Thursday, June 12, 2014

Decoding more lyrics

When it comes to pure, rich, Belfastian imagery, "Madame George" takes the prize. ("Cyprus Avenue" would be a not-too-distance second.) One of the track's most illustrative and memorable couplets comes 78 seconds in: "The kids out in the street collecting bottle tops / Gone for cigarettes and matches in the shops."

A passage from John Collis' Inarticulate Speech of the Heart provides a bit of backstory on these lyrics. Rod Demick—a member of the Wheels, one of Them's contemporaries in the Belfast rhythm and blues scene of the mid-1960s—purportedly knew Van Morrison, back when they were just two fiendishly curious children scurrying around Belfast's sullied, post-war landscape. Morrison, according to Demick, idled away his adolescent hours behind the now-defunct Ambassador Cinema on Cregagh Road.

"There was a pub there," Demick remembered, "and they stacked the bottles out the back. The bottle tops were bright colors, I remember, like green and yellow. You would sneak in and steal some empty bottles, then run round to the front of the pub and get the money back for the empties in the off-sales. You'd buy those cigarettes one at a time, joysticks, about nine inches long, smoke a bit and dib them out."

Nicking bottles, earning some undeserved coin, savoring a redwood-sized smoke ... What would today's parents think?

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