Sunday, November 22, 2009

Paris 1919

Stealing from myself, from when I was first learning of the mysteries of John Cale a long long time ago. I don't know where I got the lyrics, or why inane pop culture references seemed like a good idea at the time. But it may have led to the existence of this blog, so oh well.

Well, kids, today we're going to analyze a song. Well, "analyze" is a little strong. "Annotate" is better.

Paris 191917
John Cale

She makes me so unsure of myself
Standing there but never talking sense0
Just a visitor you see
So much wanting to be seen
She'd open up the door and vaguely1 carry us away

It's the customary thing to say or do
To a disappointed proud man in his grief2
And on Fridays she'd be there
And on Wednesday3 not at all
Just casually appearing from the clock across the hall4

You're a ghost la la la5
You're a ghost
I'm in the church6 and I've come
To claim you with my iron drum7
la la la la la la

The Continent's just fallen in disgrace8
William William William Rogers9 put it in its place
Blood and tears from old Japan10
Caravans and lots of jam and maids of honor
singing crying singing tediously11

You're a ghost la la la
You're a ghost
I'm the bishop12 and I've come
To claim you with my iron drum
la la la la la la

Efficiency efficiency they say
Get to know the date and tell the time of day13
As the crowds begin complaining
How the Beaujolais14 is raining
Down on darkened meetings15 on the Champs Elysee16

  1. Stop making sense. Also, Cale sings, "never ever," which suits the meter better. It feels better in the mouth, so to speak. Try them both, you'll see.
  2. It's strange how evocative a word as vague and unconnotative as "vague" is in this context. Perhaps we appreciate vagueness in our haunters.
  3. George McGovern. Or... hm.
  4. He sings "Mondays" on the record. The significance of this is unclear.
  5. Could it be he's singing to a figure on a mechanical clock show? Perhaps a clock figurine relating to the end of World War I?
  6. A spectre, a spirit, a spook. The tension between the lightheartedness of the delivery and the rather morbid subject matter is what drives the song.
  7. He actually sings, I believe, "I'm the Church," which accords better with footnote 12.
  8. The symbol of power-hungry oppression. Or perhaps the original Ghost Trap. Who ya gonna call? JOHN CALE!
  9. This could refer to any number of political, religious, or cultural events. Speculation is imprudent.
  10. Richard Nixon's Secretary of State (1969-1973). So... either [M.o.t.A.] is right and it's Will Rogers, or the song is tangentially about Vietnam. Or the Middle East. Hm.
  11. Japanese captives, perhaps? But Japan was on the side of the good and the right in World War I (for all it mattered)... so what gives?
  12. A tableaux of the spoils of war, one assumes... but of the Second World War? It fits Paris 1919, I suppose...
  13. A Catholic or Episcopal ecclesiastical middle manager. They have been known to haunt the cathedrals of Paris.
  14. An old Norman saying. Or possibly an old Welsh saying. Or I could be making this up.
  15. A red wine from the Beaujolais region, duh. Made trendy recently through the brilliant marketing of a mediocre wine from an increasingly mediocre winery.
  16. The sort, one assumes, conducted by drunken politicians.
  17. La plus belle avenue du monde. Notably the avenue that passes under the Arc de Triomphe.
  18. As in the Treaty of Versailles. What, Korea or Vietnam? And how does this relate to Graham Greene?


John said...

A blog devoted to the sublime John Cale! Heaven. I have a lot of reading and catching up to do.

Jon Turnbull said...

You're teasing....please show the rest of the post!

Anonymous said...

I discover a beautiful cover of John Cale by Agnes Obel,

you download this just here :

Elliot Knapp said...

Cool post--thought-provoking! Just wrote about this album too on my music blog. Have a good one!