In May 2009, on the 20th anniversary of The Stone Roses' eponymous debut LP, the band sanctioned the release of rare demos and unreleased material. In the book included with the collector's edition, Reni remained typically elusive and John Squire did not contribute. Whilst Ian Brown and Mani included lengthy written accounts of their experiences in The Stone Roses, Reni supplied only an intriguing, oblique poem (Don't Feed the Underdog) and drawings of the four members set to a Sudoku background, Go Figure Heads. This is a play on words: the Roses were figureheads of the Manchester scene, and at the same time, Reni is inviting 'heads' to 'go figure', that is, interpret the accompanying poem. This essay attempts to deduce meaning from the poem, and identify its cryptic characters.
Don't Feed the Underdog
Can't that be the record ?
Said Dougal in his estuary whine.
The Dylans deep in Northern bubble,
Problem looping wouldn't
break meniscus for Elvis.
One more spin on the roundabout
may make the magic.
Rolling into Capital Outsider Artist status;
A biblical returning,
Make em love or maybe hate us.
No mean feat for a crypto swami cabal,
Read by Capital as three whippet trainers
and a Cabana bus boy.
Don't feed the underdog.
Muttering Muttley mutters on the
backbench of the console room.
Zeus and Freckle,
Chewing on the synaesthetic rapture flash
Lost in the mix,
Forming the Orange Dot n Matchstrike
Church of the Waterfall.
Dougal and Cabana boy laying
covert night-time piano parts
against church dogma.
Who bangs the what ?
Sausage, blowing grandbaby
mescherschmidt's mind with cherubic
airs and Motown fingers.
blowing Church minds with converse
Ibex on the mountain pulling vespers
from the West End breezes.
He's into our hearts; He must
before the big Zee freezes
Be one of us.
And what will Dougal say ?...
Can't that be the record ?
Dougal, a drop-eared variety of the Skye Terrier, is the main character from the children's television programme, The Magic Roundabout. The set is a brightly coloured and stylised park containing the eponymous roundabout (a fairground carousel). Simon Dawson, who saw the protracted Second Coming through to its conclusion, and to whom the poem is dedicated, is the ever intrepid, organisational Dougal (this deduction is supported later in the poem).
Looping problem. Another character from The Magic Roundabout is Dylan, a lazy, guitar-playing rabbit (named after Bob Dylan). The Stone Roses were Northern Dylans, but Reni began to feel surplus to requirements in 1992, when the band started playing to loops.
Following a classic debut LP, The Stone Roses had lost their way. The roundabout had lost its magic quality; retake after retake on the wayward follow-up LP only served to confirm this.
The Geffen-backed, post-hiatus Second Coming, a biblical returning, was an anti-climax in the eyes of many fans.
A crypto is a person having a secret allegiance to a political creed, especially communism, while a cabal is a secret political clique or faction. For some of his work with The Dukes of Stratosphear, The Adult Net and The Doctor's Children, all bands that had strong 1960's psychedelic overtones, John Leckie adopted the pseudonym 'Swami Anand Nagara'. Going round in circles, Leckie became disillusioned with The Stone Roses' lack of focus and application on Second Coming, and promptly got off the merry-go-round.
The three whippet trainers are Ian, John and Mani, while Reni is the Cabana bus boy (this deduction is supported later in the poem). Whilst negotiations between Roses lawyer John Kennedy and Geffen representatives were underway at the Halcyon Hotel in London, one surprise contender for the band's hand emerged. In cavalier fashion, Managing Director of PolyGram, Maurice Oberstein, offered to match whatever deal Geffen put on the table with the added incentive of signing the contract on Concorde. Instead, the Roses came up with the idea of signing to Geffen on a London double-decker bus, an event recalled here by the Cabana bus boy.
Squire all but had Brown on a leash on Second Coming, and the latter duly took a back seat, over which he harboured discontent. In interviews, Ian's laugh was sometimes described as 'Muttley-esque'. For example, the opening of a City Life article in May 1990 likens it to a "hiccoughing Muttley splurt".
Zeus ... Seuss ... Reni goes by the moniker of "the cat in the hat". Reni and Mani (who, in this context, I am assuming, are Zeus and Freckle), floating in a reverb haze on the first LP, were now swamped by a flurry of John Squire guitar parts on the second. Sonically, The Stone Roses is spaced wide, with each note crafted precisely to fit, fill and colour the band's sound. Mani's bass backbeats the debut album material with feet-tapping rhythm, while Reni's drumming is fluid and dexterous: roaring, soaring and crashing like a tide. Second Coming's sound is much heavier and more condensed than its predecessor.
The Stone Roses recorded late at night (to save money), when both Simon Dawson (Dougal) and Reni (Cabana boy) would lay down piano parts on Love Spreads, a track that sought to turn church teaching on its head.
Reni bangs the drums.
Mani's (in this context, Sausage) Motown fingers blow John Squire's (Grandbaby mescherschmidt) mind with cherubic aura.
John Squire, a keen student of military history, is here given the moniker Grandbaby mescherschmidt. 'Grandbaby' is an allusion to Squire's baby face Love Spreads artwork. The cherub is a winged child, hence the Messerschmitt tie-in. Willy Messerschmitt was a German aircraft designer and manufacturer, whose single most important design was probably the Messerschmitt Bf 109, designed in 1934 with the collaboration of Walter Rethel. The Bf 109 became the most important fighter in the Luftwaffe as Germany re-armed prior to World War II. To this day, it remains the most-produced fighter in history, with some 35,000 built. Another Messerschmitt aircraft, first called "Bf 109R", purpose-built for record setting, but later re-designated Messerschmitt Me 209, broke the absolute world air-speed record and held the world speed record for propeller-driven aircraft until 1969. His firm also produced the first jet-powered fighter to enter service - the Messerschmitt Me 262, although Messerschmitt himself did not design it. Squire touches upon his interest in Airfix kits in a Melody Maker interview from June 1989.
John Squire blows Church minds with his inversion (hence, 'converse') of Messianic colour and 'gender' on Love Spreads, and here, Reni uses military language ('manoeuvres') to depict the seemingly endless guitar parts that he worked on overtime, during the Second Coming recording sessions.
Vesper is the sunset evening prayer. On Waterfall, Ian Brown (A fad at Ian Brown's school was to add 'EX' to the initials of your name, hence 'IBEX') wrote of a steeple pine on the mountain (Mount Calvary), the crucified whipped by the winds of the west.
He's into my heart, He must be one of us. Zeebad ('Zee') is the evil ice wizard on the 2005 CGI film, The Magic Roundabout. Could Tom Zutaut be the 'big Zee' ? Tom Zutaut was A&R at Geffen Records, taking over the reins from Gary Gersh. Zutaut was the big cheese; what if an increasingly impatient big Zee freezes the cash flow of the mice at play ?
John Squire's nickname from the Second Coming era, Ice Cold Cube, given to him by Reni, may also tie in here.
Much like the roundabout itself, this is a revolving phrase at play (Can't that be the record ? / Be the record, can't that ? / The record, can't that be ?).
On The Magic Roundabout, Dougal would toy with words (This will not do / Do, it will not !), sometimes forming revolving phrases (Do it will not). The close of this poem does just that, with "Can't that be the record ?". This could be shuffled to form "That can't be the record ?" and "The record can't be that ?" Each of the three variations in this sentence betray a disappointment in the record (Second Coming). "Can't that be the record ?" is a makeshift mindset, while the other two sentences ("That can't be the record ?" / "The record can't be that ?") exhibit a marked disbelief.
The poem's title can also be put through this process: Don't Feed the Underdog is a play on a Don't feed the dog sign. With John Squire being top dog and leader of the pack, Muttley and the gang were feeding off scraps in the lean Second Coming years (Don't underfeed the dog). This dog lost its appetite, but every dog has its day, and when the underdog is eventually fed, he possesses quite the bite (Don't feed the underdog).
I seem to recall a Second Coming era media article in which someone in the band jokes, "Can't that be the record ?". If anyone can find this article, please email me at Paul@Thisisthedaybreak.co.uk
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