The Ballard of J. Drummer

Lyrics

(1)

In year one-nine-nine-six-o-one (the last numeral was upside down)
Johnny Drummer came to the outskirts of town

People came out and shouted at him
Some people came out and shouted dead at him, "Say, show us your sticks."
Then they went back to their computer tricks

He'd hit a town with no life, to begin, where they forgot the facts
Two sticks make up a cross
Why is it always this way?
Why do they always have to say, "Hey, Johnny, get out of the way."

He looked in the mirror and said, "I am not him."
He stood outside a bar and raised the nerve to go in
The window hosted at least 45 men
Wondered which one was waiting for him
And the boy at the machine meant him no harm, but to him the boy was staring again at him
The rhythm over in his head again

Men, boys and girls!
Don't ever follow the path of being hard and tough when your heart is soft.  (2)

Notes

1. Here is one of the handful of curiosities that close out The Light User Syndrome, a cautionary tale about an outlaw who insists on using real drumsticks, defying the kids who love their 808s. Too late, Johnny decides he doesn't want to be a hero or a Messiah; unfortunately, the die has been cast, and there's no turning back. MES seems undecided whether the final confrontation invokes Calvary or the OK Corral; fortunately for everyone, the showdown (or crucifixion) takes place only in Johnny's feverishly nervous mind, and the kids carry on with their ersatz pleasures, not suspecting who walks among them.

One suspects the tale could be a humorous recasting of a real incident involving Karl Burns, or at just an extended jibe aimed at the latter; it may be no coincidence that Burns is credited with playing drums on the album, whereas the other drummer, Simon Wolstencroft, also has a "programming" credit. Burns outlasted Wolstencroft by a whisker in this seismic period of the Fall's career, but he soon joined the younger man under Boot Hill (neither was to be resurrected, so I'll stick with the Western motif).  

Robert, in the comments, speculates that the title alludes to J.G. Ballard, although there is no other evident connection... 

^

 

2. Zack provides some quotes which make plausible the notion that this is about Fall drummer Karl Burns:

 

Look at the last line: "Don't ever follow the path of being hard and tough when your heart is soft." Fall Lore is full of similar statements about Karl Burns' bifurcated personality. John Leckie in the Wonderful and Frightening Omnibus Edition booklet: "Karl Burns was [...] a total animal. He was one of these real debauched characters, getting up to anything. [...] He was a lovely character, very sweet guy and he was up for it and everything." MES in Renegade: "[Karl] could be very nice but he could also be a bit of a bully [...]" Dave Bush in Simon Ford's Hip Priest: "Karl was an animal but he was funny."

^

Comments (13)

Martin
  • 1. Martin | 30/01/2014
It might be worth noting here that a musician called Johnny Drummer (his stage name) does exist: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Johnny_Drummer
bzfgt
  • 2. bzfgt | 15/02/2014
Thanks for that, Martin. I'm usually less interested in these kind of retrospective connections than in the other kinds, but it's certainly worthy of a place here in the comments...if it turns out he had already made a name for himself in 1996(or if MES can be connected to him in some way), I'll put something in the notes, but Wikipedia doesn't have him putting out an album until 1999.
dannyno
  • 3. dannyno | 27/06/2014
"Some people came out and shouted at him, "Say, show us your sticks."

I'm hearing that they "shouted dead at him..."
Martin
  • 4. Martin | 05/04/2016
With reference to comments nos. 1 and 2, although the "real" Johnny Drummer didn't release an album until 1999 he had been gigging for many years before that as can be seen from his own website:

http://johnnydrummermusic.com/

And here's an interview with him from 2015:

http://www.bluesblastmagazine.com/featured-interview-johnny-drummer/

Sorry, but I haven't come across any Fall connection. But I suppose Mark E Smith might have heard the name and used it in the lyrics, either consciously or unconsciously. It's hard to be sure.
Zack
  • 5. Zack | 11/02/2017
The title and the martial drumming both hark back to "Impression of J. Temperance."

Yeah, I think it's about Burns. Look at the last line: "Don't ever follow the path of being hard and tough when your heart is soft." Fall Lore is full of similar statements about Karl Burns' bifurcated personality.

John Leckie in the Wonderful and Frightening Omnibus Edition booklet: "Karl Burns was [...] a total animal. He was one of these real debauched characters, getting up to anything. [...] He was a lovely character, very sweet guy and he was up for it and everything."

MES in Renegade: "[Karl] could be very nice but he could also be a bit of a bully [...]"

Dave Bush in Simon Ford's Hip Priest: "Karl was an animal but he was funny."
Zack
  • 6. Zack | 14/04/2017
One more, from Brixton's book: "Karl Burns was not refined in any way, and he had no social grace. He was extremely crude and used shocking language - every other word was 'cunt'. At the same time, he could also be warm and funny. You never knew what you were going to get with Karl."
Robert
  • 7. Robert | 31/08/2019
Is it worth noting that the title possibly refers to J.G. Ballard? (Although the song otherwise bears no obvious connection with the writer's work.)
bzfgt
  • 8. bzfgt (link) | 07/09/2019
Why Ballard? Was J. Drummer an alias of his or something?
bzfgt
  • 9. bzfgt (link) | 07/09/2019
Oh shit, Ballard...sorry, Robert
Robert
  • 10. Robert | 07/09/2019
Given that Ballard had notable influence on many of Smith's post-punk peers it's not unreasonable to speculate that that is who is being refered to here. As to why ... who knows?! Maybe someone just spelled "ballad" wrong.
dannyno
  • 11. dannyno | 16/09/2019
I think it's just a misspelling because while Ballard is otherwise a very plausible reference for MES, in this context it appears to have no function whatsoever - doesn't make sense in the context of the title, and there's no other Ballardian content to hang on to. But it probably has to be noted because sometimes logic lets us down.
bzfgt
  • 12. bzfgt (link) | 21/09/2019
Well just the title alone could be a hat tip
MES Sage
  • 13. MES Sage | 25/09/2019
In the year 1996 -01 (i.e. January 1996 when album was recorded)
Last numeral (of the year) was upside down = 1999
Therefore ballardian, scifi, near future prediction tale

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