On Light Pouring Out

Magazine’s 1978 song “The Light Pours Out Of Me” is a splendid example of a lyric in which the singer claims to have light pouring out of him. A couple of others that spring to mind are “See Me Emit A Remarkable Effulgence” by Periodical, and Gazetteer’s “I Bear A Striking Resemblance To A Switched On Incandescent Lightbulb”. Neither of these had the success of Magazine’s foray into the genre, perhaps with good reason.

By any measure, Magazine’s song is both musically and lyrically superior. Those of us who have calculated the Blötzmann units (Second Handbook, Lavender Series) arrive at 14.76 for Magazine, 8.35 for Periodical, and a lamentable 2.06 for Gazetteer. It is important to stress that Blötzmann’s is an exact science, so there is no room for manoeuvre.

In interviews, Periodical’s singer and lyricist Hereward Scrimgeour has always insisted that “See Me Emit A Remarkable Effulgence” paints a far more vivid picture of light pouring out of himself than Howard Devoto’s effort. But the Blötzmann units do not lie, and one listen to the song after all these years serves to remind us why it was roundly ignored. The music is very plinky-plonky. This is not always a bad thing, of course, and some plinky-plonky records have been chart hits, or at the very least acceptable filler as album tracks. That said, plinky-plonkiness is a difficult art to master, as Dobson proved conclusively in his majestic pamphlet The Difficulty Of Mastering The Art Of Plinky-Plonky Musical Composition, With A Mezzotint Of Chas ‘n’ Dave (out of print). Dobson argues that the balance of plinks and plonks is critical, and it is this balance, I think, or the lack of it, that undermines the Periodical piece. At times it is all plinky, at others all plonky, and the plinks and plonks never seem to coalesce into plinky-plonkiness proper.

Challenged on this score in a notorious interview by Russell Harty, Hereward Scrimgeour babbled some bollocks about Ravel, Buxtehude, and Scriabin before bursting into tears, tearing the microphone from his lapel, running out of the studio, and flinging himself into a canal, from which he was rescued by screaming teenagers who had been encamped outside the television studio, mistaking the Periodical front man for Gilbert O’Sullivan, to whom he bore a passing resemblance from a certain angle in a certain light on certain days of the week.

It is not just the flawed plinky-plonkiness of the music, however, but the lyrics too, which fail to match up to Magazine’s song. Fatally, Scrimgeour seems to have taken as his guide that “See Me, Feel Me, Touch Me” twaddle from The Who’s Tommy. Indeed, when first he caterwauls the words “See me …”, and pauses, we are startled to think we are listening to Roger Daltrey himself. Scrimgeour then tries to jam the words “emit a remarkable effulgence” into the exact same melody as Daltrey’s “feel me, touch me”. Try it yourself and you will appreciate that only a madcap could ever think it would be something teenyboppers would want to hear more than once. With the plinks and plonks accompanying the words, it really is the most godawful racket.

Well, perhaps not the most. That accolade, if accolade it is, must be reserved for Gazetteer’s “I Bear A Striking Resemblance To A Switched On Incandescent Lightbulb”. The title suggests a novelty record, or one of those disarmingly naïve amateurish postpunk ditties which used to amuse us all those years ago. In fact, it is the most godawful racket, and determinedly so, a twenty-minute barrage of improvised din produced by amplified cheese-graters, coathangers, bags of cement, hammers and nails and screwdrivers and funnels and hooters and the Lord knows what else. Accompanying this cacophony, Gazetteer’s singer and lyricist Harold Stalin alternately shrieks, whispers, declaims and mutters a rhyme so foolish it beggars belief. I will not try your patience by reproducing the whole thing, but here is a sample:

I bear a striking resemblance to a switched on incandescent lightbulb, yeah?
My lightbulb-shaped head is entirely bald because this morning I shaved off all my hair.
I might do the whole thing again later.
Take it away, amplified cheese-grater!

[Solo]

Harold Stalin took his amplified cheese-grater with him when he made an appearance on Russell Harty Plus, a week after Hereward Scrimgeour had fled the studio. A more convincing interviewee than the Periodical singer, Stalin charmed Harty with a series of verbal sallies that seemed incongruous coming from the mouth of such an idiotic lyricist. He demonstrated wit, verve, erudition, and a kind of gumption, all in the space of five minutes. Harty was so bowled over he asked if he could have a go with the cheese-grater. Fiddling about with the attached wiring just before passing it to the chatshow host, Harold Stalin got his sockets mixed up and managed to electrocute himself. He survived the accident, but was never quite the same. He certainly lost his wit, verve, erudition and kind of gumption. He disbanded Gazetteer and formed a new group, adopting a new pseudonym, and went on to huge international success followed by lute-playing. As far as I am aware he still goes under the same name, which I think is “String”, or something like that.

There are several other songs in which the singer claims to have light pouring out of him, but they are quite difficult to track down. Dobson wrote a pamphlet about his own, tireless, efforts to do so, to which he gave the title Lead, Kindly Light, To Bald Men Wearing Specs (out of print). If ever you stumble upon a copy in a secondhand pamphlet shop, be very very careful. Marigold Chew devised a special cover which, when opened, reveals a blinding incandescent light not unlike that which shines forth from the mysterious case in Kiss Me Deadly (Robert Aldrich, 1955), starring Ralph Meeker and Cloris Leachman.

Kiss-Me-Deadly-1955-3

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