Friday, February 26, 2010

Cymbaline

Cymbaline 4:45
     (written by Roger Waters)

Lyrics:
The path you tread is narrow
And the drop is shear and very high
The ravens all are watching
From a vantage point nearby
Apprehension creeping
Like a tube train up your spine
Will the tightrope reach the end?
Will the final couplet rhyme?
And it's high time, Cymbaline
It's high time, Cymbaline
Please wake me


A butterfly with broken wings
Is falling by your side
The ravens all are closing in
There's nowhere you can hide
Your manager and agent
Are both busy on the phone
Selling colored photographs
To magazines back home
And it's high time, Cymbaline
It's high time, Cymbaline
Please wake me


The lines converging where you stand
They must have moved the picture plane
The leaves are heavy round your feet
You hear the thunder of the train
Suddenly it strikes you
That they're moving into range
And Doctor Strange is always changing size
And it's high time, Cymbaline
It's high time, Cymbaline
Please wake me


And it's high time, Cymbaline
It's high time, Cymbaline
Please wake me


Definitely the highlight of the album, Roger Waters has said that Cymbaline is "about a nightmare." In fact, it would be incorporated into The Man suite later in 1969 in that context. A great song lyrically and musically, it seems that the nightmare is about being caught up in the music business machine, one of Roger's first songs about this subject. Roger likens the effort of putting together a rhyming lyric for a song to walking a tightrope, while 'the ravens' — those who want to feast off one's success and laugh at one's failure — watch every step hungrily. And when the ravens are 'closing in,' one's manager and agent are only worried about making more money. The lyrics of the third verse are more obscure, yet still striking. Dr. Strange was a popular comics hero at the time due to his mystical abilities rooted in ancient magics (such as the ability to traverse other dimensions and change his size at will), but his relevance to the song is unknown. Perhaps, if Cymbaline is about an actual nightmare, the third verse simply reflects the surreality and free association that occurs in dreams.

Unlike most More songs, the film version of this song is not the same as the album. It is a completely different recording, in a higher key and with different lyrics as well. The end of the first verse goes:
Apprehension creeping
Like a tube train up your spine
Standing by with a book in his hand,
There's peace in '39


The film version was almost certainly recorded first, which makes this lyric interesting in light of what it was changed to. The last line may refer to the summit in late 1938 with British prime minister Neville Chamberlain and Adolf Hitler, after which Chamberlain proclaimed 'peace in our time.' Although the change to the album lyric ('Will the final couplet rhyme?') was not a true rhyme, it certainly made more sense and also revealed the difficulty Roger was having in finding a good lyric for the end of the verse.

This was the first time Roger had the stroke of genius to turn a problem into a creative inspiration by making the problem the subject of his writing; thankfully, it would not be the last (see Wish You Were Here). Another lyric difference is found in the third verse, this time much more minor:
The leaves are heavy round your feet
You feel the thunder of the train
And suddenly it strikes you
That they're moving into range


In addition, the film version has one extra chorus and a longer organ solo, making it 5.18 in total length. This version of the song seems slightly gentler; the chorus is much quieter and doesn't seem as rushed as on the album.

The live performance of the piece, which lasted into 1971, was something else entirely. It was used to very effectively demonstrate the band's quadraphonic sound system. Near the end of the song, the music would stop and a tape would play. The footsteps of a man could be heard, beginning at one corner of the hall, and appearing to walk full circle around the auditorium, the man opening and closing doors as he went. When the footsteps had gone completely round, the final door was opened, behind which lay an explosion — and the rest of the song. It was probably the most highly directional use of sound that existed at the time, though it loses its appeal on stereo or mono bootleg recordings. The Floyd continued their interest in directional sound to the present day.

Cymbaline is used for a key sequence in the More film — the first time Stefan and Estelle smoke pot together, and the first time they make love. She puts a record of the song on, calling it "Groovy!" and then shows him how to smoke, something he's never done before. The song ends abruptly when he tears her underwear off, and the film cuts to the afterglow of their lovemaking.

TRACK LISTING
Cirrus Minor
Nile Song, The
Crying Song
Up the Khyber
Green is the Colour
Cymbaline
Party Sequence
Main Theme
Ibiza Bar
More Blues
Quicksilver
Spanish Piece, A
Dramatic Theme

4 comments:

  1. To me, on the live versions, the lyric "And Doctor Strange is always changing size" sounds like "And Doctor Strange is always changing sides".

    But more importantly, the female name Cymbaline is a complete mystery and I would like to know more of its genesis.

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  2. The lyric really should be "And Doctor Strange is always changing sides." If Dr. Strange changed size, he would have been called "Dr. Schlong." In the Marvel comic superhero universe, Dr. Strange has a history of being both good and evil - starting off with good intentions, then went through an ego-satisfying phase when he acquired black magic powers, but switched again to using his powers for the good sides. So.... he does change "sides" after all. Fans of Pink Floyd have had it wrong all these years if they thought it was "size."

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    Replies
    1. I agree too -- I've been a top Pink Floyd fan since 1974 and have always heard the line as "...changing signs" (as in astrological).
      I am happy to have fond your blogspot!

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  3. What I love about the last verse is that, although the final couplet does not, indeed, rhyme, Roger makes up for it by giving us three internal rhymes : Range, Strange, and Change (first syllable of 'changing').

    ReplyDelete