Welcome. This is episode #7 of the Seany D show, from Ottawa, Ontario Canada. Today is Monday, November 26, 2018
Tonight, I take a closer look at the lyrics to the Pink Floyd track Careful with that Axe, Eugene.
History of the track
The track, was written and composed, I figure by all of the band members Roger Waters, Richard Wright, Nick Mason, David Gilmour. I think Waters had the bigger influence, obviously, as he is the voice, albeit a screaming voice, on the track.
Eugene is part of Floyd’s Ummagumma album, released October 25, 1969 under the Harvest label. The track itself was recorded on 4 November 1968 and released as a single on 17 December 1968. Wikipedia sets the genre for this track as Acid Rock and Art Rock. It was Side B to Point Me at the Sky.
The track is 8 minutes and 49 seconds long on the Ummagumma album.
Depending on who you ask, live material for the album was recorded in June 1969 but the live album was recorded live at Mothers Club in Birmingham on 27 April 1969 and in the following week at Manchester College of Commerce on 2 May.
The single version of the track is 5 minutes and 45 seconds long.
In later years, many of the band members called Ummagumma a “disaster”, “horrible” and a “failed experiment”. I find that it was downright frightful, scary, dark and wanting for more investigation into why it was written and composed. That’s what we do here on the Seany D show.
The song was re-titled “Come in Number 51, Your Time is Up” for the 1970 Zabriskie Point film and remade as Explosion on the release of the Early Years 1965-1972, released in 2016.
I understand that there is no doubt an official motivation, history and backstory to the development of the music for Eugene and there is no doubt lots of inspiration driving the lyrics. I think Waters or Gilmour know the truth there. Research has shown that no official history has come forth explaining the title, although there has been many theories put forward by fans over the years.
It’s fun to take at look at the lyrics and come up with our own innocent, open interpretation as to what the title of the track means.
- Who the heck is Eugene supposed to be? Is the name even a reference to a human?
- Did axe mean a guitar or the tool to chop down wood? Is the term axe as we know it even suggested as such by the band, or is it a figurative reference to something else?
- Why does Roger scream at the top of his lungs? Oh my, what a dark and ferocious display of fear!
- Is the original song suggestive of murder? And if so, is the murderer a man, or a woman?
- Was the song meant to mimic the hallucinations and freak-out that come with taking “acid”, or some other psychedelic drug, like LSD?
We will get to those questions shortly as we develop our own fun little theory.
Below are the lyrics. We will take a look at each line the lyrics and break it down
Down, down. Down, down. The star is screaming.
Beneath the lies. Lie, lie. Tschay, tschay, tschay.
[Sound of Waters blowing into the microphone]
[Light screaming from Waters]
Careful, careful, careful with that axe, Eugene.
[Very loud and prolonged scream]
[Another very loud and prolonged scream]
[Waters blowing into the microphone]
[Light screaming from Waters]
The stars are screaming loud.
[Low groaning sound from Waters]
We know that “tschay” or “tsch.” is a sound made with the tongue and it slides from the roof of one’s mouth down, usually with a side to side shaking of the head to connote a negative gesture. It means “for shame” or “naughty”. It also represents disfavour with what someone is doing, or it could also mean disfavour with something that is happening in one’s life.
Waters blowing into the microphone could be the exhalation of air after one is “fed up after witnessing a shameful event or someone who is naughty and their behaviour does not conform to what you believe is right.”
Keep in mind that the track was called “Murderotic Women” at one point when the band was playing at a BBC Radio session on 25 June 1968. Songs tend to go through several iterations of titles, lengths and sound as they get played more and more. They get refined along their journey.
According to a Rolling Stone review of the song, it is suggested that something dreadful has happened and we are left with our imagination as to what happened. They list it as one of the top 25 songs that are truly terrifying.
There are 3 existing references that the Seany D show has uncovered suggesting what the title might mean. They are all good.
Let’s take a quick look.
Eugene may be the “Eugene”, “Jean” with a J or “Gene” with a G that is referenced in the opening lyrics to “Point Me At the Sky”, which is side A to the single. Eugene is side B. Plausible.
Eugene was even suggested as being a roadie, who mishandled, or dropped, David Gilmour’s guitar while touring somewhere. Very plausible, but I can’t find any other reference to their ever being a roadie called Eugene.
People have gone further to even suggest that refers to a series of London UK murders in the early Sixties by an alleged Eugene Craft. Interesting and disturbingly plausible.
There are many other subjective interpretations I am sure out there. I’d love to hear from you here on the Seany D Show.
Axe reference was originally rooted in Jazz
The musical meaning of the term “ax/axe” goes back to the mid-fifties. Etymology.com suggests that its meaning as a ‘musical instrument’ dates back to 1955, originally jazz slang for the saxophone. According to the same side, it became rock slang for ‘guitar’, dating to 1967.
That would certainly make the “dropping of the guitar” reference seem even more plausible.
Jimi Hendrix performed “Machine Gun” on September 9, 1969 and in that song he made reference to the term “axe”, clearly making reference to his guitar.
Hendrix sang: “”I pick up my axe and fight like a bomber but your bullets cut me down just the same.”
I mention that to mention this next piece of history. Pink Floyd toured with Jimi and his entourage on November 14, 1967, and if Jimi used the term in 1969, it is highly plausible that he used, or coined, the term in 1967 too. That’s left to be researched further.
Given it would be two years before Eugene came out, the “dropping” reference seems the best fit. It is quite possible that somebody in Pink Floyd, Gilmour perhaps, referred to his Fender Telecaster or Fender Stratocaster guitar as an “axe’.
The Spiritual Angle
Until I dug a little further.
Quoted in a Rolling Stone article August 22, 2017 about where Waters turned for spiritual guidance, Rogers said: “The idea that you need some center of faith in order to be humane has never gained any traction with me. However, I do believe that part of the journey to develop one’s capacity for empathy can reside in the transcendental nature of love – that extraordinary, powerful thing that happens to you.” (Rolling Stone)
Then I came across some music notes that went a little deep into the sequence of music used to support the Floyd’s London touring show called “Man and the Journey”, which ran from 27 March 1969 to 24 September 1969. One of the titles of the Journey portion is called “Beset the Creation of the Deep”,where Eugene is played. The London gig was held at the Royal Festival Hall on 14 April 1969. (Hyberbase).
Eugene was the second song played in the Journey portion of the show. Interesting how Floyd called this part of the show “Journey”. I think back to Waters and his reference to a journey to developing empathy through love.
The Philosophical Angel
I think the reference to any journey is internalized, not externalized. What I mean by this is that everyone has a journey of some kind, whether it be a physical, mental, spiritual, economic or social. It’s personal. It’s not like a journey to our favourite beach resort. That’s an external journey.
A spiritual journey is internalized. It’s truly our own, personal, internal trip to somewhere. A better person? A millionaire? A musician? A spiritual person? There is something deep within us that is perceived to be satisfied by making our journey. Once we get there, if we do, is a form of self-actualization, a concept where we have fulfilled our ultimate goal of what it is to be human. Abraham Maslow coined the term. Look more into it.
Given this preface, Hyperbase provides some interesting notes about “the journey”. I found it interesting that perhaps the plot to John Bunyan’s Pilgrim’s Progress could be, or was implied, here. The Coles Notes plot is about a man, Christian, who dreams of a spiritual guide name Evangelist. Evangelist urges Christian to leave the City of Destruction.
So it’s a symbolic vision of a good man’s journey through life that we could be talking about here.
As the Journey portion of Floyd’s concept show starts, it is suggested that this sequence represents the first steps of a journey; a man’s want, desire or need to travel. In this case, man must face the danger in order to attain enlightenment by “going out into the deep”, by “taking that journey” filled with danger. Journeys are not easy. They are often tough, a struggle, often leading many to cease their pursuit to achieve their goal. Some often fall back into the City of Destruction.
Could Waters’ scream be symbolic of the fear one faces when heading out into their journey? Some journey’s can be scary, very scary indeed? Fear, to a certain point, can extract a scream, often loud, depending on the circumstances surrounding the nature of the fear.
Connection to the Eugene lyrics
But what about the star that screams, and the stars that scream louder? To what lie is Waters referring? Specifically, how do we interpret “Beneath the lies”?
If we look back to the 1670’s the term “axe” was a figurative term that meant “to remove”. Could the term “axe” simply mean to remove oneself from a current position, or to remove oneself from the circle of people that are contributing to your reason to “set out on your own journey”?
People find themselves in situations where being in a relationship causes harm, in some way. Could the people contributing to one’s need to take a journey be the “screaming stars”?
Could the journey be an escape from an oppressive situation, where one tries to rid themselves by taking cover “beneath the lies”? Could the line “Lie, lie” not referring to the term for fibbing, but to lie down, wait for the moment for the screams to stop so you can begin your journey? Lie is often the UK version of the way we say “lay” here in Canada and the US. The “tchay” part may be the impatience you have and the sound you make while biding your time to depart. You’re fed up with something, and that is a sound you’d generally make. The screams are building up in your body.
Fun stuff, eh. Thanks for listening in to the Seany D show as we explore more into the title track Careful with that Axe, Eugene.
Here is another interesting bit of play on words. The name “Eugene” is composed of the elements “eu”, meaning “good”, and “genes”, meaning “born”. So Eugene means “good born”, if we splice the two together. The term “Evangelist” also contains the Latin root terms “eu” and “angellen” meaning “messenger”. Angel. Spiritual leader. Guide from above, perhaps the stars?
And could Eugene be the Christian form of Evangelist? Think about it.
Could Waters simply be describing a man’s need to escape from a suppressive moment in his life, a man that is good and seeks a messenger to guide him in his journey for a better life, only to be fraught with fear, uncertainty, perhaps desperation, that forces him to scream because he can’t bear the pain and frustration that is required to be endured in order to get to some renewed level of spiritual awakening? And it doesn’t have to be a man, but remember, we are talking about something that “happened” in the 1960s.
The track could also mean someone who sheds a past life, taking on the task of making a new life. Or, to attain peace, we must love each other, not declare war. Isn’t this the goal of what Waters was talking about in 2017. Didn’t he have the same feelings and thoughts back in 1968 as he does today? Waters is more political today than perhaps he was in 1968, but his beliefs probably didn’t change. He just found a way out to speak out and pursue his goals of self-attenuation.
A play on words?
Could the title track “Careful with that Axe, Eugene” simply be a play on words?
I guess the track could easily have been titled “Careful with that sovereign journey, Evangelist”.
But who knows, maybe it was in reference to axe murders in the Sixties in the UK, or a roadie named Eugene, who simply dropped Gilmour’s Stratocaster. Only the band knows for sure. “Murderotic Women”? Well, the murder angle is for another podcast.
When your a fan of something, like I am, you like to take deeper dives into learning more about it. Here, tonight, I took a track title and took a closer look at its meaning. I did so with a heavy dash of good, clean fun peppered with a smidgen of critical thinking.
Part of understanding something is to ask questions and explore different angles about why something is the way it is. Yes, Eugene is the title of a Pink Floyd track. Perhaps leaving it at that would be OK.
But what’s the fun in that? Studying and learning is a journey. At least on this journey, I don’t scream. We went a bit deep in Pink Floyd’s Ummagumma track Careful with that Axe, Eugene. We got a little philosophical, but hey, that’s what propels use forward, isn’t it?f
Pink Floyd brought us some great musical history. Why not learn a bit from it, and explore the meaning of their work through our own eyes. You might have your own interpretation of the song.
I’m Seany D. Thank for listening to tonight’s podcast.
Until next week, stay funky and don’t forget, you are alone in your journey.
- Term “axe” used in jazz circles – 1955
- Term “axe” used as slang for “guitar” – 1967
- Pink Floyd tours with Jimi Hendrix – 14 November 1967
- You host was born – 27 March 1968
- BBC Radio Session “Murderotic Women” – 25 June 1968
- Eugene recorded – 4 November 1968
- Released as a single – 17 December 1968
- Beginning of Man and the Journey tour – 27 March 1969
- “Man and the Journey” at Royal Festival Hall – 14 April 1969
- Live recording of album live – 27 April 1969 (Mothers Club)
- Live recording of album live – 2 May 1969 (Manchester College)
- Live material recorded for album – June 1969
- Jimi Hendrix performs “Machine Gun” – September 9, 1969
- End of the Man and the Journey tour – 24 September 1969
- Ummagumma released – 25 October 1969