Underground Medecin

Lyrics

(1)

(Your nervous system, your nervous system)
(Underground medicine, underground medicine)

 

A spark inside
Ten percent that I hide
And when it clicks
There's no resist

 

Every time I hear a new baby cry (2)
I thank my spark inside

 

And you get underground medicine
Underground medicine
I'm but a nervous system
Underground medicine

 

I found a reason not to die
A reason for the ride
The spark inside
When it hits the mind you get
Underground medicine
Underground medicine
I'm but a nervous system
Underground medicine

 

I had a psychosomatic voice
At one time it might come back (3)
Now! It's back

 

Underground medicine
Underground medicine
I'm but a nervous system
Underground medicine

 

On my pants I spilled expectorant
And the colonel shot better with 30 pints
They took his cup away
Take it away, take it away
[Used to 'ground] medicine
[Used to 'ground] medicine
[Used to 'ground] medicine

Notes

1. This is a song that is often assumed to be about drugs, although it doesn't necessarily have to be. Like much of Live at the Witch Trials, the lyrics are terse and gnomic, and admit of various interpretations.  

Paul Hanley on Twitter says "Underground Medecin" involves "a strange theory about using your body to its full potential" (see also "Fit and Working Again"). 

Dan submits: 

from "The Prestwich Horror and Other Strange Stories", interview by Edwin Pouncey, Sounds magazine, 31 January 1981:

(Pouncey begins his question following on from a discussion about The N.W.R.A., and MES links Totale to Lovecraft....)


Lovecraft's 'Cthulhu' Mythos you mean, Is the 'Totale' thing an offshoot of that then, what are it's origins?

"Totale started out on 'Dragnet', I mean these things can't be connected but you've heard 'Underground Medicine' on the first album which is very Burroughsesque. William Burroughs had apparently written a lot of stuff on the same theme 'Underground Medicine' going along in circuits of body abuse and body benefit and therefore you can survive forever.

I sort of visioned this thing where there would be a book called 'Underground Medicine' which would be just statements and so Roman Totale comes into that and he's a voice that the band can speak through."

And,

In his column, "Time of the Assasins," in the July 1977 issue of Crawdaddy, Burroughs uses the phrase "underground medicine": 

"In the year 2014 New York, world center for underground medicine..."

 

From the press release for Totale's Turns, "U.Medecin" [sic] is said to be a work by "R.Totale" [also sic]:

"I have this natural thing in me which hates following the logically obvious and detests current modes regardless of their credibility or quality"  - From U.Medecin by R.Totale XVII

^

2. Plutart points out that this is a probable reference to the devotional song "I Believe," written in by Ervin Drake, Irvin Graham, Jimmy Shirl and Al Stillman, and popularized by Jane Froman, and subsequently a number one hit for Frankie Laine:

Every time I hear a new born baby cry
Or touch a leaf or see the sky
Then I know why I believe

^

3. Martin Brahmah, in a video interview with John Robb, says MES saw a doctor for a psychosomatic voice problem during the recording of Live at the Witch Trials.

^

Comments (36)

Martin
  • 1. Martin | 16/02/2014
I had to look up the meaning of "expectorant". Evidently, according to wikipedia, it "is incorrectly extended to any cough medicine, since it is a universal component." Not sure if this adds in any way to our (non) understanding of the song!
mal
  • 2. mal | 10/06/2014
I always heard that last part as Uster Graf medicine. Graf being a Germanic title of nobility, Uster being in Switzerland. I never thought it made much sense though.
bzfgt
  • 3. bzfgt | 15/06/2014
Shit, it's intriguing though, since the way it is now is definitely wrong and all the brackets are an eyesore on my site. The "colonel" could be German or Swiss or something...generally seems wiser to leave the wrong thing everyone's used to than change it to the more speculative probably wrong thing, something would have to tip the scales...
Max Williams
  • 4. Max Williams | 05/01/2015
I always thought the repeated bit at the end was "useful gram, medicine", which makes sense in the context of the song being about drugs, particularly speed.
Martin
  • 5. Martin | 29/03/2016
Possibly, just possibly, the line " the colonel shot better with 30 pints" could refer to the widespread belief among pubgoers in Britain who play darts or pool that alcohol makes them perform better, as the drink relaxes them. There are various references to pubs throughout Fall lyrics, so the idea I suggest above may not be completely fanciful.
bzfgt
  • 6. bzfgt | 14/05/2016
No, I thought something similar as this kind of belief is very widespread and not confined to Britain, although at the same time it could be firearms, or a play on both.
john kedward
  • 7. john kedward | 31/01/2018
My take on this is ironic considering the amount of stuff the late Great Mark E Smith took during his time on Planet Prestwich and that is the song seems to be about celebrating a natural high, a swerve away from chemicals, apart from the internal, underground medicine.He's talking about the spark inside with his nervous system, which can play havoc-psychosomatic voices-, but can respond to natural wonders like a new child. I'm not sure who the Colonel is though! Don't tell me it's Jockey Wilson
bzfgt
  • 8. bzfgt (link) | 12/02/2018
John, yeah, I think that's a reasonable reading although I'm not sure he's drawing a contrast.
ex-worker man
  • 9. ex-worker man | 13/03/2018
[Traverse up my hide] = ten percent that I hide
sort of inverse of this https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ten_percent_of_the_brain_myth
bzfgt
  • 10. bzfgt (link) | 21/03/2018
I don't know what it means, but that's exactly what I hear now you've suggested it. Why the "inverse" of that?
bzfgt
  • 11. bzfgt (link) | 21/03/2018
Even if that's still wrong, it's closer than "Traverse up my hide"...it has to be.
Ex worker man
  • 12. Ex worker man | 25/03/2018
Inverse not really the right word. He has access to 10 % extra brain power, normally hidden, gained through creativity or underground medicine
Martin
  • 13. Martin | 27/03/2018
"Ten percent that I hide" are, to these ears, the lyrics sung on various live performances of the track.
bzfgt
  • 14. bzfgt (link) | 07/04/2018
Yeah, that's canonized now!
dannyno
  • 15. dannyno | 16/06/2018
Screenwriter and MES associate Graham Duff posted a lyric sheet for this song to Facebook. There's a thread devoted to it over on the Fall Online Forum.

Now, lyric sheets may not reflect what is actually sung on record, but with that proviso this text does seem to confirm some of our guesses above.

So "ten percent that I hid(e)" is there.
dannyno
  • 16. dannyno | 09/07/2018
Just to note that the lyric sheet posted by Graham Duff on Facebook and commented on above actually appears in the blue lyrics book. (p51)
bzfgt
  • 17. bzfgt (link) | 15/07/2018
I can barely read any of that. Does it suggest anything we need to change? I didn't see anything but a lot of it is inscrutable.
Freddy M
  • 18. Freddy M | 02/09/2019
Always thought it was about abortion.
Plutart
  • 19. Plutart | 25/01/2020
'Every time I hear a new baby cry.' - Obviously from I Believe written by Ervin Drake, Irvin Graham, Jimmy Shirl and Al Stillman in 1953.
Plutart
  • 20. Plutart | 25/01/2020
You missed a line

'I had a psychosomatic voice
And one time it might come back
...Now! It's back.'
bzfgt
  • 21. bzfgt (link) | 25/01/2020
Thank you!
bzfgt
  • 22. bzfgt (link) | 25/01/2020
I'm suspicious of "I'm but a nervous system"
dannyno
  • 23. dannyno | 02/05/2020
The lyric sheet mentioned in my comment #15, which appears in the blue lyrics book:

https://attachment.tapatalk-cdn.com/28573/201806/750_d250239224b7f9bf1ba602493e68d243.jpg?Expires=1588694539&Signature=fKINwGvAezDe-CWi2EbvJPig6C2ctdgHZLLx0Ogk~ItzJtzc~LiUFhgcm~U6TZ-R6otPWaVmcAuwUhOtEwQxlUCyzc6NHnRkIBScH5J5RJIojT6dGbvUK~PYWeLQxGEMolx4IGEbe2MlxIj0ly2GQ-qUOP3dmid2p5PdmFCr4PWbES1SHbru3-Uk33wtHbFQXZnIRe~DAMRf1MnFW8egkXw3wpj5ghCQWr8ayyV6bAimo9dhaQwbwhHhTvqtUJoYBJ4GcTPlUakdHY2TBaPZENxW~Lt6d8jVKTmnGrLohywkY4NMqCWcJG53riDW5mH041T2k2cuWfofULRbqBW~tA__&Key-Pair-Id=APKAJS72YROXJYGYDADA
bzfgt
  • 24. bzfgt (link) | 14/06/2020
Link doesn't work for me
Chris
  • 25. Chris | 22/07/2020
What you've got written as "I had a psychosomatic voice and one time" makes more sense to me and sounds like "AT one time".
bzfgt
  • 26. bzfgt (link) | 26/07/2020
Damn it it sounds equal to me, agree yours makes a little more sense, and that line's not in the handwritten lyrics in the blue book, I'll go with "at" and see if anyone objects
bzfgt
  • 27. bzfgt (link) | 26/07/2020
Actually I don't think it makes any more sense. Fuck.
dannyno
  • 28. dannyno | 15/01/2021
from "The Prestwich Horror and Other Strange Stories", interview by Edwin Pouncey, Sounds magazine, 31 January 1981:

(Pouncey begins his question following on from a discussion about The N.W.R.A., and MES links Totale to Lovecraft....)


Lovecraft's 'Cthulhu' Mythos you mean, Is the 'Totale' thing an offshoot of that then, what are it's origins?

"Totale started out on 'Dragnet', I mean these things can't be connected but you've heard 'Underground Medicine' on the first album which is very Burroughsesque. William Burroughs had apparently written a lot of stuff on the same theme 'Underground Medicine' going along in circuits of body abuse and body benefit and therefore you can survive forever.

I sort of visioned this thing where there would be a book called 'Underground Medicine' which would be just statements and so Roman Totale comes into that and he's a voice that the band can speak through.
dannyno
  • 29. dannyno | 09/02/2021
Burroughs did a column called "Time of the Assassins" for Crawdaddy magazine. 1975-1977, it looks like, according to the selective bibliography at https://escholarship.org/content/qt8mq028p5/qt8mq028p5.pdf

The July 1977 issue of Crawdaddy is in the Internet Archive.

In it, Burroughs uses the phrase "underground medicine": here.

Quote:


In the year 2014 New York, world center for underground medicine...


But of course, what we're looking at here in Crawdaddy is significant to MES's lyrical themes.

MES was, of course, a declared fan of Philip K. Dick. Dick's Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? was published in 1968, and filmed as Blade Runner, released 1982.

The Blade Runner title, however, comes from a thematically unrelated couple of works.

The first was a 1974 novel by Alan E. Nourse, titled The Blade Runner or The Bladerunner.

William Burroughs apparently expressed interest in adapting Nourse's novel for a movie as early as 1976, but that ended up going nowhere so wrote up his ideas for the screenplay as a novel instead, which was published in 1979 as Blade Runner: a movie.

Nourse's original novel and Burroughs' later adaptation are both basically about underground medicine.

MES may have been familiar with Nourse's novel. Burroughs' version is too late. However, Burroughs' Crawdaddy article - which is basically a pitch for the movie he originally envisioned, could have been something that MES read - and of course Burroughs' was generally interested in these themes.
dannyno
  • 30. dannyno | 09/02/2021
In which case, perhaps "the spark inside" refers to Wilhem Reich's pseudoscientific "orgone" energy (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Orgone).

Just also to note that the phrase "underground medicine" does appear in Nourse's novel.
dannyno
  • 31. dannyno | 26/02/2021


In this interview Bramah tells the story of MES being diagnosed by a Harley Street doctor as having a "psychomatic" voice problem during the recording of Live at the Witch Trials.
bzfgt
  • 32. bzfgt (link) | 08/03/2021
Dan, what do you mean "Nourse's original novel and Burroughs' later adaptation are both basically about underground medicine"?
dannyno
  • 33. dannyno | 10/03/2021
#32 - in Nourse and Burroughs, a "blade runner" is a smuggler of medical supplies - for example surgical scalpels.

Nourse and Burroughs imagine a future where the American government has brought in some form of socialised medicine, but at the cost of sterilisation under eugenics laws. It's otherwise illegal to access medicine, so there's an underground black market.

The song isn't on the face of it an adaptation of the plot of either version, but seems to pick up on the phrase "underground medicine" in the context wider Burroughsian concerns, possibly Reich, etc.
bzfgt
  • 34. bzfgt (link) | 17/04/2021
Is there a reference to Totale in the Dragnet notes (I don't have them)? Or some concrete connection? Or is the first Fiery Jack?
dannyno
  • 35. dannyno | 21/04/2021
Comment #34: yes, the Chorazina explanation is "credited" to R. Totale XVII.

https://img.discogs.com/oymg4_TYMnxGEs4U1eLyv28-elc=/fit-in/573x600/filters:strip_icc():format(jpeg):mode_rgb():quality(90)/discogs-images/R-371281-1321778277.png.jpg
Ivan
  • 36. Ivan | 05/07/2021
We used to sing the psychosomatic voice part and then collapse in giggles - and it was always 'Aaaaahooow'!' rather than 'now'. As in:

I had a psychosomatic voice at one time.
It may come back.
Aaaaaahoow!

I can't hear an 'n' before the noise.

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