~ Thick As A Brick ~


Part 5

In this part of the story the lyrics do not make a lot of sense, that is to say: no single coherent storyline is kept. But Ian keeps focus on the main point of the piece. First comes in a verse in which we hear how our youngster finally has arrived:

I've come down from the upper class to mend your rotten ways.
My father was a man-of-power whom everyone obeyed.

So come on all you criminals! I've got to put you straight
just like I did with my old man twenty years too late.
Your bread and water's going cold.
Your hair is too short and neat.
I'll judge you all and make damn sure that no-one judges me.

He conducts himself in the same repressive way as his father did towards him. His father is an upper-class citizen (likely a Businessman from the Rat Race) who has learned everything about how Society should be from his father. I.e. society's ills feed and grow on themselves. History repeats itself. The youngster's creed is: 'Bread and water is good for you. Don't ask for anything else. Don't think outside the box'.

Than something strange happens. Ian seems to drop his guard of the pretense of telling a story. His personal opinions, sarcasm and satire break through in the next verses.

You curl your toes in fun as you smile at everyone,
you meet the stares, you're unaware that your doings aren't done.

And you laugh most ruthlessly as you tell us what not to be.
But how are we supposed to see where we should run?

Here he satirizes the selfcontentness of the elders of society, that have stopped accomplishing things with their lives and who in the same time do not stop flaming the youth for their ideals, without showing them an alternative for their own lifestyle to live by or supporting them to do so.

I see you shuffle in the courtroom with
your rings upon your fingers

and your downy little sidies
and your silver-buckle shoes.
Playing at the hard case,
you follow the example of the comic-paper idol
who lets you bend the rules.

Satire. This is the personification of the societal rituals, which Ian denounces - organized religion, over-bearing Law, silliness in parliament, etc. A Dickens-like character springs to mind: a fat, pompous, rich wigged judge waddling into a Victorian courtroom and proceeding to enact a series of redundant ritual motions, in an almost comical fashion....

In the next verse the jester is back and adresses us listeners directly, like he did in part 1 and 4:

Come on ye childhood heroes!

Won't you rise up from the pages of your comic-books
your super crooks
and show us all the way.
Well! Make your will and testament.
Won't you? Join your local government.
We'll have Superman for president
let Robin save the day.

Sarcasm. He asks us: if the whole thing (society, culture, independent thinking) is getting to complicated for you, why don't you just let your 2-dimensional comic book super heroes lead you through life? Keep it simple and do not worry about it. (If you don't think for yourself, then that just might happen - you'll let politicians/clergy with hollow promises make your decisions for you.)

You put your bet on number one and it comes up every time.
The other kids have all backed down and they put you first in line.

And so you finally ask yourself just how big you are
and take your place in a wiser world of bigger motor cars.
And you wonder who to call on.
So! Where the hell was Biggles when you needed him last Saturday?
And where were all the sportsmen who always pulled you though?
They're all resting down in Cornwall
writing up their memoirs for a paper-back edition
of the Boy Scout Manual.

A new reference to our allegorical youngster who has risen to the top of the heap. What is he going to do now? The temptation of abusing power is there (the wiser - sarcastically - world of bigger motor cars). Now, after all these years of self-assurance, he finds that for the first time, he is not sure what to do. It's now time to think for himself. What helped him during difficult times as a child, the identification with comic-book heroes, does not work for him now. He must find new answers to new question and find them by thinking for himself. What the jester asks us here is: so, now that it's your turn to think , what are you going to do? Are you going to fall into the rut, or are you going to think outside of the box? Are you going to accept responsibility for your actions or are you going to pass the buck?

(Note: the is more information on Biggles available on the website of The International Biggles Association.)

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Part 6

Our youngster finally is born into adulthood. He had intended to rebel against society, but thank God, they managed to keep him from that. And more important: he succumbed completely to the demands of society and is ready to pass them on to the next generation. As we saw before: society's ills feed and grow on themselves:

See there! A man born and we pronounce him fit for peace.
There's a load lifted from his shoulders with the discovery of his disease.

We'll take the child from him
put it to the test
teach it to be a wise man
how to fool the rest.

The disease is that he wanted to fight the Establishment and as his generation slowly becomes the Establishment he becomes part of it himself. For our youngster, a fullgrown man by now, it is a relief that he doesn't have to be an activist for all of his life. He gives up. The responsibility (load) of being ever-vigilant against the Establishment is lifted from his shoulders. He drops his guard and gets sucked into becoming a part of the Establishment. As he becomes older, his intellect gains him respect, he becomes a "wise man" who other people look up to and eventually learns to abuse this power ( he fools - lies to - his constituents) and to make his own 'animal deals'.

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Part 7

Both musically and lyricaly this part is a very awkward one. It is an intermezzo, were several tiny little musical pieces are started and broken off. Enigmatical quotations are cited, making no sense at all, except for two lines maybe:

We will be geared to the average rather than the exceptional.

This is the sign of our times. TV and other media, our educational systems, our political systems and our religious systems aim to please the lowest common denominator. This line just about summarizes the theme of Thick As A Brick.

God is an overwhelming responsibility.

Ian claims that a personified God doesn't exist. If you choose to believe that God exists then it becomes your responsibility to prove that God exists. You will have to avoid the temptation to abuse your power, your connection with that God and the trust that other "believers" put in you. That, indeed, is an overwhelming responsibility, which only a few people can carry off. (Note: This argument doesn't state that God is Dead. It only states that God is not a single entity with the power to save you from your own stupidity. It leaves room for the existence of God and religion. It just denounces the abuse of these concepts).

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Part 8

Our principle character has acquired himself an important position. He describes with disdain his surroundings:

In the clear white circles of morning wonder,
I take my place with the lord of the hills.

And the blue-eyed soldiers stand slightly discoloured
(in neat little rows) sporting canvas frills.

In other words: 'I have become a part of the Establishment, a Wise Man. And the masses below me, are all conformists (neat little rows). They're all perfect (blue-eyed), a bit worse-for-wear after an evening of stereotypical partying (slightly discoloured) and they're all Hippies wearing the Hippy uniform of blue-jean canvas jackets with "Born-to-be-Wild blue-jean frills". '

With their jock-straps pinching, they slouch to attention,
while queueing for sarnies at the office canteen.

Saying: "How's your granny?" and good old Ernie:
he coughed up a tenner on a premium bond win.

Another typical Ian Phrase-Twist, a simple word substituted into a common phrase. The original phrase is "snap to attention". The Hippies, thinking that they were anti-Establishment and Individualists, slouched to show their disdain for the Establishment. Unfortunately, all of them wore the same hair (long), the same uniform (jeans) and they all refused to fall into the Establishment line. Ironically, with respect to their peers, the Hippies were conformists. They fell into line, but instead of "snapping", they slouched in unison. And, they all make small talk whilst doing the same monotonous thing day after day. So, even the Hippies, who thought of themselves as free-thinkers, were not immune to the disease. They thought that they were "different" from their elders, yet they quickly conformed to each other and formed a new wave. The above mentioned 'sarnies' is British slang for sandwiches.

As for "good old Ernie" who won ten pounds: this refers to The Premium Savings Bonds, a government lottery, under the guise of a security, first introduced in 1956. It is a security in that interest accrues on each bond; it is a lottery in that the total interest is pooled and distributed to a random few, determined by a computer known as 'Ernie' (Electronic Random Number Indicator Equipment). This computer is located in Blackpool. (There is more detailed information on the Premium Savings Bond at: )

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Part 9

The legends (worded in
the ancient tribal hymn)
lie cradled in the seagull's call.

And all the promises they made are ground beneath the sadist's fall.

This beautiful poetic verse keeps puzzling me. I suspect, that it has to do something with the relation between nature and mankind. Legends can be described as stories passed on from one generation to another, telling the (hi)story of the trible, containing certain knowledge, experiences and wisdom that should not be forgotten and have a lot to do with group and individual identity as well. The hymns and ceremonies, based on these legends, are like a compass for mankind, giving direction for the future. We should bear in mind, that religion - no matter what kind - has it's own legends too. 'Cradled in the seagull's call' might refer to the fact that the morals in these legends can be found all around in nature (from which they often originate), if one is really willing to look for them. This theme reoccurs on 'Songs From The Wood' and 'Stormwatch' and is more worked out there. The image of the seagull is very interesting, since this bird is able to maintain itself under harsh conditions. There is a connotation of freedom. And: seagulls are always around, no matter what season or tide! The image might suggest, that these legends cannot be oppressed or taken away from people by any kind of tyrant or sadist. (compare e.g. the suppression of Jewish people by the Spanish Inquisition, or - more recent - the suppression of religious feelings and ideas in the former Sovjet Union). So nothing can stop man deriving energy, inspiration, ideas from it, that is if he is willing to make the effort. Is Ian saying here once again that we have to think for ourselves and examine anything that might help us growing mentally - religious beliefs or otherwise? Could it be that the promises in these legends regarding men's future will eventually make people stand up against any form of sadism and oppression? Are these promises and ideas the limitation any tyrant is confronted with in the long run?

Then our jester comes up with another swirl concerning the main theme:

The poet and the wise man stand behind the gun,
and signal for the crack of dawn.
Light the sun.

Do you believe in the day?
Do you? Believe in the day!
The Dawn Creation of the Kings has begun.
Soft Venus (lonely maiden) brings the ageless one.
Do you believe in the day?
The fading hero has returned to the night
and fully pregnant with the day,
wise men endorse the poet's sight.
Do you believe in the day?
Do you? Believe in the day!

It seems that the do'er and the thinker found eachother in some way: they joined forces to keep the power. Even the "good" people (the artists, the intelligentsia) end up taking sides and resorting to physical violence, in the end. They do so thinking that they can bring a "better" moral standard to the world. So, they take power in the hope that they can better the world. They promise a new day. Enter a new moral fad. The sun rises again and the cycle repeats.

The poet, now ruler, says 'Believe in my belief and a new day will dawn. I promise. The military (returning heroes) are now loyal to me - a new day will dawn. The wise men endorse my vision. I'm a Thinker, so I can do you no harm. But, believe in what I say. Rally around Me (and stop thinking for yourself, since I know how to think better than you do)". Ian has switched metaphors. Earlier, he was describing the ebb and flow of morals as waves on a beach. Now, he's describing them as the setting and rising of the sun. In this case, he probably wanted to emphasize the repeatability of history - the sun sets and rises with great regularity.

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Part 10

The jester takes us to the finale: The Executive Summary. In an apocalyptical setting a last warning is given and people are summoned, urged for the last time to think for themselves.

Let me tell you the tales of your life
of your love and the cut of the knife
the tireless oppression, the wisdom instilled
the desire to kill or be killed.
Let me sing of the losers who lie
in the street as the last bus goes by.
The pavements ar empty: the gutters run red
while the fool toasts his god in the sky.

Think. History repeats itself. The pattern repeats itself: strong love, then strong hate, oppression, then "new" ideas, then bloodshed. Those who lose their life's balance, miss out on the beauty of life. Don't let yourself become an 'Aqualung'. War is perpetuated by those who abdicate their responsibility to Think. Wars are waged in the name of Religion and are perpetuated by the fools who can't see the connection.

So come all ye young men who are building castles!
Kindly state the time of the year
and join your voices in a hellish chorus.
Mark the precise nature of your fear.
Let me help you pick up your dead
as the sins of the father are fed
with the blood of the fools
and the thoughts of the wise and
from the pan under your bed.
Let me make you a present of song
as the wise man breaks wind and is gone
while the fool with the hour-glass is cooking his goose
and the nursery rhyme winds along.

The jester/Ian says: 'I have written off all of the elders. I appeal to those of you who can still make decisions about your own lives. You who are still building and toying with moral virtues (sand castles) which haven't yet been torn down by the tides of societal pressure.' Put your stake in the ground and resist! Think about why you wish to conform with the ills of society. Why do you fear breaking free of Society's constraints? Think about why our society continues to produce war and death! Why is it that our ancestors insist that their dogma is Truth? Why do we perpetuate our ancestors' sins? Their dogma feeds on war (fools who are willing to die for dogma), thoughts of the wise (those who know better than to die for a cause, but are willing to prostitute their knowledge to gain better standing in society) and, well, nothing else but liquid excrement (the bedpan, under one's bed). Listen to my thesis, expressed in this song (spoken by Ian, the jester). The wise men at your side do not care and are dumbfounded as well. They can't think about this topic, they can't respond, it's too deep for them. They turn away and show their ignorance (in the childish act of breaking wind (farting)) and then run away. The fool with the hour-glass (The Grim Reaper?), marking your time, hasn't figured out that you can outlive your life (by breaking the cycle of society) while the childish repetition of life, as normally played out, continues.

See! The summer lightning casts its bolts upon you
and the hour of judgement draweth near.

Would you be the fool stood in his suit of armour
or the wiser man who rushes clear.

This is your final chance to think for yourself. What will it be: brain of brawn? Fight or run away from it? What are you going to do/be when Judgement is upon you?

So! Come on ye childhood heroes!
Won't your rise up from the pages of your comic-books
your super-crooks

and show us all the way.
Well! Make your will and testament.
Won't you? Join your local government.
We'll have Superman for president
let Robin save the day.
So! Where the hell was Biggles when you needed him last Saturday?

And where were all the sportsmen who always pulled you through? They're all resting down in Cornwall writing up their memoirs
for a paper-back edition of the Boy Scout Manual.

You've noticed that the comic book heroes are not here to help you. Sarcasm: it must be because they're busy. In other words, the ideas and idols of your childhood are no good to help you out now. Once again: grow up think for yourselves.

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Part 11

The poem comes to a close. Everything has been said now. It's up to you. The jester greets us with a reprise and leaves the stage:

So you ride yourselves over the fields
and you make all your animal deals
#and your wise men don't know how it feels
to be thick as a brick.

* Jan Voorbij
My annotations are based on the essay "Thick As A Brick, lyric analysis" by
Paul Tarvydas (1997). You will find the full unmodified text of his essay on Doug Smart's site 'Thick As A Brick'. I used the results of my own research, added acquired insights, information I took from interviews, comments of Neil Thomason and John Benninghouse and elaborated Paul's essay. Without his pioneering effort this would not have been possible.


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Jan Voorbij (1998-2009)