Poems on the Underground was launched in 1986 to bring the art to a wider audience by displaying various poems or stanzas on advertising boards across the London Underground network. Read more about it here.
In early 1995, those in control decided to feature some of the lyrics of an Edwyn Collins song. The genesis of the lines that became so well-known to millions of commuters can be traced back to 1991 when not only did Edwyn’s LP Hellbent On Compromise sell in miserable numbers, but his record label wouldn’t release any singles from it on the basis that they were unlikely to get radio play.
Edwyn’s sound was about as far out of fashion as ever could be imagined. The public had seemingly turned its back on him. He was, in the words of another EC, (Elvis Costello), a man out of time.
He turned primarily to production duties, and most of us who had followed his career from way back now thought his recording days were over. Then, out of the blue, he released what subsequently became his biggest selling LP ever.
Gorgeous George crept out quietly in back in August 1994, on a small Irish label to very little fanfare, and, though many will deny it now, to near silence from the music critics employed by the papers and magazines. A couple of singles were met with just as much indifference.
But there were people out there who got it. One such individual, and I have no idea who, was the person who managed to persuade his or her colleagues to turn some of Edwyn’s lyrics into a poem. Whether they were a fan of Edwyn or not, again I have no idea. Here’s the lyric in its entirety, with the section chosen to go underground highlighted in bold:-
Don’t try so hard to be different,
The cracks are beginning to show
You drift like a cloud through the festival crowd
In a frock coat from Saville Row
You’ve just been to a all-night party
Where I have to admit it takes pluck
To go out on the floor and proclaim ‘What a bore’
In a T-shirt that reads ‘Disco Sucks’
Yes, here he comes, the not-so-young
Pretender to the throne
He’s singing ‘Rag, Momma, Rag,’
Won’t you give that poor dog a bone?
And he’s wondering why we can’t connect
When he’s sworn to us that he’s totally wrecked
On the rustic charm that he affects
On a public schoolboy whim
With a raggle taggle plastic gypsy
With a synthesized accordian
A-scramblin‘ up my brain
With a fiddle-dee–dee, a fiddle on high
Excuse me folks while I kiss the sky
Or at any rate give it one more try
Before I die. Before I die
The overrated hit the stage
Overpaid and over here
And their idea of counter-culture’s
Momma’s charge account at Sears
And they’re wondering why we can’t connect
With the ritual of the trashed guitar
One more paltry empty gesture
The ashes of a burned out star
Yes here they come, both old and young
A contact low or high
The gathering of the tribes descending
Vultures from a caustic sky
The rotting carcass of July
An ugly sun hung out to dry
Your gorgeous hippy dreams are dying
Your frazzled brains are putrifying
Repackaged, sold and sanitized
The devil’s music exorcised
You live, you die, you lie, you lie, you die
Perpetuate the lie
Just to perpetuate the lie
Yes yes yes it’s the Summer Festival
The truly detestable Summer Festival
Too often this lyric has been taken as an outright attack on American musicians – and in particular grunge music, which for the previous three or four years had been so dominant.
But read it closely…..the sarcasm about grunge comes AFTER an earlier dose of the famous Collins wit had been deployed on the new age travellers who were roaming the country and causing all sorts of chaos. I’m sure it wasn’t that Edwyn hated the concept of the traditional travellers – it was more the case that he, like many others, despised the posh kids who thought it would be such wonderful fun to be a rebel for a short while…..before going off to their guaranteed job in the city with a friend of daddy….
And then at the end, with typical Collins mischief just after he’s delivered a guitar solo that raawwwwwkkkkksssss, it’s all brought together at one big open-air gathering where our Edwyn’s least favourite musicians will find their perfect audience…..
A true genius at work if you want my opinion.
mp3 : Edwyn Collins – The Campaign For Real Rock
Oh….and the picture that illustrates this posting??? That’s one of my proudest possessions.
In mid 1995, the re-released single A Girl Like You went massive the world over, and Edwyn went on tour. He played a great homecoming gig at the Pavilion Theatre in Glasgow. Among the merchandise on sale were a handful of the London Underground billboards that were printed but not used on the trains – signed by the great man himself. And given the tragic circumstances which have since then left Edwyn incapable of reproducing his pre-illnesses signature, you’ll understand why this particular artefact will always have a special place in Villain Towers.