Sunday, June 12, 2011

Papergreat's origin story

So where did the word "Papergreat" come from, anyway?

If you're a fan of the band Genesis, as I am, then you probably caught the reference right away.

Here's the full rundown on "Why is this blog called Papergreat?", complete with footnotes and tangents:

AUGUST 1973: Genesis -- which at that time consisted of lead vocalist Peter Gabriel, Tony Banks, Steve Hackett, Mike Rutherford1 and drummer Phil Collins -- records the song "Dancing with the Moonlit Knight," which is to be the first track on the album Selling England by the Pound.

"Dancing with the Moonlight Knight" opens with the following lyrics:
"Can you tell me where my country lies?"
said the unifaun2 to his true love's eyes.
"It lies with me!" cried the Queen of Maybe
- for her merchandise, he traded in his prize.

"Paper late!" cried a voice in the crowd.
"Old man dies!" The note he left was signed 'Old Father Thames'
- it seems he's drowned;
selling England by the pound.
And so that was the first use, in lyrics, by Genesis of the phrase "Paper late." It's a phrase that kids selling the evening newspaper on street corners in England used to cry out.

MAY-JUNE 1981: Genesis now consists of just lead vocalist/drummer Collins, Banks and Rutherford. The group records "Paperlate," taking the title from their previous "Dancing with the Moonlit Knight." (The two songs couldn't be more different. "Paperlate" is an upbeat pop song3 with generic lyrics that feature no unifauns, mythological references or deep meaning.) A sampling:
Ooh I'm sorry but there's no one on the line
Oh I'm sorry but rest easy no news is good news
1982: "Paperlate" was released to the world in the following ways:4
  • As a single in the United States on May 15, 1982, with the B-side of "You Might Recall."
  • As one of three songs on the EP album 3X3, which was released on May 21, 1982.5 The covers of both the "Paperlate" single (pictured above) and 3X3 album are an homage to The Beatles' 1963 EP Twist and Shout. The other two songs on the EP are "You Might Recall" and "Me and Virgil."6
  • As one of the songs on the United States version of Three Sides Live, which was released on June 1, 1982. (This is how I first heard "Paperlate," when I bought Three Sides Live on cassette sometime in the period of 1989-1991.) The international version of Three Sides Live, a double album, had three sides of live material from Genesis' 1981 tour. There were two different versions of the fourth side put into release:
    • The version that went out to North America and some other parts of the world features the studio songs "Paperlate", "You Might Recall", "Me and Virgil", "Evidence of Autumn" and "Open Door" on the fourth side.
    • The UK version featured other live performances from previous tours on the fourth side. So, no "Paperlate."
  • "Paperlate" is also available on Genesis Archive #2: 1976–1992, a box set that was released on November 6, 2000.

JANUARY 2010: My first stab at an ephemera blog, Relics, has a short-lived run of 15 entries.

NOVEMBER 25, 2010: Papergreat, an homage to "Paperlate," (and, frankly, a much cooler name than "Relics") has its debut post. Having a unique word as the blog title turned out to be pretty cool. It's sort of the "unifaun" of blog names.

So, here's a video of Genesis performing the catchy "Paperlate," if you've never heard the tune:

1. Rutherford's full name is Michael John Cleote Crawford Rutherford.
2. I used to think Gabriel was saying "uniform," not "unifaun". I was half right. It's kind of a portmanteau. George Starostin, in this insightful analysis of the full lyrics of "Dancing with the Moonlit Knight" states:
'Unifaun' is supposed to be a pun, a cross between 'uniform' and 'faun' - the 'faun' brings in the mythological element, while the 'uniform' brings in certain military associations. Patriotic lament over the fate of one's country?
There is also some discussion of "unifaun" and the song in general on The Straight Dope message board. Member "Johanna" wrote in 2003: "The song 'Dancing with the Moonlit Night' is about the ironic contrast between the romantic glamor of medieval England and the drab commercialism of modern England, both worlds overlaid on one another and interpenetrating in the singer's imagination. The unicorn is a symbol of the English nation — order and rule, while the faun is a symbol of wild nature — randy and untameable. Packed together they make an ironic contrast. The whole song is an exercise in wordplay. The fat old lady dealing out credit cards instead of Tarot cards is like T.S. Eliot's Madame Sesostris from The Waste Land, only satirical."
3. "Paperlate" is one of two Genesis songs that feature the Earth, Wind & Fire horn section. The other is "No Reply at All."
4. Disclaimer: I am not an expert discographer. And I don't play one on TV. This is not intended as the definitive word on the releases of "Paperlate" from the Genesis catalog.
5. 3X3 was one of two EPs released by Genesis. The other was 1977's Spot the Pigeon, a somewhat obscure (in America) release by the band that contains "Match of the Day", "Pigeons" and "Inside and Out."
6. Collins has said that the song "Me and Virgil" is "a dog" and refers to it as one of his worst pieces of writing.

1 comment:

  1. Thank you. I love everything about this post! I slipped off listening to "Dancing with the Moonlit Knight" to search the meaning of "paper late". Found this post and Papergreat, with an origin story! Side-slipped to the Paperlate video (which I had never connected to Genesis SEBTP album), several happy memories of attending UCLA when Paperlate was released, and finally dived into the jaw-dropping song analysis (George Starostin) of "Dancing with the Moonlit Knight". (Green Shield Stamps. Who knew?) ha! This is how Papergreat is supposed to work, yes? Thank you, Mr. Ottopa, (Subscribing.)