You'll recall from the sagas, I hope, Grettis' last stand at Drangey
how his grip on the sword made his enemies cut off his hand
If he'd fled here instead and had tasted this terrible coffee
or read these letters you sent, he'd surrender and lay the blade down

And it's Halloween,
skinny ghosts dress like cowboys and rest
at the railing by my door
on their way from the Children's Ward

Bev Monroe and his Pembina Valley boys play at the party
and I practice my English on nurses, "Oh, that's a nice name"
And they may ask for mine, but the burns on my back from the x-rays
say I shouldn't show anyone anything ever again

In another year
I'll be buried or shivering here,
coughing at the grey spittoon
painted orange by the harvest moon

Pack up mother's clothes,
drive her down to the new Betel Home,
sell the boat to Arnison
and then go

Stand up straight
in the place you're longing for
and don't write to me anymore


Lyrics submitted by strakared, edited by HellionChild, Contaminator

Letter in Icelandic from the Ninette San song meanings
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5 Comments

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  • +1
    General CommentA few adjustments:

    I think Samson uses the form of 'Grettir's' for 'Grettis.'
    "Panel of ally boys" should be "Pembina Valley boys"
    And 'Betle Home' should be 'Betel Home'

    (I put a lot of work into transcribing, only to be beat to the punch! Good show!)
    superficieson January 17, 2012   Link
  • 0
    General CommentPretty self explanatory, once you realize that the 'Ninette San' refers to the Manitoba Ninette Sanatorium. Sanatoriums were basically places people went to be cured of (or die of) tuberculosis in the 1900s. All accounts I can find of the Ninette Sanatorium are quite positive, with many former patients going on to work there later.

    Drangey is an island in Iceland, and Grettir is an Icelandic folk hero.

    Anyway, it seems to me that the narrator is a recent immigrant from Iceland who has developed TB and now lives in the Sanatorium. He (or she, but I'll use he for simplicity) is writing to a sibling(?) about his life there, starting the letter off fairly positively, but unable to stop thinking about his illness. He tells his sibling to seize the day by leaving the people and things that weigh him/her down behind.
    craevnon March 08, 2012   Link
  • 0
    Song MeaningFrom an interview on Willamette Weekly (wweek.com/portland/…)

    So, back in the 1920s and 30s, there used to be a tuberculosis van that would head out from the Ninette Sanatorium and tour towns and take x-rays of citizens, and if you were found to have TB you would often be shipped off on the train to Ninette Manitoba and you wouldn’t know how long you’d be there or if you’d even survive. And at the same time I was studying this town of Riverton Manitoba where there are all these Icelandic immigrants, which is where my family is from. It’s the biggest Icelandic population outside of Iceland. So I invented this fiction about these two brothers whose father has died and they’re taking care of their mother–they saved up enough money to buy a boat–and they’re fishing on Lake Winnipeg, and the older brother gets tuberculosis and is shipped off to Ninette and the younger brother is left there to take care of the family and the business. That’s not what he wants to do with his life, so he writes kind of complaining letters to his older brother in the San saying this isn’t what I want to do. And the dying brother finally writes back and says “well, you’re just going to have to forget about me and forget about the family and get on with your life and go.”
    emd88on April 08, 2012   Link
  • 0
    General CommentGrumpy song:)
    funnywhenurquieton April 08, 2012   Link
  • 0
    General CommentThere's an interesting intertextual link with this song and When I Write My Master's Thesis from the same album. In that song, the narrator describes researching the sanatorium the narrator here is in: "Oh the hours I spent in the archives wearing cotton gloves/Shuffling photos from the Ninette Sanatorium Halloween parties/Emaciated ghosts hiding in those curtains' creases."

    So the two narrators are a hundred years apart, with this song being a letter the other narrator found in his research.
    emd88on December 10, 2012   Link

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