'Taking Notes and Stealing Quotes'
Taking the Time
Taking the Time is a sturdy, melodic blues, one of very few numbers in compound time that Procol Harum recorded (others include Something Following Me, Broken Barricades, One More Time and the unpublished Alpha). Lyrically it makes an atypical foray into the kinds of word-play beloved of songwriters in the sophisticated Porter / Coward vein, and Leiber and Stoller reinforce this 'old-school' aspect with a Peggy Lee-style night-club ambience, including a vamping middle section using acoustic guitar and jazzy winds. The Brooker piano playing is unmistakable, and it's clearly a composition from his stable, but in other respects the song is extremely un-Procol: Gary's bandmates are somewhat emasculated by the arrangement, which is about the nearest perhaps with Barnyard Story to a Brooker solo piece that had yet been offered. Some have speculated that this number (like several of the Prodigal Stranger set later on) was originally slated for a Brooker solo album.
The opening presents Brooker's bluesy voice unaccompanied, in a wide-spanning C major melody (it rises over six consecutive notes, spanning the interval of a tenth altogether) that has distinct kinship with Crying in the Chapel and Gershwin's Someone to Watch Over Me
even with Buddy Can You Spare a Dime?. The sequence of poignant, jazzily-diminished chords that follows is played by 'Big Band muted brass' as the album Press-kit put it (also drawing to our attention 'a 20s clarinet run' which has so far eluded these commentators). Then comes the first true Procol moment, the stair-climbing tripletty piano run (reminiscent of the way Gary links the verse phrases of The Idol) and the characteristic dead-stop, here on an unexpected A flat major in its last inversion. The contour of the opening melody is now repeated, with various notes flattened to accommodate the new harmony, and a transposed set of the poignant chords brings us home in A flat again, which seems to be establishing itself as the home key. But now the bass strikes out on an upward scale, creating a number of 'classical' chord-inversions, which pass through various keys on their way to an F, which ushers in the much more straightforward, predictable material of the B flat major chorus. The middle sixteen bars, which meanders somewhat whimsically through minor chord backwaters to a dead-stop at the start of the second verse, is a structural and textural surprise, but it spawned 'descendants' in the instrumental sections of later songs like Something Magic and (You Can't) Turn Back the Page.
On the record the guitar has little to do except in accompanying the choruses the track is tactically sequenced between two heavyweight Grabham vehicles yet Mick told Déjà Vu (1977) 'Taking The Time is a fantastic song': he did get the chance to solo on it, in fluently melodic fashion, on the road, in place of the acoustic guitar and wind arrangement (mp3 here): curiously little organ was used live. In some performances Gary started the song with a very free solo-piano run-through of the middle sixteen, with some Bachlike ornamentation (mp3 here), and re-used that section as an ensemble play-out
so it was heard three times overall. But the song was only rarely played (example set-list) at gigs shortly after the publication of Ninth, and has not been found on any set-list from 1976 onwards. It did see a 7-inch release, as the B side of The Final Thrust (CHS 2079) which was issued as a single in October 1975 in the UK.
Keith Reid evidently liked the way the recording turned out: 'Leiber and Stoller did the brass. In some ways they were very good,' he said in a Danish interview (2 February, 1984); he also selected the words for his book in 2000, My Own Choice]. The song portrays an indecisive person, whose inspiration is at a low ebb, further promoting his indecision by pondering it instead of acting. This theme the core of Shakespeare's Hamlet of course is unsurprisingly a rare one in the world of rock, although one might compare the early Kinks song Too Much On My Mind; there is also a faint hint of Lennon's I'm Only Sleeping, in the mood of mildly complacent self-criticism. Compared with its companion piece Barnyard Story, and with the fatalistic Your Own Choice, these words have a relatively untroubled mood, but their restless indecision marks the pathway to the terminal ethos of the final original song on Procol's Ninth.
- 'I was standing on a mountain top': this opening revisits the scenario of Barnyard Story, where the narrator 'stood upon Olympus' (the mountain where the Gods lived in Greek myth). On that occasion 'the heavens opened wide' and he 'beheld that flaming chariot'. Phoebus, the sun-god, drove across the heavens daily in a flaming chariot, which corresponds precisely to the 'staring at the sun' in the present lyric. Yet whereas the earlier song suggests an enlightening epiphany, a glimpse of Nirvana even, the present number is down-to-earth, shorn of mystical overtones, and the blunt 'staring at the sun' suggests that mere blindness will result. The rest of the song dwells heavily on the disappointments of the narrator's career, the unfulfilled promise of earlier times.
- 'Staring at the sun': such an activity is revealed in this song as fruitless: its corollary, 'howling at the moon', is similarly assessed in The Pursuit of Happiness.
- 'I was trying to act the hero's part': it has been reported that the 'Hero' sailor, painted by Dickinson (Reid's girlfriend, later wife) for the cover of the A Salty Dog is a disguised portrait of Keith himself. It may be, then, that this song looks back to that heyday of the early band, where Reid was 'acting the hero's part' literally: perhaps, like Shakespeare's hero Hamlet, he was playing a part whose unsuitability was obvious to him. On the Salty Dog album he confesses (in Crucifiction Lane) 'I didn't think I'd be an actor'; and clearly two of the songs on the present album also deal with dissatisfaction with a role, that of rock lyricist. Around this period Reid also penned the unpublished I'm a Reader and a Writer (conjectural title) whose general drift is that he is a person who operates on the level of the word, not of the deed. This is very different from a hero, one who performs with great courage in war, though of course the two ideas meet in Heroic Verse, the form in which epic poetry is written. The original Hero was actually a woman, a priestess of Venus, and her lover Leander did the heroic deed every day, swimming the Hellespont to see her. The word is also used adjectivally: the Heroic Age is that period in a nation's history that comes between the purely mythical and the historic eras, when the sons of the gods take earthly brides, and sire hybrids.
- 'Not fooling anyone': to fool someone is to deceive or convince them; a 'fool' is a simpleton, or, in a stage setting, the clown (Hamlet's name derives from Amleth, meaning 'fool, or one who acts that way'). Reid makes copious use of the word in all its senses: 'both themselves and also any fool' (Homburg); 'like a fool I believed myself' (She Wandered Through The Garden Fence); 'some say that I'm a wise man, some think that I'm a fool' and 'I'll be a wise man's fool' (Look to Your Soul); 'stop calling me Monsieur R. Monde you fool!' (Monsieur R. Monde); 'Fool's gold fooled me too' and so on (Fool's Gold); 'I played the fool' (Skating on Thin Ice); 'King of the fools' (Skating on Thin Ice); 'We were fools to believe' ((You can't) Turn Back the Page).
- 'I was living for the moment but the moment never came': this is the first of a number of lines that use a particular word twice, in such a way that the context foregrounds a paradoxically variant nuance at each mention. 'Living for the moment' refers to the carpe diem philosophy of the 1960s, seizing the day, without a thought for the morrow; the second 'moment' carries the sense of 'right time to pounce', which never came. The play Endgame, by the Reid-admired Samuel Beckett, neatly entwines the theme of deferred action with that of acting the Hero's part, and with the later business of teaching the dog: note this exchange between Clov (the servant who is fed on dog-biscuits, summoned by a whistle, and who was 'whelped', not born) and Hamm (the blind protagonist, his name a clear reference to the 'ham' actor): "Clov: Do you believe in the life to come? Hamm: Mine was always that
- 'Taking notes and stealing quotes': this admirably succinct phrase, taken (or stolen) to entitle this series of Procol commentaries, deals with 'notes' (in both textual and musical senses) and quotes (ditto), and suggests the ever-open ear of the artistic magpie, able to judge what's worth 'borrowing' but (as revealed in the word 'trying') feeling it isn't really making the grade. Few would agree that this is a fair assessment of the achievement of the Brooker / Reid song-writing team, but it the implicit sense of this particular song.
- 'Trying to make a name' means 'trying to become well-known' but we might read into this a playful allusion to the supposed 'cat pedigree' theory of the band's naming which since they misspelled Procol Harum is arguably a name not made successfully. There is an enormous amount of 'trying' in the Procol world, and this song has the most concentrated use of the word; the song before it has 'trying hard to win' and 'trying hard to force the pace', and other mentions include 'trying to find some kinda romance' (Lime Street Blues); 'I tried to stretch out in it' (Something Following Me); 'Phallus Phil tries peddling' (Cerdes (Outside The Gates Of) ); 'to try to throw some light' (Salad Days (Are Here Again)); 'trying to intercept my dreams' and 'I tried to rob a bank' (Seem To Have The Blues Most All The Time); 'what I'm trying to say' (Rambling On); 'I tried to hide inside myself' (Magdalene (My Regal Zonophone)); 'trying to swivel right out of there' (Long Gone Geek); 'trying to sell you cheese' (The Devil Came From Kansas); 'on its tide I tried to hide' (Crucifiction Lane); 'trying to find the words' (Pilgrims Progress); 'trying not to fall' (Barnyard Story); 'try to gauge' (Luskus Delph); 'Tried to keep it confidential' (A Souvenir of London); 'They tried in vain to bring him round' (For Liquorice John); 'try and get you off my mind' and 'Trying to relive ev'ry moment' ((You can't) turn back the page); 'Tried to understand her' (The King of Hearts); 'Try to find a diff'rent way' (All Our Dreams Are Sold); and 'eagles only dare to try' (Learn to fly)
- 'My time's been taken with taking my time': here again is the multiple-meaning ploy: 'taking my time' means 'being leisurely, being at ease' while 'my time's been taken' implies that the narrator's 'time has been used up'. It's worth noting that the song, Taking the Time, is one of a small group of Procol numbers whose titles tally almost, yet incompletely, with words we hear sung: Wish me Well and Beyond the Pale are other examples. Barclay James Harvest, who shared several bills with Procol Harum, had a song entitled Taking Some Time On on their début album. An overlap in tone and title with Biding My Time from Pink Floyd's 1971 Relics album has also been noted, as has the band-atypical flavour of both.
- 'Making my mind up to make up my mind': the paradox is apparent
an irresolute person will never be able to summon the resolution to mend his ways, and it's the waiting for such an impossible outcome that has 'taken' the time in this instance.
- 'I was living in the country: I was trying not to freeze': the parallels between Taking the Time and Barnyard Story continue, with the narrator exiled this time in the country, not in the graveyard or desert; 'trying not to freeze' exactly parallels Barnyard's 'trying not to fall', and here the goose perhaps corresponds to the chicken in the barnyard. By the time of this album Gary Brooker was well-established in his country home (his solo song, SS Blues, deals with the traumas of self-sufficiency (including a goose too large to fit in the pot), and seemingly hankers to return to London no window-boxes!): some have suggested that this second verse refers to Gary, and the first to Keith the one disappointedly staring aloft, the other grafting down-to-earth. Whether these interpretations really correspond to biographical realities is outside the scope of this memoir.
- 'I was working on the cabbage plants': as well as being the name of a commonly-cultivated vegetable, the word 'cabbage' is used unkindly to signify the intellect of a stupid person.
- 'Chopping down the trees': Reid's track-record with trees includes tearing them up in Still There'll be More and chopping them down, remedially, in The Worm and the Tree.
- 'Learning how to cook the goose': 'learning' emphasises how the narrator is a novice at these matters. There is a hint here of the idiom 'your goose is cooked', meaning 'your fate is sealed and is not a desirable one'. There are, perhaps surprisingly, several other references to cooks and cooking in the songs: 'Explore the ship, replace the cook' (A Salty Dog); 'don't forget to thank the cook' (The Devil Came From Kansas); 'Got a great idea's gonna really cook' (Without A Doubt); and the 'goose that laid the golden egg' gets killed in Into the Flood.
- 'How to milk the cow': surely this song contains more, different animal species than any other Procol number. Keith Reid uses 'milk' in In the Autumn of My Madness ('the milk has finally curdled') to symbolise inspiration for writing, so it seems possible that 'milking the cow' here is associated with milking one's inspiration before the sequence of 'I ran out of ideas' songs gets going. We also find metaphorical milk in 'did you really have to milk the final drop?' (The Milk of Human Kindness) and literal milk in 'Milk-fed baby dumpling' (Bringing Home the Bacon). There are various raw blues songs using such titles as Milk-Cow Blues.
- 'Taking out the dog for walks': as well as the surface meaning, there may be a sexual allusion here: 'dog' is occasionally used to represent the male sex organ (as we will explore in notes on A Salty Dog); this again pops up in old blues songs in order to evade the censor as 'walking the dog'. Shades of this meaning may be found in 'My old dog's a good old dog' (Your Own Choice); 'Fruit is good for doggies too' (Fresh Fruit) and in two unpublished songs, This Old Dog ('this old dog has to learn some new ways') and A Real Attitude ('She's seen at the races and walking the dog'); and there are other dog references in 'A salty dog, this seaman's log' (A Salty Dog); 'let the wild dogs tear them up' (Beyond The Pale) and 'I'm a dog in a manger' (Man with a mission). Dogs far outnumber cats in the songs, incidentally: 'a pet black tabby cat' and 'a Stetson-hatted cat' (Long Gone Geek); 'she'd left me a note and taken the cat' (Toujours L'amour); 'a cat with a mouse' (Man with a mission).
- 'Teaching him how to bow': few real-world dogs will literally bow, but there's a genuflecting one in a verse of the nursery-rhyme, Old Mother Hubbard (which figures in Drunk Again). Reid's phrase may elliptically imply subjugation of the dog's will, and it was surely suggested by the old novelty song Daddy Wouldn't Buy Me a Bow-Wow where 'bow-wow' is an echoic representation of barking (French, aboyer). Bow Down is a song by the Go-Betweens, and You Bowed Down is a title Elvis Costello wrote for Roger McGuinn. There is of course quite a lot of teaching in Procol songs too: 'by teaching I'll be taught' (Look to Your Soul); 'Though I teach I'm not a preacher' (The Devil Came From Kansas); 'they don't know what they're teaching' (As Strong as Samson); 'you were the teacher' (Skating on Thin Ice); 'Religious leaders teaching hate' (Holding on): if we are really to believe that the narrator is teaching a dog to bark, then he is indeed a past-master in matters of time-wasting. But even if a more conventional interpretation is chosen it seems that this final, inconsequential spectacle, a man with his dog, presents a somewhat pathetic anti-climax following the quasi-heroic posturing at the beginning of the song. Yet it seems likely, if regrettable, that such a descent from the hubristic idealism of youth into the more jaded commonplaces of mature adulthood is one of the most universal aspects of the human condition that Keith Reid's words have charted.
Thanks to Frans Steensma for additional information about this song