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Assassing

Introduction: From Steve Rothery's liner notes on A Singles Collection: "The germ of the idea came while we were writing at Mountain Studios in Wales in the summer of '83. A strange mixture of rehearsal studio and hippy commune run by amongst others 'Sunshine' and 'Nutkin'. It had a Druids' stone circle on a hill behind the house and was quite possibly the strangest place I've ever been. I'd just got my Roland guitar synthesiser and was experimenting with it, Fish had been driving us all mad by playing Islamic records he'd got from Peter Hammill at great volume all the time. We finished writing the song a months later, again in Wales, this time at Rockfield Studios in a house by the side of a river.

"We recorded Assassing at the Manor Studio in Oxfordshire, a beautiful old house complete with a snooker table, a pair of Irish Wolfhounds and a ghost."

Fish has often lamented adding the 'g' to the title, but the intention had apparently been to create a neologism from 'assassin' and 'sassing' in the US sense of being rude to someone.

During his Fish on Friday broadcast of 03/09/21, Fish discussed the origin of the lyric. The following is abridged from that broadcast; I've excised a fair amount and so this isn't absolutely verbatim, but it's all from Fish's mouth.

"Everyone thinks this was written about Mick Pointer. It's got nothing to do with Mick Pointer. The inspiration had happened and the lyric was started before and was moving in before Mick Pointer was fired, and it was about Diz Minnitt.

"When we joined the band, Diz was a really important part of the early part of the band because Steve Rothery was working in some place that sold pet stuff, like shampoos and pet food and things like that. Mick Pointer was doing his carpentry and earning a nice little living while we were all on the dole and trying to struggle through.

"Diz and I were living in this flat and we did a lot of the sending of demos and Diz did the original poster, or what I call the original poster. It was a hand with an eye on it - I don't know what it was... but it came out of Diz's head and it looked. Diz did that, and he was the bass player. As far as I was concerned, Diz was a really good bass player, but of course, once we got together and started playing, you know... I think Diz himself will turn around and say he had a lot of weaknesses. As the band got together it was more awkward and what happened was that without my knowledge, there was a lot of talk going on about "well, let's get rid of Diz". It was brought to my attention and the band were really scared that it would be, "If Diz leaves, I'm going to leave" but by that point, I'd invested so much in the band and all the rest of it that I couldn't walk away, and I had to accede to the fact that Diz was going to be fired, and that was where the root of Assassing came from.

"And of course the 'g' was put on the end just to make it a little bit different and not just 'Assassin' like it was some sort of New Wave of British Heavy Metal thing. 'AssassinG' gave it a little twist, a little twist to the end.

"But it was about Diz, it was inspired by Diz. In the lyric book, the Assassing lyric has 'For Diz Minnit'. The songs all have the date the lyric was written and where it was written and stuff like that.

"Diz and I still talk to each other now and again. I love Diz. He's great, a very intelligent man, and I think even he'd agree that I think... I don't know if he would have survived the [unintelligible] that went on after that. he's a very funny guy, a very clever guy. And his wife, Helen, she's a lovely person as well.

"Ironically, Mark Kelly and I were actually living in the house in Victoria Street with Diz and Helen, sharing. We rented the front room, so when Diz was fired, we had to go back to the house after the gig at Milton Keynes.

"There's awkward and there's seriously fucking awkward, and that was seriously fucking awkward..."

'Nemesis'
Brewer's: "The Greek goddess, daughter of Nox; a divinity of vengeance who rewarded virtue and punished the wicked and all kinds of impiety; the personification of divine retribution."

The goddess was supposedly lame, but though she was hampered, she would always catch up with her victim eventually. In one book of Horace's Odes, it is said that you could get on a boat and row to the other side of the world, only to find that the oars(wo)man behind you was Nemesis. Sound familiar, h-era fans? (cf. The Uninvited Guest.)


'The scarf with the fugi knot'
Fugi is a corruption of Thuggee, worshipers of Kali who would strangle their victims in the name of religion. The method of strangulation was by a yellow scarf into which a one rupee had been knotted. The Thuggee can be seen in Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom but, you'll be unsurprised to hear, the film distorts the reality.

'Thousand yard stare'
The expression noted on soldiers returning from the trenches in the First World War. It developed from straining to see if there was any signs of an attack from the opposition's trenches, which were often about 1,000 yards apart (about 900 metres). The condition would eventually rectify itself.

'A friend in need is a friend that bleeds'
A pun on the saying 'a friend in need is a friend indeed', originally a Latin expression, meaning that a friend who wants something is more friendly in order to extract that which they desire.

'Free fire zone'
An American expression from Vietnam. It is closely related to the expression 'free-for-all', where all engage in a battle, normal rules of engagement disregarded. 'Free fire zone' was coined to describe areas which were going to be free of Americans or civilians. This meant that anything moving within the FFZ was therefore enemy and ripe for shooting. Astonishingly, loads of mistakes were made. A term describing these 'accidental' casualties appears in the song Afraid of Sunrise. (cf. That Time Of The Night.)

'Pavlovian slaver'
Adapted from Brewer's: "Ivan Pavlov was a believer of what became known as the behaviourist school of thought, founded in 1914. The main tenet was that the relatively unscientific methodologies of Introspection and Mental States should be abandoned in favour of the more scientific study of behaviour.

"Pavlov developed a system of psychology that said it was possible to condition reflexes to stimulus. His famous experiment involved the ringing of bells prior to the feeding of dogs. The dogs grew to recognise that the ringing of the bell meant that feeding was imminent. Eventually, they would salivate at the ringing of the bell, even if no food were presented to them. He postulated that this was a similar thing to the way a child learns, through conditioned responses.

"Pavlov's work, largely because of its simplicity and easy application, was embraced by Communist Russia and quickly became dogma. In the West it was regarded as fundamentally flawed, and is now largely ignored."


'Non Com'
'Non-Commissioned' - a term referring to an officer who has risen through the ranks due to their ability as a soldier, rather than entering at a higher level due to their education, or, even as recently as WWII, their social status.

However,
Paul R. Levan wrote in to add: "I feel I should point out that a 'Non-com observer' refers to non-combatant, not non-commissioned, in this case. It was a term used especially in Vietnam and Korea meaning film crews, journalists, photographers and the like who were involved in the documenting of events, and were not required to take part in any military action. They wore armbands and the like to signify non-combatant, and it was not considered sporting to fire at non-coms!"

Paul's explanation seems more credible than mine on this!


'And what do you call assassins who accuse assassins anyway, my friend?'
From Francis Ford Copolla's Apocalypse Now. Said by Brando to Martin Sheen. Sheen has been sent to carry out a clandestine murder of Brando's character for carrying out unauthorised (but highly effective) military missions in neutral countries, much to the disturbance of the powers that be.

Songs with a link have explanations.

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2 comments:

  1. Maybe the most underrated songwriter ever!?

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  2. " Non-com" (observer) is a "non combatant", not a Non-Commissioned Officer, or NCO. An NCO was any rank below a 1st Lieutenant. Any rank above that was a "Commissioned Officer",and generally entered the Army with that rank, or "Commission". The enlisted, or fighting men are administered by NCOs. Corporals, Lance Corporals,and various stripes of Sergeant. (Although there's nothing to stop an enlisted man earning a Commission)
    But practically speaking,the most powerful and influential rank in the British Army is the RSM, or Regimental Sergeant Major.

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