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*4.19-MAD HATTER'S SONG (Incredible String Band)

Incredible String Band

LISTEN

Oh seekers of Spring, how could you not find contentment
in a time of riddling reasons in this land of the blind?
By the joke of fate alone
it's sure that as the loved hand leaves you,
you clutch for the slip-stream, the realness to find.

   But do what you like, do what you like, do what you like,
   do what you like, do what you like, do what you can,
   do what you can, live till you die
   my poor little man.

For Jesus will stretch out his hand no more.

      But in the south there's many a waving tree;
      It would that musky fingers move your pain;
      In the warm south winds the lost flowers bloom again.

         And if you cried, you know you'd fill a lake with tears,
         Still wouldn't turn back the years,
         Since the city has took you,
         Mad Hatter's on my mind.

         So sad, sad to see the way it grew.
         Those other people that I knew
         That have either fell or faltered.
         Mad Hatter's on my mind.

And you must have to see clear some time.

            Prometheus the problem child,
            Still juggling with his brains
            Gives his limping leopard's visions
            To the miser in his veins.

            Within the ruined factories
            The normal so insane
            As he sets the sky beneath his heel
            And learns away the pain.

               But I am the archer the lover of laughter,
               And mine is the arrowed flight.
               I am the archer, and my eyes yearn after
               The unsullied sight.
               Born of the dark waters of the daughters of night,
               Dancing without movement after the clear light.

               Oh Promethean fate be kind
               In the rumbling and trundling rickshaw of time.
               Hooked by the heart to the king fisher's line

I will set my one eye for the shores of the blind.

   [Coda]


The Mad Hatter’s Song is a complex composition of several different melodies being held together by a structure outside the usual A and B verses with a chorus. Robin Williamson called it “fusion music”. So far, only Brown Shoes Don’t Make It by the Mothers of Invention was close to its complexity. But Frank Zappa had made a comedic and ironic story, while Mad Hatter’s Song seems far more interior, at times like a prayer to “Promethean fate”. The melody line itself seems protean. The song begins in a plainsong much like Eyes of Fate, again with a rhetorical question, this time accompanied by some of the finest sitar playing of the psychedelic period. The sitar player is reported by Wikipedia to have been Nazir Jairazbhoy, credited as “Soma”. The verse questions the worth of love when fate can turn that love into loss.

The B section is a trance, a dervish dance, exhorting (maybe ironically) that one should do as one likes--even though desire leads to pain, “poor little man”. The refusal of Jesus at the end of the verse returns the listener to plainsong and stands in sharp contrast to the rather Buddhist feel of the chanted trance. The C section is a poetic aside, a vain wish that love could renew itself like nature in warmer climate, unrelated in structure to anything before or after it. This is followed by a D section of the blues, where the Mad Hatter resides. The poet cites a specific grief for friends who have “either fell or faltered”, pursuing their dreams in the city. This is followed by a one line aside that reminds one of the last line of Section A--though not strictly reflecting the melody of that line, it nonetheless rhymes with it and is the same length. The audience has been through three transitions by the time we reach this uniting of structure through the use of one line of music and lyric, which does not repeat anything other than the rhyme.

The audience is then carried into yet another melodic E section, in which a raga dance beat returns with the sitar, but it’s not the same melody or mood as B. Fate is here depicted as Prometheus, perhaps of Percy Bysshe Shelley's Prometheus Unbound, in which Fate would be a resistance to God’s plan. Prometheus would be akin to Satan in his theft of fire from God (although throughout the song, the fire is merely alluded to as light) and akin to Jesus in trying to mollify his Father’s cruelty. Perhaps this kind of identity crisis would juggle one’s brain. The limping leopards are much like the growling lions in Eyes of Fate--they are hollow and haven’t the strength of their convictions. Also like Eyes of Fate, the singer advises the audience to rise above their ignorance and suffering, to “learn away the pain”.

In section F the poet finds his identity in the stars as The Archer, Sagittarius, and tells us of himself almost as if from an astrological reading. The sitar is dropped and the sound is much more like Eyes of Fate; there’s even the whirling dervish sound Williamson seems to like on the guitar, which addresses the line dancing without movement after the clear light as if looking through the concentric circles of a drop fallen in a pool. The lyric ends with a prayer to Fate as the poet makes his journey through life in the rumbling and trundling rickshaw of time--the ramshackle nature of existence is painfully evident. Like Prometheus, the poet appears to be bait for fish, and for eagles. God has become the Fisher King with a wound in his groin, seeking the punishment of Prometheus. The poet commits himself to setting his “one eye” which I believe is the spiritual eye that Buddhists depict in the center of the forehead on the “shores of the blind.” Being underwater, a bait for fish, the singer cannot see the reality above the surface, on land. The song concludes with an instrumental restatement of the B section: Do what you like…Do you what you can…You poor little man. But it is hardly an expression of psychedelic Live For Today hedonism.

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