SONG OF THE WEEK – PRIDE OF MAN

I have a book called The Worst Rock n’ Roll Records of All Time (1991), in which the authors give their opinions of Rock’s worst singles and albums, as well as the worst rock and roll performers.  According to Jerry Guterman and Owen O’Donnell, the Number One all-time worst rock and roller is Billy Joel.  That is probably not true, but I can’t say for sure because my ears are still ringing.

Billy Joel was extremely popular from 1973 to 1983, but in the past 32 years he has released only three albums – and none since 2001.  Still, Joel is currently on tour, playing very large venues. Cathy and I saw him last Wednesday at the Pepsi Center in Denver.  We went because we got free tickets to watch the concert from a “suite.”  We could get up and walk around whenever we wanted, and the tickets included free beer, soft drinks, bottled water, chips and peanuts.

It was an interesting concert:  Just the Piano Man up there under a spotlight, tickling the ivories, accompanied by another keyboard player, some electric guitars and bass guitars, percussion, saxophones, a trumpet, dozens of amplifiers and huge speakers, 20,000 fans and a turntable that moved him and his piano in slow circles as he played, so that everyone could get a good look at him.

That instrumentation, combined with the fact that all of his well known songs are about 40 years old, gave Joel the opportunity to reinterpret his music.  And reinterpret he did.  Rather than trying to describe the subtleties of the new arrangements, let me simply say that one song by another artist that was covered during the concert was AC/DC’s “Highway to Hell,”and it fit right in.  Every song (including the pop standard “New York State of Mind”) was played at very high volume and “enhanced” by the nearly perfect acoustics of the Pepsi Center – nearly perfect for ice hockey, that is.  My ears are still ringing; but it was fun.

I was reminded, as I listened, of a concert I attended probably 45 years ago:  Quicksilver Messenger Service at the University of Colorado.  Quicksilver was one of the original psychedelic rock bands from San Francisco.  Although the group did not have the commercial success of the Grateful Dead or the Jefferson Airplane, they were very talented and influential.

The Quicksilver concert at CU was held outdoors, by the field house and the stadium.  The stage was set up in front of a wall of speakers that dwarfed even what Billy Joel brought to the Pepsi Center.  When the performance began, the sound was so loud that it was almost impossible to recognize the songs.  Only a few words could be understood, from time to time.  After about the third song, the people I was with decided to leave the fenced area where the concert was being held and move back about two blocks, where we sat on a lawn to listen to the rest of the show.  From there, the music sounded great.  We had a good time.

Although it was not their most popular work, my favorite Quicksilver song is probably “Pride of Man”; and I would rather talk about that one for a few minutes than go on about Billy Joel or loud music.

“Pride of Man” was written in 1964 by Hamilton Camp, and it always had sort of an aura of prophecy hanging around its lyrics.  Camp’s version was included on a 1964 album.  The song became better known when it was covered by Gordon Lightfoot in 1966.  Both of those versions, though, tend to diminish the prophetic feel by almost rushing some of the lyrics, and sounding distinctly “folksy.”

Quicksilver Messenger Service released its version as the very first song on its 1968 debut album.  There, the combination of the electric instruments and a more distinctive delivery make the listener feel that something very important is being conveyed.

I have a feeling that Camp, himself, may have considered this song prophetic.  He started his career as Bob Camp and performed for years with Bob Gibson (not the baseball player), who was a key figure in the folk music revival of the late 1950s and 1960s.  Then, shortly before writing “Pride of Man,” he was initiated into Subud, an Indonesian spiritual movement.  The leader of that movement, Muhammad Subuh Sumohadiwidjojo, encouraged the members to adopt names that resonated with the Universe and their places in it.  Camp changed his first name from Bob to Hamilton.  A few years later, Jim McGuinn of the Byrds became involved in Subud and changed his name to Roger.

Camp did not write all that many songs.  He earned his living more as an actor – appearing in hundreds of movies and TV shows – and most of his recordings were either traditional folk tunes or covers of songs written by others.  The fact that “Pride of Man” was written shortly after undertaking a new spiritual course is at least some evidence that it was intended as prophesy.

I don’t think that fact was lost on Quicksilver Messenger Service, either.  Camp’s 1964 album that introduced “Pride of Man” also included one of the very first versions of the song “Get Together,” which was written by Dino Valenti (née Chester William “Chet” Powers, Jr.).  Valenti was one of the founding members of Quicksilver.  I don’t know what his relationship was with Hamilton Camp, but they seem to have known each other.  Choosing “Pride of Man” as first song on their first album, and doing such a good job with it, indicates that Quicksilver understood it to be important.

Several decades later – after September 11, 2001 – many people began to wonder about the prophesy.  The lyrics tell of a tower falling, made into a “pyre of flame.”  Was that the Tower of Babel or the World Trade Center?  The song begins with the admonition, “Turn around, go back down” and tells us that the “mighty men are beaten down.”  Could that refer to New York City firefighters losing their lives in the 9/11 rescue effort?  The lyrics also say that “Babylon is laid to waste,” and “terror is on every side.”  Babylon, of course, is an ancient city that is in modern Iraq; and the news media keep telling us that terror really is on every side.

I could go on, but any interpretation of a song like this is speculative.  Personally, I believe Camp was concerned about the potential for a nuclear holocaust in the context of humanity’s proclivity to cause God to want to destroy us, at least since Biblical times. You, the reader, can look at the lyrics and reach your own conclusions (or speculations)

Pride of Man
By Hamilton Camp

Turn around,
go back down,
back the way you came,
Can’t you see that flash of fire ten times brighter than the day?
And behold a mighty city broken in the dust again,
Oh God, Pride of Man, broken in the dust again.

Turn around,
go back down,
back the way you came,
Babylon is laid to waste, Egypt’s buried in her shame,
The mighty men are all beaten down, their kings are fallen in the ways,
Oh God, Pride of Man, broken in the dust again.

Turn around,
go back down,
back the way you came,
Terror is on every side, lo our leaders are dismayed.
For those who place their faith in fire, their faith in fire shall be
repaid,
Oh God, Pride of Man, broken in the dust again.

Turn around,
go back down,
back the way you came,
And shout a warning unto the nation that the sword of God is raised.
Yes, Babylon, that mighty city, rich in treasures, wide in fame,
Oh God, Pride of Man, broken in the dust again.

The meek shall cause your tower to fall, make of you a pyre of flame,
Oh you who dwell on many waters, rich in treasures, wide in fame.
you bow unto your God of gold, your pride of might shall be a shame,
For only God can lead His people back unto the Earth again.

Oh God, Pride of Man, broken in the dust again.
A Holy mountain be restored, and mercy on that people, that people

© Warner/Chappell Music, Inc.

___________________________________________

1.  I am not making this up.

 

6 thoughts on “SONG OF THE WEEK – PRIDE OF MAN

  1. The last time I was able to endure loud music was at an ACDC Halloween concert in Portland in ’80 – I think. Or thereabouts. In retrospect I suspect it marks the moment when my memory started to get lackadaisical about its job, so I’m not sure about the year. I was up front and ten feet away from a speaker bank about four feet wide and close to ten feet tall which proved to be capable of producing a fine concussive effect. Did you know your brain can be shivering like thumped jello and you can still dance? Between the falling down and getting up parts, anyway. A bit of trivia which may be useful at some time for… wait a minute. It’s useless. That’s why they call it “trivia.”

    I sort of remember that Quicksilver concert. On my way home long after it was over and the din had subsided and the night had become still again I sat down at the base of a tree on the lawn somewhere near the CU library in the quiet dark to rest. So far the memory is apocryphal, but this next part is not. While I was sitting there I heard a faint, soft sound winding across the lawn between the trees, and as I sat there I saw a girl walking across campus in the still of the night playing a sweet, melodious riff on a flute as she walked. My memory has held on to that one.

    Do you remember when the Hog Farm came to Boulder and set up their tents and domes down there on the ROTC field? Part of a larger political protest event, I think. I do remember the dome light show with the hand-shivered glass pie dish of colored oil and water and stones projected onto the dome skin with an overhead projector, and how it all moved with the – as always – very loud psychedelic music. I was taken with the cleverness of how they did it. Memory does seem to hold on to some things.

    And in all fairness to the Piano Man I’d say it was unfair to characterize him as a rocker. He’s more of his own thing. Sounds like what he’s doing now involves show-biz road glam and what his agents and producers consider marketable metro gloss. There are some good tunes in his discography.

    Pride of Man is a good QMS song – there were a lot of good ones from them – and the line “broken in the dust again” always rings out when I listen to the song. It is indeed prophetic, at least in the sense of what appears to be prescient to folks who don’t have a good grip on history and human nature and the recapitulating patterns present in both.

    Also, in re more recollected trivia roiled up to the cerebral surface by current events – remember Mensa? In HS our lunch table included several who qualified and somebody thought we ought to think about joining. I recall thinking it was a snob organization and declined, and I think that was the consensus then. If one or more of us joined later I don’t know about it. Anyway, somebody recently posted something somewhere (memory like a steel trap, don’t you know) that popped up in the screen here and had a link to a Mensa Brain Teaser site.

    I figured what the hell, I’ll go see how badly attenuated my noggin wet works are. Skipped the math ones because they’re tedious (I’m lazy) and managed OK on five out of five of the other types, but also came up with alternate answers for two of them, which is what I like to do with these things. It made me think maybe Mensa didn’t vet their teasers as well as they could. Creates the wrong impression considering they’re so doggone smart and all, don’t you know.

    So I wrote and asked them about my alternatives. Got a very nice reply back that said they were also viable answers. They may be snobs, but they are polite. I’m not joining anyway. Also, I consider myself downgraded and deteriorated by time, experience, and loud music. I’m afraid I’d flunk their test these days and my quota has been filled with regard to things filed under “broken in the dust again.” But I did have this one last glorious moment in the sun…

    • My ears have pretty much quit ringing, so I am perhaps more objective now. You are right in saying that Billy Joel really is not a rocker. The Worst Rock n’ Roll Records book pretty much agrees with you. It seems they chose him as the worst rocker of all time because he only pretended to be a rocker. Well, some of his songs always have rocked, and some haven’t. If that is legitimate criticism, it should apply to Led Zeppelin and Bob Marley and almost everyone. The problem with his concert was that he wanted to make everything rock – even, as I mentioned, things like “New York State of Mind,” which sound better when arranged for Mel Tormé than for AC/DC. You are also correct in recognizing the show-biz road glam. I don’t want to be too critical. I had a good time at the concert and my ears are still working.

      Mensa and trivia are subjects that I didn’t really expect to come up concerning this post. Mensa does have a patina of snobbery, at least in my mind. To some extent, though, I think it is like Groucho Marx not wanting to be a member of any organization that would accept someone like him. Neither would I – and I certainly don’t want to be a member of an organization that refuses to accept me because I am too dumb. After reading your comment, I checked out some Mensa teaser questions. I got them all right (including two fairly simple math questions). However, like you, I reached a couple of my answers by a completely different line of reasoning than that described in the official answers.

      There is a website called funtrivia.com on which I enjoy playing around from time to time. Besides quizzes and things, the site has daily “trivia duels” and weekly “trivia tournaments.” Some of the participants belong to teams (I don’t, based on Groucho’s reasoning), and it seems that I regularly compete against members of a team called “classical music/mensan.” It feels sort of good when I win those matches. I have known some fine people who belonged to Mensa, though; and it is unfair to be too critical of the organization because of my own irrational prejudices.

      To respond to your memory testing questions: I do remember Mensa, as discussed above. I also remember the Hog Farm at CU. And I remember flutes in the night. I have a few Native American flutes, and it often seems the best place to play them is outside on a warm night away from bright lights. That is not your flute memory, but it should count as something remembered.

      Finally, let’s look a “prophecy” for a moment. Many people think it means fortune telling or divination, and I sort of used in in that sense in my original discussion. In reality, though, prophecy is the act of taking information that is divinely inspired and presenting it to others. That information sometimes refers to future events, but it just as well can explain past events or tell the audience how to behave in the present. It is in that more formal sense of the word that I feel Hamilton Camp intended “Pride of Man” as prophecy.

      Speaking of QMS (as I was), I think it is time to step out and get another hit of fresh air.

      • Fresh air is always good. Sometimes I operate on fairly loose gimbals and things like Mensa and trivia get connected to things like pride and the result is a loose-limbed riff meant to be a humorous (but thoughtful and thought-provoking) commentary on the insidious nature of pride, particularly (in this case) the sort of reverse pride which (among other things) makes me proud of myself because I am proud of not being a snob, but when I read it again it just makes me think that Quality Control was out to lunch when I attempted the expression…

        That sentence makes me think QC may be on extended hiatus.

        However, I am learning from you, and will now join you in the fresh air and remember a great piece of wisdom you recently shared:

        “I don’t know, though. I am just living here.”

  2. Pingback: SONG OF THE WEEK - THE TIMES THEY ARE A-CHANGIN' - ralstoncreekreview.comralstoncreekreview.com

  3. A couple of corrections on the lyrics.
    at the beginning of the spoken last verse

    It’s not “the meek shall cause your towers to fall”
    but
    “and it shall cause your towers to fall”

    it refers back to “the sword of god” that is raised “against” (not “yes”) Babylon in the preceding verse.

    Finally, at the end, it’s “Thy” holy mountain be restored not “A” holy mountain.

    No offense intended but as a musician myself I always appreciate it when people correct any errors I make on lyrics. Sometimes it’s hard to hear exactly what is said and it’s good to correct each other when we can.

    • Oops, I didn’t fully correct that last line of the song in my post above.

      The last part of the song should be:

      “Thy holy mountain be restored,
      Have mercy on Thy people…Thy people Lord.”

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