Psychology, Trickster

Bardic Study: The Cutter

Echo and the Bunnymen – 1983


Who’s on the seventh floor, brewing alternatives?

What’s in the bottom drawer, waiting for things to give?


A ‘riddle song’ of double speak containing six questions.

The first two questions that start the song are not supposed to be answered.

(although we probably can answer them)

The last four questions that end the song are rhetorical or, at least, answer themselves.


John Robert Parker Ravenscroft O.B.E aka John Peel, worked on the seventh floor of BBC Broadcasting House.

Given that he was renowned for championing obscure and offbeat rock groups, he might perhaps be regarded as ‘brewing alternatives’?


I have a memory of listening to John Peel on a Saturday evening.

Ian Mc Culloch, the lead singer of Echo and the Bunnymen, would often phone John up from a phone-box, with a report of the Liverpool F.C. football match.

They were evidently quite close so a song reference would not be out of the question.


‘The bottom drawer’ is traditionally full of paraphernalia.

But, ‘Things to give’ is double-edged. Paraphernalia are things given.

Is the paraphernalia going to fall out of the bottom drawer?

A seventh question to match the seven ‘alternate’ floors, perhaps…

It is just possible that ‘What’s in’ could be ‘Watching’ which destroys the question but makes the opening more subversive, still.

In life the only given… is death.


(1) Spare us the Cutter.

Spare us the Cutter.

Couldn’t cut the mustard.


‘Cutter’ is ‘copper’ or ‘loose change’ in the often referenced quote from ‘A Clockwork Orange’.

It makes sense of not ‘Cutting the mustard’ which a beggar, presumably, does not.

But traditionally, ‘The Cutter’ is the cutter of the life thread i.e. ‘Death’… and this interpretation grows in strength as the song progresses.

The double-speak here transforms a plea for alms into a plea for life and makes a bravura challenge in the face of death of the last line.


(2) Conquering myself until

I see another hurdle approaching

Say we can, say we will

Not just another drop in the ocean


An egoic, and individualistic anthem if ever there was one.

This is how we are meant to proceed through life.

This is how we continue to exist, as individuals…

At this stage of the song it sounds like it is the chorus.


Come to the free-for-all

With cello-tape and knives

Some of us six feet tall

We will escape our lies


The Cutter starts to acquire distinctly sinister overtones.

‘Death’ is free, and it is, for all.

Are the six feet, the six beats, of the six questions?

Our egoic, and individualistic delusions may be about to be exposed.


(1) repeated with a stammer of fear and uncertainty on ‘m-m-mustard’

(2) repeated but immediately superseded by a key change and the real chorus initially sung like a dirge…


(3) Am I the happy loss?

Will I still recoil

When the skin is lost?

Am I the worthy cross?

Will I still be soiled

When the dirt is off?


It should be, ‘Is ‘I’ the happy loss?’ and ‘Is ‘I’ the worthy cross?’ but that wouldn’t make sense.

So the question becomes veiled by the conventions of language.

The answer is still ‘Yes’, though, to both those questions.

And ‘No’ to the other two questions.

Without the sense of touch one does not recoil from sensations of pain.

Without the means to register soil, one cannot be regarded as dirty.


(2) the false chorus is amended with a double-stress on ‘Ocean…’

and followed by…

Watch the fingers close

When the hands are cold.

Before being supplanted by the proper chorus now sung as an anthem.



The double-speak continues with ‘close’ as in pay attention to detail, and ‘close(d)’,

which fingers and hands do when they’re cold.

Is this the coldness of death?

The delivery of the word ‘cold‘ would certainly suggest so.


Am I the happy loss?

Will I still recoil

When the dirt is off?


A repeated question, and a mix of two former question, to give us our seventh question proper.

The answer is still, ‘No.’

And could be regarded, as in someway, an alternative view.


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