Leave the Capitol

A view of Nevsky Prospect, Petersburg’s main thoroughfare, with the Russian National Library (the so-called Publichka), Gostiny Dvor shopping center, the tower of the former City Duma building, the cupola of Kazan Cathedral, and the cupola of St. Isaac’s Cathedral visible on the left in ascending. This picture-perfect cityscape was used by the Facebook page I Love St. Petersburg to illustrate the bizarre, banal, pseudo-historical sentiment that I’ve translated, below. Petersburg was built on the land of the Ingrian people and the captured Swedish fortress of Nyenskans. Or rather, that’s a no less valid way of putting it.

St. Petersburg is the only European capital that has not been captured by the enemy in any period of history.

Source: I Love St. Petersburg (@spb.love.you), Facebook, 13 August 2022. Translated by the Russian Reader


(Upper left, in Russian) “Kiev is the mother of Russian cities.”
(Lower right, in Ukrainian) “If I had known, I would have had an abortion.”

Source: Petya Pyatochkin, Facebook, 12 August 2022. Thanks to Volodya Y. for the heads-up. Translated by the Russian Reader


Leave the Capitol

Lyrics

(1)

The tables covered in beer
Showbiz whines, minute detail (2)
Hand on the shoulder in Leicester Square (3)
It’s vaudeville pub back room dusty pictures of
White frocked girls and music teachers
The beds too clean
Water’s poisonous for the system (4)

And you know in your brain
Leave the capitol!   (5)
Exit this Roman Shell!   (6)
Then you know you must leave the capitol

Straight home, straight home, straight home
One room, one room  (7)


Then you know in your brain
You know in your brain
Leave the capitol!
Exit this Roman shell! (8)
Then you know you must leave the capitol

Straight home, straight home, straight home 
One room

It’s Hogarth prints,  mucky yellow prints  (9)
Eleven one one one  

Then you know in your brain
You know in your brain
Leave The Capitol!
I live with cancer death wife! (10)
Then you know you must leave the capitol

It will not drag me down
I will leave this ten times town
I will leave this fucking dump
One room, one room

Hotel maids smile in unison
Then you know in your brain
You know in your brain
Leave the capitol!
Exit this Roman shell!  
Then you know you must leave the capitol

I laughed at the great god, Pan! (11)
I didnae, I didnae
I laughed at the great god Pan
I didnae, I didnae
I didnae, I didnae, I didnae, I didnae
I didnae, I didnae

Leave the capitol!
Exit this Roman shell! 
Then you know you must leave the capitol

Pan resides in welsh green masquerades
On welsh cat caravans  (12)
But the monty    (13)
Hides in curtains
Grey blackish cream
All the paintings you recall
All the side stepped cars
All the brutish laughs
From the flat and the wild dog downstairs  (14)

Notes

1. Mark E. Smith hates London, although in the sleeve notes for Slates the following note appears: “Any capital. Polite no-manners plus barman of the year claimants = quick exit.” On the other hand, this song could be taken as a horror tale rather than a straightforward slag on London (see especially note 5 below). As for the spelling, “capitol” originally referred to the temple to Jupiter on the Capitoline Hill in Rome, or the hill itself, and is probably chosen to highlight the Roman history of London (see note 4).

MartinM writes on the Fall Online Forum, in response to a question about the meaning of the exhortation in the title of the song:

Because “capital” means more than London: it’s a reference to the head (as in, “capital punishment” – your head is deprived of life).

So I always heard the song as both anti-London and anti-logic or anti-habit: get out of the confines of metropolitan thought imposed by our barren time modelled on Roman ideals (straight roads, worship of armed force), and return to older, instinctive ways of thought and imagination. 

That’s why the “London” voice has always laughed at the great god – and the Scot, the Celt, the voice from marginal places “didnae”: in those zones “Pan” is a living reality. Follow it, and you will indeed go “straight home.”

Arthur Machen, the author of “The Great God Pan,” seems to be an important influence on this song (see notes 6 and 7 below). Mark E. Smith once declared, “MR James is good, but Machen’s fucking brilliant,” and at one point he was reportedly a dues-paying member of Friends of Arthur Machen (FOAM). In this connection Joanna Wargen’s essay “All Eyes are On the City: Arthur Machen’s Ethnographic Vision of London,” which MES may have been familiar with, is quite suggestive:

“Machen describes a city of contrast that is light and dark, alive and dead, observing and observed. His work encompasses the essence of Victorian ethnography that endeavoured to capture the city and the life within it. Machen’s London is a space that has the power to both degrade and enlighten the individual, yet, his writing suggests a city that only invigorates the privileged few in the traditional family unit. London is a locale of gloom and emptiness by day, where urban clearance has instigated a modern architectural surveillance through the erection of colonial edifices. By night the light of the city illuminates the lives within it, but only middle-class families are protected by the walls of the buildings, and illuminated by the natural warmth of the fire. In the darkness of night the poor wander like lost souls with only the light from naphtha to recognise the lives that they lead. Machen creates a living Panopticon which embodies the metropolis as a site of mass surveillance which observes the theatre of life that dwells within it.”

2. Grant Showbiz (née Cunliffe), frequent Fall producer/collaborator, takes one for the proverbial team (Reformation): 

In an email interview, published in The Pseud Mag issue no. 13 (December 2006/January 2007) Grant Showbiz (producer) commented: In “Leave The Capital” The lyric had been “Showbiz mimes……….”but the best take used the line “Showbiz whines…….” so it was that I chose the best take and became a whiner and not a mimer.

3. Leicester Square is in London’s West End.  Gizmoman: “A reference to someone trying to ‘pick you up’; Leicester square is notorious as a pick-up point (gay & straight), and has even been referred to as ‘pester square'” (Leicester more or less rhymes with “pester” in English English). Dan points out that a “hand on the shoulder” could as easily be a cop, or someone just trying to get your attention.

4. From David: “London’s water comes largely from aquifers and is very high in calcium and magnesium carbonates. Tap water in Manchester is piped from Lake Thirlmere in the Lake District and is regarded as some of the best quality drinking water in the UK; many people from the North West comment on the relatively poor quality of London’s water.”

5. The first major settlement at London (“Londinium”) was founded by the Romans in the first century C.E., and by the end of the century became the capital of Roman-ruled Britannia. Incidentally, London has never been officially given the status of the capital of England.  

6. London was founded as Londinium, the capital of Roman-ruled Britain, in the first century CE. This was a “pagan” era, and note that the god Pan, originally a Greek deity, was also a god for the Romans.

SRH comments:

“Surely the words ‘Exit this Roman shell’ have, at least as a subtext, a reference to Roman Totale XVII – the notes on Grotesque (After The Gramme) are subtitled ‘Didactic discourse from the shell of R. Totale’ who is described as ‘deceased.'”

7. Paul Hanley on Twitter:

The ‘One room’ line always reminds me of the Notting Hill Gate hotel, a right dump, but where we always stayed in London. Me, Steve, Marc and Craig always shared a room. Hotel room with four beds!
#TimsTwitterListeningParty
9:22 PM · Oct 18, 2020

8. At this point, on Slates, MES seems to say “Exit this Foamin’ Shell.” It sounds like a vocal misstep, however…but see note 1 above regarding Friends of Arthur Machen (FOAM).

9. William Hogarth (1697-1764) was an English artist who is known for, among other things, his satirical paintings and drawings that portrayed the poverty and squalor of London life (similar to some of the writing, although less so the visual art, of Blake, another MES touchstone).

10. Arthur Machen’s first wife. Amy Hogg, died of cancer (see note 1 above). Thanks to Martin on the Fall online forum.

11. “I laughed at the great god, Pan!” the title of a 1959 comic by Jack Kirby (Tales to Astonish #6) in which a snide and effete man on a date in an art museum mocks a painting of Pan, and extols reason over what he sees as ignorant and superstitious beliefs. Unfortunately, the museum guard overhears him. This wouldn’t be so bad, but the guard is apparently Pan himself, who exacts a horrible vengeance by making the man’s moustache fall out, never to grow back (the entire issue can be accessed here). “The Great God Pan” is also a novella by Arthur Machen, an author MES has lauded (see note one), and the author of “Leave the Capitol” is certainly quite familiar with this, Machen’s most renowned tale. The novella describes a woman who has undergone brain surgery performed with the intention of making her more susceptible to all the forces in the universe that the sane mind generally excludes. The surgery is successsful, and she winds up bearing a child sired by Pan, who goes on to have an evil and infamous life of her own, driving several society people to commit suicide as a result of the (unspecified) horrors to which she she exposes them. My synopsis doesn’t do the story justice, however, as it is one of the finest creepy tales in the English language. A character in the novella utters the line, “I shall leave London to-morrow…it is a city of nightmares.” 

Pan is a Greek god who is associated with untamed wildness, but also with pastoral scenes and shepherds, hunting, ribald sexuality and music, particularly flute playing, which in ancient Greek culture was often associated, like Pan himself, with drunkenness and revelry. His name probably derives from the ancient Greek paein, “to pasture, ” but in folk etymology it has, throughout history, often been identified with the Greek word for ‘all’ (“pan,” with different diacritical marks, in which form it survives as a common English suffix). He is sometimes associated with Dionysus; the latter (as famously underscored by Nietzsche) is often associated with a kind of self-abandonment and absorption in the unity of nature, and this may be one reason the etymological connection with “all” is so attractive in the case of Pan, with whom madness and revelry are closely intertwined. The phrase “Great God Pan” probably originates in the traditional tale that a sailor passing the island of Paxi early in the Christian era was commanded by a divine voice to spread the news that “The great god Pan is dead!” (or “Great Pan is dead!”, Pan ho megas tethneke!”) This utterance has been often quoted, and is usually taken to be a sign of the new religion (Christianity) superseding the old. Pan is the only Greek god who, according to tradition, actually died.  

12. The preceding lines also refer to scenes from “The Great God Pan.” As for “cat caravan,” that is what the lyrics book put together by MES says, although it is possible he says something different; many pixels have been split over this (or whatever) over at the Fall online Forum. The most plausible alternative I’ve seen is “camp caravan,” but it is not clear what MES is singing and, when in doubt, I’ve decided to go with the lyrics book. John Peel’s first radio show was apparently called “Kat’s Caravan,” but I don’t know what the meaning of the phrase could be in the context of these lyrics. In Machen’s story, the daughter of Mary Vaughan and Pan, Helen Vaughan, grows up in a Welsh village where she frolics with Pan in the forest (“Welsh green masquerades”). 

From SRH:

I would also point to an HP Lovecraft connection to this song and the Seer of Prestwich’s work in general. There is an obvious nod to Lovecraft’s ‘The Cats of Ulthar’ in the phrase “cat caravans”. In this tale an old couple living in Ulthar dislike cats and kill them – “from some of the sounds heard after dark, many villagers fancied that the manner of slaying was exceedingly peculiar.” “One day a caravan of strange wanderers from the South entered the narrow cobbled streets of Ulthar. Dark wanderers they were and unlike the other roving folk who passed through the village twice every year…What was the land of these wanderers none could tell; but it was seen they were given to strange prayers and that they had painted on the sides of their wagons strange figures with human bodies and the heads of cats, hawks, rams and lions, and the leader of the caravan wore a head-dress with two horns and a curious disk between two horns.” Sounds like Sun Ra, eh? Anyway, a black kitten belonging to an orphaned boy, Menes, who is travelling with the caravan, goes missing, and when he learns about the old couple he invokes a prayer which causes all the moggies in the village to descend on the elderly pair and kill and devour them. HPL was a big lover of felines (the cat being “the soul of ancient Aegyptus”) but thought only “peasants” liked dogs.

13. On the live version from Tut’s in Chicago (7-16-81) Smith inserts an explanatory note for the American audience: “Monty–that means ‘real thing.'” Keeping in mind the references to Machen and the Kirby comic strip, the idea here may be that the domesticated and aestheticized image of Pan is in stark contrast to the “monty,” who is lurking where he just might get you…

Mxyzptlk remarks:

I’ve always assumed that “The Monty” referred to MR [Montague Rhodes] James (reinforcing MES’s Machen vs James theme), largely because MR James’s story “The Diary of Mr Poynter” features a ghost who hides in curtains made to a specific design.

14. Dan:

from the “Slates and Dates” 1981 US tour press release (some of this ended up in the orange lyrics book as cited by Martin in comment #8:

… rounded off by Leave The Capitol (note fancy spelling) which relates time warps and encounters in Victorian Vampiric London


and some of the lyrics:
 

‘The Great God Pan resides in Welsh green masquerades/On Welsh cat caravans/But the Monty hides behind curtains grey blackish cream All the side-stepped cars and the brutish laughs from the couple in the flat downstairs’


Which might seem to clarify certain matters. However, it doesn’t seem that what’s on record actually reflects that text in all respects.

“Victorian Vampiric London” echoes Wyndham Lewis’s “Blast #1”:

More Information

Leave the Capitol: Fall Tracks A-Z

The Story of the Fall: 1980

Leave the Capitol on the Fall online forum

This essay discusses Mark E. Smith’s engagement with Machen

Another essay about Smith and Machen

WIkipedia explains “the full monty”, a phrase which became widely known in America after the movie of the same name became a hit.

Source: “Leave the Capitol,” The Annotated Fall

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