Two Librans

Lyrics

There was two Librans sat on a hill (1)
And one always exiting to the easy gate (2)

Exit to two years to be perfect

Two Librans reflect
Two Librans high and low in mind
To Oprah Winfrey
She studied bees
Studied bees down
Two Librans (3)

War

The muggings 
Dressing a soldat (4)
Nelson in Timor (5)
Tolstoy in Ch-Chechnya (6)

You will reflect on wastage

Two Librans reflect
Two Librans high and low in mind
To Oprah Winfrey
She studied bees
Studied bees down
Two Librans

Exit to two years to be perfect

Two Librans reflect
Two Librans
The miracles on blonde September (7)

Back to the lick back to the deviant

 The Cambodian Cambodian 

(8)

 

 

Notes

1. Libra is the seventh astrological sign of the Zodiac. The sun currently transits the constellation Libra between October 31 and November 16. However, due to the precession of the equinoxes, Western astrology, which was codified centuries ago, still considers a LIbran to be someone born between September 23 and October 22. Libra is Latin for scales (of the weighing, not the piscine, variety), and the sign traditionally represents fairness, justice, and reflection, the last of which is mentioned several times in the song.

^

2. A fragmentary 1927 story by H.P. Lovecraft entitled "The Descendant" contains the following lines:

"He would travel leagues to follow up a furtive village tale of abnormal wonder, and once went into the desert of Araby to seek a Nameless City of faint report, which no man has ever beheld. There rose within him the tantalising faith that somewhere an easy gate existed, which if one found would admit him freely to those outer deeps whose echoes rattled so dimly at the back of his memory."

Mark E Smith has frequently decalred himself an avid reader of Lovecraft, so it is possible this phrase stuck in his mind at some point (thanks to nairng from the Fall online forum).  

And, Dan tells us, "it's worth knowing that historically an "easy gate" or "lazy gate" (or "patent gate") is a kind of gate it is possible to pass through without having to get off a horse or get out of a coach or vehicle."

^

3. Oprah Winfrey (who is, since you are wondering, an Aquarius) is not, to my knowledge, a student of bees, although Oprah did apparently have the cast of the 2008 movie The Secret Life of Bees on her program (eight years after "Two Librans" was released), and she was the voice of one of the bees in Bee Movie (again, several years too late to be relevant). There is also a fake youtube video--again, alas, post-dating the song--of Oprah releasing a swarm of bees into the adoring faces of her audience. It's not clear whether the "she" who is said to have studied bees is meant to be Oprah or one of the titular Librans, whom we may imagine making a guest appearance on the show.

^

4. Soldat means "soldier" in German, a language MES often (correctly or, more often, not) incorporates into his lyrics, and also has the same meaning in Russian, Norwegian, Danish, Swedish, French, Catalan and Romanian. See note 6.

^

5. "Nelson" may be Admiral Horatio Nelson (1758-1805), a British naval hero whose name here may perhaps be taken as a synechdoche for British militarism or imperialism. It does not seem likely that Nelson ever set foot on the island of Timor, which had been under Dutch, Portugese, Indonesian and, briefly, Japanese control before East Timor gained independence in 2002 (West Timor remains under Indonesian administration). The island, particularly the Eastern half, has had a long history of struggle against colonial powers, and the line "Nelson in Timor" should probably be read as having more of a metaphorical or visionary intent rather than aiming at historical accuracy.

On the other hand (thanks here to Gnomus) the reference could be to Nelson Mandela, who in 1997 met with his fellow Nobel laureate and Timorese activist Jose Ramos-Horta, although he had been criticized for dealing with Indonesia and not proscribing their conduct in Timor, as this article explains: Mandela, East Timor meeting shrouded in secrecy 

And Dan points out that the HMS Nelson also made a voyage to Timor in 1825, when she was sunk by pirates...

^

6. Count Lev (Leo) Tolstoy (1828-1910) was a Christian anarchist and pacifist, and is, of course, considered one of the premier figures in world literature for his novels. Tolstoy served in the Russian army in the Caucusus region, and he lived in Chechnya in the 1850s.

There is a Tolstoy museum in Chechnya, and it re-opened in December, 2000, eight months after this song saw it's debut. But it was in the news earlier in the year, including an article in the Christian Science Monitor dated March 9--two weeks before the appearance of "Two Librans"--headlined "Lone Soldier Defends Tolstoy in Chechnya" (see "Dressing a soldat," note 4 above). The museum was seen as a symbol of Russian imperialism, and the Chechnyan government defunded it in 1997, but its director, the "soldier" of the headline, went to a lot of trouble, sans wages, to preserve its collection until the Russians entered the region and re-established the musem in 2000. The building in which the museum is housed was originally a schoolhouse named for the author.

Tolstoy's short novel Hadji Murat depicts the struggle between Russia and Muslim Chechnya at that time and, of course, this struggle continues to this day. "Tolstoy" could perhaps be considered a kind of term complement to "Nelson": in that case, a surface reading would suggest that, while the latter name conveys militarism, the former conveys pacifism, although this polarity is of course flipped when we consider the specific context. in any case, if we go that route we may also possibly detect the suggestion of cultural, rather than military, triumphalism and the hegemony of Christian and Western ideas in the name "Tolstoy" as well as the obvious connotations re: Russian military incursions in Chechnya.

In general, the two Librans theme here suggests a pair of opposites balancing the "scales": in addition to Nelson and Tolstoy we get "high and low in mind," and the close proximity of "muggings" and "dressing a soldat," which suggests someone dressing the wounds of an injured man. In that case, we could group these themes as follows: Nelson/low in mind/mugging, Tolstoy/high in mind/dressing. Certainly there is something like this at work in the lyrics, but how precise the symbolism is meant to be is unclear (and again, the associations are unstable, as the pacifist Tolstoy in context also symbolizes militarism and imperialism). But if we are to persist with this sort of thing it is necessary to add that the duality appears not just between, but also within, the "twins," and therefore two Librans adds up to four sets of ideas, symbols, or character traits. In that case Tolstoy will have to bear some of the onus of the muggings and perhaps also, then, Nelson must dress a wound or two.

From a contemporaneous Wall Street Journal article:

"With all my strength and with the aid of a cannon, I shall assist in destroying the predatory and turbulent Asiatics," Tolstoy wrote in a letter to his family from the front in Chechnya in 1852.

But I'll let the "soldat"/museum director have the last word:

Asked whether it is appropriate to maintain a museum celebrating a man whom many Chechens view as a Russian imperialist, Zagibov argues that the author should not be viewed in such a politically fractious light.

"Tolstoy is not just a Russian writer, he belongs to all of humanity." he says. "Tolstoy was a pacifist. He would have opposed this war too."

^ 

7. Dan tracked this one down:

The Jewish-Greek poet Joseph Eliyia wrote a poem called "September" ("Poems", 1944) which includes the lines:

"In the paradise of the seasons, my thirsty soul pines
Til she finds you, cool blonde September
Torrid heat expires in your breast, 
And your dawns are voluptuous, dewy, miracle of miracles".  

^

8. The Lyrics Parade has "The Cambodian Cambodian [rip]" (square brackets usually indicate that the Parade is uncertain about a word). MES does indeed make a sound like "rip" here, but to me it just sounds like a variant on the noise he makes to indicate to the band that the song is ending, which sometimes comes out more like "hup!" or "whup!", and not a lyric proper.  

Thdemo version of Two Librans has different lyrics and, notably, Oprah Winfrey has not yet made an appearance:

Two librans sat on a hill One always exiting to the gate And I said I rue the day they met Masters of a mocked hill two librans...reflect...sat on a hill two librans The promises, casual; And one early end Mid-30 year dawn You'll you will reflect on wastage to get each of two thousand there Promises...masters of a mock hill 2 librans reflect, sat on a hill, giggling about... You will...reflect on the wastage of of your wasted money two librans reflect sat on a hill... Masters of the mock Sat on a hill...two librans reflect sat on a hill, the promises, casual...
 

Comments (17)

dannyno
  • 1. dannyno | 04/05/2013

"The miracles on blonde September"

The Jewish-Greek poet Joseph Eliyia wrote a poem called "September" ("Poems", 1944) which includes the lines:

"In the paradise of the seasons,my thirsty soul pines
Til she finds you, cool blonde September
Torrid heat expires in your breast,
And your dawns are voluptuous, dewy, miracle of miracles".

dannyno
  • 2. dannyno | 04/05/2013

In Astrology, as already noted, a Libran is someone born between 23 September and 22 October.

What nobody has done is look at the birth signs of the people mentioned in the song.

Nelson was born on 29 September, so he is a Libran.

Leo Tolstoy was born on 9 September,so he is a Virgo. Oprah Winfrey is not a Libran either.

So that didn't help!

Dan
.

bzfgt
  • 3. bzfgt | 04/05/2013

Crap, I can't believe I didn't even think of that. Oprah's an Aquarius.

If Nelson and Tolstoy were both Librans that would have been neat.

I'll move that blonde September up to the notes, that's one that I hated to have hanging...

dannyno
  • 4. dannyno | 04/05/2013

A different Nelson.

As noted above, Horatio Nelson didn't go to Timor. Maybe MES just got that wrong.

But the HMS Lady Nelson did - but it was her last voyage as the ship was captured by pirates and the crew killed.

Wikipedia: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/HMS_Lady_Nelson_(1798)#The_loss_of_the_Lady_Nelson_to_pirates

Another relevant Nelson could be David Nelson, ship's botanist on Captain Bligh's Bounty. He was one of the Bligh loyalists who were cast adrift, and he died of fever at Timor.

Dan

dannyno
  • 5. dannyno | 04/05/2013

"Easy gate".

There's a Lovecraft reference already in the notes, but it's worth knowing that historically an "easy gate" or "lazy gate" (or "patent gate") is a kind of gate it is possible to pass through without having to get off a horse or get out of a coach or vehicle.

Dan

Dan Coffey
  • 6. Dan Coffey | 25/04/2014

In 1998, Winfrey starred in the adapation of Toni Morrison's Beloved. Long shot, but Winfrey's character, Sethe, murdered several of her daughters. One of them, known only as "Beloved," comes back to haunt Sethe's new family. Could "Beloved" = "Bee"?

Dan Coffey
  • 7. Dan Coffey | 25/04/2014

I was half-joking before, but I think I'm on to something here: From The Horrors of Remembrance
The Altered Visual Aesthetic of Horror in Jonathan Demme’s Beloved.

By ELLEN C. SCOTT
(http://www.genders.org/g40/g40_scott.html)

"Not only do we see Beloved’s chronic excessiveness, we also hear it. Beloved invades and colonizes the soundtrack, marshalling control of the realm of the unseen, hovering sonically around the film’s margins. Her heavy, gasping breath, her slurred, moaning speech, her noisy, sloppy eating, and her demonically low voice all cause us to associate her with the basic bodily functions she has not yet mastered. Her body literally creaks, moans, gurgles, and groans but these sounds have no reasonable, ostensible source: they bubble forth from an unknown, untold internal location: they are not synchronized with her mouth and therefore appear extra-diagetic, although it is always her presence that catalyzes them. Beloved’s appearance also crucially ushers in another sonic motif: the sound of buzzing (of bees or flies -- we cannot tell which). Beloved appears to be herald and source of these sounds: we see neither bees nor flies on the image track in these scenes, although the soundtrack renders them swarms. The ambiguity of the source of the buzzing may itself be metaphorically significant, as bees are attracted to the sweetness of pollen and flies to its opposite, the stench of death, both of which are characteristics associated with Beloved’s form.

bzfgt
  • 8. bzfgt | 13/05/2014

Wow, that's pretty interesting. It's suggestive for sure, but I'm not sure what to do with it right now...I did read the book but it was 20 years ago and I don't remember much. I've never seen the movie...in any case your speculations are on the record here and much appreciated.

dannyno
  • 9. dannyno | 20/07/2014

Typo in your note 1:

"contellation"

Nbuck
  • 10. Nbuck | 09/09/2014

Some of my favorite lyrics in this one.

Martin
  • 11. Martin | 08/10/2015

I'm absolutely not sure about this, but does Mark E Smith not sing "There was two librans instead of the grammatically correct "were"?

bzfgt
  • 12. bzfgt | 23/11/2015

Yes! He says "was," changed.

bzfgt
  • 13. bzfgt | 23/11/2015

Damn it this whole song has disappeared and I have no idea why. I still have it in the page editor.

dannyno
  • 14. dannyno | 04/02/2016

In February 2000, the Tolstoy Museum in Chechnya reopened.

bzfgt
  • 15. bzfgt | 19/03/2016

Excellent, Dan! See my new note 6, this has shaken things loose. I'm not sure why I couldn't make the Chechnya/Tolstoy connection the first time out, I certainly Googled it and I'm not sure why this stuff didn't emerge. It may have been a careless oversight on my part, I remember looking at Tolstoy bios and entering "Chechnya" on CTRL-F, but maybe my initial Google search was inadequately thorough.

dannyno
  • 17. dannyno | 12/02/2017

I made a couple of alternative suggestions in note 4 above.

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