Red Right Hand

As mentioned on my ridiculously over-long analysis of Come Back, All Is Forgiven

Analyzing a joke is like dissecting a frog, in the end they both die.

Woody Allen

...hence I must first apologise for the murder I am about to perform upon this most perfect song. I only pray that I am not subsequently touched by the crimson appendage of a vengeful ghost, god, man, or guru.

The Lyrics

The copyright of the lyrics is presumably owned by Nick Cave. You can read them at his website, in the font he has chosen for you.

Now I apologise in advance that when we start reading these lyrics we might get excited and just read the whole thing in one go, they’re that exciting. So anyway — breathless in anticipation here we go — the actual lyrics!

Take a little walk to the edge of town

Let me stop the track there for a moment. Sorry if you were just getting into it.

What have he learned so far?

I would say that Fact 1 is: There is a town. Further -- I would state that Dr Cave has indicated, Fact 2 which is: There is a "small" town.

Dr C. has effectively evoked the smallness of the town, in a stunning brevity of words, by relying on the innate mathematical instincts of his audience.

A "little walk" implies a walk that does not take very long. (I believe we can accept that as axiom 1, I won't dwell on it further). Using basic mathematical theory (see for example 7 Bridges of Königsberg which is concerned with the mathematics of a taking a little walk in a town, but also involves a lot of drinking) (sorry for the digression) (I was saying) if, and I mean if we, "we" meaning "you and I", or indeed "any listener of the song", if we "assume" a person is randomly placed anywhere inside a town (a somewhat Brownian assumption!), and further, we posit that the town is roughly circular in its extent, then the maximum distance from the random person's current location to the nearest perimiteroidal point, will be equivalent to the radius of the town circle. And the mean distance will be approximately half of this.

The Cavernous one doesn’t meekly state “I hope that your walk to the edge of town is a little one.”

No! Dr Cave boldly asserts that your walk to “the edge of town” will be a "little" walk, i.e. the town must be quite small. Had Dr Cave written, "Pack adequate provisions to set out on a lengthy hike, with a bearing directly toward the nearest edge of the metropolis," his lyrics — barring exceptional delivery — would have achieved a very different result.

He chose what he chose.

What is the significance of the size of the town? Why would it matter a figging hoot whether the damn town is small or large? I'm glad you asked! Professor Cave is relying on your innate knowledge of economics. I haven't had time to document this to any terrific extent just yet (I humbly admit there is a draft article here: Why Do Cities Exist?) -- but it’s not at all controversial to say that it's a well understood maxim of economics that small towns are poor towns.

Agglomeration itself creates economic flows that provide value or relative value (ie efficiency) to the system.

Hence, what we've learned so far, if you're paying attention — and I hope that you were paying attention — is that this song's setting is amongst people who are afflicted by poverty.

That is to say, Fact 3there is a poor town.

I must say.

It is somewhat ridiculous the density of ideas Dean Cave has thribbed into so few words. These lyrics are quite gruelling. At this rate I'm not sure that we'll ever get through it.

I suggest that the simplest way to save time for. Here is if you please try to read a little more quickly from here on. Just read as if these are merely a flowing stream, a waterfall of words, rippling over you like a wordy wind.

And go across the tracks

Ah, here we have a nod to the famous "wrong side of the tracks" (see, for example, wiktionary: wrong side of the tracks).

The other side of the tracks, or the wrong side of the tracks, are terrible place to be (though arguably not as bad as the "wrong side of the bed").

Descriptions of living on the "wrong side of the tracks" tend to include high poverty and high crime.

The “tracks” themselves arose and are a testament to the Industrial Revolution. Anywhere across the globe you can find such affected place; where long ago the rush of industrialisation puffed into town, perhaps a boom time soon occurred whether for riches or crime. And the only reminder now is the opulence of the deleting building in the high street or the still maintained train statio. — the way out of this hellhole existence. Unless you can be saved by a stranger.

In 1929 , Thorne Smith wrote ‘In most commuting towns…there are always two sides of which the tracks serve as a line of demarcation. There is the right side and the wrong side. Translated into terms of modern American idealism, this means, the rich side and the side that hopes to be rich.’

Free dictionary - the wrong side of the tracks

Any border can also be the boundary for segregationist housing policies, which create, reinforce and perpetuate multi-generational poverty. See Redlining - Wikipedia. For even more on the topic I suggest TV Tropes: Wrong Side of the Tracks. There is much wisdom contained at TV Tropes.

Hence, this second line has reinforced the facts established in the first line, but further, since the tracks themselves are almost definitely railway tracks, now Nick has updated the setting to be after the advent of the railway, in a post industrial-revolution world. Fact 4The year is post-industrial revolution.

Where the viaduct looms

Ah, now Professor Nick has begun to draw in not just the mathematicians, the economists, and the urban planners, but also the historians and the architects.

Like a bird of doom

As it shifts and cracks

Where secrets lie in the border fires

In the humming wires

Hey man, you know

You're never coming back

Past the square, past the bridge

Past the mills, past the stacks

On a gathering storm comes

A tall handsome man

In a dusty black coat with

A red right hand

He'll wrap you in his arms

Tell you that you've been a good boy

He'll rekindle all the dreams

It took you a lifetime to destroy

He'll reach deep into the hole

Heal your shrinking soul

But there won't be a single thing

That you can do

He's a god, he's a man
He's a ghost, he's a guru

They're whispering his name

Through this disappearing land

But hidden in his coat

Is a red right hand

You don't have no money?

He'll get you some

You don't have no car?

He'll get you one

You don't have no self-respect

You feel like an insect

Well don't you worry buddy

'Cause here he comes

Through the ghettos and the barrio

And the bowery and the slum

A shadow is cast wherever he stands

Stacks of green paper in his

Red right hand

You'll see him in your nightmares

You'll see him in your dreams

He'll appear out of nowhere but

He ain't what he seems

You'll see him in your head

On the TV screen

And hey buddy, I'm warning

You to turn it off

He's a ghost, he's a god

He's a man, he's a guru

You're one microscopic cog

In his catastrophic plan

Designed and directed by

His red right hand


See also


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