1. Dan submits:
From "The Fall: album by album", in Uncut magazine, July 2019:
STEVE TRAFFORD: ...Elena and Mark had a stuffed toy rabbit called Gunther, so "What About Us" was written from Gunther's perspective: "I am a rabbit from East Germany..." Then it goes into stuff about Harold Shipman. Mark was the master of confusion.
See note 3 below.
2. "Blindness" from the same album begins, "The flat is evil/Welcome, living leg-end." In both cases the word is pronounced with a hard 'g.' Zack points out:
I want to believe that MES's fixation on the phrase 'living legends' circa 2005 stems from The Fall being referred to as such in a magazine article somewhere. In the BBC doc we see MES shouting 'We are ALL living leg-ends' during an unused vocal take from Peel Sesh #24. Of course MES is a living legend. His wife Elena? Maybe. But Steve Trafford, Fall bassist from 2004 to 2006? Forget it."
Dan finds that, in May 2004, MES appears in Mojo magazine under the heading "The Legend of the Fall" (perhaps a play on the 1994 movie Legends of the Fall, or the 1979 Jim Harrison novella of that name on which the movie is based). He also points out that Interim, with a release date of November 1, 2004, bears the phrase "Living Leg.-ends" (more or less, it's partly vertical) on its cover. "What About Us?" debuted in July, 2004.
Note the Henry Cow album Legend makes the same pun in the opposite direction, as the cover features a sock.
The Coasters had a minor hit in 1959 with the Leiber and Stoller-penned "What About Us" (no question mark). The theme is kind of similar, in a way:
He's got a car made of suede
With a black leather top, got it made
If we go out on dates
We go in a box on roller skates, well
What about us
What about us
Don't want to cause no fuss
But what about us
3. See note 1 above.
The rabbits of Berlin, who once proliferated on the eastern side of the Wall, were apparently well known. The following appeared in the New York Times in November, 1989:
"The crumbling of the Berlin wall was also the end of innocence for untold numbers of rabbits.
Over the 28 years that the wall stood impenetrable, rabbits had happily lived and multiplied in the security of the no-man's land on the eastern side of the wall.
Only an occasional police dog posed any threat. Tourists climbing on one of the many elevated platforms built on the Western side would be inspired to weighty thoughts by the sight of bunnies hopping merrily about.
But then came the lifting of travel restrictions on Nov. 9. Almost immediately afterward people began chipping at the seams in the wall. A few at first, then in veritable chain gangs, they soon punched gaping holes in the barrier. That, plus the opening of 15 new crossings, set the bunnies free.
Like the East Germans who came rushing through the wall, the rabbits must have initially felt giddy on leaving their their bare no-man's land for new pastures.
Underscoring their fleeting glory, the first artist to spray-paint the wall on its eastern face, Manfred Butzmann, chose bouncing rabbits as his subject. But his pioneering opus in spray-paint was painted over."
The 2009 film Rabbit á la Berlin documents the lives of the rabbits who lived in the "no man's land" on the eastern side of the Berlin Wall, and their travails after the Wall came down (thanks to dannyno from the Fall online forum). The song predates the film, but it is probable that Eleni Poulou, who wrote the song with MES, knew of the rabbits from her time in Germany. It has also been speculated that the "rabbit" refers obliquely to Poulou herself.
In any case, we must not think that the song is literally about a rabbit, as MES makes clear in an interview with author Michael Stewart:
MS: But you write about place often in your work don’t you but you’re not a realist writer even though your work is firmly rooted in your environment. There’s a strong fantasy element. I’m thinking of a song like ‘What about Us’. Which seems to be about an East German rabbit that comes to Manchester as an immigrant and is happy until the day it finds out that Harold Shipman has been giving out drugs to old ladies. Every time I hear that song it makes me laugh. But is it just a comedy song or do you mean something more by it?
MES: No, it’s true.
MS: Is it satire ?
MES: No, a lot of these Eastern European fellas you meet are grossly disappointed. That’s why they’re plumbers. They’re crushed.
MS: So what’s the rabbit got to do with it then ?
MES: What do you mean, what’s the rabbit got to do with it ?
MS: You wrote it, I’m just saying what’s there.
MES: Did you actually think it was about a rabbit ?
Gets a huge laugh.
MS: You’ve spoilt it for me now Mark.
MES: You thought it was a rabbit ?
Another huge laugh.
MES: East German, drug dealer, Shipman –
MS: Well, yeah, I know who Shipman was.
MES: Not Shipman, that’s the doctor. The main character is an East German.
MS: Who comes over to Manchester –
MES: Not Manchester, why Manchester ?
MS: Well, north Britain. Quite likes it, then finds out Harold Shipman –
MES: That he can get drugs from his surgery.
MS: And the moral of the story is ?
MES: I don’t know.
MES: He feels disappointed.
MS: He does feel disappointed – I feel for that rabbit.
MES: Did you actually think he was a rabbit ?
MS: I did Mark, yeah.
MES shakes his head in pity and disbelief. Big laugh.
4. Harold Shipman was a British doctor who was convicted of murder for administering lethal doses of morphine to his patients, mostly elderly women. He hanged himself in his prison cell in 2004. The titular question ("What about us?"), the significance of the protagonist being an East German rabbit, and other related matters have been much discussed at the Fall online forum. "What about us?" could be a joking plea for drugs, an oblique attack on Shipman, or any number of other things.
This phrase--"What about us, Shipman?"--first appeared, as far as anyone knows, in a version of "Hit The North" played on 2002/9/22. Reformation! quotes MES as follows: "Shipman, why did you do it to us.....what about us - wheyhup....."
This was Eleni Poulou's first gig with the Fall. Dan has discovered that this gig, while it precedes Shipman's 2004 suicide, followed an ITV dramatization of the Shipman case which aired that July.