What About Us?

Lyrics

(1)

Ba ba ba ba ba ba ba ba ba

Well, leg-end... living
We are living leg-ends
The living leg-end (2)

I am a rabbit from East Germany (3)
I was very happy
And I could get anything I want
I was so-oh happy

Then I moved to North Britain
I became an immigrant
I could frolic around all night
In the green grass

I was sort of happy

Ba ba ba ba ba ba ba ba ba

But then one night
By the green grass
By a rubbish receptacle
I saw a newspaper
I was not very happy

There was a man going round all the time
He was dishing out drugs
He was a doctor
Dishing out morphine to old ladies

I said, what about us? (Shipman!) (4)
What about us? (Shipman!)
What about us? (Shipman!)
What about us? (Shipman!)
What about us, Shipman?
What about us? (Shipman!)
What about us, Shipman?
What about us? (Shipman!)

Hop hop hop!
Hop hop hop!
Hop hop hop!

I'm an immigrant from East Germany
I was sort of happy
I could frolic around a lot
In the train station
I could get anything I want

There was a doctor going around
He was dishing out drugs
He was dishing out left and right
To old ladies

So don't get me wrong
People in Great Britain
Please don't get me wrong

Hop hop hop!
Hop hop hop!
Hop hop hop!
Please don't get me wrong
Hop hop hop!

What about us? (Shipman!)
What about us? (Shipman!)
What about us? (Shipman!)
What about us? (Shipman!)
What about us, Shipman?
What about us? (Shipman!)
What about us, Shipman?
What about us? (Shipman!)

Notes

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.

Big laugh.

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.

^

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Comments (46)

dannyno
  • 1. dannyno | 05/05/2013
In Mick Middles' book "The Fall", Middles notes that MES bought Elena a rabbit ornament while on holiday...
dannyno
  • 2. dannyno | 22/07/2014
Some corrections:

"But till then one night
By the green grass"

He stumbles over "But", but the lyric is "But then one night"

"In the train station
I could get a lift that I want"

Should be:

"In the train station
I could get anything I want"
BIll Perry
  • 3. BIll Perry (link) | 17/05/2015
loved learning about the rabbits.
i understand tha i'm wrong about it, but i (and another, my "fall friend" you understand) heard it as: "What about US?... Shit, Man!"
IT's way funnier. and so naturally conversational. But i've been reading lips on youtube, and i fear it is as evryone else says, 'shipman'. BUt the name has no charge or significance to us (please and sorry) americans.
But get this- i'm so invested (my fav fall song for a while) to this that i think in my delusional arrogance that MES would think it was better like this too! ha! what could be less likely: 'American on internet changes MES' mind on lyrics"
bzfgt
  • 4. bzfgt | 26/06/2015
"BUt the name has no charge or significance to us (please and sorry) americans."

Right, that's basically 90% of the impetus for creating this site--shit every Brit would know but that I have to look up.

And I don't think your hope is delusional at all, I can't remember where this transpired (Dan will), but we have thought to have found MES changing lyrics to people's mishearings before...
Zack
  • 5. Zack | 13/08/2015
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.
bzfgt
  • 6. bzfgt | 25/08/2015
Zack, I think you're on the right track, there has to be something like that from that period. Maybe someone will find it one of these days...Dan, maybe? Anyway it could be any number of things but someone must have said something to get it in his head.
dannyno
  • 7. dannyno | 25/08/2015
"Living leg-end"

This has always suggested two things to me. First of all, the cover of Henry Cow's "Leg end"/"Legend" album, which punningly features a sock. And second, MES's problems with broken hips.

He first broke his hip in February 2004. Which is a few months before the first live appearance of this song (which was July 2004).
bzfgt
  • 8. bzfgt | 05/09/2015
It's odd I didn't have the Henry Cow thing in there because that's what I often think of too, although I guess sometimes I don't record the connection I've made if I don't think it's going anywhere. Anyway it's on record here now.
Martin
  • 9. Martin | 29/03/2016
4 October 2005; Central Station, Wrexham:

"You have witnessed the future of Britannia hospital." (during the introduction to "What About Us")

Britannia Hospital was a black comedy released in 1982 and directed by Lindsay Anderson. The plot involves murder, dubious scientific experimentation and a head being used in a Frankenstein-like experiment (all this info from wikipedia).

Obviously the song was debuted a long time (15 months) before this pre-song introduction by Mark E Smith, but it does underline to a certain extent some of the lyrical themes of the track.
bzfgt
  • 10. bzfgt | 14/05/2016
Martin, absolutely, that's good. I am just commenting here to say that I'm getting more lax about incorporating things in the comments into the notes, since it's all here either way and I am getting burned out on constantly updating things. In other words, if I leave it down here it doesn't mean that it isn't good material, just that I have less of an inner flame now spurring me to make the notes as comprehensive and perfect as possible when most people, I assume, also read the comments...
Zack
  • 11. Zack | 28/06/2016
"Ba ba ba ba ba ba ba ba ba" - MES hums a similar fanfare near the beginning of "Just Step S'ways".
Zack
  • 12. Zack | 17/02/2017
More proof of the Eleni / rabbit connection: she signed Fallchase's copy of Missing Winner "with a bunny like design" - http://z1.invisionfree.com/thefall/index.php?showtopic=2367&st=0&#e;ntry1389997 .
Zack
  • 13. Zack | 01/03/2017
The phrase "What about us, Shipman?" first appeared in this performance of "Hit The North" in 2002 - https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-ZPRpWXIQxw - Eleni's first gig with The Fall.
bzfgt
  • 14. bzfgt (link) | 03/03/2017
Zack, that is sterling stuff.
Martin
  • 15. Martin | 03/03/2017
Heck, the line (a bit different, I'd have to check it again) was already catalogued here: https://sites.google.com/site/reformationposttpm/pithy-smithyisms/in-the-2000s, But thanks anyway, Zack.
dannyno
  • 16. dannyno | 04/03/2017
That's interesting. That gig was September 2002. Shipman was imprisoned in 2000 and hanged himself in 2004. So why bring Shipman up in 2002?

Well, one reason might be that in July 2002, ITV broadcast a dramatisation of the case, starring James Bolam: "Harold Shipman: Doctor Death" (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Harold_Shipman:_Doctor_Death).

Someone's uploaded it to YouTube: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jLFNczld8NA. Perhaps there are clues in that, if anyone has time to watch it.
dannyno
  • 17. dannyno | 04/03/2017
I zipped through it. No clues. But the timing of the 2002 comment and the drama-documentary would seem significant.
bzfgt
  • 18. bzfgt | 19/03/2017
It's like Trump with Fox News reports...anyway it's good stuff to note.
Grimo
  • 19. Grimo | 16/10/2017
I also think that Michael Jacksons Earth Song may have had a slight influence. Jacksons performance at the 1996 BRIT Awards Jarvis Cocker infamously invade the stage while Jacksons backing band of children and, one imagines, parents, repetitively voiced the refrain, "What About Us"? I can see how this humorous interruption of Jacksons overwrought performance could have influenced Smith, and led him to create his own warped masterpiece.
Grimo
  • 20. Grimo | 16/10/2017
I also think that Michael Jacksons Earth Song may have been a slight influence.

Jackson performed it at the 1996 BRIT Awards when Jarvis Cocker invaded the stage and skipped around Jacksons backing band of children and, one imagines, parents. This happened when he was singing the refrain, "What About Us". It is a long shot, but I can see how this interruption of Jacksons overwrought performance may have been noted by Smith and led him to create his own warped masterpiece.

(Sorry about the double posting.)
dannyno
  • 21. dannyno | 17/10/2017
Eight years later?

Dan
bzfgt
  • 22. bzfgt (link) | 04/11/2017
That is an intriguing idea, Grimo.

Dan, I get that his references seem to be usually current but you seem captivated by the idea that nothing over a year old makes it in to the lyrics--I don't get it
dannyno
  • 23. dannyno | 04/11/2017
It's a sceptical query, I'm not saying it's impossible. It's fair to say that most known real-world references in Fall songs seem to be relatively recent, and so it's equally fair to prefer a recent reference point to an old one. But it's something new to think about, which is always good.

One day I'll map Fall song lyrical references from a chronological point of view.

Here's Michael Jackson's performance, starting where Jarvis runs into shot from the left: https://youtu.be/oJj3iupbnyk?t=281
rusty
  • 24. rusty | 25/11/2017
it's fa fa fa fa fa fa fa fa ?

as in Land of 1000 Dances and the Kinks' David Watts' ?

certainly it's the same rhythm

and an old, long affirmation: yes, The Henry Cow Leg End
grottyspawn
  • 25. grottyspawn | 18/02/2018
The ba ba ba/fa fa fa bit reminds me of the brr brr brr bit in Just Step S'ways (after "commercial last chance").
dannyno
  • 26. dannyno | 26/07/2018
Note "Living Legends" on the cover artwork for Interim:

http://thefall.org/discography/pics/interim%20big.jpg
dannyno
  • 27. dannyno | 26/07/2018
And this from Mojo, May 2004, a few months prior to the first appearance of this song live:

http://thefall.org/news/pics/04may_mojo.jpg
bzfgt
  • 28. bzfgt (link) | 29/07/2018
I always think of Henry Cow there (and vice versa) but I guess it's still not up there. OK.

Still sounds more like "ba" then "fa" to me.
Paul Go
  • 29. Paul Go | 20/12/2018
Honestly? Brits, still enjoying the noise cancelling qualities of sand I see.
Mark's right, Brits couldn't have dealt with the Shipman case any worse.
Brits simply didn't give a shitty shit shit. Deeeeeply unsexy news.
Paul Go
  • 30. Paul Go | 20/12/2018
they must have been amused by this song. She's going, 'they will get it, it's the main lyric'..mark's like, 'nah, they won't, especially as i'm doing a bit on f'ckin rabbits, so go ahead wife, spell it out for them, no f'ckin hance'.

hop hop hopping mad, be angry, get in line with the program, just react, do something, make the politician pretend their human once in a while... the walls are down, now or never.

She even wrote the banner slogan for us. Good grief.

We get as far as page 3 from the back sports pages here. The people who care can just pay their way out of problems.
Paul Go
  • 31. Paul Go | 22/12/2018
Youtube Øyafestivalen Oslo, 11th august 2006

...is great, for lots of reasons. Love the two-mics idea. The inert crowd is the standout feature. The way they're playing great, Mark is on form, staring through, performing beyond, the whole scene in front of him. This song also has an extra dimension since his death.

The comments are full of English people projecting their own confusion onto the Oslo crowd. 'Ha ha, poor Norwegians don't understand'. But neither do they.
Paul Go
  • 32. Paul Go | 23/12/2018
The documentaries, news, the police interviews, probably the drama, fixate on the physical evidence proving motive. It's like Al-Capone and tax-evasion.

He was virtually killing people under their noses, arranging an appointment, sticking them with morphine, then signing the death certificate the next day. They say 'potentially 350' victims, yet a forged will on his typewriter did him in. That's one legally proven murder, some circumstantial cases, plus maybe 100 or so more, who knows. Best guess is he began killing patients because they were annoying, weirdly the ones who liked him. Had he stuck to that, he be a free man to this day.

Doesn't this suggest the law of our land allows a GP to kill at will, as long as there's no personal gain? Something is wrong, surely. Why is this, and why didn't anyone do/think/talk about it post-Shipman?

All the gov did was make the bereaved pay £80 cash to other GPs to check for 'unusual' needle marks. The proverbial elastoplast.
Paul Go
  • 33. Paul Go | 23/12/2018
That alien kunt hanging himself in a cell saved the police. legal system, and politicians, from a pathetic result in court, and opening a can of Dune size worms, so much so it's hard to believe it wasn't a police assisted suicide.
dannyno
  • 34. dannyno | 03/01/2019
Comment #33: What are you talking about? You do realise that he killed himself in 2004? He was convicted and sentenced in early 2000.
bzfgt
  • 35. bzfgt (link) | 19/01/2019
Wow just wow, Dan--your left brain is so linear
dannyno
  • 36. dannyno | 19/01/2019
Only as linear as the everyday passage of time! If the idea is that his suicide saved the "police, legal system, and politicians" from "a pathetic result in court", would it not have needed to have happened, like, before his trial? Rather than nearly half a decade afterwards?
bzfgt
  • 37. bzfgt (link) | 26/01/2019
I pity you
dannyno
  • 38. dannyno | 26/01/2019
MES in conversation with Michael Stewart, June 2009:

https://web.archive.org/web/20190126160639/https://michaelstewartxxx.wordpress.com/2016/04/26/mark-e-smith-in-conversation-with-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.

Big laugh.

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.


Dan
bzfgt
  • 39. bzfgt (link) | 16/02/2019
I don't know if note 2 is too long now, but I really wanted all of that in. I could out some in "More Information."

I mean, we're kind of gonzo and unconventional here....we've got long notes. But then again I don't know if that makes it too unwieldy, and the customer is king...
dannyno
  • 40. dannyno | 15/05/2019
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.
Hexen Blumenthal
  • 41. Hexen Blumenthal | 22/05/2019
There are references to rabbits and hopping ad being very happy in One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest re psychiatry and drugs

“Mr. McMurphy … my friend … I’m not a chicken, I’m a rabbit. The
doctor is a rabbit. Cheswick there is a rabbit. Billy Bibbit is a rabbit. All
of us in here are rabbits of varying ages and degrees, hippity-hopping
through our Walt Disney world. Oh, don’t misunderstand me, we’re not
in here because we are rabbits - we’d be rabbits wherever we were -
we’re all in here because we can’t adjust to our rabbithood. We need a
good strong wolf like the nurse to teach us our place.”
Paul Go
  • 42. Paul Go | 24/05/2019
Results of the final Shipman inquiry were released on 27 January 2005, a year after his death.
Besides, I was trying to drop a hint.
Paul Go
  • 43. Paul Go | 26/05/2019
Linearity becomes an issue when problem solving, and compensating with lateral 'fact' checking, supporting the validity of a 'fact', doesn't resolve the lack of new ideas. It's Literalism, to think only what you think you already know, that limits interpretation and the creation of new ideas. To think a rabbit is literally a mammal in this song would be autistic.

An East-German rabbit moving to north Britain, reading discarded newspapers, then having a culturally significant epiphany, forces you to try to pull together a new 'rabbit' with all these bits and pieces.

Let's abstract it one step. We have an authoritarian post-war culture, we have a diminutive character escaping that rule, happy in his new found freedom, only to be thwarted in his bid for freedom by some very specific news.

The question is why should Shipman represent thwarted liberty, especially considering the authoritarianism left behind.
Paul Go
  • 44. Paul Go | 26/05/2019
There is an absurdity at the heart of that question. On the surface it appears as a simple oppositional contradiction of liberty and authority, but as you pull together state control, a doctor free to medicate, and individual liberty, the contradiction loses its bilateral structure. When contradictions no longer 'function', they become absurd. Like Camus, many of Mark's thoughts are sourced in the absurdities of meaning.

'Why should Shipman represent thwarted liberty, especially considering the authoritarianism left behind?'
...still seems a fairly salient question, it puts 'Shipman thwarts liberty' as the central, if a little absurd, issue to resolve.

Let's rephrase it:
'What is it about Shipman that is central to notions of an east-german post-fascist communist state, rabbits, people and their liberty.?'
bzfgt
  • 45. bzfgt (link) | 29/06/2019
Yeah, great question. It all almost hangs together but not quite...maybe the State should provide free dope...
Paul Go
  • 46. Paul Go | 30/06/2019
It does, in certain situations

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