Upright Man

album coverBill Laswell is a prolific composer and producer, and more importantly, a bassplayer. I bought his first solo album, Baselines, way back in 1984 after hearing the best track, Upright Man, on the John Peel programme. I often bought albums after hearing one track on the programme, and more than once it turned out to be the only good track. I did e-mail him during a programme one time to ask if 10th Planet, which he’d played from the Hot Snakes’ first album, was the only good song on it, so he played me another one.

Anyway, there are other good ones on Baselines, but Upright Man is still my favourite. If you haven’t heard it (which you can on Spotify at http://open.spotify.com/track/6ohpOBCz5maucrtewF70nr), there’s a funky bassline with freaky conga-playing and a voice-over speaking the following lines through telephone-style equalisation:

According to my righteousness
Acccording to my cleanness inside

With the merciful, thou shalt show mercy
With the upright man thou wilt show thyself upright
With the pure, thou shalt show thyself pure
With the perverse, thou shalt show thyself perverse

According to the cleanness of my hands he has rewarded me
For I have kept the ways of the Lord
And have not departed wickedly from my God

I have pursued my enemies and destroyed them
And turned not again until I had finished them
And I have crushed them and wounded them
So that they could not rise

They looked but there was none to save
They looked to the Lord but He did not answer them

Then I beat them as small as the dust of the earth
I stamped them like the mire of the street
And spread them abroad

It sounds quite sinister. At first I imagined that the words might have been something from a bombastic monument by Ramesses II or some other warrior king, but it turns out that it’s actually the Bible. The lines are extracts from Psalm 18 (which is also quoted in full in 2 Samuel 22) in the wording of the New American Standard Bible. More or less.

I decided to check the origin of the lyrics and was disappointed not to find an exact match anywhere. Either Laswell or his speaker are reciting a free version of their own, or they used a version of the Bible that I can’t find on the Internet. In particular, there’s a lot of variation over the line “with the perverse, thou shalt show thyself perverse” (which is what I always do). The Revised Standard Version says “with the crooked thou dost show thyself perverse”, which is fairly close, although the rest of its wording doesn’t match very well.

Best I can tell from the Internet is that the orignial Hebrew says “with the crooked show thyself shrewd”, which is good advice, but a bit dull. There’s a book in the Biblical Apocrypha attributed to Clement I (unlikely) which claims to be quoting “the scriptures” and does use the exact phrase “with the perverse, thou shalt show thyself perverse”, so presumably the Early Christian author (whoever he really was) got it from somewhere. Not the Internet though.

Meanwhile, I shall pursue my enemies and destroy them, and turn not again until I have finished them. With the upright man I will show myself upright. And with the perverse, I will show myself perverse.

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2 thoughts on “Upright Man

  1. Thank you for posting the lyrics. My native language is German, and I did not understand every single word. Interesting facts which you found out. I thought the words were those of some weird preacherman, but I did not guess they are more or less taken from the bible.

    Anyway, I think Bill Laswell presents those lyrics ironically, meaning to criticise intolerance and religious narrow-minded thinking. But I might be wrong, who knows. We should ask Bill, huh?

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