What About Us?

Lyrics

Ba ba ba ba ba ba ba ba ba

Well, leg-end... living
We are living leg-ends
The living leg-end (1)

I am a rabbit from East Germany (2)
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!) (3)
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. "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.

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

^

2. 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. 

^

 

3. 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 (21)

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

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