Kid Charlemagne is the first track off of Steely Dan's "The Royal Scam". The song is written about Owsley Stanley, a manufacturer of high-quality LSD at the time and a sound technician for The Grateful...
While the music played, you worked by candlelight
Those San Francisco nights
You were the best in town
Just by chance you crossed the diamond with the pearl

You turned it on the world
That's when you turned the world around
(Did you feel like Jesus?)
Did you realize
That you were a champion in their eyes?

On the hill the stuff was laced with kerosene
But yours was kitchen-clean
Everyone stopped to stare at your technicolor motor home

Every A-Frame had your number on the wall
You must have had it all
You'd go to L.A. on a dare and you'd go it alone
(Could you live forever?)
Could you see the day?
Could you feel your whole world fall apart and fade away?

(Get along, get along, Kid Charlemagne)
(Get along, Kid Charlemagne)

Now your patrons have all left you in the red
Your low-rent friends are dead
This life can be very strange
All those day-glo freaks who used to paint the face

They've joined the human race
Some things will never change
(Son, you were mistaken)
You are obsolete
Look at all the white men on the street

(Get along, get along, Kid Charlemagne)
(Get along, Kid Charlemagne)

Clean this mess up else we'll all end up in jail
Those test-tubes and the scale
Just get it all out of here

Is there gas in the car?
Yes, there's gas in the car
I think the people down the hall know who you are

(Careful what you carry)
'Cause the man is wise
You are still an outlaw in their eyes

(Get along, get along, Kid Charlemagne)
(Get along, Kid Charlemagne)


Lyrics submitted by AbFab, edited by savino76, paluche

"Kid Charlemagne" as written by Walter Carl Becker Donald Jay Fagen

Lyrics © Universal Music Publishing Group

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Kid Charlemagne song meanings
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  • +12
    General CommentOk, this song is 100% about Owsley Stanley. He made the best LSD and was the Dead's soundman for several years in the late 60's and in the 70's. Some of these posts are way off however. The "Day Glow Freaks who used to paint the face have joined the human race" are the former hippies who have gotten jobs and stopped tripping (look at the old footage of San Fran in '68...they've all got flowers painted on their faces). "You're obsolete, look at all the white men on the street" 'White Men' are the coke dealers. No one was dropping anymore by the mid 70's, but rather doing blow. Hence, Owsley was obsolete. And the running out of gas thing is apparently a true story....He got caught 'cas his car ran out of gas. Now the idea of Owsley creating something new ie "crossing a diamond with a pearl" I don't really see. I think it just refers to the good LSD he was making. The Acid derivative he created was a big failure and was responsible for nothing but bad trips, so I don't see that experiment being eulogized in song.
    Peace,
    Munch Johnson
    epjmunch215on August 04, 2011   Link
  • +6
    General Commentfrom wiki.....

    Although the lyrics are, at first glance, typically oblique and allusive, writers Walter Becker and Donald Fagen have stated that it was loosely inspired by the exploits of the infamous 1960s San Francisco-based LSD chemist Owsley Stanley[1] — although it conflates the core story with numerous other images of the Sixties. This is evident in the following lines:

    On the hill the stuff was laced with kerosene
    But yours was kitchen clean
    Everyone stopped to stare at your Technicolor motor home

    The first two lines draw on the fact that Owsley's acid was famed for its purity, although the last line is clearly a reference to the famous psychedelic bus named Furthur, which was used by the Merry Pranksters.

    The final verse foreshadows the main reason for Owsley's eventual bust:

    Clean this mess up else we'll all end up in jail
    Those test tubes and the scale
    Just get them all out of here
    Is there gas in the car?
    Yes, there's gas in the car
    I think the people down the hall know who you are

    Owsley and another person were arrested after their car ran out of gas.

    The song features a famous guitar solo by guitarist Larry Carlton.

    Owsley Stanley (b. Augustus Owsley Stanley III, January 19, 1935, also known as Owsley or Bear) was an "underground" LSD chemist, the first to produce large quantities of pure LSD. His total production is estimated at around half a kilogram of LSD, or roughly 5 million 100-microgram "trips" of normal potency, although accounts vary widely. The widespread and low-cost (often given away free) availability of high-quality Owsley LSD in the San Franciso area in the mid-1960s may well have been indispensable for the emergence of the "hippie" movement in the Haight-Ashbury area, which the historian of that movement Charles Perry has described as "one big LSD party" and which has had continuing repercussions to this day in American society in terms of increasing tolerance for alternative perspectives and lifestyles. He was also an accomplished sound engineer, and the longtime soundman for seminal psychedelic rock band The Grateful Dead; the band's well-known "dancing bear" icon derives from his nickname, as he frequently printed the image on blotter sheets of LSD distributed at Grateful Dead concerts.[citation needed] He designed the massive "Wall of Sound" electrical amplification system used by the Grateful Dead in their live shows, at the time a highly innovative feat of engineering[1], and was involved with the creation of high-end musical instrument maker
    mandalexon May 12, 2007   Link
  • +3
    General Commentjackiebum and pakalolo are right. this song is more about a famed chemist and innovator of LSD than a dealer. And you should read Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test if you haven't. Although written by the squarest of the squares, it's a great piece of New Journalism that also conveys just how world-changing people thought LSD might be at its inception and introduction to the world. Owsley was also a sound man for the Dead.
    jimmymackon March 31, 2006   Link
  • +3
    General CommentMandalex pretty much nails it. Also "White Men on the street" is a reference to cocaine use on the rise in the 70's. People were moving away from hallucinogens towards stimulants, which added to the Kids demise.
    Sleepy LaBeefon February 28, 2008   Link
  • +2
    General Commentjakiebum is right. this is a tribute to Owsley, the famed creator of the sunshine acid in the late 1960s. read Wolfe's Electric Cool Aid Acid Test to learn a little more about Owsley and the dayglow freaks.
    pakaloloon February 08, 2005   Link
  • +2
    General CommentDefinitely Steely's Hallmark Tune. All the way around, a number off their last "guitar-based" album, signaling the end of one style on the threshold of something more. Larry Carlton was just superb. As Donald opined in the PBS special, the song was, yeah, loosely based on a character like Owsley, with all the particulars of his story, but was also, as the boys have said earlier in a "Musician" magazine interview from 1979, that their method of penning these vingettes is to, instead of presenting the kernal of the idea, they more or less go for the "husk"--the outer, or whole idea, allowing the others to draw their own conclusion as to what it means to them. That said, Donald further mentioned that as the 60's decade was coming to an ugly end & looking for some closure, this offering also represented the whole general feel of the 60s decade. Namely, a beginning, middle and final chapter, like the fusiform shape of a muscle fiber: "", if you will. Actually, DanFan, there are no KEY changes in Kid Charlemagne. It's all in C major. Yes, the bridge and the turnaround have different chord progressions, they are all within the C Major frame work. The very 1st chord is a C7 #9th chord ( a five note chord ), which is a very well utilized jazz chord going back in rock to The Beatles' "You Can't Do That" as well as way before in the jazz annals. It is that crazy Major 7th interval WITHIN that chord, namely, the E note ( the third of the chord ) and the D#, ( the # 9th ) that gives it its unique and gritty , "I MEAN BUSINESS" sound. The root position of the C 7th #9 is this: C E G B-flat D#...then the verse begins with an A minor, etc.

    OK.

    I find LAbeefs comment on the White Men and the cocaigne shift amusing. I still pnder that phrase.
    Thanks.
    shemp3on May 23, 2008   Link
  • +2
    My InterpretationDCEngineer..Bit late on this reply to you man but I just had tell that for a seemingly intelligent man you can crap on why Kid Charlemagne dissappointed you and Owsley Stanley didn't "DESERVE a great song and I find your comment that it "somewhat upset you," obnoxious, you pretentious prick. If it wasn't for songs like this and the '60's movement you wouldn't be what you are. I also take offense you feel you can even comment on Owsley, a fucken genius! If you knew him you'd be writing songs, Poems and Books about him as well and the World is a much lesser place without him. I just don't get you! How you can write what you do..I guess "Lucy In the Sky With Diamonds" and the rest of Sgt Pepper, being influenced by the drug culture along with most sounds of the era are crap as well, including Dylan who's just admitted to being hooked on Heroin for a time..all this music "upsets you too?" What about "The Mighty Quinn?" Another dope dealer, or was he OK cos' he didn't exist!? You post your name as DCEngineer, geez, I hope thats not alluding to a Music Engineer cos I certainly don't think I'll be checkin out anything you put together. Don't you realise the difference '60s music played on evolution. Unfortunately we now have the MTV world destroying what real music was. You sound like you need to read "The Electric Kool Aid Acid Test" or maybe take a hit of Acid or Ecstacy yourself and you may start to appreciate whats behind much of the music you hear.
    Orkaon May 25, 2011   Link
  • +1
    General CommentIts about a young guy who came up with a new kind of drug and it became popular really quick and it was better than all the other stuff that was being sold. this made the young dealer feel like he was "kid charlemagne" ( charlemagne was a powerful king who conquered italy and was crowned emporer of rome by the pope) and the guy was living life to fullest till time caught up with him and the drugs he was selling became unwanted. He eventually falls so far whrer he gets busted by the police
    RSY1111on October 14, 2006   Link
  • +1
    My InterpretationI just started listening to Steely Dan again and re-heard this one. What a great song. I always knew it was about a drug dealer but didn't realize it was about Owsely Stanley and that he was a direct descendant (great.....great grandson) of King Charlemagne - who I once wrote a history report about.

    These lyrics:"Now your patrons have all left you in the red...Your low rent friends are dead
    This life can be very strange...All those dayglow freaks who used to paint the face
    They've joined the human race...Some things will never change...Son you were mistaken...You are obsolete...Look at all the white men on the street"

    Its amazing that a direct descendant of King Charlemagne intially started producing LSD (while still legal and then after it became illegal) as one of the primary suppliers of LSD to the counter-culture movement in San Francisco, Bereley, and then across the US. A great book by Scully "Living with the Dead" describes his life with the Grateful Dead and how Owsley Stanley funded the Dead with money from LSD sales and how they initially lived with him in his home where he produced this LSD and they were constantly exposed to LSD and forced to eat only meat by Owsely Stanely (who believed that Carbohydrates were very bad for you).

    I wonder if the above lyrics refer to how Owsely must have felt after he went to jail for drug possession and the people he funded and provided LSD to went on with their lives as he returned. "Now your patrons have all left you in the red...Your low rent friends are dead
    This life can be very strange...All those dayglow freaks who used to paint the face
    They've joined the human race...Some things will never change..."

    Further, the lyrics "Son you were mistaken...You are obsolete...Look at all the white men on the street" Is this King Charlemange talking to his great grandson telling him he was mistaken. Are all "the white men" on the street all of the homeless that were prevelant in the Bay Area in the late 60's and early 70's who did way to much LSD and other drugs.

    I find it fascinating (6 degrees of separation) that a direct descendant of King Charlemange (who unified Europe in the middle ages and defenden Europe against Moores (the muslims)), great grandson supplied LSD to the counter-culture movement of the 60's which made the US a much more liberal county (huge amounts of academic literature go over how LSD unified and enhanced the counter-culture movement especially at the Univeristy level (Berkley, etc.) -- like it or not (I think its a good thing). Without the counter-culture movement and the liberalization of the would Barrack Obama be president (descendant of a Muslim) ? I don't know. What a great song. "This Life can be very strange"

    jackstrawIIIon November 23, 2008   Link
  • +1
    General CommentThanks for the comments! I actually understand the song now. :)
    cicada1973on June 02, 2013   Link

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