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Genesis:The Musical Box Lyrics

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The Musical Box

This song is by Genesis and appears on the album Nursery Cryme (1971).

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The Musical Box
Play me Old King Cole
That I may join with you
All your hearts now seem so far from me
It hardly seems to matter now

And the nurse will tell you lies
Of a Kingdom beyond the skies
But I am lost within this half-world
It hardly seems to matter now

Play me my song
Here it comes again
Play me my song
Here it comes again

Just a little bit
Just a little bit more time
Time left to live out my life

Play me my song
Here it comes again
Play me my song
Here it comes again

Old King Cole was a merry old soul
And a merry old soul was he
So he called for his pipe
And he called for his bowl
And he called for his fiddlers three

But the clock, tick tock
On the mantelpiece
And I want and I feel
And I know and I touch
Her warmth

She's a lady, she's got time
Brush back your hair, and let me get to know your face
She's a lady, she is mine
Oh, brush back your hair, and let me get to know your flesh

I've been waiting here for so long
And all this time that passed me by
It doesn't seem to matter now
You stand there with your fixed expression
Casting doubt on all I have to say
Why don't you touch me, touch me
Why don't you touch me, touch me
Touch me now, now, now, now, now
Now, now, now, now, now
Now, now, now, now, now
Now, now, now, now, now
Now, now, now, now, now

NotesEdit

The Musical Box:

While Henry Hamilton-Smythe minor (8) was playing croquet with Cynthia Jane De Blaise-William (9), sweet smiling Cynthia raised her mallet high and gracefully removed Henry's head. Two weeks later, in Henry's nursery, she discovered his treasured musical box.

Eagerly she opened it and as "Old King Cole" began to play, a small spirit-figure appeared. Henry had returned - but not for long. For as he stood in the room his body began aging rapidly, leaving a child's mind inside. A lifetime's desires surged through him.

Unfortunately the attempt to persuade Cynthia Jane to fulfill his romantic desire led his nurse to the nursery to investigate the noise. Instinctively, she hurled the musical box at the bearded child, destroying both.

(from the album sleeve)

AnnotationsEdit

The Musical Box

In Victorian England, the nursery was usually situated at the top of the house, reached by several flights of stairs. A little wicket gate across the landing prevented small children tumbling downstairs, and a solid wooden door muffled noises from the rest of the house. Here the nursemaid spent much of her time washing, dressing and undressing the children. This task was made all the more time consuming by the sheer volume of clothing considered proper for a baby. The coal fire was kept alight on all but the hottest days, as the top rail of the guard was used for airing the children's clothes.

Once the children were washed and dressed, breakfast was sent up from the kitchen. During the morning there would be lessons, followed by lunch, which was usually eaten in the nursery. After a short sleep in the afternoon, followed by a walk in the park, the children were washed and changed and taken down to the parlour to spend an hour with Mama. Here they talked politely, sang or recited to visitors, or listened to music before returning to the nursery for tea. After tea there was time to play with their toys and games for a while before they were washed and put to bed.

One of the day games would be Croquet, a game who's origins are not quite clear, though it may have come from French Lawn Billiards. It seems to be undisputed, however, that a game called Crookey was played in Ireland from the 1830's and that, in 1852, it was brought to England where it quickly became popular. It was particularly popular with women because it was the first outdoor sport which could be played by both sexes on an equal footing. A well established image brought to mind is the playing of Croquet using flamingoes as mallets in Lewis Carol's Alice in Wonderland. Paul Whitehead's cover for Nursery Cryme alludes to Alice's adventures and brings to mind a simple visual pun: Head Games.

Perhaps the most important difference between the Alice books and more conventional children's stories of mid-Victorian Britain is a difference in the author's attitude towards his audience. For a middle and upper class child, growing up in Victorian times may have been something less than a happy experience. It was an age of the nanny and the governess; children were shunted off to the nursery, brought out to spend an hour with their mothers in the late afternoon, and then whisked off again. When they reached school age, they were packed off to preparatory and then public schools, where they learned to fear schoolmasters and mistresses, and even more, one another. School was too often the arena of the bully: violence was rampant. To survive at the English boarding school, one had to be strong and resourceful enough to outwit one's classmates. Lewis Carol seemed to remain aware of how children growing up in his time would feel when writing his nursery rhymes and fairy tales.

"In Britain", says one British citizen, "people grew up with these stories like 'Don't go into certain moors', and you'd hear horror stories about psychopaths and whatever, and nursery rhymes fulfilled this function, they were a warning not to do certain things, advice for life in some ways." As the 20th century progressed, fairy tales were pushed further and further into the nursery, published in children's editions influenced by the Victorian and Disney versions. The entire genre came to be viewed as simple, silly, sexist stories in which passive, dutiful, beautiful girls grew up to marry rich Prince Charmings. It was largely forgotten that in centuries past fairy tales had not been so simple and saccharine, happy endings had not been guaranteed, and heroines had not sat passively awaiting rescue by a passing prince. Fairy tales in the past had looked unflinchingly at the darkest parts of life: at poverty, hunger, abuse of power, domestic violence, incest, rape, the sale of young women to the highest bidder in the form of arranged marriages, the effects of remarriage on family dynamics, the loss of inheritance or identity, the survival of treachery or calamity.

The origins of the Nursery Rhyme lyrics of Old King Cole are based in history dating back to 3rd century. There is considerable confusion regarding the origins of Old King Cole as there are three possible contenders who were Celtic Kings of Britain, all who share the name Coel. It is interesting here, because this is an already existing Nursery Rhyme inside the song The Musical Box, which purports to be a Victorian Fairy Tale in itself, though a darker fairy tale exposing the underbelly of society that resulted from the nature of a repressed culture.

The term Victorian has acquired a range of connotations, including that of a particularly strict set of moral standards, which are often applied hypocritically. This stems from the image of Queen Victoria—and her husband, Prince Albert, perhaps even more so—as innocents, unaware of the private habits of many of her respectable subjects; this particularly relates to their sex lives. This image is mistaken: Victoria's attitude toward sexual morality was a consequence of her knowledge of the corrosive effect of the loose morals of the aristocracy in earlier reigns upon the public's respect for the nobility and the Crown.

Victorian prudery sometimes went so far as to deem it improper to say "leg" in mixed company; instead, the preferred euphemism “limb” was used. Those going for a swim in the sea at the beach would use a bathing machine. However, historians Peter Gay and Michael Mason both point out that we often confuse Victorian etiquette for a lack of knowledge. For example, despite the use of the bathing machine, it was also possible to see people bathing nude. Another example of the gap between our preconceptions of Victorian sexuality and the facts is that contrary to what we might expect, Queen Victoria liked to draw and collect male nude figure drawings and even gave her husband one as a present

Steven Marcus, an author dealing with Victorian erotic novels notes:

"Pornography is, after all, nothing more than a representation of the fantasies of infantile sexual life, as these fantasies are edited and reorganized in the masturbatory daydreams of adolescence...."

Now this conclusion may be true of the novels Marcus studies, or indeed, even of most Victorian erotica; but the distinction that must be made is that Victorian erotic writing is anomalous in the history of the genre. Neither before the nineteenth century nor after it is erotic literature so deadening and so unrealistic, so reduced to mechanical fantasies. When the Dionysian element in literature is accorded its rightful place by a society, it is a complex mixture of reality and fantasy; only when it is forced underground does it fit Marcus' description. He is misleading when he judges pornography at its worst.

Repression was the basis of Victorian civilization; it is not the psychology likely to produce a healthy erotic literature.It has become an axiom of popular psychology that the repression of pleasure equals the expression of cruelty to the same intensity. In Victorian times rigid repression twisted sexuality into a small and private violence which manifested itself in the rod. But the rod would come to seem an amusement next to the violence of the twentieth century. In the nineteenth century people became replaceable parts in the factories of progress. Victorian erotica mirrors this condition, and we can see in its scenes of whippings, for instance, a hint of worse violence to come, as people reacted to the suppression of their erotic natures.

Into this scene we are told this story:

While Henry Hamilton-Smythe minor (8) was playing croquet with Cynthia Jane De Blaise-William (9), sweet-smiling Cynthia raised her mallet high and gracefully removed Henry's head.

(Peter's live intro would describe how Henry's spirit went all the way upwards, and then all the way back down again, because he'd been rejected up there and told to come back at the opening of his old Musical Box.)

Two weeks later, in Henry's nursery, she discovered his treasured musical box. Eagerly she opened it and as "Old King Cole" began to play, a small spirit-figure appeared. Henry had returned - but not for long, for as he stood in the room his body began ageing rapidly, leaving a child's mind inside. A lifetime's desires surged through him.

Unfortunately the attempt to persuade Cynthia Jane to fulfill his romantic desire led his nurse to the nursery to investigate the noise. Instinctively Nanny hurled the musical box at the bearded child, destroying both.

At the end of the live version, Peter Gabriel would always slide down his mike stand in an incredibly phallic kind of way, denoting the demise of Spirit-Henry.

Written by:

Tony Banks, Phil Collins, Peter Gabriel, Steve Hackett and Mike Rutherford

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