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Sunday, October 19, 2008


Hans plays with Lotte, Lotte plays with Jane
Jane plays with Willi, Willi is happy again
Suki plays with Leo, Sacha plays with Britt
Adolf builds a bonfire, Enrico plays with it
-Whistling tunes we hid in the dunes by the seaside
-Whistling tunes we’re kissing baboons in the jungle
It’s a knockout
If looks could kill, they probably will
In games without frontiers-war without tears
Games without frontiers-war without tears

Jeux sans frontieres

Andre has a red flag, Chiang Ching’s is blue
They all have hills to fly them on except for Lin Tai Yu
Dressing up in costumes, playing silly games
Hiding out in tree-tops shouting out rude names
-Whistling tunes we hide in the dunes by the seaside
-Whistling tunes we piss on the goons in the jungle
It’s a knockout
If looks could kill they probably will
In games without frontiers-wars without tears
If looks could kill they probably will
In games without frontiers-war without tears
Games without frontiers-war without tears

Jeux sans frontieres

I'm not particularly musical but I do like lyrics with deep meanings & if they aren't easily understandable they must be deep - right.

This is a slightly edited response giving, what I take to be the meaning of this song which I put on another site but hasn't been published yet so presumably the owner has moved on. Everybody agrees it is about the futility of war - I have interpreted which particularly futile ones it is about:

Hans plays with Lotte (2 Germanic names representing Austria & Germany - the WW1 alliance between Germany & Austria), Lotte plays with Jane ( Jane's Fighting Ships, written originaly by Fred T. Jane d 1916, is the original compendium of the world's navies & a major cause of WW1, or at least Britain's entry in it, was that the Germany was building a big & unnecessary navy)
Jane plays with Willi (Kaiser Bill - WW1 again), Willi is happy again (he was an obnoxious militaristic idiot who particularly loved having a navy to impress other monarchs)
Suki (Japan) plays with Leo (Lion symbol of Britain - Britain & Japan were allies before & through WW1), Sacha (Russian) plays with Britt (Sweden - Russia first became a European power in war with Sweden in the 18thC)(Altenately Britt is Britain & this is the 10thC competition between Britain & Russia over who would have most influence in the Ottoman Empire, Persia & Afghanistan - these being the boundary states protecting Insia from a Russian takeover & Kaakhstan & Georgia from a British takeover - indeed Kipling & others referred to it as "The Great Game" & although fighting is still going on in Afghanistan & Georgia it seems to have been a game with no winner)
Adolf (yup him) builds a bonfire (of Europe), [Enrico (Mussolini Hitler’s Italian ally) plays with it} as has been pointed out in connents this was wrong Italian born physicist Enrico Fermi "playing" with atomic theory did as much as anybody to encourage America to develop the Bomb used at the end of the WW2 "bonfire".

Andre (Andre Deutscher was a Marxist writer) has a red flag, Chiang Ching’s (wife of Mao & ruled China till overthrown by Deng) is blue
They all have hills to fly them on except for Lin Tai Yu (a character in a Medieval Chinese novel - representing traditional Chinese culture having no voice in the arguments about who was the better communist which almost came to war between the USSR & China - this seems even more futile now than when Gabriel wrote it)
Dressing up in costumes, playing silly games
Hiding out in tree-tops shouting out rude names (Marxists in particular were always calling each other rude names)
-Whistling tunes we hide in the dunes by the seaside (D-Day, Dardanelles campaign?)
-Whistling tunes we piss on the goons in the jungle (European Empires in Africa)
It’s a knockout (war, particularly European empires waring)
If looks could kill they probably will (war propaganda for example the stories about WW1 German soldiers raping nuns which were used to recruit British boys)
In games without frontiers-wars without tears (all wars are initially promised to be easy ie WW1 to be over by Christmas)

One small comment: I suspect that "Pissing on the goons in the jungle" is probably a reference to the Vietnam war, rather than the European imperial fighting. "Goon" didn't become popular until the 1920s, although it had been used occasionally before, and by that time European imperial influence was in decline.

I suspect Gabriel was probably trying to write an alternative to "Gook", which would have been offensive (if accurate usage amongst US military in the Vietnam theatre).
Nice one.

Vietnam doesn't hit ny interpretation of any of the rest but it was certainly the big international mess when this was written. Also goon rhymes with baboon, unlike gook & this variation in the 2 choruses reinforces the similarity of such military games acros the decades.
On further thought "piss on the goons", if goons are taken as Vietnamese, definitely sounds like bombing, napalming & spraying agent orange on them so I am sure Wibblepot is right.
there was an explorer/ natural history bloke called Hans Hass who married a woman named Lotte and though he was initially an expert on diving/ underwater matters, as a couple they were on TV with some progs about wildlife in Africa..... Hans....Lotte...baboons...jungle... pure coincidence or not?? i've no idea which myself!
Interesting thought. It doesn't fit with the national wars theme of the rest of the song so I incline to think not but he could have used them needing teutonic names & these ones being associated together alrerady.
Was it not Benito Mussolini who was Hitler's ally? Perhaps this is a reference to Enrico Fermi who developed the nuclear reactor? Hitler builds a bonfire (Europe) and Enrico plays with it (Bomb ends war).

Just my thoughts
The unedited version of the song was pissing on coons as far as I was aware not goons..
I believe there are some considerations to be taken, Enrico is not Mussolini, it was Benito. Enrico relates to Enrico Fermi, scientist that developed the first nuclear reactor giving the first steps towards nuclear war.
It's a knockout, this is a reference to the British version of the TV show "Jeux sans frontiers - Games without frontiers", he takes the name of the show for this line.
You are right that Enric is not Mussolini's name & that makes sense. If Adolf built the bonfire of WW2 Enrico Fermi "playing" with theoretical atomic ideas did indeed do as much as anybody to bring that war to its spectacular end.

Thank you. I will update the main article.
surely hans and lotte are hans zimmer and lotte lenya ??
surely sasha distel and britt eckland
also there is more to this song possibly than international wars - what about the silent wars of jealousy that can appear among swinger relationships ?
I think that what you have said about Mussolini is right. His name was Benito (and Andrea, moreover), and he could not fit in the lyrics because he came to power before Hitler, not after. My country had not so an important role in WWII as an ally for Germany (Greece, North Africa) where soldiers were defeated by english.. So you can't say we were Playing with the fire... Fermi instead was so important in the nuclear theory (Nobel!) and he left Italy because his wife was jewish. Finally, isn't Adolf and Benito too obvious in the same line?
I just recently discovered this gem from Peter Gabriel and wondered about the lyrics. I searched the internet for it and came after a while to your blog.

While other sites had the easy parts of the lyrics explained your post is the most brilliant piece of work I have read in a while!

You have done a marvelous job, especially explaining the names.

Thank you!

I'd like to add, that it is not goons but coons. While your interpretation of European Empires in Africa is right, the word coon is even more striking. If you carefully listen to the original recording you will hear the difference between goons and coons.

I'd love to see more like this.

Thomas Gottschall
Interesting Thomas - the term is "goons" in the written versions I have seen but I assume this is simply a politically correct bowdlerisation ;-)

Goons makes it a possible Vietnam war reference whereas Coons means Africans & therefore makes it directly about the European 19th C carve up of Africa which seems to fit the general theme better.

Thank you for the kind words.
Only partly correct. Some of the names are of real friends and cousins etc from Gabriel's childhood, whilst some ARE representative of nations, historical figures.
"If looks could kill they propably will - games without frontiers , war without tears" , cold war? no?
I thnk your interpretation is a bit off.
Hans plays with Lotte(German-Austro-Hungarian alliance), Lotte plays with Jane(German Attempt to Get the US into the war the "zimmerman note")
Jane plays with Willi(Us Reinforces france in the netherlands), Willi is happy again(Netherlands is relieved that they can throw off the germans)
Suki plays with Leo(japans expirementations with imperialism, the "lion" of imperialism), Sacha plays with Britt(The Competion between the russian and british empires that lead to the "entangling alliances") The first verse is about the events that lead up to the Second world war, namedly THe Russian-British competition for expansion, Japanese growing national, fascism in central europe and the US victory in WW1.
Adolf builds a bonfire, Enrico plays with it(German and Italy being Fanning the flames of fascism)
I'm puzzled with lots of exercises. I was afraid I could not do the right time despite my hard work. I need a support person.

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