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.
...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 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.
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 edge of town will be equivalent to the radius of the town circle. And the average distance will be half of this.
Dr Cave has confidently proposed that your walk to the edge of town will be a "little" walk, i.e. the town is 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," he would have achieved a very different result. But he chose what he chose.
What is the significance of the size of the town? Why does it matter a damn figging hoot whether the 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 (this is a draft article here: Why Do Cities Exist?) -- but it's a well understood maxim of economics that small towns are poor towns.
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 afflicted by poverty. That is to say,
Fact 3 —
there is a poor town.
I must say. These lyrics are quite gruelling. At this rate I'm not sure that we'll ever get through it. Please try to read a little faster from here on, thank you.
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.
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.’
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 4 —
The 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
- Red Right Hand - Lyrics - Nick Cave
- Red Right Hand - Wikipedia
- Video: Understanding Red Right Hand
- Jerusalem, William Blake
"And did those feet in ancient time"… | Poetry Foundation
- The poem behind Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds’ ‘Red Right Hand’
- Red Right Hand - The Arcana Wiki
- Red Right Hand — Nick Cave’s song packs a powerful punch — FT.com
- Demystifying Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds' "Red Right Hand," and How It Was Inspired by Milton's Paradise Lost | Open Culture
- The poem behind Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds’ ‘Red Right Hand’
- Tay Bridge disaster - Wikipedia
- Wrong side of the tracks - Wiktionary
- Free dictionary - the wrong side of the tracks
- Wrong Side of the Tracks - TV Tropes
- Redlining - Wikipedia