Monday, 27 October 2014

The Mysterious Madame George

Here's some speculation from the Song Meanings site.  Everyone's got an opinion about Madame George, it seems.  

Garthc   -   Just to add to the mystery and confusion that surrounds this song's meanings: while the title is 'Madame George' the central character is consistently referred to in the actual song as Madame Joy. This was the song's original title before Van Morrison changed it for reasons he apparently doesn't remember or just as likely, given that he has always refused to be pinned down on the precise meanings of the songs on Astral Weeks, doesn't want to say. In addition whether you buy into the 'transvestite' interpretation of the character or not the line in question is definitely 'in the corner playing dominoes IN drag'.

alfiebaby   -   I am a Van Morrison expert and I can assure you that Madame George was not a drug dealer. Anyway, having said that, this is probably Van Morrison's greatest song alone for the string bit at the end. Tear jerking stuff. Madame George is still alive, by the way, living as a recluse in Eire where it was more liberal than Ulster.

Mr Wombat   -   I always read this song where 'MG' the character is a euphemism for heroin, and the song explains his departure from heroin use. Van's christened name "George' adds texture to this explanation. The drug is his 'madam'.

Paega   -   I guess it's set before the partition of Ireland, and therefore the narrator isn't Van Morrison, but a protestant schoolboy in Dublin. The song begins with his adult self in a reverie on Cyprus Avenue, remembering bygone days, seeing himself as a teenager, clutching history books, entranced by the sight of Madame George, a glamorous transvestite, leading a drunken soldier boy back to her flat.

The narrator finds himself in the flat, a sort of speakeasy, with gambling, drinking, drugs and dancing on offer - and perhaps sex. The narrator is captivated by this outré character and her Bohemian life. It's a place to which he returns again and again. The song tells of two episodes from the flat: a police raid which results in Madame George throwing the drugs out of the window; and the final tearful goodbye, as the narrator leaves for a new life in Belfast.  The song is about a juvenile infatuation with someone fearlessly living a life which breaks all the rules, and a wistful reflection of adolescent freedom and possibility. 

Lord Taylor   -   In my opinion the phrase" Clicking Clacking of the high heeled shoe Ford and Fitzroy Madam George" is referring to how Madam George looked, how she was dressed, who she was, perhaps Ford coming from the Famous Ford Models, and Fitzroy from the high end clamour boutiques and the elegant vintage look of the Fitzroy district of Melbourne. Ford and Fitzroy is her dress, her walk, her status, her image, her knowledge of who she was. Morrison was able to describe all this with two words: Ford and Fitzroy.

johnpauljones86   -   This is about a transvestite living in Belfast. This man is very nice and sociable. Every one goes to his parties and eats his food but wont even look him in the eye. He is a very sad character and Van feels for sympathetic and maybe even empathetic. Then the cops show up or maybe George gets frustrated with the whole thing and just says that in order to clear the room. He then realises he doesn't belong and has to leave. But he must leave out the back so no one will see him(is he ashamed?) He decides to go from the Sandy Row(protestant Ireland) to Dublin (Catholic). And finally he says goodbye in one of the most beautiful touching parts in music, in my opinion. This song is a little iffy on the exact meaning but in any event its sad stuff.

Snob snarl   -   Deliberately vague to encourage 'experts' to show off their speculative pectorals? Probably written while he was stoned, so trying to find any definite meaning is a waste of time, though a grand opportunity to show off how 'sensitive' one is to its vague melancholy and its confused suggestiveness. A rather unremarkable song to any sober person with his/her head screwed-on correctly.

flashdance357   -   I don't think the song has anything to do with a transvestite. If the writer's own denial is not enough, consider the slang term drag was not widely used when this song was written and the references are in Ireland. The perfume, clicking clacking of the high heeled shoe and the fascination of the soldier boy and the younger boys suggest a story about a prostitute. That may also explain her fear of the cops and why she must go off to jail.

BVZ   -   Thank you all for your comments. I enjoyed each and every one. I'm going to go with drag of a cigarette. I just saw Van perform this song in Washington DC. It was amazing! Although I was disappointed he didn't do any encores.

Frypast   -   Those are backgrounds on the subject. But I think the mood of the song is basically that feeling when you know you've moved on from youthful days... and you're stepping into a new life. It nostalgic.

WLN   -   My version of the song says in the second verse "and your self control lets go, suddenly up against the bathroom door, the hallway lights out front are getting dim, you're in the front room touching him". I have yet to find that in any of the lyric searches I've done. None the less it is my all time favourite song.

donutslikefannys   -   I agree that it is a mistake to try to pin anything too specific on the Madame George character, but I do think, whoever he/she is and whatever s/he and the narrator are up to, it is something at least highly embarrassing and quite possibly illegal. There is some kind of bust, and as the narrator tries to melt away into the street the tactless George starts bellowing for all and sundry to hear that he has forgotten his glove. George knows that this will put the narrator in a bit of a spot, but the narrator still cannot help but look on him/her fondly. The episode happens towards the end of an era: the ageing George cannot carry on like this and the narrator is probably not going to come back, but the memories are still happy.

I used to have my own over-specific interpretation of what exactly was going on - I saw George as a transvestite brothel-keeper - a "madam" in that sense, but probably not actually a hands-on trick-turning prostitute himself. When the cops arrive, the narrator/Van is maybe passing time in the lobby chatting to George after a session with one of his girls. But as I say, that is over-specific I think.

musiclover43   -   "and you think you'll find a bag(heroin) the game wink out and your knees begin to sag" i also think that the word "Drag" has been around since long before 67, the English had been dressing like women in plays(Monty Python) just a thought. 

stevecaratzas   -   I'm quite surprised to see that no one has mentioned that Van Morrison's actual name is GEORGE Ivan Morrison. Just sayin'.

EFlatMajor   -   What about these lyrics that you all are ignoring?  
And then your self control lets go
And suddenly you're up against the bathroom door.
The hallway lights are finely getting dim
You're in the front room touching him
Who is the "him" in that line?

xhohxua   -   'Madame' is one who runs a house of prostitution and George equals heroin, so the house is really run by heroin is the meaning and main character of the song. Ford & Fitzroy tendered piquant delicacies and objets d'art, along with delusions made real ... just so long as you could pronounce them with a mouthful! I know, I was there. It was a mighty long time ago -- mighty like a rose

kitoba   -   The confusion with the extra set of lyrics is because there are two versions of this song. The more famous version is from Astral Weeks, and the lyrics are as above. The other version is from a late release of some early recording sessions, and has the extra verse that a couple of people have included in their posts.  Morrison has always denied the popular interpretation that MG is a drug-dealing transvestite (the drugs presumably being the item that she drops into the snow to hide from the cops), but the deleted verse seems to add extra support to that idea.

vasnmoGo   -   The first 2 interpretations are utter rubbish. This is stream of consciousness, based in Dublin and Belfast, where Van associates his older, drug taking ladyfrined with an interesting aunt he had called Madame Joy - they were both "into the mystic". The ending describes the pain and longing of leaving and in musical terms better than any other medium.

Ida Glass   -   The song is said to be based on numerous people, not just one or two. And as for the whole transvestite thing, though plausible, I'd be more skeptical of that. I believe the song alludes to Georgia Hyde Lees, wife of W.B. Yeats. 

Bocca   -   Of course the transvestite idea is rubbish. It was started way back by a really drugged out Rolling Stone writer named Bangs and Van has denied it. Bangs based his theory on the line playing dominoes in drag. I hear it as "and drag" that is inhale. It's about mystic transcendence that's why he called it Astral Weeks. George is definitely a composite character maybe partly his Aunt Joy and partly Mrs WB Yeats who went by 'George' and probably others. Clearly drugs were involved but it's not clear how. The only thing for certain is that it means something different to everyone who listens to it and that's one of the many reasons it's the best LP of the era. I was 16 when I first heard it in 1968 and I still listen to it religiously.

Rockinman   -   I've been listening to Madame George what seems like forever. I'm convinced it's about a cross-dressing drug user who liked the company of young men. I heard long ago that he (George) was a real fella who was murdered. Anyone have thoughts on the murder thing?

willard   -   It's actually about a transvestite drug dealer from Dublin who used to travel to Belfast to do business which is where Van came in contact with him when he himself was just a boy. Madame George's death obviously had an effect on Morrison  -  "Dry your eye for Madame George"

SPLINTER31   -   The main theme of the song is about leaving the past behind. The character of Madame George is considered by many to be a drag queen, although Morrison himself denied this in a Rolling Stone interview. He later claimed that the character was based on six or seven different people: "It's like a movie, a sketch, or a short story. In fact, most of the songs on Astral Weeks are like short stories. In terms of what they mean, they're as baffling to me as to anyone else. I haven't got a clue what that song is about or who Madame George might have been."

chellspecker   -   I have a very strong emotional connection to this song. He perfectly captures the adolescent fascination with someone living completely outside the rules. It's a defining moment that many sensitive artists will relate to, the feeling of liberation that you feel in the presence of someone who simply doesn't obey the rules you were brought up to believe as the order of the world itself. In this sense, it also articulates a sense of the uncanny, the occult, which have a long association with transvestism. In native American cultures the two-spirited or transgendered were considered to have a stronger connection to the spirit world because of the fluidity of their identity. It's also a reminiscence on a young man's imagination of the adult world. Young people can distinguish authenticity better than grown-ups, and the narrator of the song senses something different in Madame George, and this has a profound effect on him, so much so that it acts as a kind of landmark in his personal history around which many memories orbit. I wouldn't say it can be reduced to a this happens and then this happens and then this happens kind of narrative, as the nostalgic perspective of the song is so poignant that the song comes to be about memories of childhood and its defining moments generally.

vasnmoGo   -   A sadly neglected masterpiece - one of greatest works of art last century

1 comment:

  1. I think most of the comments have covered every possible meaning of Madam George and those of you from Ireland, might have a more accurate image of the time and place. For me, sure, the transvestite, drug and cop themes resonate. I have continued to listen to Madam George for the last 40 years. Sometimes I try to focus on the lyrics but then the violins take over and vice versa. It's a very nostalgic song and one that hits me every time.