The King of Sunset Town

Introduction: Steve Hogarth wrote on www.marillion.com: "The King of Sunset Town had already taken shape within a couple of hours of our first meeting (Jan 24 ‘89) in Pete T's garage in Aylesbury. In Brighton we just spent time arranging it. I rewrote the lyrics later in the year after the Tiananmen Square murders on the 4th of June. What started out as a mythical idea was overtaken by events and Deng Xiaoping became main contender for King... He even rhymes... "




Jon Berger said: "The song was written by John Helmer about homeless people in London, but Steve Hogarth thought it lacked impact. 

Steve Hogarth (In Freaks Nederland, 16. Oct ‘89): "We were recording the album when the troubles in China began. We saw it on the news and we were shocked. The lyrics of Sunset Town had never said enough for me, so I asked the boys if I could rewrite it." 

The story originally takes place on Brighton beach (where Helmer lives) where the image of a wanderer is used to show the contrast between rich and poor. According to John Helmer there are echoes of William Shakespeare: 'Some go up and some go down' is based upon a metaphor about a big wheel (society) turning during the play of King Lear. The Earl of Kent, once favoured by the King, is banished, but returns in disguise. While disguised, the Earl is placed in the stocks overnight and laments this turn of events at the end of Act II, Scene 2 “Fortune, good night, smile once more; turn thy wheel!”

An anonymous contributor said (Let us know and we’ll stick you in - Ed): "One thing about the KoST lyric was that the original imagery by Helmer was a bit more 'streamlined' than what we got in the end. According to Helmer in an old interview in The Web magazine, the whole idea was to describe various historical events through the eyes of a sort of 'wanderer', someone present at the various events. In the end the only clear imagery that was left was the part about the Tienanmen Square, because Hogarth wanted to keep that as a powerful statement rather than an epic tale describing several different occasions. 

"The idea of being the KoST refers to someone holding onto an old set of beliefs, i.e. in this instance the rigid hard-line communism of China, when the rest of the world at that time was turning away from it. Yet in the face of the student demonstration the Chinese 'Lords' decided that they were having none of it, even though everybody knows that their political reality must change sometime soon." 

"Martijn Buijs said: "Tiananmen means something like 'Square of Heavenly Peace'." In fact, the square takes its name from the nearby Tiananmen Gate, which translated means ‘Gate of Heavenly Peace’.

‘Fourth of June’
Pears Cyclopeadia: "In the spring of 1989 the Communist government (of China) faced a serious challenge to its authority, triggered by the death on 15 April of Hu Yaobang, the disgraced former party general-secretary. Beijing University students demanding his rehabilitation staged a sit-in outside the Great Hall of the People. On the day of his funeral, 22 April, there were demonstrations in a dozen major cities. Deng Xiaoping warned of possible bloodshed. But on 27 April a march of 100,000 students in Beijing, calling for democracy and attacking party corruption passed off peacefully. On 4 May 300,000 demonstrators filled Tiananmen Square signifying growing popular support. Students began a hunger strike in the square on 13 May, demanding political reforms of the kind being enacted in the Soviet Union, their presence disrupting a visit by Mr Gorbachev on 15 May. 

The hunger strikers called for a televised dialogue with the government as, on 17 May, a million people marched in Beijing, others demonstrated in 20 cities, and workers announced they would strike in support of the students. Divisions opened in the party hierarchy, with Zhao Ziyang apparently favouring dialogue while the Prime Minister, Lia Peng announced that martial law would come into force from 20 May. The people of Beijing massed in the square to prevent troops from entering. 

As the students in the square perceptibly tired, hard-liners within the party prevailed. On 4th of June thousands of troops and scores of tanks moved in, staging a bloody massacre in which 2,500 were initially reported killed." 

‘Before the 27th came’
Pears Cyclopedia: "With the world watching the carnage on television, China appeared on the brink of chaos. Sporadic clashes continued in Beijing and in cities throughout China over the next two days. There were reports that the 38th Army, which had refused to enforce the martial law decree, was facing the 27th Army and a clash seemed possible. 

But on 8 June, Lia Peng appeared on television and praised the troops who had put down the protesters. The following day, the party leadership, minus Zhao Ziyang, presented a united front on television. The official government media circus called on citizens to inform on ‘Counter revolutionary’ dissidents. Arrests of activists now began alongside a government propaganda campaign to minimise the extent of casualties in the Tiananmen Square massacre. By 21 June 1, 500 activists had been arrested, including Guo Haifong, a prominent student leader. All independent student and student workers were ordered to disband. As the arrests continued, protesters received heavy punishment and nine were publicly executed in Shanghai." Lyrics: Steve Hogarth & John Helmer

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