It’s the first day of spring, here in the northern temperate zone. Daylight Savings Time began over a week ago. Yesterday and today I can admit to noticing certain springlike qualities, but, y’know, March is still asserting its leonine qualities as well. Roaring quite a bit at the moment, bright and wakening as all may be.
Today’s song celebrates the return to green. XTC, who brought us the chipper ditty “Season Cycle,” have more Olde English in them than most of their contemporaries, and when songwriter Andy Partridge wants to fling it out Shakespearean—or even older, how 'bout Chaucer (we’ll be hitting the month of pilgrimages soon enough)—he can, with abandon. But even for Will or Geoff, “the Green Man” was ancient, a figure for plenty, for the end of winter, for gathering ye rosebuds while ye may, for plighting a troth in the undergrowth, for feeling the sap of the season rising in all those interesting places, biologically speaking, it is apt to rise. And it’s still a little early for allergies, for those thus afflicted.
Tonight, to draw aside for a second, debuts at Yale Repertory Theatre These Paper Bullets—a mash-up of Much Ado About Nothing, which is all about pairing up, ultimately, and the musical stylings of a Faux Four (cheeky rip-off of the Fab Four). So, on a day when I will see Shakespeare meet The Beatles, for sure I’m going to feature Andy Partridge because if there’s any man among us who has basked in the spirit of both in his endlessly inventive oeuvre, well, he’s the man.
What to say about this song else? It’s a romp, it’s a delight, it’s got a flute part like Pan himself piping and inditing, inviting all pretty maids to put aside modesty and get to it. “You know for a million years he has been your lover / He’ll be a million more.” The force that through the green fuse drives the flower, as that “other Dylan” would say.
Partridge denies there’s anything “middle Eastern” in his melody or production, that’s it’s all Merry Olde. I don’t know, but those steely drums seem not so Olde English and those faux strings swirl with here and there a buzz that might make us remember when the FF went in for ragas. But I’m not going to second guess Mr. P., musically. I’m going to save that for the lyrics.
OK, they’re mostly pretty simple. The Greenman has been your lover and your father—a fructifying force of male desire, rising up to get the job done and with a song in his heart. Thy staff and thy rod, they comfort me, we say, wink wink. But here’s the rub. The lyrics on the XTC website and elsewhere give the bridge as “See the Greenman blow a kiss from High Church wall / An unknowing church will amplify his call.” IF that’s what it says, then it’s saying that the Greenman, the force of nature, even uses the church to get his message across, though the church, those prudes, don’t really embrace him or know him, in a biblical sense. Fine, and that does sound like AP getting his digs in. Still, what I always took him to say (before I bothered to look it up online) is “And a knowing church will amplify his call”—which struck me as a very clever word-to-the-wise: hey, believers, you want some folks to fill those pews, better make sure they go forth and multiply. I mean, really, with that being one of the edicts upon leaving Eden, it’s rather, well, senseless to act as if the church has been dickless all these long ages. Only see the fair ones coming out all bedecked and blooming for Easter and it’s clear that the Old Adam is still at work, inspiring the rage for progeny that leaves many of us in the lurch.
I’m going to leave aside the Mother Nature vs. Greenman debate, if there is one, and also about the actual de-greening of the globe that comes about from the many-too-many clambering for a place at the teat. Let’s just get into the song’s mantra-like chant, buzzing like an incessant insect, “lay your head, lay your head, lay your head . . . ” and Partridge singing with himself in harmony, “on the Greenman,” while the overlays of sound fill our ears like sap in a tree, nectar in a flower, semen in a penis.
This song is from 1999’s Apple Venus Volume I. A return to form for XTC after a long hiatus following the wondrous Nonsuch (1992). At the time, I heard this album as the bookend with English Settlement (1982), as the two albums where XTC established what XTC is.