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*7.29-A VERY CELLULAR SONG (Incredible String Band)

Incredible String Band

LISTEN

Winter was cold and the clothing was thin,
But the gentle shepherd calls the tune.
Oh dear mother what shall I do?
First please your eyes and then your ears, Jenny.
Exchanging love tokens, say goodnight.

     Lay down my dear sister
     Won't you lay and take your rest?
     Won't you lay your head upon your Savior’s breast?
     And I love you, but Jesus loves you the best.

     And I bid you goodnight, goodnight, goodnight. (2x)
     One of these mornings bright and early and fine.
     Goodnight, goodnight, goodnight.
     Not a cricket not a spirit going to shout me on.
     Goodnight, goodnight, goodnight.
     I go walking in the valley of the shadow of death.
     Goodnight, goodnight, goodnight.
     And his rod and his staff shall comfort me.
     Goodnight, goodnight, goodnight.
     Oh John the wine he saw the sign.
     Goodnight, goodnight, goodnight.
     Oh John say I seen a number of signs.
     Goodnight, goodnight, goodnight.
     Tell A for the ark that wonderful boat.
     Goodnight, goodnight, goodnight.
     You know they built it on the land getting water to float.
     Goodnight, goodnight, goodnight.
     Tell B for the beast at the ending of the wood.
     Goodnight, goodnight, goodnight.
     You know it eat all the children when they wouldn't be good.
     Goodnight, goodnight, goodnight.
     I remember quite well, I remember quite well.
     Goodnight, goodnight, goodnight.
     I was walking in Jerusalem just like John.
     Goodnight, goodnight, goodnight.

[Break: Good night...]

          Who would lose and who would bruise
          Or who would live quite prettily?
          And who would love what comes along
          And fill the air with joyous song?

          Who would go and who would come
          Or who would simply linger?
          And who would hide behind your chair
          And steal your crystallized ginger?

               Nebulous nearnesses cry to me
               At this timeless moment
               Someone dear to me
               Wants me near, makes me high.
               I can hear vibrations fly
               Through mangoes, pomegranates and planes
               All the same
               When it reaches me and teaches me
               To sigh.

[Break]

          Who would mouse and who would lion
          Or who would be the tamer?
          And who would hear directions clear
          From the unnameable namer?

          Who would skip and who would plod
          Or who would lie quite stilly?
          And who would ride backwards on a giraffe
          Stopping every so often to laugh?

[Spoken: Amoebas are very small]

                    Oh ah ee oo there's absolutely no strife
                    Living the timeless life.
                    I don't need a wife
                    Living the timeless life.
                    If I need a friend I just give a wriggle
                    Split right down the middle,
                    And when I look there's two of me
                    Both as handsome as can be.

                    O here we go slithering, here we go slithering and squelching on. (2x)
                    Oh ah ee oo there's absolutely no strife
                    Living the timeless life.

Black hair brown hair feather and scale
Seed and stamen and all unnamed lives that live,
Turn your quivering nerves in my direction. (3x)
Feel the energy projection of my cells
Wishes you well.

                         May the long time sun shine upon you
                         All love surround you
                         And the pure light within you
                         Guide you all the way on.
                         [Repeated many times for over nearly 2 minutes]


Hangman's Beautiful DaughterThe Hangman’s Beautiful Daughter contains the most ambitious psychedelic music recorded by the Incredible String Band. Though the album took advantage of multi-track recording, for the most part, the album sought novelty not by engineering tricks but through the introduction of exotic instruments including the sitar, oud, jews harp and kazoo, and the use of an odd singing style. George Starostin, in his website Only Solitaire, described the singing of Robin Williamson and Mike Heron as “two pairs of some of the most bizarrely tuned vocal cords to be ever jammed between the larynx and pharynx of a vocalist.” In the first such effort in psychedelic music, Licorice McKehnie, girlfriend of Williamson, and Rose Simpson, who was Heron’s girlfriend, were included as full –fledged members of the group for this album, contributing vocals. According to Wikipedia, the album is considered by many to be the quintessential example of hippie culture, with its promotion of ideas such as communal living, eastern mysticism and pantheism. The informal album cover itself communicated, with its collection of men, women, children and dog, the success of communal or gypsy living outside the established order. (The album cover can be compared with Bob Dylan’s informal cover to the album John Wesley Harding, where the group of men depicted seems to represent outcasts or outlaws from a dusty page of American history.) Though Hangman’s Beautiful Daughter made a poor showing in sales among Americans, it reached #5 on the UK charts.

A Very Cellular Song is an extended work running about 13 minutes, made of a series of songs combined. (I have edited out nearly two minutes of the long repetition of the last verse.) It is a complex composition with six different verse forms, not to mention an independent instrumental break. Perhaps these little songs are the “cells” that Mike Heron sings of, though toward the end, after Licorice’s spoken piece about amoebas (sounding much like the little child in Traffic’s Hole in My Shoe), the lyrics seem to focus on a cellular level of existence outside of a sense of time. LSD has the power to make one feel like one is seeing things on a molecular or cellular level; indeed “seeing through” the spaces between the material bits of matter in order to recognize the spiritual behind it. On this level, Heron submits that existence is asexual, and reproduction occurs by mitosis.

The song opens with an A section, accompanied by violin, organ, and what sounds like a glockenspiel (though it may be finger cymbals), that serves as an introduction to the lullaby that follows. According to Wikipedia, the B section, accompanied by a simple organ part and hand claps, is drawn from an English funeral (“lowering”) hymn composed in the late 19th century and recorded in the modern era by Bahaman guitarist Joseph Spence [MainlyNorfolk.info]. The C section brings attacks on the keys of a harpsichord accompanied by a recorder and a kazoo, with playful lyrics suggesting a children’s song about “crystallized ginger” and riding “backwards on a giraffe”. (However, the “unnameable namer” in this section suggests that the nonsense is not simply in order to entertain but to act upon the listener as an absurd koan, to loosen the listeners guard against accepting the unknowable.) Section D, inserted between two sections of C, to the accompaniment of violin and organ, contemplates “nebulous nearnesses” that communicate timelessness. This is followed by a playful instrumental break played on (I believe) dobro, guitar, jews harp, and kazoo, the tune of which sounds to my ear related to the F section but certainly not identical to it. The E section, played simply note for note on the organ keyboard, follows what I call a “skating rhythm” which perfectly accompanies the “slithering and squelching on” of little amoebas, so much like eye floats. (I imagine the LSD tripper contemplating them with his eyes shut.) Section A returns with the same accompaniment as previously but a varied melody, and focuses on the “energy projections of my cells” like the ganglia of nerve endings. Section A introduces not a lullaby this time, but a benediction in Section F that sounds much a blessing upon leaving church: may the listener be graced with the ability to follow the light. The F section is the kind of tune I’m surprised has not been included in more liturgies. Mike Heron was as serious about the relation between LSD enlightenment and spirituality as George Harrison. Reportedly this prayer was picked up in 1968 by Yogi Bhajan while he was visiting England, and is still used in Kundalini Yoga meditation [Willem Wittstamm, Aquarian Times, Feb. / March 2009].

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