What we once thought we had, we didn't
And what we have now will never be that way again
So we call upon the author to explain

Our myxomatoid kids spraddle the streets
We've shunned them from the greasy grind
The poor little things they look so sad and old
As they mount us from behind
I ask them to desist and to refrain!
And then we call upon the author to explain

Well, rosary clutched in his hand
He died with tubes up his nose
And a cabal of angels with finger cymbals
Chanted his name in code
We shook our fists at the punishing rain
And we called upon the author to explain

He said, everything is messed up round here
Everything is banal and jejune
There's a planetary conspiracy against the likes of you and me
In this idiot constituency of the moon
Well, he knew exactly who to blame!
And we call upon the author to explain

Prolix! Prolix!
Nothing a pair of scissors can't fix

Well, I go guruing down the street
And young people gather 'round my feet
And they ask me things, but I don't know where to start
They ignite the powder trail straight to my father's heart
And, yeah, once again
I call upon the author to explain
Yeah, we call upon the author to explain

Who is this great burdensome slavering dog-thing
That mediocres my every thought?
I feel like a vacuum cleaner—a complete sucker!
It's fucked up and he is a fucker
But what an enormous and encyclopedic brain!
I call upon the author to explain

Rampant discrimination
Mass poverty, third world debt
Infectious disease, global inequality
And deepening socio-economic divisions
Well, it does in your brain
We call upon the author to explain

Now hang on
My friend Doug is tapping on the window!
Hey Doug, how you been? (hey Doug)
Well, he brings me a book on holocaust poetry – complete with pictures
And then he tells me to get ready for the rain
And we call upon the author to explain

Prolix! Prolix!
Nothing a pair of scissors can't fix

Bukowski was a jerk!
Berryman was best!
He wrote like wet papier-maché
But he went the Hemingway
Weirdly on wings and with maximum pain
We call upon the author to explain

Down in my bolt hole I see they've published
Another volume of unreconstructed rubbish
"The waves, the waves were soldiers moving"
Well, thank you! Thank you!
Thank you and again
I call upon the author to explain

Prolix! Prolix!
There's nothing a pair of scissors can't fix


Lyrics submitted by mutinyinheaven_x

We Call Upon the Author song meanings
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10 Comments

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  • +8
    General CommentThe meaning of this song, as far as I can see, is pretty straightforward. Nick is calling on God, the "author" of the world, to explain all of the suffering in it, to provide answers to all of the dark questions mankind has. All of these hardships and problems he metaphorically refers to as "prolixity" (a term which means needless and excessive use of language) and calls on God to get involved and "edit" this extraneous pain and suffering out of his work ("nothing a pair of scissors can't fix").
    cassiusitsoveron June 30, 2009   Link
  • +5
    General CommentWell I think the powder trail line is about Nick's own father, who was a writer. The lines preceding it certainly seem to be in the first person: Cave surrounded by his (young) fans. Also worth noting that the line he sings when they do the song live is "some kind of SPOOKY powder trail, straight to my father's heart".

    The verse about the author dying ("with tubes up his nose") might be a reference to Roland Barthes' famous essay, The Death Of The Author, which is about how the author's intentions are no longer relevant to interpreting literature. Neat trick to mix that up with what seems to be the death of God - possibly it's about how God doesn't seem to be around much these days, compared to biblical times.

    "Who is this great burdensome slathering dog-thing that mediocres my every thought" is an absolutely amazing line, if you ask me. But what an enormous and encyclopaedic brain.
    dri-fton December 07, 2008   Link
  • +2
    General CommentFor years I've idly wondered how exactly Berryman killed himself; when I heard this song - "weirdly on wings & with maximum pain" - I knew I had to find out. Apparently he jumped off a bridge into the river &, er, missed the water! Suffocated in the mud. A lesson to us all. Jump from the MIDDLE of the bridge...
    morbid moragon July 13, 2008   Link
  • +2
    General CommentAbout Berryman, Okkervil River's "John Allyn Smith Sails" (from "The Stage Names", 2007) is a very moving retelling of his sad ending, with references to a few of his poems - and an ending lifted from "Sloop John B". Check it out!
    countxanaxon January 29, 2009   Link
  • +2
    General CommentI see this as much more Cave confronting religious doubt within himself. Throughout the song he lists all the terrible things he sees in the world

    "Rampant discrimination
    Mass poverty, third world debt
    Infectious disease, global inequality
    And deepening socio-economic divisions"

    and when he says:

    Well, rosary clutched in his hand
    He died with tubes up his nose
    And a cabal of angels with finger cymbals
    Chanted his name in code
    We shook our fists at the punishing rain
    And we called upon the author to explain

    He is clearly talking about doubt caused from the slow (tubes up his nose) death of someone who means a lot to him. The "author" is also a name he gives to God, or the creator.

    The line: "I feel like a vacuum cleaner a complete sucker!" is not only a brilliant analogy typical of Cave but also relates to him feeling that he feels has been conned by religion.

    There are many other similar statments in the song, but in this context they appear to be less ambiguous and have a clearing meaning. This song is a different side of Cave rarely seen in his work, in that we see an essance of self doubt. Nevertheless, another genius peice of work.


    Javeryon May 21, 2009   Link
  • +1
    General CommentI love these lyrics ('he went the Heming-way'!)

    I think the reference to prolix and a pair of scissors means cutting down his lyrics, to get rid of that amazing over-the-top and gradiose stuff. And I believe he is 'the author', because he gets asked about all those things when he goes 'guru-ing' down the street.

    So in summary, I reckon this is about people asking Nick Cave to explain his lyrics and the world. Which makes this a pretty appropriate page!
    Ad_Nauseamon April 30, 2008   Link
  • 0
    General Comment"Prolix" means where you're over-the-top and gradiose with your language when it's inappropriate to be. I'm not sure how that fits into the song up to the last 2 verses! The rest of it seems to be asking god- the "author"- about all the atrocities in the world and why he hasn't come down and fixed them all yet. Maybe it's saying trying to answer these questions is needless? I'unno, I'm stretching, here. Still, fun song!
    Appers66on March 11, 2008   Link
  • 0
    General CommentIn the last few verses, Berryman is a reference to the poet John Berryman, who committed suicide (as did Hemingway, also referenced). Berryman's father was also a suicide, which maybe is what Cave is gesturing towards with the line "the powder trail straight to my father's heart." The line "the waves were soldiers moving" is from the poem "Dry Loaf" by Wallace Stevens (who didn't kill himself). A good deal of that poem is excerpted near the bottom of the essay here:

    colloquium.upol.cz/coll00/…
    thitheron April 15, 2008   Link
  • 0
    General CommentI agree about the 'slathering dog-thing' line.
    What do you think he is referring to here though?
    SpearmintSallyon May 15, 2009   Link
  • 0
    General CommentI also think there's some particular meaning in referring to God as "the author". The whole song is sort of tinted towards literature, which goes along with Cave's father's profession and passion. Cave particularly mentions literary figures like Berryman and Hemingway who were depressed, and I think he's saying that God was a depressed author who put all of his depression into his work like those other writers would have. Just my two cents...
    reubencoon December 17, 2010   Link

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