
8. "He’s obviously talking about Sedgley Park, Prestwich, which was formerly the site of a teacher training college but was bought by Greater Manchester Police for their own training purposes in 1979 (which presumably entailed closing the site to the public).
9. The Lyrics Parade has "No psalm Sunday." I don't know if this was just transcribed by ear or if there is any supporting evidence for it, but I don't hear "psalm" here. "Psalm Sunday" would presumably be a pun on "Palm Sunday," the Sunday before Easter.
11. The Ghost Dance also pops up, according to Colin Morton, at a gig 1979 when MES actually specifies the elusive "three rules of audience" (see "C'n'C-S Mithering" and "What You Need," where the "rules" are mentioned but not elaborated):
"'No requests - you do not pay us enough to dictate our actions,' 'we do not play for the ghost dance' and 'if you don't like it, it's already too late.'"
The Ghost Dance was a Native American religious movement which spread throughout various tribes in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. It was based on a prophecy that performing the dance would unite Indians with their dead ancestors, unify the tribes, and bring an end to white colonialism. This is probably at least one connotation of the phrase here, meant as one of MES's digs at Leftism; the "dead" city could be analogous to the decimated Native villages in 19th century America, with the Ghost Dance standing in for an effete and pro forma leftism that MES finds wholly inadequate to the situation (like the "pray-peace" groups; see note 11 below).
This is almost certainly also a reference, either directly or by way of Madness, to the song "Ghost Dance" by Prince Buster." Dan again:
"The phrase 'ghost dance' was certainly in the air in 1978/1979. Patti Smith’s 1978 album Easter has the track 'Ghost Dance,' for example.
I think we need to look instead at the pop/ska band Madness’s song 'The Prince.'
A tribute to Jamaican ska hero Prince Buster, like a lot of their early records, ‘The Prince' was broadcast as part of a Peel Session on 27 August 1979 (repeated 18 September 1979). It was released as a single at the beginning of September, entering the UK charts at no. 37 on 15 September 1979. It stayed in the charts for 11 weeks, peaking at no. 16 on 6 October.
Madness appeared on Top of the Pops on 6 September.
The lyrics of 'The Prince' include the following:
'An earthquake is erupting / But not in Orange street / A ghost dance is preparing /You got to help us with your feet'
'Earthquake,' 'Shaking up Orange Street' and 'Ghost Dance' are all Prince Buster tracks. Orange Street in Kingston was where Prince Buster had his studio. The point of the song, if there is one beyond the clever juxtaposition of Prince Buster references, seems to be that Madness are providing the musical soundtrack for a kind of English rebellion.
Looked at that context, it’s plausible to think that MES would have regarded Madness as mere 'tepid' ska, compared to Prince Buster."
This may be so, but the negative tenor of the reference to (the) Ghost Dance, which is Prince Buster's title rather than Madness's, makes me think this is at the least a more submerged meaning than the Left-bashing one indicated above.
Lord, make me an instrument of Your peace; Where there is hatred, let me sow love; Where there is injury, pardon; Where there is error, truth; Where there is doubt, faith; Where there is despair, hope; Where there is darkness, light ;And where there is sadness, joy.
Mother Theresa quoted the prayer when she accepted the Nobel Peace Prize, and according to Stephen Parkin "Anyone in the UK at the time of the 79 election will remember M Thatcher reciting the Prayer of St Francis on the steps of Downing Street after she had won. It seemed a dam' cheek at the time, and came to seem more so once she started in on her destructive policies."
In the 1960s and 1970s, Christian--particularly Catholic--groups of activists protesting ills like the war in Vietnam and nuclear power became a significant part of the Left. This could be a clue what MES means by the Ghost Dance (see note 10), which was a Native American movement to bring an end to colonialism by spiritual means.
13. Dan makes an amusing connection here: “'Groups can change the world' seems to echo a quote often attributed to Margaret Mead (but never traced to anything she wrote): 'Never doubt that a small group of committed people can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.' Variations on this quote appear back in the 1960s. Margaret Mead died on 15 November 1978. But 'group' also suggests 'bands,' and the line may refer to idealistic musicians." Dan is surely right on both counts: while MES may not have had Mead's "quote" in mind, it aptly identifies that segment of society that had, and has, the words plastered on the rear bumpers of their cars. And the double connotation of "groups" is surely intended as well; although this was not yet the time of "Live Aid" et al., Smith always had a caustic eye for the self-righteous altruism of rock groups, and was positively delighted when it became institutionalized in the 1980s.
14. This refers to Abba, as is made explicit in certain live verions; as Reformaton reports, "On 1 September 1979 (JB's Dudley) the early version of the song includes the words 'Hello, I am Benny out of Abba,' the group name missing from the studio version." The Lyrics Parade has the entirely plausible "and meet Bjorn and Benny" (Björn Ulvaeus and Benny Andersson were the male principals of Abba); however, the line sounds like "Miss Fjord" rather than "Bjorn." A fjord is a narrow inlet surrounded by precipitous hillsides or cliff faces which are a common feature of the Norwegian coast. Abba vocalist Anni-Frid "Frida" Lyngstad, who is Norwegian and was married to Benny Andersson, is the most likely candidate for "Miss Fjord."
The references to ABBA here may be explicable in terms of the following quote by MES, which comes from a 14 page feature on ABBA in the May 1999 issue of Mojo magazine, as part of which various musicians were invited to talk about their favourite ABBA track. MES: "GIMME! GIMME! GIMME! (A MAN AFTER MIDNIGHT) My favourite, the real evil, pagan crypto-Nazi one. Genuinely frightening, wasn't it? They got really depraved after Fernando. I can't stand Swedes, me. They're pagans, aren't they? Liberal Nazis. I find it very weird this revival; but it fits in with the new regime we've got here: all cleanliness, no smoking, no drinking, all that crap. And open sex. All their stuff was based on The Beach Boys, the way they used to write, like, eight parts for each song. When we started out playing workmen's clubs, every fucking group was playing ABBA. The second Dark Age, we used to call it."
See also "U.S. 80s-90s" for more about the "Liberal Nazi" phenomenon.
15. "A mediocre anti-Jew" – the fascist National Front was in the news, but perhaps MES has someone or something else in mind. Interestingly, and not remotely current, the phrase brings to mind Jean Paul Sartre (who died in April 1980), who in his 1948 book (written in the shadow of French complicity during the wartime occupation) Anti-Semite and Jew describes anti-Semites as mediocre.
"The anti-Semite has no illusions about what he is. He considers himself an average man, modestly average, basically mediocre…"
"there is a passionate pride among the mediocre, and anti-Semitism is an attempt to give value to mediocrity as such, to create an elite of the ordinary."
The Fall are named after the novel of that name (in French, La Chute) by Sartres friend and fellow existentialist philosopher Albert Camus, so it is entirely possible that MES, who has been known to read philosophy, is familiar with Sartre's essay.
Sean, on the other hand, points out that Nietzsche, whom MES was definitely familiar with, expressed similar ideas...
16. This is perhaps a continuation of the "return of the family" theme, envisioning a society in which the the traditional (as they now say, "hetero-normative") nuclear family is privileged as the basic social unit and other forms of (dis-)organization or (dis-)connection are marginalized in the face of the bourgeois complacency of all the "mediocre anti-Jew"s. This makes sense, but it doesn't quite sit square enough for me; it wouldn't surprise me if MES had a specific proclamation by some politician or journalist in mind again.
17. RT XVII is MES's favorite pseudonym in this era, gracing album liners with his mysterious prose, and showing up, most notably, as the protagonist of "The N.W.R.A." On the sleeve of the "Fiery Jack" single (of which "2nd Dark Age" is the B Side), "Totale" writes: "... I have not long left now but I urge the finder of this 'master tape' never to unleash it on humanity! - Ah! already the evil Deit-y Ri-Kol is clawing at my brain! - If it is unleashed - The Fall is here, the ectoplasm exorcised and Humanity Can Either Eat That Grenade Or Face The Second Dark Age!'
As he is in full prophet mode here, it is only fitting for MES to adopt the RTXVII persona, not only to establish that the perspective of the song is that of an outisider, but also to fend off the impression that MES is directly editorializing which would be a distraction to anyone trying to understand a Fall song. Yes, I realize that adding a distraction to fend off a distraction is odd, but the potential confusion would be thinking that one is not confused, which is always a false impression in these circumstances.