'Taking Notes and Stealing Quotes'
Man with a Mission
This stomping song presents an artfully mature soundscape elaborated from extremely simple musical resources: a three-chord introduction in E major (but coming to rest on the dominant chord, building a sense of anticipation); a verse simply alternating E minor and A major; and a chorus mutating to E major and using only the other two classic guitar-rock chords, A and B. Keith Reid said he "wouldn't call it typically Procol Harum at all, and yet when I've played the record to people they've
heard that song and they said: 'God, that's really Procol Harum.'" (see more here).
The opening is ambitious and unusual, with synthesised string and bass sounds pitched against some more traditional guitar racket and roaring Hammond, woven in with the muted voices of a muttering crowd, which we have not succeeded in deciphering. The strutting (synth?) bass work ideally suits the declamatory, forthright words; and many self-conscious sonic details speak of careful manufacturing of the track at the sound-desk. In that respect it is perhaps surprising that the song works well in live performance, though underlying the fussy sounds one can hear a real band enjoying itself: not least in the oddly jazzy middle section.
An alternative version, found on a Japanese CD, has a Trower guitar solo in place of the Brooker piano solo in the middle; it is track 13 on The Prodigal Stranger (RCA BVCP-158), and is labelled 'alternative version': there's a very high chance that this version predates the 'regular' one: the Japanese liner notes by Kaz Akaiwa may reveal something, if someone would like to send us a translation! The song shares with Typewriter Torment the unusual device of a false start to the final chorus: Gary Brooker is in fine voice as the vocal line fades out and in again as the band ploughs on. His see-sawing melody an upbeat cousin to the reflective ending of As Strong as Samson is very strong, but the upper notes require a lot of breath to be pitched accurately and Gary sometimes favours an almost-spoken delivery for some of them.
Man with a Mission is probably the most-regularly performed of the Prodigal Stranger songs, having found its way into most tours and one-off performances. However it appears to have started life as a Brooker solo piece (like the unpublished Heartbreaker, it appears to stem from a 1989 resumption of Brooker / Reid writing); it has a macho quality reminiscent of Brooker's own Mineral Man. "You couldn't possibly sing those words to the chords without it being a triumphant march," said Gary (here). But it was very different in its 1989 outing with Brooker's No Stiletto Shoes, when Gary didn't sing, but talked the lyric through in rap fashion, as befits its quick-fire series of heterogeneous snapshots; it was also played by the No Heels Band at Castle Ashby in November 1989. It seems that this spoken version lacked the words of verse three, used the couplets in a different order, and had a couple of later-excised extras too. Before Matt Noble came along 'man with a mission' was not a hook, but appeared in the middle of a verse; and the only melodic component (mp3 here) was a riff reminiscent of Saw the Fire from Gary's third solo album.
On One More Time the Prodigal arrangement is as with other songs from the album fairly faithfully adhered to. The song has been aired at prestigious gigs (oddly enough, in view of its unpretentious construction, it works well with orchestra and sharp-shouting chorus, and has been heard thus at the Barbican, and at Guildford) and the words despite defying rationalisation, they combine intriguingly were selected by Keith Reid for his book, My Own Choice.
- 'Man with a mission', which may derive ultimately from the idea of a Christian evangelical mission, has become a very common phrase in journalese, particularly in sports and politics: it also occurs in the Eurythmics' song, Missionary Man: "He's a man with a mission, got a serious mind...". The scope for mishearing the phrase as 'man with emission' has been the source of some juvenile humour. This seems to be the only Procol Harum song to contain the stock phrase 'I'm a man', other than the unpublished I'm a Reader And A Writer
- As it includes the words 'prodigal stranger' this song has some claims to being a sort of title-track to the album.
- 'I'm a dog in a manger, a cat with a mouse': like the preceding song, this opens strongly with a pair of united opposites. 'Dog in a manger' refers to Aesop's fable of the dog who jumps into the manger of an ox and will not give way, preferring to hog something uncomfortable rather than cede it to another, becoming the emblem of denying others the pleasure of what one cannot enjoy oneself. Other Procol dogs include 'A salty dog, this seaman's log' (A Salty Dog); 'My old dog's a good old dog' (Your Own Choice); 'let the wild dogs tear them up' (Beyond The Pale); 'Fruit is good for doggies too' (Fresh Fruit); 'Taking out the dog for walks' (Taking The Time); 'This old dog has to learn some new ways' (This Old Dog); 'She's seen at the races and walking the dog' (A Real Attitude).
- 'cat with a mouse': conventionally this image represents the torturing one's victim; fancifully, a 'cat with a mouse' could signal Procol Harum (supposedly named after a cat) making music with modern technology the computer mouse whose use is much in evidence here.
- 'I'm the prodigal stranger': Reid uses 'strange' and 'stranger' throughout his Procol-writing career: 'And grief and laughter, strange but true' (Quite Rightly So); 'a strange disguise' (Glimpses of Nirvana); 'And in case of passing strangers who are standing where I fell ' (Crucifiction Lane); 'I dreamed a dream, as strange as could be ' (Dead Man's Dream); 'We were in some city, the stranger and me' (Dead Man's Dream); 'I was the stranger ' (Skating on Thin Ice); 'Strangers in space' and 'strangely repeated ' (Strangers In Space); 'out looking for a stranger ' (The King of Hearts); however it is notable that there is no hint of xenophobia here: as often as not the songs' narrator claims to be the stranger or to be involved in something strange. Perhaps Reid shares sociologist Georg Simmel [d.1918]'s view of strangers: ' ... not the man who comes today and goes tomorrow, but rather the man who comes today and stays tomorrow ... The concept of the stranger refers not to those who are unknown or socially inaccessible, but to those who are present but not integrated. Strangers have been empirically conspicuous throughout history as traders, and in Europe this role has been played by the Jew.' [from Peter Lawrence (Ed): Georg Simmel: sociologist and European 1976].
- 'I'm the prodigal stranger': this appears to be a reference to the parable of the Prodigal Son [Luke 15:11-32]. If 'prodigal' really meant 'returning' (as many people suppose, since it is the return of the prodigal son that is most often remembered from Jesus's parable) then 'returning strangers' would have been a neat and apt paradox for the rebirth of Procol Harum in 1991. However 'prodigal' actually means wasteful, or spendthrift: 'wasteful stranger' cannot have been what was intended. The word 'prodigal' has often been used in contexts associated with spendthrift gambling
and gambling is recurrent theme on this album.
- 'I'll burn down the house': the prodigal son in the Bible came home to great rejoicing: to have rewarded the generosity of his father with an act of arson would have been bewilderingly ungracious. In the story of the three little pigs the house is threatened with blowing down; but burning down of houses was a widespread social punishment for witches and other minorities, as in the nursery rhyme 'Ladybird ladybird fly away home/ your house is on fire
' where 'ladybird' is usually now explained as meaning a sorceress. Burning Down The House is a song by Talking Heads. A similarly sweeping threat comes in A Rum Tale where, if no-one will buy the author's memoirs, he proclaims that he will 'burn down the town'. Reid makes copious use of the verb 'burn': see A Salty Dog, The Wreck Of The Hesperus, All This And More, Whisky Train, Still There'll Be More, About to Die, Simple Sister, Luskus Delph, Power Failure, Poor Mohammed, Fires (Which Burnt Brightly), Butterfly Boys, Something Magic, The Worm and the Tree, and Holding on.
- 'I'm a self-educator': by Reid's own admission he did not do well at school, but he learned to read at an early age and was a keen user of libraries. Many other lines in this song cannot possibly be taken to refer to Keith in person, however: this one just happens to fit with the few known facts about his life!
- 'a collector of news': compare with 'taking notes and stealing quotes' in Taking the Time. There's a pleasing paradox here, though, in that 'news' is only new for a while, and collecting it destroys that novelty. The lyric certainly works, however, by a magpie-like accumulation of commonplace phrases that tallies with 'taking notes and stealing quotes' in Taking the Time, and could pass for 'collecting news' in the sense, 'reading a lot of newspapers'.
- 'I'm the cool liberator': a difficult phrase to construe with any certainty. It presents a sort of parallel to the self-proclamations in Gary Brooker's own lyric, Mineral Man. 'Cool liberator' could mean 'freedom fighter'; 'liberator' also might be associated by some with the keyboard you could wear and play like a guitar. 'The Liberator' was a title given to Simon Bolivar on securing getting independence of Spanish colonies in LA, and to Daniel O'Connell, who secured Roman Catholic emancipation in 1829. 'Liberator of the World' was a phrase used for Benjamin Franklin. 'Cool liberator' sounds a bit like an attempt to imitate black slang: a further instance is the phrase 'get back on the bus' which carries implications of racial discrimination: buses are often zones of racial segregation, as well as sites for refusal of entry.
- 'Any topic you choose': the lyric-book says 'tropic you choose', though the sense really requires the word 'topic'. Listeners with x-ray ears will have noticed how, on the Prodigal Stranger album, Gary deliberately sings 'tropic' when we expect 'topic', and later sings 'topic' for 'tropic'. This may have started off as a mistake like 'the cloud crapped' on the Edmonton album though it was 'tropic you choose' in the 1989 rap version too but however it started, it is retained in the classic Procol mood of mischief. In live performance it's harder to judge whether Gary is uttering that difficult 'r' vowel in the word, but listening to a sample of recordings from Utrecht 1992, The Barbican 1996, and Guildford 2000, one hears a definite 'tropic' once only (Guildford: 'Tropic of Cancer').
- 'I'm a shooting star': 'star' is self-explanatory in the rock context, though it's worth pointing out that in past ages shooting stars (specially those travelling apparently towards the left) were considered to be evil omens. A shooting star is not a star at all but a speck of cosmic dust, and 'dust' (specifically 'stardust') gets a good share of name-checks on the Prodigal Stranger album. Oddly enough pop-stars are often said to have 'meteoric' rises to fame, whereas meteors, when they come into human ken, are invariably plummeting to destruction.
- 'I've got no inhibitions': presumably he has banished them with a pogo stick, following the advice in Mabel.
- 'I don't care who you are': another suggestion of the soulless, get-rich-quick generation that is occasionally alluded to in the words of songs on this album.
- 'Got my eye on the future': counter-intuitively, all the specific Reid uses of the word 'future' are from late songs: 'We saw our future self-destructing' (The truth won't fade away); 'Got my eye on the future' (Man with a mission ); 'We see the future and we're gonna make it' (Learn to fly); 'No use looking to the future, if you keep on coming back' (the unpublished Last Train to Niagara); another unpublished song, from 1976, unites 'future' and 'eye' in 'We're looking to the future but we keep one eye on the past': it may be to this song that the present piece refers.
- 'My hand on the pulse': the ordinary expression would be 'finger on the pulse'; here the rhythm demands a monosyllable. 'Finger on the pulse' originates with doctors monitoring the heart-rate of patients [in For Liquorice John they 'felt and poked and pushed his pulse']: 'pulse' is now usually understood in a less specialised context, as signifying any manifestation of life-force, or anywhere where the 'beat' of life can be felt.
- 'There's a whole world of people in the back of the bus': no bus has so far been invoked in the song ... in the rock context a tour-bus comes to mind, either full of hangers-on or, more metaphorically, filled with influence of former band-members.
- 'There's a man on a tightrope': though this could be a literal reference to a circus artist (as in 'Twas Teatime at the Circus) a more likely interpretation would centre on the common use of 'tightrope' as a metaphor for a difficult path, one requiring the delicate balance of various issues, with the likelihood of a fall from grace if one fails to please all parties.
- 'nothing to share': it could be argued that Reid himself is the man with 'nothing to share' since he uses the word, and the concept, so freuqently in the songs: Quite Rightly So, Glimpses of Nirvana, In the Autumn of My Madness, Look to Your Soul, Boredom, The Wreck Of The Hesperus, Nothing that I Didn't Know, Whaling Stories, Nothing But the Truth, The Idol, Monsieur R. Monde, Man with a Mission, The Hand that Rocks the Cradle, and the officially-unpublished Seem To Have The Blues (Most All The Time).
- 'Just a whole load of secrets': there's 'a man with a secret' later on this album, in The Hand that Rocks the Cradle: his 'secrets' are not so summarily scorned, but they're not revealed either. Reid has relatively few references to secrets (A Rum Tale, TV Ceasar and The Idol) until this album, which has three (The Hand that Rocks the Cradle is the third)
- 'Head full of air': 'airhead' is modern slang for a person displaying limited intellectual capacities, cp. Bimbo; it is also recorded as meaning 'marijuana user'.
- 'It's the Tropic of Cancer': Tropic of Cancer, title of loosely-constructed sex-obsessed 1934 novel by Henry Miller. 'Tropic' literally means 'turning-point' and the Tropic of Cancer is the name given to the imaginary line (about 23 degrees north of the equator) where the sun apparently turns on reaching its most northerly declination. representing the apparent turning-point of the sun. Cancer is the constellation of the crab that appears when the sun is at this northern limit, embarking on its crabwise return south: Juno had set Cancer against Hercules when he was fighting the Hydra: it bit Hercules's foot but was then killed by him, whereupon Juno took it up to the heavens. If 'topic' were intended, then 'cancer' would refer literally to the disease or to the alleged properties and propensities of someone with that star sign.
- 'The meaning of soul': black artists from James Brown onwards knew they had 'soul', one of whose qualities seemed to be its very indefinability (cp You've Either Got or You Havent Got Style from a 1964 Sinatra movie). The Temptations' 1969 hit, Psychedelic Shack refers to a place which is 'really out of sight / you can have your fortune told / you can learn the meaning of soul'. Writers Norman Whitfield and Barrett Strong invite us to 'Come in and take a look at your mind', and some would suggest that the stream-of-consciousness lyric of Man with a Mission does exactly that. More fancifully, 'a cat there shouting the blues
people walking around reciting poetry' would seem very much to be what Procol Harum is all about
- 'The meaning of soul': the soul is sometimes defined as combining mind, will and emotions: see here and here for two Biblical takes on this topic, or tropic.
- 'To have and to hold' is from the wedding service; and also the title of a numerous books in print, many of them having a marital theme.
- 'The method of access', a quotation from The Mark of the Claw, is a term used in police reports on burglaries.
- 'A handful of dust': title of novel (also 1934!) by Evelyn Waugh (and again a film): but in the aspirational 80s it was also a disparaging term to refer to the soullessness of high pressure high-finance jobs: 'a handful of dust' is all one's gains amount to. 'Dust' is a word used for any narcotic taken in powdered form: some authorities relate the term to PCP, heroin, and cocaine
in the connection of this album, it's worth recalling that PCP in particular induces the delusion of flying
the album is clearly not about narcotic use, but the extra resonances of the words Reid brings together contribute much to the richness of the text. He does have other 'dust' references, of which a disproportionate number occur on the present album: 'the sawdust in my plimsolls' (Rambling On ); 'Standards and bugles are trod in the dust' (Fires (Which Burnt Brightly)); 'He hacked it to pieces and burnt it to dust' (The Worm and The Tree); 'Stardust in your hair' (All Our Dreams Are Sold); 'Bite the bullet in the dust' (The Pursuit of Happiness)
- 'It's just par for the course': 'Par' is a golfing term, being the number of shots you are expected to complete a round in: 'par' is specified for the individual course. If it is, say, 72 for 18 holes, then 72 is 'par for the course': a person taking 74 shots is '2 over par' and so on. 'Par for the course' is uttered in daily parlance when things have turned out with usually unwelcome predictability: hence 'get back on the bus' ... travel on (like the shooting star, or the man with a mission, or the touring group) for something more interesting, with the matey 'boys' perhaps compounding the macho flavour noted above.
Thanks to Frans Steensma for additional information about this song