The allure of repetition manifests itself most strongly within all of the Sons And Fascination/Sister Feelings Call’s tracks in Sweat In Bullet. Three solid blocks of repetitive text from Jim Kerr, with a vocal performance to match.
This is the most Burroughs-esque of all of Jim’s writing from the period. If you are not familiar with William Burroughs’ writing, let me explain. In much of his writing, Burroughs used the “cut-up technique” in which lines of existing, linear text are cut up and rearranged to create new lines of (linear?) text. It’s also a style of writing that David Bowie experimented with in his songwriting quite often during the early to mid 1970s.
I hear a lot of that influence falling heavily upon Jim’s songwriting in the early years. In fact it couldn’t fail but do so, given the way Jim would gather his ideas – jotting down lines of text…words and phrases that caught his attention or piqued his interest at any given moment. That writing style couldn’t help but mould into a more Burroughs-esque form of songwriting.
By all accounts, even from his own accounts, Jim’s notebook was never far away from him, and he was always writing things down.
The first words in the song aren’t even actual proper words – just Jim playing around with the sound of words as you would expect him to do.
Among the quote above, the one thing that stands out for me is him saying he “feels” the words rather than “thinks” them. Well, not even the words are “felt”. But obviously his lyrics (at that point) come to him very organically and via the visceral rather than the intellectual.
I think we as fans – well, certainly me personally – give his lyrics much more thought and significance than he ever sounds like he did (or does). Perhaps because (for him) you need a level of detachment when you create? By the same token, his writing is obviously also very personal because of the process of it being “felt rather than thought”. So the detachment has to come once he’s written the song. Like watching fledglings leave the nest, or children leaving home to start off on their life’s adventure.
Then we are free to interpret them and give them as much or as little significance as we like. And perhaps after some time of reflection, perhaps even Jim himself sees things and interprets things in his words that even HE didn’t see at the time of writing? Am I the only person to find this absolutely fascinating?
Upon reflection, having him talk about aspects of his writing style, I don’t think there is much of a Burroughs style to his writing. Jim’s is more organic than that.
I’d like to ask Jim his views on the Burroughs “Cut-up” technique – but the time for questions seems to have long gone by. Stuck in history’s “halcyon days”.
Anyway, what does one do to a song to remix it and give it a new flavour? ADD MORE COWBELL! Lol. So…what exactly happened at the mixing desk there with Pete Walsh at the helm for the Sweat In Bullet extended mix? Something akin to this, perhaps? Click HERE TO VIEW
And with the official video, the cowbell features prominently as Kenny gives it a good bash (and the cowbell! Boom boom!) by the shrubs.
The Sweat In Bullet video is a bit more of a stock music video of the time. It doesn’t have the storyboard that its “sister” video, Love Song has, that’s for sure! But I think that makes it more sophisticated. The guys all look amazing in it – although I guess it could be argued that Jim lets the side down with his dodgy eye. And…how frigging skinny is he?! Oh my word!
Back to the song itself. It was one of the first of the songs written in 1981 in Edinburgh and was demoed at CaVa Studios on Valentine’s Day. Originally titled Twenty One – which I find odd as there is nothing within the lyrics of the song to denote why it would be called that. Subsequently though, it helped me to decipher a line Jim sings in Life In Oils, as I am almost certain now Jim sings the words “twenty one” before he gets to the “chorus” in Life In Oils. Which then makes me think Life In Oils should have been called Twenty One (ah, to be able to go back in time and quiz Jim on such things). Click HERE for demo version.
Shortly after its demo recording, it became a main feature in the setlist, long before the album and its single release. Its debut performance was at Tiffany’s in Glasgow on March 1st, 1981 (click HERE to listen) and it moved on into the New Gold Dream tour as well. And there its time on the setlist ended for 20 years until it reappeared on the Alive and Kicking tour of 2003. Latterly it appeared on the 5×5 Live tour 0f 2012 – so come the recommencing of Simple Minds touring in 2022, it will have been another 10 years since the song has been seen on the setlist.
So, what exactly *is* Sweat In Bullet about? Given that the song starts as a seemingly random set of words, is there any story behind the song? Well, it’s obviously a song about ambition – a topic that features heavily in Jim’s lyrics at the time. But there’s more going on than that. It seems to be ambition from the female perspective.
A chance encounter – “you’ll never meet again”.
Suspicion from both sides, perhaps as rivalry – “eyes small”.
The matriarchy rules – “society can gain”
Like ships in the night – “then say goodbye”
It seems to get a bit heated at one point “rolling and tumbling, ambition in motion” – it always sounds like a sexual dalliance has taken place – “rolling and tumbling, she’s sweating bullets”.
A sexual dalliance and a power struggle? “Grow in size. Grow in fame. Grow more. Take more. Uncontrollable. Unworkable.”
It almost sounds like espionage. Two spies meeting. Female and male. Secret encounters and sexual espionage. But…who wins? Who outmanoeuvred who?
The two prevailing subject themes of the time in Jim’s songwriting join forces here and meet in the chorus – “ambition in motion”. Movement. Travel. Aims. Goals. The fear of the still and the stagnant and the bland. But conversely, he needs that stillness and monotony to create.
Matched with those lyrics is just…the funk of it! Derek Forbes’s bass is NASTY (as is GOOD), add Mick’s keyboard hook and Charlie’s guitar licks and that cowbell and – what a track!
This is a favourite live version of mine.
And so here we are – 40 years after its release on September 12th, 1981 – having gone through every track on the albums, one by one…I am left completely in awe of what Brian, Mick, Derek, Charlie and Jim achieved with these albums. Both albums are a sonic masterpiece in my eyes (and ears). I hope the posts I have generated about all the tracks on the albums have truly reflected that feeling.
I have drawn in content for my Sons/Sister posts from many sources over the six months, from the music magazines that the quotes from Jim have been sourced from – Melody Maker, Sounds, New Musical Express, Record Mirror, New Sounds New Styles, Smash Hits, The Face and Roadrunner magazines – YouTube for interviews, the use of photos by Virginia Turbett, as well as Malcolm Garrett – who not only allowed me to share certain artwork images but also provided amazing insight into some of the artwork used for the releases (the cover of Sweat In Bullet a case in point – you can read about that artwork HERE), thanks also to Jaine and David Henderson for help with what ended up being the biggest and wordiest post of them all for Love Song, but biggest debt of gratitude HAS to go to Simon Cornwell and his AMAZING Dream Giver Redux website at: simpleminds.org
Without Simon’s website, none of this would ever have come to fruition or be the celebration of the albums it has been. I put a lot of work into my blog but it pales into insignificance compared to what Simon has put into Dream Giver Redux. It literally IS the Simple Minds “Bible”.
I also want to thank Gordon Machray whose support and unflinching loyalty to the band is something to be revered. If I dare bring up the whole “real fan” business again and give it the creedence Jim was trying to give it – well, there’s your real fan right there! I’m not sure I actually know anyone else who is as impassioned as G Man (as he has been affectionately called by me for some years now). Gordon’s support of me is greatly appreciated.
Lastly, to all of you who have taken the time to read these posts over the past six months, thank you!