Procol Harum

the Pale

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'The meaning of this song has been well-known for years'

(Contributor's name removed at her own request)

A now-anonymous contributor sent BtP this combative contribution to the AWSoP words debate. We have not troubled to add [sic] to this article.

Ok, I can't let this one go by.

This song is obviously about death from an overdose of drugs. The drug referred to in the song is coke, but it could be any drug overdose. The miller is obvious. A miller is any type of moth that has white, powdery wings. Look it up. The first verse of the song obviously describes the trip the author is on. Ever been on one? This is exactly it. Could have written this verse if I'd known the words. And who said there was not readily-available coke in the late 60s? You apparently didn't live in the 60s. [Who? The webmasters of this site didn't miss much of the 50s]

Think about it. When is something a whiter shade of pale? Ever seen a corpse in a coffin? Death is when you are a whiter shade of pale. Nothing on earth is the ghostly color of a corpse.

"And so it was that later as the miller told his tale that her face, at first just ghostly, turned a whiter shade of pale. She said, 'There is no reason and the truth is plain to see.' But I wandered through my playing cards and would not let her be one of sixteen vestal virgins who were leaving for the coast and although my eyes were open they might have just as well've been closed."

The "she" here is death. There is no reason for the author's death. The author here is being mocked by the very drug (death) that enticed him. The author's fate was out of his hands (... I would not let her be) when he became addicted to the drug. His eyes were wide open, but they might have well been closed. Eyes wide open but might have been closed? That's addiction, people.

What I can't believe here, is that folks are even discussing this. The meaning of this song has been well-known for years. Having trouble with the imagery and symbolism? Think Hotel California, folks. "You can check out any time you like, but you can never leave." What in the world do you think that song is about? It's about the very same thing, except in PH's song it describes the trip a little more graphically. This is not difficult, this is very simple. Don't try to make it more complicated than it is.

It's all about drug addiction, a hard trip. It's all about death from something that controls you that is out of your hands. For the addict who eventually ODs, his/her fate was sealed the first time he/she succumbed to the seduction of Death (which is in the form of the drug.)

Years later (May 2010) the same contributor sent this illuminating codicil

Many years ago and late in the night I wrote what I thought at the time was the meaning of a song. Clearly, I stepped into something that is very important to people although I didn't realise it at the time and I was being glib and a bit of a smarty pants having fun with the idea of discerning a song. That was long ago, but still I get e-mails from people about it. Actually, most people who write me agree with whatever I claimed to have known about the song and want to discuss the song further with me.

I wrote whatever it was I wrote because of a thought in a single moment that it would be fun to participate in the discussion. I didn't expect a life-long commitment to the project of discerning the meaning of a song that apparently means a lot to many people. I am sorry I started this. [...] Everyone who has e-mailed me has been very nice, so I am not complaining about that. I just don't have time to reply to everyone. [...] You run a very nice website and I really didn't realise how important it is to people. For that, I apologise; I meant no disrespect to your site.

Shane Pickerill writes to BtP (July 2008)

I'm a huge fan of the song A Whiter Shade of Pale. I enjoy finding meaning in song lyrics, and this song has so much to offer.  I was troubled to find the article on your website by the now-anonymous contributor (above).  Most art can be interpreted in multiple ways.  Her article was troubling to me because she is demeaning someone that is looking to find meaning in this song.  Also, she thinks that there is only one interpretation of the song, which I find disturbing.  Although I welcome multiple ideas about the meaning of this song, her idea that the miller in the song is a moth is laughable.  For someone so advanced and knowing, she really missed the mark on this. 
In this article Keith Reid says that the song was a girl-leaves-boy story and that the writing was influenced by books, not drugs.
I'm reading A Tale of Two Cities and this is a line I just encountered in the book.  This spurred me to write you this e-mail: "Monseigneur, he was whiter than the miller. All covered with dust, white as a spectre, tall as a spectre!"

More about A Whiter Shade of Pale


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