Friday, August 20, 2010

Winston Churchill and "Fool's Overture"

While dwelling on 1965 memories, I thought it fitting to pay respects to Winston Churchill, who died in January of that year and whose funeral I recall watching as a kid on TV. Twelve years later, in 1977, the UK band Supertramp released a song  called Fool's Overture, which I always thought referred to Churchill (there is a recording of his voice in the song fer Chrisakes). I also thought this was common knowledge, but I recall discussing this topic one night over on the Althouse blog with someone convinced that the lyrics referred to Jesus.

You can hear the song here. (embedding was disabled for that video otherwise I'd put it here). Here are the lyrics for the song along with my specific reasons why it refers to Churchill:

History recalls how great the fall can be
While everybody's sleeping, the boats put out to sea [1]
Borne on the wings of time
It seemed the answers were so easy to find [2]
Too late, the prophets cry
The island's sinking, let's take to the sky [3]

Called the man a fool, stripped him of his pride
Everyone was laughing up until the day he died [4]
And though the wound went deep
Still he's calling us out of our sleep [5]
My friends, we're not alone
He waits in silence to lead us all home [6]

So you tell me that you find it hard to grow
Well I know, I know, I know
And you tell me that you've many seeds to sow
Well I know, I know, I know [7]

Can you hear what I'm saying?
Can you see the parts that I'm playing?
Holy man, rocker man, come-on queenie,
Joker man, spider man, blue-eyed meanie [8]

So you found your solution
What will be your last contribution?
Live it up, rip it up, why so lazy?
Give it out, dish it out, let's go crazy! [9]

[1] Refers to Francis Drake's night time attacks to fend off the Spanish Armada in 1588.
[2] Refers to the British Empire's subsequent historical momentum and a sense of entitlement.
[3] I've no idea who the "prophets" were of the time but their message was to abandon the ship of state.
[4] Refers to the replacement of Churchill by the Labour Party and the subsequent decades-long deconstruction of his legacy (note that this song was written in 1977, prior to the ascendency of Thatcher).
[5] & [6] Here is where the allusion to a force from beyond (ostensibly the memory of Churchill) may have caused that Althouse commenter to remark that he thought the song was about Jesus.
[7] Here the songwriter is answering the unspoken retort from British youth--that maturity is hard, that the legacy is too hard to live up to.
[8] Refers to the spectrum of people present in the 1970s Britain: religious, culture, celebrity, social, misfit--each one is a character.
[9] Refers to the state of anarchy amongst the mid 1970's youth in Britain.


  1. A Twitter retweet prompted this whole little episode of recollection linkage

  2. I think you're right, but perhaps it isn't specifically aimed at Churchill himself, and more at his generation, the one's that pulled themselves up by their bootstraps and then were ridiculed by that rebellious youth you mentioned, deconstructed by the rest so that nobody would call them hero's (well, that was the hope).

    For a while I've had the feeling that we're not allowed to have hero's anymore. Everytime we get one, we're told how they "said something racist one time" or "oh, he was actually a womanizer" or "did you know she took lots of pills?" etc. etc. Then we're told we should revere FDR and Woodrow Wilson, or Margret Sanger (who started Planned Parenthood).

  3. Candle you are just such a little flicker of hope sometimes that I could just hug you.

  4. I have the same problem when I tell everybody that Jackson Browne's song "Rosie" is about whacking off.

    "I got to hand it to me Rosie, It's me and you again tonight ....Roooosssssiiiieeeee!!!!"

  5. Amba tweeted this New Yorker link today which I'm putting here for possible future use.

  6. This is what Roger said in an interview:

    Roger: Ooooh. (laughs) Well, I’d like people to make up their own minds about this one really. I like being vague and yet saying enough to set people’s imaginations running riot. So there’s a lot of suggestions in there about the coming holocaust, the fall of mankind, or whatever you want to call it. It’s another searching song really.

    Are you using strings on any of the tracks?

    John: “Fool’s Overture,” “Babaji” and “Lover Boy.” Richard Houston did the string arrangements on Crime and Crisis, but he’s 7,000 miles away so we’ve been working out some things with Michel Colombier.

    It does not seem to be a song about Winston. His other searching songs he talks about Christ and Krishna so this is most likely a spiritual song. Jesus is as good a guess as any as it fits