Dancing With The Moonlit Knight
This is easily my favourite Genesis song, and one of the few favourite prog-rock tunes of all time. It's been selected as object for analysis here mainly because, as I believe, its message/meaning can be decoded rather easily compared to multiple other 'philosophic' tunes of Genesis. On the other hand, it also presents a lot of interesting arrangement, lyrical and musical details that easily escape the eye, and is structured in an exceptionally intelligent and smooth way, so these are all further arguments for a detailed analysis.
0:00-0:20. The near accappella introduction. "Can you tell me where my country lies?" This, from the very very beginning, sets up a medieval mood - we get analogies with all those Celtic/Anglo-Saxon, etc., ballads beginning with 'can you tell me...' or 'let me tell you...', however, right after the fourth word Gabriel breaks up the analogy and transforms the typical narrative beginning into a 'philosophic' question. This is what characterizes the entire song - an intricate and subtle mixture of the Medieval and the Modern.
"Said the unifaun to his true love's eyes..." Here Peter gets especially sad and tragic (and it's only the beginning of the song!). 'Unifaun' is supposed to be a pun, a cross between 'uniform' and 'faun' - the 'faun' brings in the mythological element, while the 'uniform' brings in certain military associations. Patriotic lament over the fate of one's country? Whatever it might be, the subject of the song is evident from the beginning line: a tragic statement of Britain's current state, a lamentation over the enormous, unbridgeable gap between the romantic past and the corrupt present...
"It lies with me, cried the Queen of Maybe..." Peter changes to near-falsetto (right, to impersonate the Queen), while Mike (or Steve?) enters with gentle folksy guitar chords. Of course! The "country" is now with the 'Queen of Maybe' - the 'Queen of Possibilities', an allegory for commercial success; note that this is, of course, a pun on 'Queen of May', another mythological figure that is vastly commercialized at the present time.
"For her merchandise, he traded in his prize..." No need for explanation. The 'prize' is England, of course. Or the glory and honor of England. The 'merchandise' is evident, and as Peter brings the introduction to conclusion, we really get the feeling this is gonna be one painfully desperate song.
0:20-0:50. First verse of intro. Some of the most gorgeous sonic moments in Genesis' history are captured throughout the song. Here, a strong, yet gentle medieval acoustic rhythm carries the song, while Mr Banks adds a few soothing vibe sounds in the background, just to make the whole experience "deeper" - a bare acoustic strum certainly wouldn't carry the magical-mystical atmosphere so well. Think Jethro Tull or something like that.
"Paper late!.. cried a voice in the crowd". Gotta love how Peter is able to quickly effectuate the theatric transition - from the scream of the delivery boy to the 'explaining' vocal. Funny that, according to Genesis discography, nobody actually cries 'paper late!' in England: the most suitable solution is that this is just 'cut out' from 'late paper, late paper late paper...'. You'll have to consult Peter himself on that.
"Old man dies, the note he left was signed old Father Thames..." It certainly had to take Peter a lot of takes to practice these phrases, because he sings this stuff with the utmost care and masters all the gentleness and reverence he can.
"It seems he's drowned, selling England by the pound...". Simply a lyrical gem. Here, we assist at the tragic passing of Father Thames - another mythological symbol of England. Well, looks like Father Thames simply couldn't stand the process of 'selling England by the pound', in which he himself, whether of or against his will, had to take part, and "drowned" - perished within the limits of his own sphere, which is even more pathetic.
0:50-1.20. Second verse of intro. My favourite. Probably. Same melody as before, but Tony joins in on piano - nice and powerful crescendo element. Ah, if only Tony played piano more often... The piano somewhat detracts from the medieval nature of the song, as it's more Bach, or even Chopin, than Celtic ballad, but by now we're so immersed in Gabriel's poetic world that we don't even notice. Phil adds some power, too, by chugging out a few light rhythms.
"Citizens of Hope and Glory, time goes by, it's the time of your life..." With 'citizens of Hope and Glory' (cf. 'Land of Hope and Glory') we start to get ironic, but there's no real irony in Gabriel's voice - it's more like a desperate cry-to-arms. 'Time goes by! It's THE TIME OF YOUR LIFE!...'
"Easy now, sit you down..." Who's that speaking? What's the change in Gabriel's intonation? Is it the Demon of Temptation who drags the citizens of Hope and Glory away from their glorious past and ushers them into the quiet, problemless, commercialized lifestyle? Maybe so, for...
"chewing through your Wimpey dreams, they eat without a sound, digesting England by the pound..." 'Wimpey' is a British fast food chain, as far as I know (or was, at least), and not a very respectable one. Anyway, what the 'citizens' are doing is simple - all their dreams are of 'Wimpey', and they spend their lives away, never giving a damn about the sense of their very lives, as Ye Olde England slowly gets digested. Note the way Gabriel pronounces the last line - his voice raises to a powerful scream on 'digesting', symbolizing a culminative moment in his pessimistic desperation, and extends 'by-y-y-y the po-o-o-und' in a particularly majestic and solemn way, yet leaving a sense of something unfinished, just waiting to be resumed and expanded. The first part of the song thus ends like a proper introduction to an epic ballad is supposed to end.
1.20-1.31. Short interlude. A cute little electric riff, almost jazzy in its own way, enters, creating a rhythm of its own; each riff ends with a single 'concluding' bass note. This will be our main melody for some time, but here we're given a few seconds to enjoy it on its own, without Gabriel entering. Beautiful and romantic. Note also those 'vibrating' guitar chords that set the background from now on. Almost unnoticeable, but, again, this background is absolutely necessary to achieve the "glorious" and "ethereal" effect of the song.
1.31-1.58. Main part, first verse. This one's a bit tough, but I'll try nonetheless. "Young man says 'you are what you eat, eat well', old man says 'you are what you wear, wear well." Irony enters once again - one of the troubles in modern-day Britain seems to be the gap between generations, but to Peter it's all the same whether our attitude is that of modern hedonism ('eat well') or of yesterday's conservatism ('wear well'). Note the difference in pitch and intonation in the two lines - again, Peter can't resist "impersonating" a little, and the 'old man's whining' is very well done here.
"You know what you are, you don't give a damn..." Don't give a damn about the fate of your country, no doubt. The 'you know what you are' part is pronounced with an air of negligence, almost contempt; the vibrating effect on the word 'da-a-a-a-a-mn' is haunting, although maybe not quite appropriate from a rational point of view. Background vocals enter here, cleverly and intricately mixed in with the 'vibrating guitars' - this is one of the most effective tricks for making the sound 'ethereal' I've ever heard. We had been concentrating on Pete all the time and have barely noticed how the song has rapidly progressed from those bare guitar chords of the first ten seconds to a full-fledged musical background.
"Bursting your belt that is your homemade sham..." You 'burst your belt', taking in all the pleasures of life, and in this way hide away from the problems surrounding you and your personal world in your 'homemade sham'. Thus ends the first verse - obviously the most vicious attack that Peter ever addressed to his fellow countrymen, cleverly masked by untrivial allegories. With all due respect, Ray Davies would be never capable of such subtlety. A gruff low guitar chord noiw announces the first climactic section...
1.59-2.23. First chorus. With the chorus, we plunge fully into the 'mystical' part of the song - a sudden and total transition from the grim prospects of modern English life to the world of pagan ritual thrill. If the music was somewhat 'inobtrusive' up to this point, here, at a single drumfill from Phil, all the ethereal guitars and equally ethereal background vocals suddenly come out to life. Brilliant musical solution: the 'medieval' 'mystical' elements were kept in the background as long as Pete's lyrics were concentrated on today's situation, but now, all of a sudden, they 'leap' out at you as soon as you're ready to give yourself in to reminiscences of the past. The vocals overwhelm you, and Phil finally kicks in with all his might...
"The Captain leads his dance right on through the night..." Who's the Captain? I'm not sure. I'm not even sure if the 'Captain' is the spirit-leader of the ritual or he's a real person (a druid? a mage?), but probably there should be no direct association. Peter pronounces the first part of the phrase in a hurry before the main melody, since it does not fit into the rhythm: '...dance right on through the night!' is what we hear primarily, like a command for us to take part in the (no doubt) purifying ritual, and it's immediately confirmed further:
"Join the dance! Follow on! Till the Grail sun sets in the mould..." The Grail reference by no means hints at our being transferred into a Christian-dominated world - remember, if it's Arthurian times we're speaking about, pagan practices and Christianity elements were joined in an odd synthesis back then. On the other hand, the Grail certainly is a direct Arthurian reference, as if we yet had any doubts about the particular epoch Gabriel was drawing comparisons with. Another important thing happens here - after Gabriel shouts 'follow on!', Tony joins in with a few major key cheerful synth notes, which somehow change the atmosphere from 'pure mystics' to 'ritual joy'. You're really supposed to enjoy your spiritual wholeness and nature's wonders in the dance.
"Follow on till the gold is cold..." Not quite clear. Is the 'gold' another sun reference here? In this case, 'the gold is cold' means 'till sunset'; consequently, this would mean that our ritual dance lasts all through the day and into the night... on the other hand, it was clearly said that 'the Captain leads his dance through the night', not 'towards the night'. Maybe Pete got a little messed up with his times of day here, or maybe I'm just wrong in my analysis.
"Dancing out with the Moonlit Knight, Knights of the Green Shield stamp and shout..." Again, the exact decyphering of 'Moonlit Knight' escapes me, but surely we must be speaking of an obscure, or invented, pagan deity, a symbolic one, of course. The last line is very confusing; on one hand, 'Knights of the Green Shield' again evoke Arthurian connotations, on the other hand, Genesis discography mentions 'Green Shield Stamps' - some kind of modern-day trickstery related to commercial prize winning. This could be a coincidence, but you can never tell with Peter; on the other hand, here we should suppose that even if it is not a coincidence, it is just a funny pun that Peter couldn't resist, because otherwise the connection isn't clear. A nicely placed red herring, that is.
In other words, what do we get once the main vocal part is over? Two juxtaposed pictures, one of the depressing and decaying life of today, and the other of the joyful and spiritual pagan ritual of days long gone by. Which is the biggest difference, by the way, between Gabriel's and Ray Davies' picture of Britain: if, for Ray, 'salvation' from today's corrupt life can be found by embracing the conservative ideals of the quiet and becalmed XIXth century life (Victorian ideal!), Peter condemns both of these lifestyles and seeks his ideal even back further in time. The music is supposed to illustrate that as well.
2.24-3.46. Instrumental section. Progressive rock epics rarely get better than this one - although the instrumental section of the song isn't among the most lengthy ones (just a little over one minute!), it features a whole load of musical ideas which we'll try to analyze one by one.
2.24-2.34. Introduction. A slow, somewhat monotonous bass riff sets the scene. Almost primitive and brutal, one could say, but one that gives you the feeling of quick movement forward - like you're really riding on 'through the night'. In the background, Steve overdubs an even faster guitar part, and, of course, don't forget about Phil, playing as fast and as technically perfect as he can.
2.34-2.44. Steve's first mini-solo. The blessed 'Hackett pedal' appears here, and Steve plays us an even faster part, using that 'proto-hammer-on' guitar technique of his. Note how this, and all the other 'mini-solos' after that, are all rhythmic: no improvisation here, just a short set of catchy rhythmic melodies that can all be identified as representing a certain 'part' of the ritual dance. This particular mini-solo is the most energetic on record.
2.45-2.58. Steve's second mini-solo. Hackett actually plays almost uninterrupted, but it's still wiser to separate this 'elementary' little passages, as each carries a melody of its own and sets a particular mood. These are just two simple guitar phrases that mark a certain 'twist' in our dance - it slows down (although the actual rhythm of the song stays as fast as ever) and shifts from 'brutal' to 'gentle'. The phrases end in a patch of controlled feedback - a break, perhaps?
2.58-3.17. Steve's third mini-solo; the culmination. Begins very similar to the second mini-solo, albeit in a more minimalistic vein, but then suddenly, without a break, transforms into a frenzied acceleration pattern - as if our mad ritual rush suddenly reached a climax and we had to gather all our forces to take a long run and jump over a dangerous precipice or anything. The culminative guitar chords are certainly ecstatic. Note, too, how the music suddenly becomes a wee bit lower in the mix at the beginning of the 'long run' and grows louder within seconds until BLAM!
3.17-3.30. Steve's fourth mini-solo. We certainly made a transition! We're now somewhere else, in a world populated by a newly-appeared Banks-dominated organ and a new Hackett-dominated guitar tone. This particular mini-solo, devoid of pedal effects but compensated in the way of echoey production, is the most romantic and spirit-lifting so far, as if having made that long JUMP has liberated us from a peril. But not for long...
3.30-3.46. Back to basics. It's all the same, only backwards: Tony's 'salvation organ' disappears, and we get a backwards (that is, in backwards order, not played backwards) runthrough through Steve's mini-solo of [2.34-2.44], and then through the introductory riff of [2.24-2.34]. Have we actually turned full circle or is it that we're now simply cruising through a locality similar to the one from where we started? God only knows. I vote for full circle - the 'Moonlit Knight dream' is now ending, and soon the second vocal part, with Gabriel at the forefront, will return us to real life.
3.47-4.14. Main part, second verse. On first listen, one doesn't even realize that at 3.46, the instrumental section is over and we're back to the basic melody of the first verse - mainly because it is now fully-arranged, with a thumping rhythm track from Phil and a gruff, distorted riff from Steve. (But hey, where's the bass?). Oh yes, and the backing vocals, which are now brought out and 'separated' from the instruments, probably for 'crescendo' reasons. Gabriel's lyrics, while still allegoric, for a brief period return us to today's world (or, at the least, yesterday's world, which sucks just as bad), albeit in a more 'prophetic', high-style mood than ever.
"There's a fat old lady outside the saloon..." 'Fat old lady' - what a typical "conservative British" connotation. 'Saloon' is probably just the equivalent to 'hall' here, no hidden American references that I know of.
"Laying out the credit cards she plays fortune..." Irony again, with Tarot cards substituted by credit cards. What kind of fortune can you play with credit cards, anyway?
"The deck is uneven right from the start, and all of her hands are playing apart..." No nice kind of fortune, apparently - only the worst for good old England. This is the most direct and straightforward analogy in all the song, but not a bad one, maybe just a wee bit cliched. Also, Peter isn't so expressive here - mainly because the music, this time, overwhelms him, and plus, the listener, now prepared for any future surprises, knows what to expect, and simply can't wait for the chorus to begin...
4.15-4.31. First part of the chorus. Same as before, only the sun references are now replaced with "A Round-table talking down we go. You're the show! Off we go..." Wait, that's kinda suspicious. We're not supposed to hear THAT within our dreams of our glorious past, are we? 'Round Table' is, of course, an Arthurian reference, but 'round-table talking' sounds pretty official in a fishy kind of way. 'You're the show?'. These are strange modernistic lyrics, hardly compatible with thoughts of Ye Olde England... And indeed, lo and behold, as we're all of a sudden thrown into...
4.32-4.38. Deceptive intermission. "You'll play the hobbyhorse, I'll play the fool, we'll tease the bull ringing round and loud, loud and round." We were certainly wrong about no surprises - here, all of a sudden, the chorus breaks away and leads us into a strange 'boppy' seven-seconds intermission that's absolutely incompatible with the pompous, 'spiritual' mood of the chorus. Can it be just one of that 'atmosphere-sabotaging' tricks that Gabriel and Co. are sometimes using to burst the 'pretentious bubble' of a song? May well be. Multiple interpretations are possible here.
I would suggest that this intentional 'profanation' of the sacred atmosphere somehow relates to the fact that analogies with the glorious past can also be used in a vulgar, commercialized, despiritualized sense, in order for somebody to achieve the desired goals - the glorious dream suddenly gets mingled with pragmatism, with 'teasing the bull'... On the other hand, maybe Gabriel wishes for us to delve deeper into that same past and see its other side - the 'foolish', 'merry-making' side. Hard to tell. What's obvious is that this little extract plays a major part in de-charging the stately atmosphere of the song and letting us have just a little foolery 'on the side', before a mighty crack from Phil's drum brings us back to our dreamy state.
4.39-4.53. Second part of the chorus. All amends repaired here - if the stupid intermission was intended to spoil our Eldorado, we were able to deal with it and get back on the path of righteousness. "Follow on! With a twist of the world we go..." A little simple line changed in the chorus to add some universalist flavor, not to mention diversity. The rest is the rest.
4.53-5.43. Second instrumental section. If the first section mostly featured Hackett as its main hero, here the protagonist is Banks. This, of course, reflects the relative 'democracy' inside the band at the time and hardly anything else.
4.53-5.10. Tony's mini-solo. We start 'rushing off' again with the same riff that introduced the first instrumental section, but almost at once we're quite rudely interrupted by a change in tempo and a nasty-sounding bunch of synthesizer phrases. Honestly, I'm not sure if the tone that Banks selects here is particularly right - it's a bit evil-sounding, and there certainly could be no idea of making the song sound 'evil'. That said, there's a nice echo in one of the speakers, and an appropriate bit of synth resonance modulation released to imitate the wind blowing in your ears. This is the "really strange" part of the ride, isn't it?
5.10-5.21. Steve's mini-solo. The song changes tempo again, and Steve takes advantage of Tony's little break to play a cute little relaxating break. I actually feel that this particular section could have been prolonged a wee bit - it's the only "active" part of the song (by "active" I mean all the song but the outro) where nothing actually happens - just the entire band nonchalantly playing along and Hackett churning out a few diddly-diddly notes, not structured in any particular way that I'm aware of. So it gives you a short psychological chance to relax and soak in the atmosphere on its own.
5.22-5.33. Tony/Steve duet. The synth is back in battle order, and both the keyboard and the guitar player put out a few strange-sounding sequences with just a slight touch of dissonance, as the song changes tempo several times and the rhythm becomes convulsed and wobbly. The "strange ride" continues - you get a feel that something doesn't work out as smoothly as it's supposed to work out. Perhaps there's a serious magic ritual involved?
5.34-5.43. Rush to the end. Not the same as the culminative section of the first instrumental passage. That one was ecstatic and joyful; this one, with Tony's ominous organ notes dominating the musical foreground, has an atmosphere of fear, anxiousness, almost paranoia. It's almost as if this time, we're not knowing and not supposed to know where it is we are heading to and what lies ahead. The climactic ending of this passage could be followed by anything: it could just close the song, leaving it on an unfinished and mysterious note, or it could lead us to a particularly evil-sounding, shiver-sending section. Instead...
5.44-6.15. Becalming finale. ...it leads us to a soothing and tranquil musical pastorage. Obviously, the angst-filled musical ride was just the moment of the 'last temptation' or 'last quest' in order to approach a state of total musical Nirvana. The thirty seconds that we spend before reaching this state are spent to catch our breath - the turbulent, disquieting waves of sound are slowly drifting away, as the frenzied guitar riffs quietly calm down and slow down, Phil's psychotic drumming dissipates in a sea of soft cymbal squishes, and out of nowhere, Hackett or Rutherford add a few dreamy acoustic guitar lines. To top it off, Tony calms our spirits further with a few ballad-style synth notes, and Gabriel adds an almost inaudible touch of flute in the background. We are now ready!
6.16-8.05. Fade-out. Definitely one of the most fascinating moments of 'meditative beauty' that can be found in the Genesis catalog (and there are many of them). This short (or long - depends on your tastes) proto-ambient piece is based on a simple sequence of four notes (although the third one changes back and forth every fourth period - thanks to Crew Glazjev for the correction) endlessly played in repetition by Rutherford, but they're hardly "generic": he chooses the highest-sounding ones, which almost makes the instrument sound like a mandolin, and thus brings in the folksy medieval flavour once again, after we'd already almost forgotten about it due to Banks' "nasty" synthesizer tone. Around this 'base', the band constructs a whole wall-of-sound, with Mellotrons, vibes, recorders, Hackett's enhanced-pedal-guitar, and God knows what else; the amazing thing is that, however many instruments there are, they never sound intrusive or chaotic. The four acoustic notes are always at the center of sound - sometimes they are strangely buried in the mix, then all of a sudden made to sound much louder than before (technical problems? Don't think so), but they're always the center of attention. This is the law of ambient: you can have as many instruments as you wish, but the most minimalistic stuff gotta be at the forefront. Otherwise, it's no ambient.
Summary. So what's the song structured like? Let's have a quick re-run.
We are presented with a brief, effective, and biting lament on the poor fate of modern-day England, complete with ironic mythological references - from there we suddenly go into a dream of olde idealistic pagan Arthurian times, a dream that embarks us on a 'purifying' ritual dance and involves a mad, but joyful ride towards a, no doubt, deeply spiritual goal. From there, we're suddenly brought back to earth, realizing that it's just a dream - but the fate of the world is so grim that we're eagerly wishing to get back to our fantasy world, even if by now the fantasy world itself strangely meshes in with our pragmatic context. No matter; our ideal is the 'Moonlit Knight', who guides us through a perilous journey fraught with strange, unpredictable twists and turns, and finally leads us to salvation, to a total escape from the commercialism and moral degradation of today to a musical/cultural/anti-chronological paradise. This, I believe, is the main 'subject line' of 'Dancing With The Moonlit Knight', a song whose imagery and philosophy one might like or dislike, but certainly a masterful, complex, and meaningful creation on just about any level of perception.
[PS. Norman Morrison adds the following informative comments (25.10.2002):
You are correct in thinking that Wimpy is a British fast food chain...not that good but better than McDonalds! However, Wimpey is a company that builds houses. In fact they are George Wimpey and Sons, and one of their trading names is "Wimpey Homes". Therefore, I think Gabriel is refering to middle class peoples dreams of the ideal "mock-tudor" home in the country...which destroys traditional ways of coountry life. This is a subject close to his heart....see "Get em out by Friday".....
Green shield stamps were a gimmick of the 1960's. They were given to customers at the till when they paid for their shopping to encourage them to shop in particular shops. The more you spent the more stamps you got. You saved them up (sticking them in books) and you could exchange them for gifts when you had enough. eg 3 books equals a kettle or a tea pot, 7 books equals a tennis racket or a digital clock etc. Again another of Gabriels hobby horses...commonly called globalisation these days...and he's enjoys puns of this sort. See "the Cinema Show".....Tess co-operates. "Tesco" is a British supermarket.]
[PPS. John G. Wood adds the following informative comments (22.07.2006):
I don't have your analytical ability when it comes to the music - I know what I like (in my CD player), but that's about it. However, I have some skill with the English language as a writer and editor, I *am* English, and I was growing up when it was written. All this makes me think I *do* have something to add concerning the lyrics.
First, a note on themes and imagery. Like you, I think the main theme is a nostalgia for pre-industrial English society, based on a strong dislike of modern consumer capitalism. The imagery used to express this is varied, but there are a few main threads:
1. The Mummers' Play (hereafter MP). I know little about this, so my comments below are based on a little web research. PG grew up in Southern England, and will probably have been most familiar with a form common there. The text for a well-fitting example can be found at http://www.folkplay.info/Texts/82s---sw.htm
2. The "Nautical" thread. I'm not so clear why this is here (the MP has obvious ties to pre-industrial life), but it very definitely is.
3. Arthurian Myth. This one you have fairly well nailed.
Right, on to the lyrics themselves. On some lines I have nothing to add to what you've already said.
"Can you tell me where my country lies?" "Said the unifaun to his true love's eyes..."
I never considered the 'uniform' angle - well spotted. I imagined a faun with a single horn in his forehead, with the pun on "unicorn" - which is also a valid interpretation, I think. PG may have had both in mind.
"It lies with me, cried the Queen of Maybe..."
There is a nice thematic pun here, in addition to the matters you raised - the "May Queen" of the rural May Day fertility festivals (representing purity and nature) is merged with the "Queen Bee", leader of the industrious hive.
"For her merchandise, he traded in his prize..."
"Paper late!.. cried a voice in the crowd" "Old man dies, the note he left was signed old Father Thames..."
In the MP someone usually dies (and is later resurrected). If this is the true England dying, maybe there's hope for the future after all? Oh, and one of the characters from the play is Old Father Christmas, although it's usually Saint George (patron saint of England) or his opponent who dies.
"It seems he's drowned, selling England by the pound...":
I'll just add (in case it's not common knowledge in every country) that 'pound' refers to both weight and money in the UK. Dry goods (such as sugar or flour) are often sold "by the pound". This is the start of the anti-consumerist thread of the song, and PG is already pulling one of his favourite tricks in using a word with a main meaning (in context) but which has other resonances with his theme. Hm, it occurs to me that this applies to the word 'consumer' too! It's sometimes been said that in our society we are "drowning in stuff".
"Citizens of Hope and Glory, time goes by, it's the time of your life..."
Meaning don't waste your time, it won't last forever.
"Easy now, sit you down..." "chewing through your Wimpey dreams, they eat without a sound, digesting England by the pound..."
I think *both* the interpretations of Wimpy (fast food) and Wimpey (cheap, conformist standardised housing) could be right. PG obviously thought these dreams lacked something - in fact, they could be described as "wimpy dreams".
"Young man says 'you are what you eat, eat well', old man says 'you are what you wear, wear well."
Eating well reinforces the food side of consumerism. "Wear well" has another double meaning - if an older person is aging gracefully, without growing too decrepit, they are said to be wearing well. Thus, the last two words are effectively wishing the listener a long life. Also, in the version of the play I linked, there are two characters, the Old Squire who "leaves fine clothes for malt" and Hub Bub, who carries a frying pan.
"You know what you are, you don't give a damn..." "Bursting your belt that is your homemade sham..."
I've put these together to point out another pun - spanning the lines we have a dam bursting (hopefully not the Thames tidal barrier, symbolic as it is of England's sea defenses). The "homemade sham" seems one of the barest lyrics of the song - but maybe there's a hidden meaning I just haven't spotted yet.
"The Captain leads his dance right on through the night..."
Who is the captain, you ask? I'm on shakier ground here, but England is an island nation, made great (if at all) by its seafarers. Captains are always leaders (consider "captains of industry") - each is king of his own vessel. Hm, not sure if this is going anywhere, but it does introduce the nautical theme - England as a vessel in trouble, perhaps?
The dance is easier. There are many traditional dances, some of which tie in with the mummers (since the people that keep one old tradition alive are likely to be the same ones working to preserve others).
"Join the dance! Follow on! Till the Grail sun sets in the mould..."
Note the double meaning of "sun sets". I had a vague idea that "grail sun" meant something; a Google search came up with a sunset photo showing an apparently grail-shaped sun. Mould and mold may be a pun too (you don't want mold setting in), but I'm not sure.
"Follow on till the gold is cold..."
I think this might possibly mean "keep going until the sun dies"? Will England last forever if we keep the old traditions alive?
I can't help thinking of the dance of death from Bergman's film "The Seventh Seal". Country dances are often associated with life and death (the May Dance, for instance, celebrates fertility).
"Dancing out with the Moonlit Knight, Knights of the Green Shield stamp and shout..."
More puns, word games and allusions than you can shake a stick at! A "moonlit night" is of course one where you can see your way, at least a bit. "Gawain and the Green Knight" was one of the main Arthurian tales (and in some versions of the Grail legend, it was Gawain who wins the prize). I remember my parents collecting Green Shield Stamps like good consumers - I used to help stick them in the books. I agree with Norman Morrison that this is most definitely a deliberate reference. Then, of course, a large part of the MP is the fight between Saint George and the Turkish Knight.
"There's a fat old lady outside the saloon..."
Fat and old - eating well and wearing well? We don't generally refer to saloons in the UK other than saloon bars, which were the ones women were supposed to go in. I've just looked it up, and it also refers to the social area of a ship, tying us back into the nautical theme.
"Laying out the credit cards she plays fortune..."
You ask (rhetorically, but I'll ignore that) what kind of fortune can be played with credit cards? Fortune refers to both luck and riches (e.g., "fortune 100" companies), so the imagery encompasses both.
"The deck is uneven right from the start, and all of her hands are playing apart..."
I wouldn't say the analogies are exactly straightforward. We have decks of cards and decks of ships - her hands can be her own appendages, her underlings (deckhands), or her hands of cards. All three can be playing apart (and playing a part).
"A Round-table talking down we go. You're the show! Off we go..."
There's a game we play where each person takes a turn to say a word. This must always link up with the previous word (ignoring any words before that), so the result is a string of words like "football match play school yard stick..." PG seems to like playing that game. "Round table" you mentioned. "Table talk" is conversation during meals, "talking down" is pretending other people are your inferiors, "down we go" - hm, below decks perhaps? Or into the saloon, to entertain the passengers? The show can, of course, be the MP.
"You'll play the hobbyhorse, I'll play the fool, we'll tease the bull ringing round and loud, loud and round."
A hobbyhorse can be something that people go on and on about (as well as a toy horse for riding), but the main meaning is of course the character from the MP. There doesn't seem to be an explicit fool's role in the MP, but it is associated with related stuff like Morris Dancing. "Ringing the bull" is an old English game; it's rarer these days, but still played in some pubs (I last played it in a pub in Nottingham about twenty years ago). The Bullring is a famous marketplace in Birmingham (a "bull market", perhaps?). Of course, bellringing is another traditional activity, involving rounds, and fools had bells on their costumes (as do Morris Dancers). I'm not sure where teasing comes in, except of course that teasing a bull is very foolish!]
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