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.
"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"
"In the train station
I could get anything I want"
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"
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...
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).
"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.
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.
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.)
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
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
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
Still sounds more like "ba" then "fa" to me.
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.
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.
...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.
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.
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...
“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.”
Besides, I was trying to drop a hint.
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.
'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.?'
It would be interesting to know if either the film or the book had any influence here.
I claim no credit for the observation, which popped up on social media.
In answer to a question re:re: Gunther and What About Us?, she confirms that Gunther is indeed the rabbit.