Let’s do some more Sex Pistols!
As always, my procedure works this way: I’ll write my first impressions of the piece. When you see the tarot card, that means I’ve flipped it over. I actually don’t know what’s coming during these posts until I am midway through them.
This song is a very good example of what it is that drives Sex Pistols songs. They’re relentless and their repetitive simplicity just feeds into that, driving the same point home again and again. That’s probably why so many people talk about how they seem genuinely angry, not just performing that for songs. Whether they were any angrier than other bands, their style compliments the feeling.
This song is another speaking to a specific person and accusing them of lying. As I said, it’s over and over, so that’s basically the whole thing. The line that may lead to a more sensible reading is “you’re in suspension,” which sounds like school talk, but could also mean that the person is stuck. Certainly the speaker is.
6 of Wands
The six of wands is usually a victorious card. It shows a man riding among a crowd who celebrate his coming. He wears laurels and bears a wreath. My first thought is that the speaker is finally successful here. He’s getting what he truly wants. And since the song is fairly vengeful, I guess we know what the ultimate goal is, right? Revenge on everyone and everything. Possibly even revenge on the self. That’s a little of the reading I mentioned last time leaking out, as the guy who started up the Sex Pistols had a working relationship with some of the continental Dadaists. So I’m sort of cheating, really, and “triangulating” a new point in.
This song is nearly a tribute to the Who album that never was. The speaker accuses the listener of failing to live. The speaker, on the other hand, lives, uses his feet for his “human machine” (which is a hell of a way to think about the self in a song about how to live life), and stays true to what’s in him. It’s not clear, here, what that is, exactly. But the song already ties automatism to “the screen,” which I would assume is television, what with this being released in the 1970s and all.
The Emperor is pretty serious business. Literally, he is the source of law and control in the major arcana. Well, so the Hierophant is sort of that too. But the Emperor is supposed to be secular authority, a king running the world from his throne. The song has two possible emperors: the speaker, who dictates how to live life from his improved position outside society, or the listener, who is locked into those laws and sits, unthinking, trapped in them. I actually think it’s most interesting to consider both simultaneously. The tradition of “don’t listen to the man / don’t do what everyone says” tunes is always a little troubling. The song, itself, is telling the reader what to do. The Emperor works because he really knows what he’s doing, and he really wants everything to work properly. He may end up being stern or an asshole of some stripe, but it’s because of an adherence to a code of some kind. I think the speaker is trying to cobble together a code of some kind, but isn’t doing a great job. See the previous songs: hate and resentment cover over everything else. The “man” is shit no matter where it comes from. Here, we’re talking about avoiding ever being on the throne or listening to someone on it, because every other option collapses.
God Save the Queen
This would be the song I was already familiar with, and it’s certainly my favorite out of everything we’ve done so far.
So now, leading off the song telling people what to do, the album veers into talking about how everything is shit. I should point out, now, that different versions of the album seem to have slightly different track orders. So I won’t do too much with that. But I did want to mention it.
More significant and famous, of course, is the repeated scream that there’s no future at all. H bombs are mentioned, and the queen is, apparently, not human. Well, given what William Gibson has shown us about the sufficiently rich, that would be about right. The song brings in some of the “don’t do what you’re told” message, too. And the weird relationship that disaffected youth have with being particularly English comes out here, too. The singer sneers at the queen but says they need her around for the tourism money. She’s a “figurehead” hiding something behind her. What that is isn’t clear. But they “mean it, man” when they say “God save the queen.”
This is a very peculiar image for this song, right? But remember that line, “England’s dreaming.” The Hermit withdraws from life to dream a visionary dream, to get wisdom from somewhere else. The speaker here, through his withdrawal from everyday life, seems to have achieved some kind of wisdom. The rage can’t quite get the better of those visions, but it shapes the way they come out. Who is it that doesn’t have a future? Is it the queen or the listener? Or is it everyone?
Back to a song I haven’t really heard before. Ah! The song never mentions the age in the title, only the age of the hypothetical listener: twenty-nine. So presumably the speaker is the seventeen year old. So this is youth speaking to age, though a lot of us would laugh ab it at twenty-nine being considered the face of age. But in this case it works, because there’s a cultural difference. The speaker says he doesn’t wear “flares,” which probably means flared trousers. So that means he’s speaking to a mod, someone in the youth culture just a bit older than the punk culture that’s growing up as the album is released. The speaker is lazy and has no reality in his face, apparently. So we can assume the mod is not lazy and has reality in their face. What does that mean?
King of Wands
There’s a lot of passion in this album, if nothing else. The wands represent fire. Fire, here, is dangerous and catching. The king of each suit is still, to some degree, calm. Fire usually isn’t. So the two ideas — the king and the wand — don’t always sit well together. Usually the kings are pretty positive, but if you think of someone looking up at this king, someone who’s gotten a raw deal, you can see the negative aspects. He’s taken the fire that used to rage in him and bottled it up. He took a seat. He didn’t keep burning. The speaker is pissed off because the slightly older person took the seat, got the job, conformed to “reality” as it’s been described. The speaker can’t do that: there aren’t any jobs. So all that’s left is to burn.
That’s a good spot to stop. The second set of songs we’ve looked at are about the speaker’s position and what’s driving that anger. Next time we’ll start off with the biggest song on the album! So look forward to that!