'Taking Notes and Stealing Quotes'
Learn to Fly
This is predominantly an upbeat song, unusually danceable for Procol Harum, which many bands would have chosen to close an album in preference to the gloomy, despairing The Pursuit of Happiness. Set in a cheerful D major, the song juxtaposes two contrasting musical ideas: the verse embodies a simple build-up alternating two chords, the dominant and subdominant, while the chorus squarely inhabits classic Procol territory, complex harmonies defined by a moving bassline and hallmarked with Fisher's 'celestial' grands orgues sound. The featured solo instrument is a rocking piano break, either very carefully double-tracked or given presence by ADT or some similar technique; there is some great guitar in the fade-out.
The original demo was a more loose-rocking affair in which Brooker reverses the lines the 'deal is done' and 'the die is cast', and in which there is a featured guitar solo instead of the piano work-out; its introduction is derived from the verse material, not the chorus material as on the released recording. The final version presents a much more marked differentiation of verse and chorus in terms of texture and instrumentation, and the carefully programmed 'slack moments' in between lend apparent variety. This stop-start proclivity, as opposed to conventional rock momentum (which even 80s synth-bands retained) is a hallmark of the album. For all that 'inserted' variety there's a fair bit of repetition here and – though the words do repay scrutiny – many fans have sensed a certain banality, which is probably attributable to the jaunty melody, which does little to bring out the darker aspects of Reid's text.
The harmonic basis of the chorus (read about it here) derives, by Brooker's own admission, from a Bach chord sequence, Well-Tempered Clavier, book one, Prelude 21 [mp3 here], which he has transposed up a major third, collapsing the demi-semiquavers into block chords [he was heard to play these chords, similarly collapsed, during the sound-check at The Barbican in 1996: clearly a prelude he likes!]. In view of Brooker's evident origination of the chorus, it might be safe – perhaps counter-intuitively – to assume that the two-chord scheme of the verse is Matthew Fisher's:
Learn To Fly appeared as track two of the German The Truth Won’t Fade Away 1991 CD single, but was not performed on the Prodigal Stranger promotional tour, 1991–92. To our knowledge it has been played live only once, at Valley Forge Music Fair, Devon, Philadelphia on 22 July 1995: following straight after Kaleidoscope, it finished the show. Unfamiliarity led Gary to sing 'It’s in the air, It’s everywhere' six times, omitting the 'We're on the air' lines. Better-known songs of this title have been recorded by the Foo Fighters, Pink Floyd and Tom Petty: they are quite different compositions.
- 'You and me': the relationship between 'you' and 'me' is inexplicit ... 'you' could even be plural. On the other hand 'We see the future and we're gonna make it' is neatly ambiguous: does the 'it' refer somehow to the future, or is it the sexual 'it' as in 'I wanna make it with you'?
- 'You and me': ordinarily the phrase would be 'You and I'. The change is part-and-parcel of a resolutely demotic voice in the song, characterised also by 'we're gonna make it' and 'You know you got so much to give' (rather than 'you've got'). However a taste of the more scholarly Reid style remains in the rather stiff 'we knew this day would come', which has a close parallel in A Dream in Ev'ry Home: 'You always knew this day would come'.
- 'The writing's on the wall' : the phrase derives from Daniel chapter 5, referring to the spiritual judgment and destruction of Belshazzar the king: often used to signify the public acknowledgement that some kind of common practice is about to be terminated.
- 'Learn to live / You know you got so much to give': such platitudes perhaps suggest that this lyric was not originally devised with a Procol Harum setting in mind.
- 'the future's slipping through our hands': time is often characterised as sand pouring through an hour-glass (as in Holding On ... also a key idea in many dramatic works by Samuel Beckett, a favourite of Reid's) but it's usually the present that is seen as slipping away. Reid relies on a ready-made image for his commonplace idea, as lyricist Sutherland does in the solo Brooker song Count me Out: 'My life is speeding like a runaway train'.
- 'the die is cast' / 'the deal is done': 'die' is the singular form of the noun 'dice', though of course the word's form coincides carries a further association with mortality. In Claes Johansen's Procol Biography we find Robin Trower using the phrase in conversation (page 136) 'It was just one of those things that was meant to be. The die was cast'. In Rambling On Reid's narrator says he 'diced with death and lost', suggesting a game of high stakes, notwithstanding the recreational overtones of 'dice'; 'Die' and 'deal' together suggest a world of parlour-games, or divination, whether by dice or by cards. 'Deal' of course also has a more ordinary transactional meaning.
- 'The die is cast' : the throwing of dice, not the die-casting industrial process: cp in Fool's Gold, 'cast the die'. The reference here is presumably to divination, since 'casting' is the verb usually employed for all forms of sortilege. The notion is reinforced by the line 'we see the future', though it's not clear how this is going to be 'claimed' if it's simultaneously slipping away. The album's opening song also includes the notion that 'we saw our future ...'. Although the song is an upbeat exhortation, it seems to overlook any realistic means for achieving the aspirations it suggests. 'Learning to fly' is one of man's oldest dreams and one of the least likely to be fulfilled outside the dream world.
- Flying references can also be found in Rambling On, For Liquorice John, Nothing But the Truth, and Learn to Fly ... and of course (No More) Fear of Flying. It's banal to imagine that this song has anything to do with aeroplanes. (It could just as well have taken its title from a (fly-)fishing manual ... it would be a good title for the music Gary Brooker supposedly supplied for a fishing video)
- 'Where eagles only dare to try' glances at the Clint Eastwood film, Where Eagles Dare, in which numerous heroes set out to 'bring that castle down' (a phrase from All our Dreams are Sold). Procol Harum were recording in Miami in 1976 alongside the Eagles ... but that was a long time ago ... There is a lot of 'trying' in the Procol world: think of '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); 'try to gauge' (Luskus Delph); '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).
- 'We dare to win': related to common parlance, 'Who dares wins', which is also the motto of the Special Air Service: compare with the adaptation of 'Semper Fidelis' in All Our Dreams are Sold.
- If No More Fear of Flying symbolises Reid breaking away from Brooker [though the title is borrowed from Erica Jong's novel about the fear of sex], this bombastic ditty, re-initiating the flying motif, could be taken as alluding to resumption of Procol Harum activity. In that connection 'We got a vision and we're gonna claim it' would seem to suggest a confident band (or record company?) considering the proposed career of the reactivated combo.
- 'We got a vision and we're gonna claim it': taken together the reference to 'we see the future', 'we've got a vision and we're gonna claim it' and the casting of die [sortilege] are a continuation of Reid's interest in futurology.
Thanks to Frans Steensma for additional information about this song