Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Nine Funerals of the Citizen King - Henry Cow

Henry Cow's 'Nine funerals of the Citizen King' is a track on their 1973 debut album 'Legend' and signalled the radical critique which they carried forward until breaking up five years later. The lyrics reference Lewis Carroll ('the Snark was a Boojum' from his poem 'The Hunting of the Snark'), Gertrude Stein ('a rose is a rose is a rose') and Shakespeare ('O, gentlemen, the time of life is short!...An if we live, we live to tread on kings', Henry IV, Part 1).

The latter was also quoted in Guy Debord's 'The Society of the Spectacle' (1967), and as the song refers to the 'spectacle of free' I wonder whether Henry Cow had been reading Debord. If so they were ahead of their time - the first English translation of 'The Society of the Spectacle' was made by Black & Red (Detroit) in 1970, but it was certainly not widely known. The line 'we'll work to live to buy the things we multiply, until they fill the ordered universe' could have come straight out of Debord, or even an Angry Brigade communique from the same period.

Nine funerals of the Citizen King

Down beneath the spectacle of free
No one ever let you see
The Citizen King
Ruling the fantastic architecture of the burning cities
Where we buy and sell...

That the Snark was a Boojum all can tell
But a rose is a rose is a rose
Said the Mama of Dada as long ago as 1919

You make arrangements with the guard
Halfway round the exercise yard
To sugar the pill
Disguising the enormous double-time the king pays to Wordsworth
More than you or I could reasonably forfeit the while...
Double-time the king pays to Wordsworth
More than you or I could reasonably buy...

If we live, we live to tread on dead kings
Or else we'll work to live to buy the things we multiply
Until they fill the ordered universe

Once upon a time my punky self would have dismissed this as 'prog'. But I was so much older then, I'm younger than that now.

Oh and they played a benefit for Brixton Socialist Club in 1978.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Loving Henry Cow for thirty years now. Great art reveals itself over time, and reveals your own self too.