Brain-storming habit-forming battle-warning weary
winsome actor spewing spineless chilling lines.
The critics falling over to tell themselves he's boring
and really not an awful lot of fun.
Well who the hell can he be when he's never had V.D.,
and he doesn't even sit on toilet seats?
Court-jesting, never-resting he must be very cunning
to assume an air of dignity
and bless us all with his oratory prowess,
his lame-brained antics and his jumping in the air.
And every night his act's the same
and so it must be all a game of chess he's playing
"But you're wrong, Steve: you see, it's only solitaire."

Lyrics submitted by knate15

"Only Solitaire [The Chateau d'Herouville Sessions]" as written by Ian Anderson

Lyrics © BMG Rights Management

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Only Solitaire song meanings
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  • +2
    General CommentA reaction to critics. They tore Ian apart for some time. He was once their golden child until he became impatient and started to decline interviews circa 1973 I believe. He may even be quoting some bad publicity directly in this song.
    jcaudioon January 22, 2005   Link
  • 0
    General Comment"Well who the hell can he be when he's never had V.D.,
    and he doesn't even sit on toilet seats?"

    :-) I love that line.
    haripu69on November 04, 2006   Link
  • 0
    General CommentI have a feeling that, like most Tull songs, this one may just be just too psychedelic and "stream-of-consciousness" for the kind of very precise, systematic interpretation that others have attempted, but I have a hunch that it is having a jab at critics (specifically, theatre critics in the first part) and (in the second)indulging in a bit of self-directed send-up: Ian Anderson has, I think, always been troubled to some extent by the Jekyll-and-Hyde style dichotomy between his off-stage and on-stage personae, the first, highly civilized, serious-minded and even somewhat inhibited (i.e. the down-to-earth, thoughtful and intelligent person we see in interviews) and the second, a kind of sexually depraved, prancing, grimacing madman. He has even described the latter as a kind of 'devil' that takes him over while on stage but which he doesn't (quote) "take back to the Holiday Inn with me" (unquote) and the act itself - perhaps more to the point concerning this song - as something he does, not in order to entertain or interact with others, but simply for himself (i.e. a game of solitaire, rather than of chess), to 'let off steam' so to speak.
    So, I think that the person with the "oratory prowess" is off-stage Anderson (he often gives incredibly long, detailed and highly analytical answers to questions in interviews on almost any topic) while the "lame-brained antics" and "jumping in the air" reference the Mr Hyde on-stage persona. I suspect that the references to having VD are an oblique - and possibly disingenuously self-deprecating - allusion to Jethro Tull's almost notorious eschewing of the sex-and-drugs culture that was so prevalent among the band's early compatriots (particularly, of course, Led Zeppelin).
    Well, as I said, just a hunch...
    aquatull99on June 20, 2013   Link
  • 0
    General CommentIf you read some of the music reviews by a few of the music critics from that period you will see what Anderson was referring to. They either panned the music, his rehearsed onstage persona, or the shows in general, the little praise was delivered via in very transparent backhanded compliments.

    It's been verified that the Steve mentioned in the end is music critic Steve Peacock from Sounds magazine.
    My take on the last line and the song's namesake "Steve, you see, it's only solitaire" is Ian Anderson's clever little obloquy response "I'm just up there playing with myself".

    Ian Anderson always looked at himself not just as an singer musician, but as an entertainer, a minstrel. His exaggerated movements and gestures were always carefully planned, not to entertain the first 20 rows, but whole audience. Saw them three times in the 70s and they always put on a great show.
    Here are links to a couple of the reviews that he was referring to.……
    frank10071on July 06, 2020   Link
  • -1
    General CommentI don't know if the band ever confirms, denies, or elucidates on the meaning of lyrics but for me 'Solitaire' is a slap at the 'effete snobs' who without experience or insight pronounce with conviction on how the cow eats the cabbage. Further, 'Solitaire' chastises all those 'critics' who lacking even more in their worldly acumen rush to hold up these charlatans as prophets. In the end 'Solitaire' invokes the metaphor of the card game to imply, rightly that these 'prophets' are merely mental masturbators. I still can't figure out who 'Steve' is, though. Could the lyric actually be, 'But you're wrong, see, it's only solitaire.'
    Moggon May 26, 2013   Link
  • -2
    My InterpretationNothing like contributing several years after the last post. Or several decades after the song was recorded, for that matter.

    First, several other sites have mentioned that this song is a direct response to one or several critics, specifically intended to be a slap in the face.

    This is what it means to me.

    Brain storming -- the entertainer does think.
    Habit forming -- the entertainer can cause change in the audience.
    Battle Warning -- the entertainer performs an important function.
    Weary -- the tiredness that results from doing the same task again and again, especially without results.
    winsome -- joyful, especially in a manner that doesn't make logical sense to the majority of the population.
    actor -- It is a show, not the entertainer's reality
    spewing spineless chilling lines. Spine-chilling lines are powerful, scary words. These seem quite similar, but are at the same time quite different, with a quality that is hard to pin down as to why they are different.

    The critics -- Others, who have a history of not doing anything themselves, but instead try to explain how others aren't doing it right
    falling over her -- Each critic is rushing to an unspecified "her" (although, I tend to think of this her as the Queen of England), attempts to make their voice heard first, or most important.
    to tell themselves -- The critics say what they want to hear, not necessarily what the audience wants to know. But at least they agree with each other.
    He's boring, and really not an awful lot of fun. -- Not quite redundancy here. In the entertainment scale, boring is on one side, fun on the other. So, being both boring and not fun is both on one side and not the other. Just being not fun could mean neutral.

    Well, who the hell can he be when he's never had VD and he doesn't even sit on toilet seats? -- The entertainer does not conform to the standards of the critics. As such, the critics discount him.

    Court jesting -- The court is where I pick up that the "her" is royalty. Jesting in the court has a long history. Never realy liked, but generally always tolerated. Also, the Jester was not always mere entertainment. They provided a different view for royalty.
    Never resting. -- The task is always at hand.
    He must be very cunning -- the critics cannot determine a reason for the act and actions, so to make it fit their mold, place an assumption on it, that of the entertainer being cunning.
    to assume an air of dignity. The critics can see no reason why he should be dignified, so presume it is an assumed air.
    and bless us all -- The act does provide benefit to all, even if not the intended audience.
    with his oratory prowess --skill at manipulating the spoken word.
    his lame-brained antics -- Hm, didn't the song start off noting brain-storming? The antics are lame-brained, the performer is not.
    and his jumping in the air. -- A standard method of physical comedy, but also does draw attention to the jumper.
    And every night, his act's the same. -- Critics expect new diversions, as they often fail to understand what they see.
    And so it must be all -- Again, not understanding what they see, an assumption is placed to make the actor fit their world.
    a game of chess he's playing. Chess, in the western world, is regarded as the ultimate test of one's mental abilities, one person against another. The strategy involved, the outmaneuvering of one's opponent. The ability to win is synonymous with the ability to out-think another. In a world where beauty and athletic ability are well-rewarded monetarily, mental powers are still respected the most. No matter how many plays a football player knows, he is regarded as a dumb brute, to make the regarder feel somewhat his equal.
    But you're wrong, Steve. -- Note the overlapping of this phrase. First, it is a specific critic that the entertainer is signalling out, even though all critics were lumped together earlier. However, "Steve" is a fairly common name, so possibly instead of noting a single critic, the entertainer is applying it to several, who just will not be able to figure out who he is applying it to.

    Second, the overlapping shows that it is not a single aspect of which the critic is wrong, but is wrong on several points and several levels, all intertwined.

    You see, it's only solitaire.

    The game is not a great mental struggle against another. The game is a trivial pastime that one plays against, at most, oneself. "He's the type of person to cheat at solitaire" is an insult. The game of solitaire does not include an audience watching it, like other competitions do. The entire act of the entertainer is for the entertainer, no matter who is looking on.
    JestPhulinon March 09, 2011   Link

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