'Taking Notes and Stealing Quotes'
Luskus Delph is surely the most puzzling song title in the Procol catalogue, perhaps in any catalogue. Procol Harum were often accused of wilful obscurity, and perhaps this title justifies such a claim. On the other hand, the song seemingly concerns hopes of penetrating unknown mysteries, and it's perhaps fitting that the fans should still be still be 'outsiders' to this one, thirty years on. It is one of the first batch of three songs that were recorded in December 1970 at the brand-new AIR Studios in London; the master reel was compiled on 29 December 1970, and on it John Punter wrote 'Luscious Delph'. It would be interesting to know if this was a mishearing on his part, or whether the word was amended by the band afterwards. Gary has been heard to gloss 'Luskus' as 'A cross between lust and suck' (in concert) and 'Keith's made-up word for something that people like to do in the evening' (Radio Luxembourg, 1971). However these look like post-facto etymologies, and they don't address the question, 'why coin a new word at all?' The presence of the equally recondite 'Delph' has encouraged some to suppose that the title contains a forename and a surname. It would be nice to suggest that time will tell; but it probably won't!
'A little sultry, a little underhanded smut,' said Gary from stage in 1971, about the song's content. He also told the NME that it was 'An obscene song' and went on to say that 'When I think of erotica, I don’t think in modern-day sense, with women in cake make-up, and incredible perversions. Luskus Delph is very gentle and dated. Fragile really.' He certainly avoided all the clichés by which rock-bands seek to convey the excitements of the flesh – the brooding harmonic build, throbbing bass spasms and guitar ejaculations of Skip Softly are entirely absent here – opting instead for a serenely symmetrical composition smoothly realised with a delightful, languid delicacy. Though the tune is very pleasant, verse and chorus are both strictly chord-led in conception, being complementary explorations of the cycle of fourths. The verse starts on B major and successive chords step down a fourth; after the fourth chord this cycle moves up a minor third to repeat itself; the 'chorus', which is an instrumental passage, starts on an F, and successive chords step up a fourth; after the fourth chord this cycle moves down a minor third to repeat itself. The modulations inside each section, as well as those between sections, contribute a charming plangency to the scheme; they make a bright effect, however, which compensates for the fact that the vocal melody is highly formulaic, consisting solely of various transpositions of a single phrase, built on the resolution of an opening accented discord.
'It may remind you a little of Sleepers Awake,' said Gary to NME (5 June 1971), while BJ was reported as saying it was 'Like a Viennese Waltz, kind of,' which is odd, as it resolutely stays in four-four time, and certainly has no overtones of Bach. Perhaps both comments were in fact made about the song's lilting, lullaby quality, or the beauty of Gary's orchestration. Gary used 'sweet' to describe Nicholas Dodd's New Testament Procol arrangements, and his own score here may be responding to the words 'sweetness' and 'sweet' in his writing-partner's text. This score was enhanced for the performance with the Edmonton Symphony orchestra in November 1971 (it became the B side to the Conquistador live single, released in the UK July 1972 (CHS 2003); as well as making very effective use of the organ (by now Alan Cartwright had released Chris Copping from bass-playing duties) it assigned French horn and trumpet to the melody formerly heard on a flute – or so we mostly thought in 1971. In fact the 'flute' is a Moog played by Gary, and this discovery surprised no-one more than the synth-hating camp who deplored the instrument's 'introduction' for the recording of Something Magic. A solo flute would have been hard-put to carry its line against the weight of a full orchestra, not least with BJ's percussion recorded so boldly, quite a welcome alternative to the very quiet fussiness of the album version. A notable feature is the chorus-worth of gentle 'ooh' vocal from Gary that starts at 1:02; the effect of this, which has no parallel in the rest of the canon, is exceptionally soothing.
This song, like the Long Goodbye later, is presented in a different key live: it's a semitone lower than the album version, presumably in order to leave fewer accidentals for the Edmonton players. Gary makes good use of the strings' varied articulation, pizzicato basses, highly syncopated offbeats in the violins, then the full lushness of the arco melody. The music veers towards slush, but the occasional 'push' in the piano saves it; the 'live' ending involves a rather hasty wind-up on a minor seventh, rather than the slow fade on the album (which reaches inaudibility just after a delicious goody on the piano).
Keith Reid was evidently pleased with the song and the words, which he selected for his book, My Own Choice, where it appeared with the small variant 'I'll try to gauge', and more conventional use of possessive apostrophes. In both album and book, luskus delph is printed with lower case letters, as if it is not a personal name. However he does not seem to have scheduled it much on band setlists after the promotional round on 1971: it was first played during the short US tour February, and seems ripe for revival.
- 'Tulips lips oh luskus … ': tulips are the ubiquitous spring-flowering bulb popularly associated with the Dutch; they are actually of Turkish origin, being first recorded in 1554 when the ambassador of the Emperor Ferdinand saw tulips growing in Constantinople. This is the earliest record. In 1634–37 manic speculation over the rising price of tulips created the infamous tulipmania. Tulips are attacked by a 'fire fungus' thus perhaps facing misfortune like the flowers in Fires (Which Burnt Brightly). The similarity of the word 'tulips' to 'two-lips' is a subject of music-hall humour – Reid very aptly gives us two 'lips' in a row – and the tulip's potential as an icon for female sexuality tulip has been explored by female painters, prominently by Georgia O'Keeffe (right, her Pink Tulip). [O'Keeffe's famous seclusion is surprisingly appealed to in a song by Warren Zevon (Splendid Isolation)]. The flower is used as a metaphor for the female sex organs, and it also serves a literal sexual function as it is designed to lure pollen-carrying bees [cp 'secrets of the hive' in A Dream In Ev'ry Home] in order to ensure propagation of the species. Reid shows little specific botanic interest, though he does refer to rose, bugle, carnations, daisies among others. Some have heard 'tulips' as 'chew lips' and 'luskus' as 'lost kiss'. The associations of 'Luskus' are many and have been hinted at above: in addition, we note 'lustrous', 'lust kiss'; and notably the Latin 'luscus', meaning one-eyed (cp the unpublished Alpha), which may relate to the vagina's 'luscious depths', but also recalls the phallocentric One-Eyed Trouser Snake Rumba that Humble Pie were playing early in the year this song was written.
- '… delph': the Oxford English Dictionary defines 'delf' (often spelt 'delph' in the citations that follow) as 'That which is delved or dug, a hole or cavity dug in the earth … a pit; a trench, ditch … applied to the drainage canals in the fen districts of the eastern counties … the ordinary name for a quarry in the northern counties …' It is also an obsolete word for a grave. In Scotland 'Delph' is 'a sod or cut turf': in 1812 an agricultural survey noted 'If a delph be cast up in a field that hath lien for the space of five or six years, wild oats will spring up of their own accord'. 'Delf' is also 'an act of delving; a thrust of the spade': a Law Times report of 1885 refers to 'certain land called delph land, beyond which were sand-hills, protecting the property from the sea.' These various pits, thrustings and salty margins from the OED correspond closely with the song's imagery of caves, cracks and so on. Yet it has also been noted that 'Delphinium' is another garden flower. 'Delft' is in Holland, where tulips come from. 'Delph' may remind some listeners of Apollo's Oracle at Delphi, where priestesses vouchsafed truths. As in the present song, they were in control of the situation, and their 'wooers' were in a position only to request favours. Equally the Greek associations of Delphi may perhaps pave the way for the possibility that this song does not concern a heterosexual liaison at all.
- 'Your baking breath breeds': the closeness of passionate breathing arouses thoughts of cooking; we refer to the heat of passion and idiomatically equate oven with womb (the Latin 'fornix', an oven, is at the root of our word 'fornicate'). It seems that sexual congress may be being inspired by the desire to breed 'body x'.
- 'body 'x'':' 'body' is of course not only the human form, but a word for corpse. 'x' is the multiplication sign in school arithmetic, and the symbol for the unknown or unaccounted-for in algebra; we are reminded of the feared child of Something Magic and the loathed child in Bringing Home the Bacon. The expression 'sure as eggs is eggs' is a corruption of 'sure as x is x', so we could infer that 'x is eggs'. One's 'ex' is a former lover; X-rated material is considered too strong for immature palates; some have heard 'echt' here. The other associations of 'x' are legion: 'X' files; x inefficiency in economics; Xtreme; XY chromosomes; X ray; eXistence; triple XXX for extra strength; high value as in eXtra, eXcellent, eXpertise and so on; the right-hand axis in a two dimensional graph; X was a hard core US rock band; Generation X; and it represents two numbers, the Roman 10, and our 24 in virtue of its being the twenty-fourth letter of the alphabet. Exegesis aside, KR was asked the meaning of 'Body X' at the Stanley Theatre in Pittsburgh PA during an early 70s tour, and his reply was 'the aroma of the female organ' (though in Keith's wording this was much more bluntly couched).
- 'With silken measures try to gauge': 'measure' is used in various ways: musical bars, calibration, and so forth; 'measures' are also strategies. 'Silken' is mildly archaic, and here seems to qualify 'measures', but it may allude to the textural properties of a prophylactic sheath, or of the tongue. 'A robe of silk I'll be to you' runs the start of one of Procoldom's most elusive abandoned songs. 'Trying' features more in the Procol world than succeeding probably does: 'trying to find some kinda romance' (Lime Street Blues); 'I tried to stretch out in it' (Something Following Me); 'Phallus Phil tries peddling' (Cerdes (Outside The Gates Of) ); 'to try to throw some light' (Salad Days (Are Here Again)); 'trying to intercept my dreams' and 'I tried to rob a bank' (Seem To Have The Blues Most All The Time); 'what I'm trying to say' (Rambling On); 'I tried to hide inside myself' (Magdalene (My Regal Zonophone)); 'trying to swivel right out of there' (Long Gone Geek); 'trying to sell you cheese' (The Devil Came From Kansas); 'on its tide I tried to hide' (Crucifiction Lane); 'trying to find the words' (Pilgrims Progress); 'trying not to fall' (Barnyard Story); 'Tried to keep it confidential' (A Souvenir of London); 'They tried in vain to bring him round' (For Liquorice John); ); 'trying hard to win' and 'trying hard to force the pace' (Fool's Gold); 'trying to act the hero's part', 'trying to make a name', 'trying not to freeze' (Taking The Time); 'try and get you off my mind' and 'Trying to relive ev'ry moment' ((You can't) turn back the page); 'Tried to understand her' (The King of Hearts); 'Try to find a diff'rent way' (All Our Dreams Are Sold); 'eagles only dare to try' (Learn to fly).
- 'The inside sweetness of your cave': it seems likely that cave is the vagina or some other interior cavity, though it is not thus used in slang: there it usually means 'home', symbolising a place of withdrawal and seclusion. This is Reid's only use of the love-song word 'sweetness'; though Simple Sister and The Piper's Tune both mention 'sweets' in the context of punitive deprivation. The artist formerly known as Prince makes use of the 'sweet' idea in his highly explicit Sugar Walls, as recorded by Sheena Easton. Latinists note that 'cave' means 'beware'.
- 'Peach preserve your simmering jewel': the syntax here is not clear, since 'preserve' could be an imperative verb or an elliptical subjunctive, or it could be a noun referring to jam, which would pick up the 'inside sweetness' idea above. To make peach preserve one would simmer peaches in a pan. 'Peach' is often used idiomatically to imply 'perfect' (cp also 'peachy keen'); 'impeach' is betray; a 'peach' is a pretty young woman, a detective; 'peaches' refers to Dexedrine and to buttocks. Peaches would later be the name of a blatantly sexual Stranglers' song, a hit single despite containing the word 'clitoris'. Anatomically, the peach is the outer flesh of a stone, which is the seed: again the metaphor is a reproductive one. If one divides a peach and removes the stone a certain likeness to female sexual organs can be seen. A good peach is of course expected to be juicy and one that is simmering with the heat of passion would satisfy this mandate. 'Jewel' is again, like peach, a term of excellence [Reid uses it also in Broken Barricades, but nowhere else); 'jewel' sometimes means 'soul', but one's 'crown jewels' are testicles; jewels are scarce and hard to obtain, thus of high value. Some have chosen to hear the syllables differently here: 'your simmering Jew will', rhyming below with 'grew well'.
- 'Hid away like orphans' gruel': 'gruel' is a thin porridge served to prisoners or relied upon for sustenance by the poor, presumably including orphans. Orphans would not hide their gruel … it could be kept safer by ingesting it … so perhaps the suggestion is that the donors withhold it, in their reluctance to grant compassion. Here 'hid away, 'jewel' and 'gruel' all suggest that sex in the abstract (or the physical variation of it that is sought here) is going to be granted reluctantly, if at all. In view of Poor Mohammed later on the album, we note that the Prophet Mohammed was orphaned at six, and later widowed.
- 'Help me find the widow's crack': 'the widow' seems to refer to an archetype, rather than to a specific person, rather as 'the Arab' may do in Song for a Dreamer. In an Oedipal sense 'widow' could refer to a mother whose partner is not dead expect in the son's wish: 'Help me find the widow's crack' might relate to the Levirate law that men (such as Onan) were expected to were expected fulfil impregnation responsibilities on brother's widows. The 'crack' may be a belated appeal to the vaginal 'lips' in the first line. since 'crack' was 70s slang for that orifice; however it also refers to a roadie's buttock-cleavage, exposed thanks to sagging trousers weighted down by equipment pockets. 'Crack' is any kind of fissure (there a 'spies in every crack' in TV Ceasar): we refer to 'a crack' in the armour, façade, etc. A joke can be a 'wisecrack' ('split', below, may relate to our response to a hilarious 'side-splitter'). A 'crack' regiment is of the top quality, and we also refer to 'crack cocaine'. 'Widow' is used for the 'black widow' spider (popularly reputed to devour the male after coupling); and in the saucy underwear department a basque is sometimes alluded to as a 'merry widow'.
- 'Make me stick like sealing wax': wax for sealing letters or documents has to be melted so that it will drip usefully: sealing wax is sold in a rigid, red stick, and the narrator is hoping that his 'stick' will be share such manly qualities. All This and More glances at this in 'my wax is almost run'; 'I don't think it would stick' in Too Much Between Us seemingly refers to an opinion or plea that is too tenuous to warrant sealing in this way. 'Make me stick' could imply that, the crack having been found, there is a fear of slipping out again: the responsibility for successful performance, however, is being delegated to the addressee.
- 'Almonds eyes my Turkish pearl': this is another image of concealed fruit, the pearl is inside the oyster shell [cp A Dream In Every Home]; the almond is the nut (seed) inside a fruit of the almond tree. Almonds are generally used in sweet dishes, though the almond tree is related to the pear and peach, and comes in both sweet and bitter forms; almond oil is now a popular scent. 'Almond eyes' is a commonplace for describing exotic/eastern eye-shapes, to the extent that is now listed in the Oxford English Dictionary. 'Turkish' is part of the Moorish theme of this album; Turkish delight' is a native confection largely of boiled sugar, nothing like the wobbly red sweetmeat enclosed in chocolate for sale in the UK. In the UK 'Turkish delight' it is also pederastic slang.
- 'Burn me up sweet oyster girl': the image follows from 'pearl' in the previous line, and it is worth emphasising that 'girl' does not necessarily mean 'female' as we have noted passim. However 'The Oyster Girl' (see right) is the popular name for The Girl with a Pearl Earring (c 1666) by Jan Vermeer: the image is certainly 'sweet'. Oysters are renowned for their aphrodisiac effect. Reid makes few uses of 'girl' ['gonna find a girl' (Whisky Train); 'French girls always like to fight' (Grand Hotel); 'A French girl has offered' (Toujours l'Amour)] but he makes copious use of the verb 'burn': 'We fired the gun, and burnt the mast' (A Salty Dog); 'Burnt by fire' (The Wreck Of The Hesperus); 'The harbour lights are burning bright' (All This And More); 'Ain't gonna burn up no more flame' etc (Whisky Train); 'burn out her eyes' (Still There'll Be More); 'A candle burning bright enough to tear the city down' etc (About to Die); 'Have to burn her toys' (Simple Sister); 'Falling over burning chairs' and 'Spark plugs burned up, power's fused' (Power Failure); 'Steal his books, burn his prayers' (Poor Mohammed); 'I'll burn down the town' (A Rum Tale); 'Fires which burnt brightly' (Fires (Which Burnt Brightly)); 'We're burning in the furnaces' (Butterfly Boys); 'the stars which burnt so bright' (Something Magic); 'He hacked it to pieces and burnt it to dust' (The Worm and The Tree); 'On these burning sands' (Holding on); 'I'll burn down the house' (Man with a Mission).
- 'Shove me in your steaming vat': 'shove' suddenly turns round the sweet tone of the song, with a brutally physical verb of graceless lunging; the 'vat' (some fans expected a coarser, rhyming equivalent here) tallies with the oven imagery above, though the scale is now larger and perhaps more industrial. Vats are large tubs for stewing, melting or fermenting: they are used for making Turkish Delight, and the famous spirit 'Vat 69', whose numerical suffix corresponds to the oral thrust of the imagery in Playmate of the Mouth (if that song has a dominatrix theme, note also the submissiveness of the narrator in this song). 'Steaming' could refer to rising vapour, but it is also a word used in cookery, and here we note that the heat of passion has increased since 'simmering' was invoked. Once again 'shove me' places the responsibility on the addressee, to take command
- 'Make me split like chicken fat': 'make me' clinches the submissiveness of the narrator: a more macho song would perhaps announce 'I'm gonna', or even 'let me' if it wanted to seem a little more appealing. To 'split' is to burst open like the wounds in other songs, or the worm in TWatT. 'Oyster', 'peaches' and 'almonds' all have to split to release their fecundity. 'Chicken fat' does spatter noisily about the oven when a bird is being cooked, but this multiple-release is not a very apt image for a male ejaculation. The chicken is a symbol of motherhood [cp Barnyard Story] and especially of Jewish motherhood [the provision of chicken soup especially], but it is also much used in gay slang with numerous colourful adjectival variants. When making chicken soup one sees the fat rise to the surface in globs that subsequently 'split' like a reproducing amoeba (or a liquid-wheel light show). A 'chicken' is a coward, and 'fat' might well be the bodily condition of someone coy or backward in sexual experience. In approaching this pre-orgasmic dénouement Luskus Delph avoids the narrative flatness of many songs of the period; but Brooker does not choose to quicken the pace, beef up the instrumentation, or heighten the harmonic drama. It may be that he felt that the words – sensual, intimate and vivid though they may be – reflect hopes only, and do not constitute any sort of testament to actual bodily performance.
Thanks to Frans Steensma for additional information about this song