Investigating: Babe you turned me on

Riding to work this morning, I had a couple of fragments from a Nick Cave song (Babe, You Turn Me On) floating around in my head. It's not a song that I normally pay a lot of attention to, even though I consider myself a bit of a Cave fan.

The lines were -
Like an idea babe,
Like an atom bomb

Babe, you turn me on

You can listen to a small part of the tune here (unfortunately it doesn't contain either of these lyrics)

Taking a look at the rest of the lyrics I wasn't entirely sure what to make of it - I mean, as with all Nick Cave songs (including his new work with Grinderman - released this coming Monday) it's a beautiful thing but a little on the obscure side perhaps.

Or rather it was until Wikipedia came to the rescue.

Babe, You Turn Me On is taken from The Lyre of Orpheus, one half of Nick Cave and The Bad Seeds' excellent 2004 double album Abbatoir Blues/The Lyre Of Orpheus.

Wikipedia (or possibly just some nerd with a theory) tells me that The Lyre Of Orpheus is a musical retelling of the ancient Greek legend of Orpheus, a great poet/musician who invented/perfected the lyre, and his wife Eurydice.

The story goes that Eurydice was bitten by a snake and died. Orpheus played a tune so sad that the gods wept and gave him advice on how to get her back from the underworld.

He went to the underworld and his music so charmed Hades and Persephone that they agreed to let him take her back to the surface, on the condition that he walk in front of her and not look back at her until they got back.

As they walked back, in his anxiety that it was a trick, he broke his promise and looked back and she disappeared forever.

Well now I'm just going to have to give this album a good re-listen - probably just as well, as it is a cracker.

So here is the Wikipedia take on the songs of the album and how they fit into the story.

Connection to the Orphic myth

The album's second disc, The Lyre of Orpheus, can be interpreted as an abstract retelling of the original orphic myth, separate from the version in the title track. Breathless could be seen as Orpheus grieving for Eurydice, whilst Babe, You Turn Me On is his memory of the moment of her death -

We stand awed inside a clearing.
We do not make a sound.
The crimson snow falls all about,
carpeting the ground.

Easy Money is a version of Orpheus' bargain with Hades, with heavy emphasis on the theme of the ease of getting what you want, as long as you are prepared to pay the price. Supernaturally could cover several bases, interpreted as both the protagonist's drive to rescue his wife, and as a lament for his failure to do so.

Spell is about the doubt slowly taking over Orpheus as he ascends the stairs out of hell - about his uncertainty regarding Hades' intentions to honour their bargain - and about the final confused moments before his climactic turn—

I call you by your name, I know not where you are.

Carry Me is the album's climax, the point at which Orpheus turns to look upon Eurydice, breaking his bargain with Hades, and condemning her to being pulled back into the underworld. The song could almost be described as a duet from one mouth, the chorus (possibly from Eurydice's point of view) asking Orpheus to either give in to his doubt or stick to his word -

Turn to me, turn to me, turn to me
Turn to me and drink of me
Or look away, look away,
look away and never more think of me

Orpheus also speaks of -

The many voices
Speaking to me from the depths below
This ancient wound
This catacomb
Beneath the whited snow

In the end, of course, he turns, and she is carried away.

O Children, the album's coda, describes the grief of Orpheus, and his death by his own hand, as well as a plea to be forgiven for his sins and to be allowed into heaven.

Here are the full lyrics to the song.

"Babe, You Turn Me On"

Stay by me, stay by me
You are the one, my only true love

The butcher bird makes it's noise
And asks you to agree
With it's brutal nesting habits
And it's pointless savagery
Now, the nightingale sings to you
And raises up the ante
I put one hand on your round ripe heart
And the other down your panties

Everything is falling, dear
Everything is wrong
It's just history repeating itself
And babe, you turn me on

Like a light bulb
Like a song

You race naked through the wilderness
You torment the birds and the bees
You leapt into the abyss, but find
It only goes up to your knees
I move stealthily from tree to tree
I shadow you for hours
I make like I'm a little deer
Grazing on the flowers

Everything is collapsing, dear
All moral sense has gone
It's just history repeating itself
And babe, you turn me on

Like an idea
Like an Atom bomb

We stand awed inside a clearing
We do not make a sound
The crimson snow falls all about
Carpeting the ground

Everything is falling, dear
All rhyme and reason gone
It's just history repeating itself
And, babe, you turn me on

Like an idea
Like an Atom bomb

thanks babe.