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Songs for Petronius

Title: Songs for Petronius 1 2 3
Released: 1992
Label: Shrimper

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Liner notes

UTINAM POPULUS ROMANUS UNAM CERUTCEM HABERET 4
– Caligula 5

the Mountain Goats are: Rachel, Roseanne, John, Sara and Aaa-my. Thanks to Ellen Finkerperl 6 and the immeasurable wonderful Hurtado women: Marilu, Matilde, and especialy Leticia.

Brinji ngag
– Bera ngag 7

Songs for Petronius was included in its entirety on the compilation Bitter Melon Farm.

Table of contents

  1. The Bad Doctor
  2. Alpha Double Negative: Going to Catalina
  3. Pure Intentions
  4. The Lady from Shanghai
  5. Pure Love

The Bad Doctor 8

If you were anywhere near his door
You saw it swing open, and you heard the moon roar
Trying to yank herself right out of her orbit
The whole natural world painted red, just like a target

It was a cold dark day
With low clouds standing in the way
And the stars jockeying for position
On the slow, thick morning of the death-dealing physician
Oh yeah
Oh yeah
Oh yeah
Oh yeah

And you could feel his features in the air
A wide smile and perfect hair
He had complete control of the rising tide
And a medicine bag hanging at his side

It was a cold dark day
With low clouds standing in the way
And the stars jockeying for position
In the flowing blue world of the death-dealing physician
Oh yeah
Oh yeah
Oh yeah
Oh yeah

And the rain came down like water from a faucet
I saw him at the crossroads but I never saw him cross it 9
One minute he was on this side and the next he was over on the other
So went his rounds one sad 10 patient after another

It was a cold dark day
With low clouds standing in the way
And the stars jockeying for position
In the crushed velvet world of the death-dealing physician

It was a cold dark day
With low clouds standing in the way
And the stars jockeying for position
In the impossibly large office of the death-dealing physician 11
Oh yeah
Oh yeah
Oh yeah
Oh yeah

Alpha Double Negative: Going to Catalina 12 13 14 15

I hear you starting up again
I see you standing on the deck
I hear your voice start to carry
I see the veins throbbing in your neck

And I know what you're saying
And I know what you're saying it for
But I'm not listening
I'm not listening anymore

And I see you come toward me
I see the sun climb down the sky
I hear your voice getting faster and louder
I see a stranger in your eyes

And I know what you're saying
And I know what you're saying it for
But I'm not listening
I'm not listening anymore

Pure Intentions 16

You're a strong one
You're a lion
You're brave
And death-defying
You're in your car
Crossing town
And I can feel you
Coming down

You're so pretty
I could burst
And I wonder
Who's gonna talk first
My muscles all shaking
My blood's turned to foam
It's Tuesday
And you're coming home
Yeah

The Lady from Shanghai 17

The waves were beating
Against the shore
The waves were beating
As if they hadn't before
The dock was soaking
The wood was wet
Your hair blew madly
I can't forget
We went down to the boat
We went down to the boat
We went down to the boat
We went down to the boat
Yeah

The rushing water
The pale sky
Hey, that's a good way
To let the deck dry
You know what I mean
We were slaves
The world was lurching
The dark ways
We went down to the boat
We went down to the boat
We went down to the boat
We went down to the boat
Yeah

Pure Love 18

Hey, what's wrong with you
Hey, what are you trying to do
Because if what you have in mind
Is what I think it is, then it's not very kind
It won't be necessary
It won't be necessary now
It won't be necessary
It won't be necessary now

Hey, what are you doing, my love
Hey, didn't I just tell you that such a thing would be over and above
What's called for in this case
Pull the ski mask away from your face
It won't be necessary
It won't be necessary now
It won't be necessary
It won't be necessary now
It won't be necessary
It won't be necessary now

Credits

Caliclimber, thank you eternally for your excellent Flickr page from which I took the album art.

  1. Songs for Petronius, Nall, retrieved April 25, 2014.

Footnotes

  1. "This was the first single, and it sported an absolutely beautiful sleeve by Ian Smith's Juggernaut Press. Its back featured a quotation from Nero and another, unattributed from Turnbull's The Mountain People. The sound of the singing on it makes me cringe, but I am aware of a few people who think this is as close to perfection as I've come. These are the same people who think that Suede was possibly the greatest band in the world when they were just playing in small clubs around London but became the worst band in the world as soon as they release their first single. There is no known way to satisfy these people without breaking most of the laws of time. Anyhow, 'The Bad Doctor' was widely misunderstood and nobody seemed to get 'Pure Love.' 'The Lady from Shanghai,' though — when I hear that comparatively young man get all breathy there, I see what he means, and I feel like he was onto something." —Bitter Melon Farm liner notes

  2. Songs for Petronius is part of the Song for … series.

  3. Petronius was a first century AD Roman consul and author of the Satyricon, a satirical novel about lower-class Roman life and love. Accused of treason due to the jealousy of a corrupt Praetorian Guard prefect, he committed suicide in 66 AD.

  4. A slight misspelling of "Utinam populus Romanus unam cervicem haberet", a quotation of Caligula's documented by Suetonius in The Twelve Caesars, meaning, "I wish the Roman people had but one neck", the implication being that he could cut it with a single stroke. The context of the quotation is as follows, describing Caligula's cruelty:

    He generally prolonged the sufferings of his victims by causing them to be inflicted by slight and frequently repeated strokes; this being his well-known and constant order: "Strike so that he may feel himself die." Having punished one person for another, by mistaking his name, he said "he deserved it quite as much." He had frequently in his mouth these words of the tragedian: "Oderint dum metuant." I scorn their hatred, if they do but fear me. He would often inveigh against all the senators without exception, as clients of Sejanus, and informers against his mother and brothers, producing the memorials which he had pretended to burn, and excusing the cruelty of Tiberius as necessary, since it was impossible to question the veracity of such a number of accusers. He continually reproached the whole equestrian order, as devoting themselves to nothing but acting on the stage, and fighting as gladiators. Being incensed at the people's applauding a party at the Circensian games in opposition to him, he exclaimed, "I wish the Roman people had but one neck." When Tetrinius, the highwayman, was denounced, he said his persecutors too were all Tetrinius's. Five Retiarii, in tunics, fighting in a company, yielded without a struggle to the same number of opponents; and being ordered to be slain, one of them taking up his lance again, killed all the conquerors. This he lamented in a proclamation as a most cruel butchery, and cursed all those who had borne the sight of it.

    Suetonius (1889). The Lives of the Twelve Caesars. Alexander Thompson, translator. Philadelphia: Gebbie & Co. Perseus Digital Library, retrieved April 25, 2014.

  5. Caligula was a notoriously brutal Roman emperor in the first century AD. After years of self-indulgence, murder for pleasure, grotesque sex, potential insanity, wanton destruction, and other obscenity, he was assassinated in 41 AD.

  6. Slightly misspelled, Ellen Finkerpearl is a professor of classics at Scripps, presumably one of John's classics professor when he studied at Pitzer.

  7. A bleak purported greeting in Ik, a UNESCO severely endangered language of the Ik people in northern Uganda. According to anthropologist Colin Turnbull, the greeting begins, "Brinji ngag", meaning, "Bring me food", and concludes with the response, "Bera ngag", "There is no food." However, Turnbull's study has drawn criticism and may not be an accurate representation of Ik society and language, and more thorough investigation reveals that Ik greetings are closer to what one would expect.

    Turnbull, Colin (1972). The Mountain People. New York: Simon & Schuster.

    Heine, Bernd (1985). The Mountain People: Some Notes on the Ik of North-Eastern Uganda. Africa: Journal of the International African Institute, 55(1), 3 – 16.

  8. "I stopped playing this song because people thought it was about Jack Kevorkian, which it is not. It's about a malevolent force that runs around dispensing death in the guise of medicine — actual widespread death, not the merciful death of Jack Kevorkian." — Swedish-American Hall, San Francisco, June 28, 2012

  9. In many mythologies, a crossroads represents a liminal space where one can interact with the spirit world. In Western mythology, the crossroads are a place where one can call the Devil into the world to broker a deal for one's soul, such as with the story of Robert Johnson.

  10. Sometimes sung, "So went his rounds one dead patient after another". Swedish-American Hall, San Francisco, June 28, 2012.

  11. Also, "In the inestimably large office of the death-dealing physician". Swedish-American Hall, San Francisco, June 28, 2012.

  12. John specified that this song is sung from the perspective of the wife in the Alpha relationship. Cow Haus, Tallahassee, February 6, 1998.

  13. Alpha Double Negative: Going to Catalina is part of the Going to … series and the Alpha couple series.

  14. There are quite a few places named Catalina, but given John's childhood in Southern California and his description of the Alpha Couple as being from California (see the series page), my best guess is that this refers to Santa Catalina Island, a popular vacation spot off of the coast of Los Angeles.

  15. Alpha Double Negative: Going to Catalina was rerecorded for the later album Nothing for Juice. The songs are very similar except for a somewhat different sound and some minor grammatical changes.

  16. Pure Intentions is part of the Pure … series.

  17. The Lady from Shanghai is a 1947 Orson Welles noir film about a sailor who, after becoming interested in a married woman, becomes caught in a plot to frame him for a murder. This could describe a number of scenes in the film, however, my best guess is that this explores the tension between Michael O'Hara, the framed sailor, and Elsa, his married love interest.

  18. Pure Love is part of the Pure … series.