Lyrics for 25/iii 2004

(these comments from a slightly different set of lyrics [at], put together for a slightly different purpose, but still applicable here)
This set of lyrics seeks to paint a really broad canvas of musics that have in common some element of protest, but even more generally are expressions of identity and/or commitment on the part of the writers and singers. As I was assembling this collection I thought of many others that would be as sensible and appropriate to include, but one has to start somewhere...

Song is a special kind of communication. It commands and transfixes audiences with imagery, narrative, point of view. Music is the vehicle for delivery, and often makes a lyric more memorable, more recoverable --but in any case the music lifts the lyric off the page and sends it out into the aether.

Let's first think about the lyrics, and later consider the magic of how music can support and convey text. People write songs: they compose and craft and prod and produce. Songs are created and constructed --they don't drop out of the air, though some of their elements are in the air, seemingly waiting to condense. A song can be a vehicle for such a broad spectrum of ideas and feelings, and can encapsulate great complexities with an economy that other narrative forms must envy.

Songwriters are a strange breed:

Some songwriters are romantic
Some are polemical
Some are outraged
Some are calculating
Some are copycats
Some despise their audiences
Some are jive chameleons
Some are poseurs
Some are cynical
Some are psychotic
...and so on.
Each of the lyrics below takes a position, and uses the words of the song to call attention to (and generally to skewer) something that the singer believes shouldn't ought to be as it is.

There's a temporal side as well: a song blooms from a moment, a situation, a circumstance, and quickly becomes historical [i.e., it has its own chronotope...]. While some achieve immortality and applicability to many situations ('We Shall Overcome' certainly did that), others contain references and allusions that require background to make them comprehensible.

A listener is challenged by this collection, and at first hearing may not "like" the vehicle (the musical style, say, or the singer's presentation), and may not know the social, cultural, political and historical context in which the song emerged, but careful study of lyrics and enquiry into background will open all sorts of doors.

Nothing But the Same Old Story (Paul Brady)

I was just about 19
When I landed on their shore
My eyes big as headlights
Like the thousands and thousands that came before
I was gonna be somethin'
I smiled at the man scrutinizin' my face
As I walked down off of the gangway

Came down to their city
Where I worked for many's the year
Must have built a hundred houses
Must have pulled half a million pints of beer
Livin' under suspicion
Puttin' up with the hatred and fear
In their eyes
You can see that you're nothin' but a murderer
Yeah, in their eyes
We're nothin' but a bunch of murderers

Hey Johnny, can't wait for Saturday night
Got a thirst that's ragin'
Know a place where we can put that right
Wash away the frustration
Hose down this fire inside
But look out!
Oh yeah!
I said look out!
I'll tear you into pieces if you cross me

Yeah, don't come too close

I'm sick of watchin them break up
Every time some bird-brain puts us down
Makin' jokes on the radio
I guess it helps them all drown out the sound
Of the crumbling foundations
Any fool could see the writing's on the wall
But they just don't believe that it's happening
Oh no, can't see nothin'

But there's a crowd says I'm alright
Say they like my turn of phrase
Take me 'round to their parties
Like some dressed-up monkey in a cage
And I play my accordion
Whoah, but when the wine seeps through the facade
It's nothin' but the same old story
It's nothin' but the same old story


Got a brother in Boston
Said he'd send me over the fare
Just wrote me a letter
Makin' out like he's cleanin' up out there
Two cars in the driveway
Summer house way down on the Cape
And I know that he'd fix me up in the mornin'

Well I been thinkin' about it
But it seems so far to go
People say in the winter
You get lost underneath the snow
And there's this girl from my home place
Well we've been plannin' to move back
And give it a try
So I never got around to goin'
That's why I never got around to goin'

Gimme a drink
Gimme gimmee
One more drink...


No more iron rice bowl, just like my father,
I don't want everyone fussing over me, like all the kids today.
We haven't had it rough, and haven't had it good,
So people just say we're a generation of uneducated slackers.

If I had to endure hardship, I'm sure I would cry.
I could go find a job but I can't bring myself down to that level.
If I talk about anything serious I always talk around the point.
But when I do anything serious I have to first think of saving face.

What can I do besides deal with what's in front of me?
What can I think about besides eat, drink, sleep, shit, and piss?
Hey, if you ask me what I think the next generation will be like,
Then I'll tell you straight out: What's that got to do with me?

Make more money, make more money,
If I make enough things will change by themselves.
But how much is enough, how much is enough?
Without knowing it, I just keep making money and forget everything else.

Don't talk to me about anything serious; don't get deep with me.
These days, money is worth more than any education.
Whoever says life is hard is an idiot.
If you just think a little and grease the gears a little, you can get it done.

I can curse myself, but nobody else is welcome to.
Even though I have no education I'm still better than those slackers.
Don't look down on me, that's all I'm afraid of.
Because there's a great person deep inside my heart.

I want to believe in myself, and I want to complete myself.
But the worst feeling is being hesitant.
Hey, let's be straightforward; stop wasting time.
But today the most straightforward thing to say is "Whatever".

Anyway I don't need to worry about what I eat or what I wear.
If I really have nowhere to go I'll just live with my parents.
During the day I work and at night I just walk around
When I see someone I know I say "How's it going?" - "Hey, I'm all right"

I love the people here, I love the ground here.
But that has nothing to do with the patriotism I was taught to have.
I hate this atmosphere, I hate this feeling.
I hate my life and besides being "all right" I have no other goals.

I want to make myself better, I want to improve my surroundings.
But you ask me to take a good hard look at myself.
You say don't ask too much of yourself, don't ask too much of yourself.
You say these days you can see clearly, think clearly, but you can't say it.

Look at you, your fucking expression, how did you get like that?
A couple years ago when you were poor you still had a lot of ideals.
But now that you have money,
You're either changing faster than the world or else your true face is finally showing.

You're good at joking around, people like you.
The ideals you used to have are now your tools.
You say this is life, this is what's interesting.
You say straight out that you're willing to keep smiling even though you're lost.

Hey! Hey! - Smile!
Hey! Hey! - Smile!
Whatever. Whatever. Whatever. - Smile!
You say that's the style.
You say that's cool.
You say that's the popular smile of the young.

The new age is here, no one is making trouble anymore.
You say everyone's ideals have been washed away by the times.
Watch TV, listen to the radio, read the paper.
You say the conflict of ideals is no more.

Don't make life so horrible, don't be so stubborn.
Because if you're stubborn for long, the world will change and then you will be gone.
Don't think crazy things; hurry up and learn something.
Because if you have knowledge and have money then you can buy ideals.

Just keep on going, man, don't look back.
You talk about problems down the road; well, we'll figure that out later.
I look around the world; you should relax yourself.
You say you've been slacking off for all these years,
You should have learned something.

I love the people here, I love the ground here.
But that has nothing to do with the patriotism I was taught to have.
I hate this atmosphere, I hate this feeling.
I hate my life and besides being "all right" I have no other goals.

music and lyrics: Cui Jian
translation: Ben Moger Williams

Cui Jian: vocals, rhythm guitar, programming
Eddie Randriamampionona: lead guitar
Liu Yuan: saxophone
Zhang Ling: bass
Quan You: drums
Dou Peng: keyboard
Qiu Ye: backing vocals

Solun Chaagai Sovet Churtum ('Beautiful Soviet Country' [n.b. 1994-5] --Yat-Kha)

What beautiful taiga and
what a beautiful Soviet country
Because socialism won there,
New people appeared

The real life only in the strongness of
peace and friendship.
This is only possible
in the successful Soviet Union.

Rhorhomanie (Carte de Sejour)

Chkoune liguelle? (qui a dit?)
Les Kahlouches (noirs) c'est louche?
Chkoune liguelle?
Les Rhorhos (arabes) y'en a trop?
Chkoune liguelle?
Les Rhorhos y'en a trop?
Asmaïni ya ghouya (écoute moi mon frère)
Danse d'aujourd'hui yeah danse d'aujourd'hui
JAMES BROWN wallah (je le jure) ça donne
JIMMY CLIFF ghir mel (c'est mieux que le) kif
JOE TEX ghir mel sexe
OUM KELTHOUM ghir mel noum (sommeil)
Asmaïni ya ghouya
RHORHOMANIE Danse d'aujourd'hui
C'est la RHORHOMANIE, Danse d'aujourd'hui
Ou kaïne tèi Raï (il y a aussi le Raï)
Maâ (avec) FADILA ou (et) BELLEMOU
Wallah wallah c'est fou
JAMES BROWN wallah ça donne
JIMMY CLIFF ghir mel kif
JIMI HENDRIX ghir mel fix
OUM KELTHOUM ghir mel noum
JOE TEX ghir mel sexe
C'est la RHORHOMANIE danse d'aujourd'hui
Arouah an'ta ghouya (viens toi mon frère)
Danser, danser avec nous
Sur la RHORHOMANIE danse d'aujourd'hui
Arouah, arouah (viens)
Smaâ (ecoute) l'oud is very good
Smaâ l'oud is very good
Chkoune liguelle?
Les Kahlouches c'est louche
Et les Rhorhos y'en a trop
Asmaâ c'est la rhorho rhorho rhorho rhorhomanie
RHORHOMANIE c'est la danse d'aujourd'hui
Asmaâ les youyous c'est fou

Oppskrift for Herrefolk ('Recipe for a Master Race') [Mari Boine Persen]

Draw boundaries on the map
And call it The State
Be King Minister
Protector and Father
Send bailiffs and businessmen
Priests and soldiers
To the people who own
The land you take

Use bible and booze
And bayonet
Break promises and agreements
Be a diplomat
Use articles of law
Against ancient rights
Create prejudice
And hate

Let no one question your authority
That's how you suppress a minority

Let language and culture
Take their place in a museum
As research object
And tourist attraction
Give lively speeches
On each festive occasion
Let it disintegrate and die
That which was a nation

Let no one question your authority
That's how you suppress a minority

Dreamtime (Martin Simpson)

The falcon flew in Dreamtime and the old man fanned the flames
The old man knew the names, the old man knew the rules
The old man knew the land could die
Could trickle through the fingers of us fools

Nipper's gone to the dust and the wind
His bones are wrapped and laid in the sky
Often in the night lately Nipper used to cry
Knowing no one listened, knowing he would die
He cried for the loss of his knowledge

My ears will never hear so clear, my eyes are almost blind
But I can read the warnings, I can hear the whispers
The gentle ghosts have left behind
And they say
Thank you for the Virgin
Thank you for the radio
Thank you for the iron sheets the bullets and the blades
Thank you for the whiskey and the dirty nylon dresses
And the blankets and diseases
Thank you say the Shades
Thank you for these engines
And thank you for the oil
They say now you own the future
Now you own the soil


And we say
Thank you to the Elders
And thank you to the Singers
The keepers of the Dreams and the keepers of the Names
Thank you for the falcon's news
Thank you for the Dreamtime
Thank you for the life that springs
Like magic from the flame
Thank you to the Dancers
To those who raise the Phoenix
To those who listen hard to learn
And try to do the same