- chapter index -
pg. 1 - Introduction | pg. 2 - The Song of the Sea Goat | pg. 3 - Aquarian Runes
pg. 4 - Shaking in the Dome | pg. 5 - The Smoke-Filled Road | pg. 6 - The Fallen Sun
pg. 7 - Under the Sky | pg. 8 - Still

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Suave Pirates Words | Midas Oil | Aladdin's Lamp

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"The Sea Goat casts aquarian runes through beads of
    mirrored tears"

Neil Ingram:

The runes cast by the Sea Goat are 'marks of magical significance' and we are introduced to a heady mixture of astrology and alchemy. The runes are cast 'through beads of mirrored tears'.

Jon Green:

This first line of the song is loaded with allusions to prophecy or divination. Casting runes is a method of foretelling the future. The Aquarian is a prophesied future age. Beads are also associated with fortune telling.

"he's sent you dreams, he's left you signs,
he's left you feathers, beads and runes,"

- An Invocation by Terri Windling

Neil Ingram:

The beads of mirrored tears are a product of the pain that the Sea Goat feels. At the same time the mirrors reflect the image of the listeners, and allow us to project our meanings onto the song. In addition, the tears act as a shield behind which the Sea Goat can hide.

Jon Green:

The "mirrored" quality of the tears is also meant to express the writer's realization that what he perceives in the world is a reflection of himself. As in Donne's "no man is an island", the world's pain and suffering is his pain and suffering. The two are one and the same.

Neil Ingram:

Tears have significance in alchemy:

'Tears are the food of the soul, a strengthening of the senses, a forgiveness of sins, and a gain of the debt'

- The Iconologia of Cesare Ripa

The tears of the Sea Goat are introducing us to the idea of transformation, which is central to alchemy and to this song. The psychoanalyst Jung has also linked alchemical symbolism to psychological transformation (a process which he calls individuation). The song's link with alchemy is further strengthened by the image of mirrored tears. Mercury, a silver liquid, is a central idea on alchemy:

"Common Mercury is silvery and opaque, that of the philosophers is clear at first, as clear as the tears of the eye" (Bernard Trevisan, etc.), but when its salt is dissolved in it, it is milky and opaque."

- R.W. Councell Apollogia Alchymiae: Section IV. The Mercury of the Philosophers

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The suave apricot harvest

Magic spells have consequences, and astrological magic spells presumably affect whole societies. The effects of the first spell are revealed:

"Suave pirates words of apricot crawl out of your veneer
Anoint your eyes with midas oil and make it still appear
Aladdin's lamp is glowing bright transmuting panacea
To fill your souls with sugared holes"

The first verse of Sea Goat is complex, partly because of the use of 'you' as both a singular and a plural verb. We are also introduced to a narrator (who is identifying the people featured in the song).

Suave words, pirate words, apricot words. Suave and apricot are sophisticated sensual adjectives. Yet the words are piratical, marauding and dangerous. Their effects are

"To fill your souls with sugared holes."

'Veneer' is singular, yet 'souls' are plural. Something generates the 'suave pirate' words deep within itself and they crawl out (like maggots) of its polished surface veneer. Their effects are sweetly corrosive, for they fill people's souls with sugared holes.

Peter Sinfield has revealed that the images relate to the corrosive power of advertising. The advertisers generate the words of apricot. The image of apricot was stimulated by a personal memory of Peter visiting a farm with such a heavy harvest of apricots that they spilled all over the ground.

There are many apricot words spilling everywhere. It is not surprising that they leave 'sugared holes'.

Jon Green:

Very good. Many things that I did not imagine. This song has really been an enigma to me until now. But, as is frequently the case with Peter's words, there is at least one other angle to consider. And this is where it gets really interesting. The first song on Still , The Song of the Sea Goat , naturally follows from the last song on the previous album, Islands . First of all there is the striking ocean motif employed in both songs. Secondly, in both albums we have "words". In Islands we have "sailors' words - pearls and gourds". In The Song of the Sea Goat we have "suave pirates words of apricot".

As I indicated earlier, Peter Sinfield is the "sailor". I suggest that he is also the "pirate" (or at least a pirate).

"Suave pirates words of apricot crawl out of your veneer"

"Suave" connotes a deceptive seductive quality. "Pirates" suggests theft, illegitimacy. "Apricot" is significant for its color: golden. The "pirates words" appear to be gold but they are only golden in color. They represent fool's gold. The words "crawl", lizard like (a product of the ego), out of the "veneer" (surface). They lack depth or substance. "Veneer" also suggests a persona or image. Like the Smiths of Indoor Games , the writer is concerned with his public image and writes with this in mind. It seems to me that what we have here is a poet being seduced by the paybox glove. The prophetic aspect of this passage is that the author knows what is coming. He knows that the great age of Art Rock as a viable commercial entity is fast coming to a close. The barbarians are at the gates. He knows what he, as an artist, is going to have to do in order to survive. It might be that, when he says "YOUR veneer", he is simply talking to himself but I believe he is, again, projecting his own internal issues out into the world. There are artistic pirates in the world. There are pirates in every walk of life. He can recognize them because he has a "pirate" inside of him. This realization, this "pirate", may be rising to consciousness.

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Neil Ingram:

The alchemy of oil

The imagery of the preceding lines is powerful enough, yet they are separated in the song by an injunction from the narrator:

"Anoint your eyes with midas oil and make it still appear
Aladdin's lamp is glowing bright transmuting panacea"

For alchemists, oil is a concentrated form of an essential chemical. For example:

"The Philosophers, when they have thus prepared our Antimonium in secret, have remarked how its outermost nature and power has collapsed into its interior, and its interior thrown out and has now become an oil that lies hidden in its innermost and depth, well prepared and ready. And henceforth it cannot, unto the last judgment, be brought back to its first essence. And this is true, for it has become so subtle and volatile, that as soon as it senses the power of fire; it flies away as a smoke with all its parts because of its volatility."

Roger Bacon - Tract on the Tincture and Oil of Antimony

This oil is a powerful 'transmuting panacea'. Alchemists use the term 'panacea' as a universal medicine – literally a 'cure-all'. This is a possible reference to the 'snake-oil charms' of the advertisers who want to persuade us that their products can solve all our problems. King Midas was the king of Phyrigia who requested of the gods that everything he touched turned to gold. This was granted and everything became gold, including his food. At which point, he requested that the spell be revoked. He was ordered to bathe in the river Pactolus in order to undo the magic.

The image of the oil is strengthened by its link to Aladdin's lamp. Oil is the fuel for the lamp, and also the home of an unpredictable genie that can grant wishes.

The effect of interposing this evocative 'wishing machine' imagery after the emergence of the suave pirate words is a powerful description of consumer society. The advertisers words generate powerful desires within consumers.

The combination of the two together results in the corrupting influence of consumerism, where 'our souls are filled with sugared holes'.

The lines:

"Anoint your eyes with midas oil and make it still appear
Aladdin's lamp is glowing bright transmuting panacea"

are some of the most powerful in any Peter Sinfield song, and may well be acting on several different levels simultaneously.

Jon Green:

I certainly agree. King Midas was obsessed with gold (material riches). The first of these two lines seems to say "let the paybox glove write on your tongue but pretend - keep telling yourself (and let it appear to the world) - that you are still following your muse".

Neil Ingram:

Might the transmuting panacea be used for good as well as ill?

Jon Green:


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"Aladdin's lamp is glowing bright transmuting panacea"

A wonderfully ambiguous line. As you point out, a "panacea" is generally considered to be "snake-oil". So, again, we see a disingenuous quality. But I see nothing phony about "Aladdin's lamp glowing bright". This represents the light of inspiration (Peter's muse) which clearly was glowing bright for our Aladdin, Peter Sinfield, the man who knows the magic of words like no other poet of our generation. Could it be that Aladdin hopes to transform not only himself but also the world (and its encroaching commercialism) by the magic of his words?

"From now on the silent presence of the alchemist is a benediction on all beings. He is the secret king, the conciously central being who relates heaven and earth and ensures the good order of things. Unum ego sum et multi in me: He is a dead man bringing life. Dead to himself, become inexhaustible nourishment, in him there operates the mystery of "multiplication" and "increase." He is the "panacea," the "elixir of life." "Drinkable gold." From the Christic stone with which it is identified there flows a red and white tincture which comforts the soul and the body. He is the phoenix from whose ashes a vast flock of golden birds take flight."

- Notes on Alchemy the Cosmological
"Yoga"of Medieval Christianity
By Maurice Aniane

"To fill your souls with sugared holes"

"Sugar" is used here like the "marron glaced fishbone" of Ladies of the Road . It is completely lacking in nourishment but it tastes good. The line also looks and sounds good - suggesting that, perhaps, there are worse fates than having ones soul filled with sugared holes. ...suggesting that, perhaps, there are worse fates than being a "pirate". ...suggesting that, perhaps, the artist is just a little ambivalent about the prospect of becoming a literally "starving artist"! And, again, there is that curious plurality "souls". Perhaps this is more projection. The fate of the world is his fate.

Neil Ingram:

The message of the Sea Goat (I)

"Oh can't you hear" sang the sea goat "the nonsense
    makes me numb."
"It's near it's clear" sang the sea goat "we live to
The madman's voice and his nowhere choice,
The pain that drains like an endless day of rain."

The message of the Sea Goat to the blinded corrupted listeners is an exhortation to resist the 'madman's voice'. This refers back to the advertisers who produce the suave pirate words of apricot that so damage our souls. The choices offered are tempting but illusory (nowhere choice). Resisting is a permanent and perpetual struggle (we live to overcome).

Jon Green:

Yes. WE live to overcome. Peter Sinfield must also resist this threat on multiple levels.

Neil Ingram:

The first verse echoes and develops political themes introduced in Schizoid Man (nothing he's got he really needs) and on Cirkus (worship cried the clown, I am a TV…).

Jon Green:

..as well as the "paybox glove which wrote on my tongue" and Happy Family's general theme of authentic artistry in the face of commercialism.

Still ~ The Song of the Sea Goat
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Still ~ Shaking in the Dome

Sign the Dreambook Dreambook Read the Dreambook

Chapter One The Metaphysical Record In The Court Of the Crimson King In The Wake Of Poseidon Lizard The King In Yellow The Sun King Eight
The Lake Which Mirrors the Sky In the Beginning Was the Word In the Beginning was the Word...side two Eros and Strife Dark Night of the Soul...Cirkus Dark Night of the Soul...Wilderness Big Top Islands
Islands Two Footnotes in the Sand Still Still 2
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