ZERO SCORE & FIVE | “the monitor,” annotated

Five years ago today, one of the greatest rock ‘n roll albums ever made was released to the world by a group of young New Jersey natives known as Titus Andronicus.  Over an hour long, “The Monitor” remains a magnum opus of our generation.  Its status is earned in large part by the endlessly referential lyrics of frontman Patrick Stickles, who crams so much information into every line that no matter how many times you listen to it, “The Monitor” still has more to reveal to you.  This is our attempt to pay tribute to a singular record by annotating every reference, allusion, and quotation we can find, using the lyrics as they are printed in the album’s liner notes.  If we have missed anything – which we likely have – please feel free to contribute in the comments, and find the player at the bottom to listen along.  Yrs – [btbt] & [gallons] of 1%JIHAD



The Monitorthe USS Monitor, a Union ironclad warship built in 1861 and a participant in history’s first ironclad naval battle, the Battle of Hampton Roads.  Also known as the “Battle of the Monitor and the Merrimack” or the “Battle of Ironclads,” the Battle of Hampton Roads was major naval confrontation fought over two days (March 8 – 9, 1862) at Hampton Roads, Virginia between the USA and CSA navies at the height of the American Civil War.  The Battle of Hampton Roads is frequently cited as one of the most important naval battles of all time and is, from a technical standpoint, one of the most significant battles of the American Civil War.  The Monitor’s opponent was the CSS Virginia, a reconstruction of the previously destroyed USS Merrimack.  It is unclear who won the confrontation, strategic victory typically being granted to the Union and tactical victory being granted to the Confederacy.  261 Union men were killed with 108 wounded to the Confederacy’s 78 and 17.  Both the Monitor and the Virginia survived the confrontation, but not the year – Virginia was trapped in the James River in May and destroyed by her own men, while the Monitor sank on New Year’s Eve en route to Beaufort, North Carolina.

There is a monument to the Monitor in McGolrick Park in Greenpoint, Brooklyn, not far from where the USS Monitor was built by John Ericsson in 1861 – and even closer to the apartment where “The Monitor” was built by Patrick Stickles in 2009.

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“a more perfect union” – from the Preamble to the United States Constitution – “We, the People of the United States, in Order to Form a more perfect Union – ”

“From whence shall we expect the approach of danger?  Shall some transatlantic giant step the earth and crush us at a blow?  Never!  All the armies of Europe and Asia could not, by force, take a drink from the Ohio River or set a track on the Blue Ridge in the trial of a thousand years.  If destruction be our lot, we ourselves must be its author and finisher.  As a nation of free men, we will live forever, or die by suicide.” Abraham Lincoln, address to the Young Men’s Lyceum of Springfield, IL, January, 1838


“Roadrunner”1972 single by Jonathan Richamn/The Modern Lovers, first track on “The Modern Lovers” LP – ode to driving alone, rock-n-roll radio, suburban Massachusetts.

“____ Revisited” – title form for several 20th-century works – most relevant here, Bob Dylan‘s “Highway 61 Revisted.”

There’ll be no more counting the cars on the garden state parkway
Nor waiting for the Fung Wah bus to carry me to who-knows-where

“counting the cars” – allusion to Simon & Garfunkel‘s “America” – “counting the cars / on the New Jersey Turnpike.”

Garden State Parkway – limited-access toll parkway, extending the length of New Jersey, from New York line at Montvale to New Jersey’s southern tip at Cape May.  In a Tiny Mix Tapes interview in March 2010, Titus Andronicus discussed the importance of their amendment to Simon & Garfunkel’s lyric –

Patrick: You know how I say at the beginning, “There’ll be no more counting the cars on the Garden State Parkway?” Remember in Simon and Garfunkel’s song “America,” when he says he’s counting the cars on the New Jersey Turnpike?
Eric: I guess I’ll have to listen to that song again.
Patrick: People love to sing about the New Jersey Turnpike, but that to me just shows that they don’t know the first thing about New Jersey, because the Turnpike is only really useful for avoiding New Jersey. The Garden State Plaza really is the main artery of our state. The GSP, right Ian?
Ian Gratzer: Absolutely.
Patrick: More important to New Jersey than the Turnpike, wouldn’t you say? The Turnpike is a little tourist-y.
Ian: The Turnpike is good if you’re a trucker and you need to ship things. Or going to Newark Airport, but besides that, it’s the Parkway.
Patrick: Holland tunnel, trying to go to Philly. But whatever, Garden State Parkway is the real Jersey highway. And that’s an exclusive for you.
Eric: The Parkway brings you to the beach.
Ian: So does the Turnpike.
Patrick: In New Jersey, often when people meet each other, when they’re getting acquainted, they will ask what exit the other is from.
David: Also, it’s the Turnpike that gives Jersey its bad name, because the Turnpike cuts through everything shitty-like: Industrial parks, oil refineries, all the stinky shit. Newark, Newark Airport.
Patrick: Jersey is famous for smelling bad, but only the Turnpike smells bad. The rest of the state smells great.

Fung Wah busFung Wah Bus Transportation Inc., one of several Chinese-owned bus lines operating between New York City and Boston with hourly departures between South Station, Boston and Chinatown, Manhattan.  Known for its low fares and alleged human rights and safety violations, it was shut down by the US Department of Transportation in March, 2013 – but reactivated in December 2014 under strict surveillance.  “Fung wah” means “magnificent wind.”

And when I stand tonight ‘neath the lights of the Fenway
Will I not yell like hell for the glory of the Newark Bears?

the FenwayFenway Park, legendary baseball park located at 4 Yawkey Way in the Fenway-Kenmore neighborhood of Boston – home of the Boston Red Sox.

“yell like hell for the glory of”common lyric in high school fight songs.

Newark Bears – former minor league baseball team based in Newark, New Jersey, active 1998-2013 – overall winning percentage, .471.

Because where I’m going to now, no one can ever hurt me
Where the well of human hatred is shallow and dry
No, I never wanted to change the world,
but I’m looking for a new New Jersey
Because tramps like us, baby, we were born to die

“a new New Jersey” – paraphrase of Billy Bragg‘s 1983 track “A New England” – “I don’t want to change the world / I’m not looking for a new England.”

“tramps like us” – allusion to (and inversion of) the climactic lyric of New Jersey musical patron saint Bruce Springsteen‘s 1975 track “Born To Run” – “Tramps like us, baby we were born to run.”

“born to die” – a phrase that has been used as song and album titles by Grand Funk Railroad, Anti-Flag, Choking Victim, and – post-“Monitor” – Lana Del Rey.  The phrase seems to originate from Canto I of Lord Byron’s “Don Juan” – “All things that have been born were born to die.”

I’m doing 70 on 17, 80 over 84
And I never let the Meritt Parkway magnetize me no more

17 – a New Jersey/New York state highway, running from the New York/Pennsylvania border at Findlay Lake in the north to Lyndhurst, NJ in the south, passing through Mahwah and very near Glen Rock along the way.  The speed limit on this portion of the highway is 55 mph.

84 – Interstate 84 runs from Dunmore, PA in the west to Sturbridge, MA in the east.  If Patrick was leaving Glen Rock (or Mahwah), he’d drive north on 17 into New York, where it turns into 32 at Woodbury.  Then in Newburgh he would get on 84 E, cross the Hudson, drive through Connecticut into Massachusetts, and finally merge onto I-90 (the Massachusetts Turnpike) which would take him all the way to Somerville.  According to Google Maps, this is not the most direct route.  The speed limit on the Newburgh-I-90 stretch is 65 mph.

Meritt Parkway – A particularly scenic stretch of Connecticut Route 15.

Give me a brutal Somerville summer,
Give me a cruel New England winter
Give me the great Pine Barrens
So I can see them turned into splinters

Somerville – Cheap and quickly-gentrifying suburb of Boston, pop. 75,754.  The MBTA Red Line was extended to Somerville in 1985, and young people quickly followed.  Add to this the anti-intellectual tensions with neighboring Cambridge, and you have a pretty volatile community.  Despite, or possibly because of, this volatility, Somerville claims to have the second highest number of artists per capita in the nation.  Patrick Stickles spent a “year in exile” in Somerville after college.

New England – The unofficial region comprised of Connecticut, Maine, Massachusetts, Vermont, New Hampshire, and Rhode Island.  Winters can be incredibly cold and snowy, as 2015 has admirably demonstrated.

Pine Barrens – A dense pine forest in southern New Jersey, spanning seven counties.  Familiar to most non-New Jersey natives as the setting of the classic “Sopranos” episode, “The Pine Barrens.”

And if I come in on a donkey, let me go out on a gurney
I want to realize too late I never should have left New Jersey

“come in on a donkey” – allusion to Matthew 21:7 – “ they brought the donkey and the colt and placed their cloaks on them for Jesus to sit on” as he rode into Jerusalem.  This, and parallel lines in other Gospels, is frequently referenced at least partly due to its exemplification of Jesus’ humility.  Jesus did not “go out on a gurney” – his exit from Jerusalem was somewhat more complicated.


“Fear And Loathing”“Fear And Loathing in Las Vegas,”  1971 roman à clef by Hunter S. Thompson and 1998 movie adaptation by Terry Gilliam.  Compare “Fear And Loathing in Mahwah, NJ” from “The Airing Of Grievances.”

I sense the enemy, they’re rustling around in the trees
I thought I had gotten away but they followed me to 02143
Woe, oh woe is me, no one knows the trouble I see
When they hang Jeff Davis from a sour apple tree,
I’ll sit beneath the leaves and weep

02143 – zipcode of Somerville, MA.

“oh woe is me” – reference to Shakespeare’s “Hamlet” – (OPHELIA) – “O, woe is me / To have seen what I have seen, see what I see!”

“no one knows the trouble I see” – paraphrase of the American Negro spiritual “Nobody Knows The Trouble I’ve Seen.”

Jeff DavisJefferson Davis, first and only president of the Confederate States of America.

“when they hang Jeff Davis from a sour apple tree” – paraphrase of “John Brown’s Body,” a  folk marching song with many variations, it became popular with Union soldiers and was eventually given new, more grandiose lyrics by Julia Ward Howe under the title “Battle Hymn Of The Republic” (see below).  John Brown was an abolitionist and Union hero throughout the war.  In 1859 he lead an armed raid of the Harper’s Ferry Armory in West Virginia, which is considered the informal start of the Civil War.  Brown was later captured by the federal government, imprisoned, tried, and hanged.

“sit beneath the trees and weep” – paraphrase of Psalm 137, popularized by 1970 Rastafarian song “Rivers of Babylon,” written and performed by the Melodians in 1970 and popularized by Boney M. in 1978.  “By the rivers of Babylon, /there we sat down and wept / when we remembered Zion. / On the willows there we hung up our lyres. / For there our captors / required us songs, / and our tormentors, mirth, saying / ‘Sing us one of the songs of Zion.'”

None of us shall be saved, every man will be a slave
For John Brown’s body lies a’mouldring in the grave and there’s
rumbling down in the caves

“none of us shall be saved” – allusion to the frequent Biblical phrase “shall be saved.” See Romans 10:13 – “For whosoever shall call upon the name of the Lord shall be saved.”

“every man will be a slave” – A reference to “The Battle Cry of Freedom,” a popular 1862 Civil War Union song written by George Frederick Root – “And although they may be poor / Not a man shall be a slave.”   “The Battle Cry” was quickly adapted by the Confederacy, and was later modified as the campaign song for the Lincoln-Johnson ticket in 1864 (as well as Garfield’s campaign in 1880).

“John Brown’s body lies a’moulding in the grave” – lyric from “John Brown’s Body” (see note above).

“rumbling down in the caves” – allusion to the Mayhew Cabin in Nebraska City, one of the places where John Brown brought a group of freed slaves on the path from Missouri to Canada, popularly referred to as “John Brown’s Cave” in reference to the cave he built underneath for this purpose.

So if it’s time for choosing sides, and to show this dirty city
how we do the Jersey Slide
And if it deserves a better class of criminal,
Then I’ma give it to them tonight

“dirty city” – possible allusion to “Dirty Old Town,” a song written by Ewan MacColl in 1949, but made popular by the Dubliners and the Pogues and often associated with Irish culture as a result.  Alluded to here in reference to Boston, well known for its large historically Irish population.

Jersey Slide – driving from the far left lane all the way to the exit ramp in one swift motion, as frequently performed on the Garden State Parkway and the New Jersey Turnpike.  Also a hip-hop song by DJ Lilman and its associated dance.

“deserves a better class of criminal” – reference to Christopher Nolan’s 2008 film “The Dark Knight.”  (THE JOKER) – “This town deserves a better class of criminal, and I’m gonna give it to ’em.”

So we’ll rally around the flag, rally around the flag
Rally around the flag, boys, rally once again,
Shouting the Battle Cry of Freedom
Rally around the flag, rally around the flag
Glory, glory, Hallelujah, His truth is marching on

“rally around the flag” – central lyrics from “The Battle Cry of Freedom” (see above).

“glory, glory Hallelujah” – lyric from “The Battle Hymn of the Republic” (see above).

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2. TITUS ANDRONICUS FOREVER or Theme From “The Monitor”

”I will be as harsh as truth and as uncompromising as justice.  On this subject, I do not wish to speak, or think, or write with moderation.  I am in earnest.  I will not equivocate, I will not excuse, I will not retreat a single inch, and I will be heard.”(William Lloyd Garrison, “To The Public,” inaugural edition of “The Liberator,” January 1831)

The enemy is everywhere
The enemy is everywhere
The enemy is everywhere
The enemy is everywhere
But nobody seems to be worried or care
That the enemy is everywhere

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No Future Part Three” – Third part of the trilogy begun in “No Future” and “No Future Part II: The Day After No Future” – tracks 7 and 8 on “The Airing of Grievances.”

“Escape From ____” – “Escape From New York” – 1981 John Carpenter science-fiction action film starring Kurt Russel – its sequel was the 1996 flop “Escape from L.A.,” co-starring Russel and Steve Buscemi.  Also see “Escape From Alcatraz,” 1979 Don Siegel film starring Clint Eastwood.

“I am now the most miserable man living. If what I feel were equally distributed to the whole human family, there would not be one smiling face on Earth.” – (Abraham Lincoln, letter to John T. Stuart, January 1841)

Nothing feels good” – 1997 album and title track by Milwaukee emo band The Promise Ring.

Waking up, it’s rarely worth it – the same dark dread every morning
Senior year here in Mahwah, a new world just around the corner

“Senior year here in Mahwah” –  Mahwah, NJ, home to Ramapo College of New Jersey, alma mater of Patrick Stickles.

Leave me behind, let me stagnate, in a fortress of solitude

“fortress of solitude” – Place of solace and occasional headquarters of Superman – also, the title of a 2003 novel by Jonathan Lethem, itself a Superman allusion.

Smoking’s been okay so far, but I need something that works faster
So all I want for Christmas is no feelings, no feelings now and never again

“all I want for Christmas -” – Is My Two Front Teeth” – 1944 novelty song by Donald Yetter Gradner, orginally recorded by Spike Jones & His City Slickers for Christmas 1947, featuring disturbing vocals from trumpet player George Rock.

“- Is You” – Mariah Carey’s 1994 smash hit.  The title was previously used by Carla Thomas in 1966 and by Vince Vance & The Valiants in 1989.

“no feelings”3rd track on the Sex Pistols‘ seminal 1977 punk album, “Never Mind The Bollocks.”

There is a faceplate all brown and red that stretches across my mouth

“a faceplate all brown and red” – reference to Jonathan Demme’s 1991 thriller “Silence Of The Lambs,” starring Anthony Hopkins as imprisoned cannibal and serial murderer Hannibal Lecter, who is famously shown at one point wearing the described mask.

It’s worn for protection, nobody gets in and nobody gets out
I used to look myself in the mirror at the end of every day

“I used to look myself in the mirror at the end of every day” – Allusion to Al Franken’s “Saturday Night Live” skit “Daily Affirmation with Stuart Smalley,” a mock self-help program in which Franken’s character Stuart Smalley declares a positive message to himself in a mirror on a daily basis.

But I took the one thing that made me beautiful and I threw it away
I was a river, I was a tall tree, I was a volcano
But now I’m asleep on top of a mountain, I’ve been covered in snow

“Asleep on top of a mountain” – At the beginning of Friedrich Nietzsche‘s “Thus Spoke Zarathustra,” Zarathustra wakes up from a ten-year rest in a cave atop a mountain.  He frequently returns to the same cave to replenish his energy, not unlike Superman and the Fortress of Solitude.

Yes, I have surrendered what made me human and all that I thought was true
So now there’s a robot that lives in my brain and he tells me what to do
And I can do nothing without his permission or (which) wasn’t part of the plan

So now in Rock Ridge pharmacy I will be waiting for my man

Rock Ridge Pharmacy191 Rock Road, Glen Rock, NJ, approximately a mile from the Stickles’s household.

“Waiting for my man”Line from “I’m Waiting For The Man,” the second song on the Velvet Underground’s 1967 debut “The Velvet Underground &  Nico.”   The “man” in question is, of course, a drug dealer.

But there is another down in a dungeon who never gave up the fight
And he’ll be forever screaming, sometimes I hear him say, on a quiet night, he says:
“You will always be a loser, man. You’ll always be a loser now,
And that’s okay.”

“You will always be a loser” – Reference to the famous seventh episode of the second season of the 1990s sitcom “Seinfeld,” titled “The Revenge.”  George Costanza (Jason Alexander) quits his job at Rick Barr properties, and, upon realizing this was a regrettable decision, attempts to continue on as if he never quit. His (former) boss Rick Levitan (Fred Applegate) publicly mocks and dimsisses him with the devistating statement – “I will always be a winner, George, and you will **always** be a loser.”

” – and that’s okay.” – One of Stuart Smalley’s favorite catchphrases.

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4. RICHARD II or Extraordinary Popular Delusions and the Madness of Crowds (Responsible Hate Anthem)

Richard II – King of England, 1367-1399, also subject of the play by Shakespeare, which is likely Stickles’ primary source.  The play covers the last two years of Richard’s reign, dubbed his “tyranny,” during which he exiled Henry of Bolingbroke and Charles Mowbray (along with a executing whole bunch of other people he didn’t like).  He then stole Bolingbroke’s father’s fortune and used it to fund a war in Ireland. While Richard was away at war, Bolingbroke returned from France with a small army, and deposed Richard, crowning himself Henry IV.  In the play, Richard is imprisoned in the Tower of London, and then murdered by an aristocrat who wants to get in with the new king, much to Henry’s dismay.  History cannot verify this – most records indicate that Richard starved to death.  tl;dr – “Richard II” is a morality tale about the pitfalls of being a vengeful, paranoid despot.  As if this weren’t enough, the song also borrows lyrics from and posits itself a as a sort of sequel to Billy Bragg’s “Richard,” see below.

“Extraordinary Popular Delusions and the Madness of Crowds” – 1841 book by Scottish journalist Charles Mackay that sets about debunking a whole lot of popular myths such as economic bubbles, witch hunts, and alchemy.

“(Responsible Hate Anthem)” – inversion of Marilyn Manson’s 1996 single “Irresponsible Hate Anthem.”  Choice lyric – “America cannot see anything / History is written by the winner / Fuck it.”

Soon you’ll be burning orphanages down
Watching ashes scatter all over town

 – allusion to the 1863 New York City Draft Riots, which took place from July 13-16, and quickly devolved into race riots after starting as a rally against the draft.  The Colored Orphan Asylum, home to 233 black children, was looted by a mob of several thousand men, women and children.  The police secured the building and helped the children escape before the orphanage burned down.  The riots are the largest civil and racial insurrection in US history, and a huge factor in the current racial demographics of Manhattan – many blacks left the island for Brooklyn.  “The Monitor”’s liner notes include a list of “Recommended Further Reading,” which includes Iver Bernstein’s book “The New York City Draft Riots.”

And when the smoke gets too close to the ground
You’ll see blue trampling over grey and green over brown

“blue trampling over grey” –  The Union wore blue uniforms, the Confederacy grey – hence Union soldiers trampling Confederates.

“green over brown” – likely allusion to some versions of “John Brown’s Body” – “And now through the grass grows green above his grave / His truth still marches on.”

And you’ll be cutting ears off of dead men

– Most directly a reference to Tiger Force, a troop in Vietnam who cut ears and other parts off the dead and wore them as medallions. Likely a practice that has shown up in wars throughout history, including the American Civil War.

Pumping shells into the carcass for hours on end
Then you’ll swear that we’ve always been friends

And be unable to conceive it could ever happen again

Of course, you have never been to blame for the various horrible things that you did
You may have gotten away with them too, if not for those meddling kids

“if not for those meddling kids” – A reference to the 1969-70 television series “Scooby Doo, Where Are You!” and its various spinoffs, which almost always concluded with the unmasking of the villain, who would say something along the lines of “I would have gotten away with it, too, if not for you meddling kids!”

The lump in yr throat, the ache in yr bones
They are nobody’s fault but yr own

And whatever amount you paid
For yr many distractions, well, it was too much
And at the end of the day
To whatever extent that you hate yrself, it isn’t enough

“To whatever extent that you hate yrself, it isn’t enough”– Nietzsche, in “Thus Spoke Zarathustra,” describes “the great contempt.”  “The greatest experience [man] can have [. . .] It is the hour of the great contempt.  The hour in which your happiness too, arouses your disgust, and even your reason and your virtue.” (TSZ, 125)  This great contempt, or self-hatred, is the greatest experience man can have because it leads him to improve himself and evolve into the overman.

And we can no longer afford
Waiting for someone to lift this terrible swift sword

“terrible swift sword” – From “The Battle Hymn of The Republic” – “He hath loosed the fateful lightning of his terrible swift sword.”

In our basements, we all look so bored
We’ve never seen the glory of the coming of the Lord

“glory of the coming of the Lord” – “Battle Hymn of The Republic” again – “Mine eyes have seen the glory of the coming of the Lord.”

There will be parties, there will be fun
There’ll be tall gallows for everyone

“There will be parties, there will be fun”– Lyrics borrowed from Billy Bragg’s “Richard,” to which this song is a sequel of sorts – “There will be parties, there will be fun / There will be prizes for everyone.”

“tall gallows” – Instead of Bragg’s “prizes,” everyone at these parties get tall gallows with which to hang themselves – Also alludes to the popular phrase, “Give a man enough rope and he’ll hang himself,” derived from the Book of Esther, in which Haman is hanged from a gallows he had built to hang Mortdecai.  The Clash, one of Stickles’ favorite bands, adapted the phrase for their 1978 sophomore album “Give ‘Em Enough Rope.”

And we will all be sleeping easy
Upon the sinking of the sun

“the sinking of the sun” – Another reference to Nietzsche, who employs the sunset – “untergehen,” or “going under” – as a metaphor for what man must do in order to attain the overman.

But there’s only one dream that I keep close,
And it’s the one of my hand at yr throat

I will not deny my humanity
I will be rolling in it like a pig in feces

“I will not deny my humanity” – Nietzsche insists that man accept and affirm his humanity even as he aims to overcome it.

“a pig in feces” – Reference to the saying “happy as a pig in shit” – satisfied, content, in one’s natural element.

Because there’s no other integrity
In awaiting the demise of our species

“the demise of our species” – Given the Nietzschean thematics we’re already working with, it would not be a stretch to read this as the end of man via his evolution into overman.  Alternatively, it could just be the obvious impending doom of the human race, the planet, etc.

May you endure every indignity knowing all the while that life will go on
And when it ends, may you have nothing to say, except that it took too long

“except that it took too long” – Continuing the Nietzschean themes, Nietzsche (via Zarathustra) condemns “despisers of life,” who would likely complain that death took too long to arrive.

And may I be there somehow
Asking, “Where are all yr friends now?”

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“The audience was large and brilliant.  Upon my weary heart was showered smiles, plaudits, and flowers, but beyond them, I saw thorns and troubles innumerable.” – (Jefferson Davis, “The Rise and Fall of the Confederate Government,” 1881)


The ‘Drunk and Alone on Valentine’s Day’ EP – An EP Stickles recorded on Valentine’s Day, 2007.  It is made up of one original song and several covers, and features Stickles singing and playing piano.  There is only one copy, belonging to Stickles himself.

It was a pretty good GPA
We got a couple of good grades
And it sounded like a pretty good seven inch

GPA – grade point average – the average numbered grade in American high school and college programs, operating generally on a 0.0-4.0 scale.  Note the similarity to prominent “indie music” site Pitchfork‘s 0.010.0 rating system.

seven inch – Record singles are traditionally released as seven-inch-wide records which play at 45 rpm.  This verse likely refers to Titus’ very first release, the “Titus Andronicus/Fear and Loathing in Mahwah, New Jersey” seven-inch, released in 2007.

And winter didn’t seem so cold
And I had a smile for everyone I knew
I was starting to get comfortable in the place
that I’m in
And it used to not mean anything
It used to not mean anything
It used to not mean anything, but it really
means nothing now

Nothing means anything anymore
Everything is less than zero

“Less than zero” track 8 on Elvis Costello’s 1977 “My Aim Is True” – also the title of Brett Easton Ellis’s 1985 debut novel and the 1987 film based on Ellis’s novel, which focuses on themes of nihilism and hedonism.

And I know it won’t do much good
Getting drunk and sad and singing
But I’m at the end of my rope
And I feel like swinging

It was an unflattering photograph
And people saw it all over town
Hanging up on the wall above the urinal
Hear the man with the notepad say,
“Oh, they’re funny, but they drink too much
Don’t be surprised if they don’t amount to nothing at all”

We were talking about giving up
We were talking about lying down
We were talking about tying off
Wasn’t it supposed to mean something now?


“Brooklyn Vegan” – relatively popular Brooklyn-based music blog, famous for its analytic and frequently catty comment sections.

Let them see you struggle and they’re going to
tear you apart
You ain’t never been no virgin, kid, you were
fucked from the start

“fucked from the start” – Track 7 on the Black Halos’s 1999 self-titled debut.

They’re all going to be laughing at you

You can’t make it on merit,
not on merit and merit alone
Dan McGee tried to tell me, “There ain’t no
more Rolling Stones”
They’re all going to be laughing at you

Dan McGee – lead singer of the Spider Bags, later featured on “Theme From ‘Cheers’.”

The Rolling Stones – famous British rock band that you have definitely heard of.

“They’re all going to be laughing at you” – Reference to “They’re all gonna laugh at you,” repeated line in the 1976 horror film “Carrie,” most prominently during the climactic “pig’s blood” scene.  On record, Stickles sings the line as “They will be laughing at you.”

I’ve been called out, cuckolded, castrated,
but I survived
I am covered in urine and excrement
but I’m alive
And there’s a white flag in my pocket
never to be unfurled
Though with their hands ’round my ankles, they
bring me down for another swirl
And they tell me, “Take it easy buddy—It’s not
the end of the world.”

“It’s not the end of the world” – 1972 young adult novel by Judy Blume.

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“Four Score And Seven” – 87, or the number of years since our fathers started our new nation according to Lincoln at Gettysburg in 1863 – “Four score and seven years ago our fathers brought forth on this continent a new nation – “

“And there and then and bathed by the rising sun, my son in his grave, in his rude-dug grave I deposited, ending my vigil strange with that, vigil of night and battle-field dim, vigil for boy of responding kisses, (never again on earth responding.) Vigil for comrade swiftly slain, vigil I never forget, how as day brighten’d, I rose from the chill ground and folded my soldier well in his blanket, and buried him where he fell.” – (Walt Whitman, “Vigil Strange I Kept on the Field One Night,” 1865)


This is a war we can’t win
After ten thousand years, it’s still us against them
And my heroes have always died at the end

“After ten thousand years, it’s still us against them” – Refers to Nietzsche’s discussion of the “moral era.”  See especially “Beyond Good and Evil” section 32 – “Over the past ten thousand years, on the other hand, [we have come] to the point at which it is no longer the consequences but the origin of the action which determines its value [. . .] the unconscious after-effect of the sovereignty of aristocratic values and of belief in ‘origins’, the sign of a period which may be called the moral in the narrower sense: the first attempt at self-knowledge has been made.”  Nietzsche elaborates on this general concept throughout much of “On the Genealogy of Morality,” which concerns itself very much with the “priest/noble” dichotomy of ancient morality and it’s Judeo-Christian inversion – This discussion provides some context for the “us against them” notion here.

So who’s going to account for these sins?

And I don’t know who here is my friend
Well, I’m certain that I’ve seen uglier men
But, Christ, fuck me if I can remember when
Will I never be lonely again?

Well the tides are returning once more
As six dark-winged devils line up at my door
Each one is more evil than that which came before
Seven angels find me spread across the floor

“The tides are returning” – The tide is cyclical; for the tide to return just means that events are repeating themselves.  Also a possible reference to Nietzsche’s concept of the Eternal Return, whereby everything that could ever happen has already happened infinite times before and is destined to happen again, for all eternity.

“six dark-winged devils” – In some traditions, six (or more commonly 666) is the number of the beast, making six a particularly ominous number of devils.

“Seven angels” – in Jewish and other orthodox traditions, there are seven arch-angels – Gabriel, Raphael, Michael, Uriel, Raguel, Remiel, and Saraqael.  Seven is also the number of God.  This could also be a reference to “Monkey Gone To Heaven,” track 7 of Pixies’ 1989 album “Doolittle” – “If man is five / Then the devil is six / And god is seven.”

You’d like everyone to believe yr a star
And I’ll admit that it’s worked out pretty well so far
But when they see the kind of person that you really are
Then you won’t be laughing so hard

I’m depraved and disgusting, I spew like a fountain
I’ve been debased, defaced, disgraced and destroyed
“Most of all disappointed,” I say atop this mountain
As I urinate into the void

“urinate into the void” – Likely a reference to Neil Young’s 1974 song “Ambulance Blues,” in which the line “you’re all just pissin’ in the wind” is wielded as an accusation against political singer/songwriters of the time.

Fuck, I’m frustrated, freaking out something fierce
Would you help me? I’m hungry, I suffer and I starve
Oh I struggle and I stammer ’till I’m up to my ears
In miserable quote-unquote art

About how ever since our forefathers came on this land

“forefathers” – The first Europeans to colonize America, specifically the Pilgrims/Puritans/Founding Fathers lineage.

We’ve been coddling those we should
be running through
Please don’t wait around for them
to come and shake hands
They’re not gonna be waiting for you

– Likely a reference to the Native Americans’ initially warm reception of the pilgrims, who screwed them over pretty royally.

‘Cause these humans treat humans
like humans treat hogs
They get used up, carved up, and fried in a pan
But I wasn’t born to die like a dog
I was born to die just like a man

–  See, “born to die,” above.

It’s still us against them
And they’re winning

*         *         *

Screen shot 2015-03-08 at 8.01.18 PM


“Theme From ‘Cheers'” –  The actual theme from the 1980’s bar-centered sitcom “Cheers” is “Where Everybody Knows Your Name,” written and performed by Gary Portney.  The song presents a comparatively sunny attitude in regard to alcoholism and features the surprising line – “and your husband wants to be a girl.”


“The Hangover Mass” – takeoff of several similarly named musical settings to the Roman Catholic Mass (Mozart’s “Coronation Mass,” Arvo Pärt’s “Berliner Messe”) – compare The Hold Steady’s “How A Resurrection Really Feels” from their 2005 record “Separation Sunday”

I’m sorry, Mama, but I’ve been drinking again.
Me and the old man got us a head start on the weekend,

“Me and the old man got us a head start on the weekend” – “He spent most of his time hanging out on weekends with his dad, swilling beer at a bar called the Glen Rock Inn. (The bar would later serve as the inspiration for “Theme from Cheers.”) ‘One night, I came stumbling home after being at the Inn,’ says Stickles. ‘My mom started getting on my case about drinking too much and I felt really conflicted. I was a house divided against itself.”‘ – “Rolling Stone,” January 2010.

And rest assured, tonight I’m going to be in Kevin’s basement with all my friends,

Kevin – most likely Kevin Kearns, “Full Time English teacher/Part Time Punk” and long-time Titus Andronicus supporter.

Provided we can get, get our lazy asses down to Bottle King by ten.

Bottle King – New Jersey discount liquor chain – Bottle King of Glen Rock at 924 Prospect St. is open 9 am to 10 pm, Monday through Saturday (reduced hours on Sundays).

And the walk home is going to be a real shit-show,

“the walk home” – The walk from the Kearns’s to the Stickles’s is slightly over 2 miles – a 45 minute walk (assuming sobriety).

I’ll be picking up half-smoked cigarette butts
All up and down Rock Road,

“Rock Road” – a commercial street in Glen Rock, NJ – approximately 1.5 miles of the walk from the Kearns’s to the Stickles’s would occur on Rock Road, as recommended by Google Maps.

And then to throw up in the warm glow of the traffic light.
But I’m going to put the devil inside me to sleep if it takes all night.
So let’s get fucked up, and let’s pretend we’re all okay.
And if you’ve got something that you can’t live with, save it for another day
All right?, Save it for another day

I’m sorry, Mama, but expect a call from the neighbors tonight.
All of my asshole buddies are coming over and they’re feeling a little too all right.
I’m sick and tired of everyone in this town being so goddamn uptight.
But don’t you worry, I’ll do all the talking when they turn on the flashing lights.
When I’m an old man, I can be the quiet type,
And I can go without a moment of fun
For the rest of my life.
I can read a good book, and I can be in bed by ten,
And I can get up early, go to work and come home, and start it all over again
But while we’re young, boys, everybody raise yr glasses high, singing,
“Here’s to the good times, here’s to the home team. Kiss the good times goodbye,
Oh yeah, kiss the good times goodbye.”

“kiss the good times goodbye” – possible reference to the song “How Can You Kiss Those Good Times Goodbye” from the 1967 James Lipton/Laurence Rosenthal musical “Sherry!”


I need a time out,
I need an escape from reality,

escape from reality” – compare “Caught in a landslide / No escape from reality” from Queen’s “Bohemian Rhapsody.”

Or else I need eternal darkness and death,
I need an exit strategy.

“exit strategy” – common phrase in the news at the time of “The Monitor”‘s making and release, in reference to the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Down in North Carolina, I could have been a productive member of society,

“North Carolina” – Dan McGee, singer of the second verse, lives in Chapel Hill, North Carolina.

But these New Jersey cigarettes and all they require

all they requirecigarette cost per pack, New Jersey – $8.20 (11th overall) – cigarette cost per pack, North Carolina – $5.45 (41st overall).

Have made a fucking junkie out of me.
So give me a Guinness, give me a Keystone Light

Guinness – traditional Irish dry stout, introduced in Dublin, 1759, available in 120 countries worldwide.  Cost per ounce at Bottle King of Glen Rock – $.12.

Keystone Lite – Coors-owned light beer, first introduced in Chico, California, 1989.  Cost per ounce at Bottle King of Glen Rock – $.05.

Give me a kegger on a Friday night.
Give me anything but another year in exile.

I need a whiskey,
I need a whiskey, right now,
God knows how many times I’ve said this before,
but I really don’t feel like doing this anymore


“Tretiak’s movie” – Alex Tretiak, touring percussionist and documentarian. With Titus Andronicus, director of “The Making of the Monitor.”

So, hey, Andy, let’s turn into dirty old men,

Andy – likely Andrew Cedermark, solo musician, Stickles’s childhood friend and former guitarist of Titus Andronicus. Cedermark was the frontman of Stickles’s high school band the Library of Congress (fka Seizing Elian), which also featured Martin Courtney of Real Estate on bass.  Cedermark was no longer an official member at the time of recording, but he does play on “The Monitor.”

Close down the bar every night at the Glen Rock Inn.

Glen Rock InnBar frequented by Stickles and his father (see above), located at 222 Rock Road.

Talk about our grandkids as we stroke our grey beards.
Funny how we’re still doing carbombs after all of these years.

“doing carbombs”Irish carbomb, novelty alcoholic beverage made by dropping a shot glass of Bailey’s Irish Cream into a pint of Guinness – must be quickly consumed so as to avoid curdling.  Also, a DIY explosive.

And I know there are bicycles waiting to ride,

“bicycles waiting to ride” – compare, retroactively, Shellac’s “Riding Bikes,” track 4 of their 2014 album “Dude Incredible.”

But I could swear I heard voices from the other side,
Saying, “Wait until you see the whites of their eyes.”

“wait until you see the whites of their eyes” – supposed order at the Battle of Bunker Hill  (1775), though attribution is unclear and maybe folkloric.  The concept dates back to Gustavus Adolphus ( early 17th century) – “never to give fire, till they could see their own image in the pupil of their enemy’s eye,” and paraphrased several times after prior to the American Revolutionary War.

And now that I’m older, I look back and say,
“What the fuck was it for, anyway?”
For those dreams are lying in the still of the grave—
What the fuck were they for anyway?
So let it be on a stretcher if I get carried away—

– see, “so if I come in on a donkey / let me go out on a gurney”

What the fuck was it for anyway?
What the fuck was it for anyway?

*         *         *

Screen Shot 2015-03-09 at 5.39.17 PM


You have got a lot of nerve
to behave the way that you do
Making me listen to all of yr carrying on
You are not the only one who thinks that life is so cruel

“You have got a lot of nerve” – the opening line of Bob Dylan’s “Positively 4th Street” – “You’ve got a lot of nerve / to say you are my friend.”

Me, I have got problems of my own
But if you talk and nobody’s listening,
It’s almost like being alone
So it’s all right, the way you piss and moan
It’s all right, the way you piss and moan

Like the time traveler who killed his grandfather,
these cycles are bringing me down

“the time traveler who killed his grandfather” – Refers to the Grandfather Paradox, proposed by Nathanael Schachner and Rene Barjavel, separately. A time traveler goes back in time and kills his grandfather. His grandfather never meets his grandmother, so he is never born. But if he is never born, then he can’t have gone back to kill his grandfather.  Also, see “the tides are returning” above.

We could build a nice life together
if we don’t kill each other first
Are you just too fucked up to understand me,
or is it the other way around?
Maybe it’s both, and I just don’t know which is worse
So you better thank yr lucky stars
You don’t know half what I know is true
But it’s all right if you think that you do
It’s all right if you think that you do

Was it the Devil or was it the Lord
That gave you those words?
The ones I never heard?
That it’s alright to kill and it’s alright to steal
If you’re willing to hold up yr part of the deal
There are plenty of things that are worth dying for
But you’ll never know until you open that door
And reasons for living are seldom and few
When you see one, you better stick to it like glue
Yes, it’s true
It is true
It’s true

If I were there to keep satisfied all of yr carnal desires
Then it might be my place to say what is or isn’t forbid
So how can I hold it against you
if you answer the call of the wild?

“call of the wild”“The Call of the Wild,” 1903 animal adventure novel by Jack London.

No matter how brilliant a woman, you’re only a kid
But if you know that no one
is ever going to suffer for you like I did
Then it’s all right, the way that you live
It’s all right, the way that you live

*         *         *

Screen shot 2015-03-08 at 8.36.31 PM

9. …AND EVER or Theme From “The Monitor” (Reprise)

The enemy is everywhere
The enemy is everywhere
The enemy is everywhere
The enemy is everywhere
I’m worthless and weak
I’m sick and I’m scared
And the enemy is everywhere

“The enemy is everywhere” – he really is.

*          *          *

Screen shot 2015-03-08 at 7.48.50 PM


The Battle of Hampton Roads – see note re: album title.

“I am loathe to close. We are not enemies, but friends. We must not be enemies. Though passion may have strained, it must not break the bonds of our affection. The mystic chords of memory stretching from battlefield and patriot grave to every living heart and hearthstone all over this broad land, will yet swell the chorus of the Union, when again touched, as surely they will be, by the better angels of our nature.” – (Abraham Lincoln, first inaugural address, March 1861)

Tonight two great ships will pull back to their ports
Depleted of everything that shoots flames and reports
And in the morning the shells will wash up on the shore
And the mighty of earth will have no other recourse

“two great ships”  – the USS Monitor and the CSS Virginia (see note re: album title).

“pull back to their ports” – the battle ended when a shell from the Virginia struck the pilot house of the Monitor, blinding captain John L. Worden.  Lt. Dana Greene took over command and ordered the Monitor back into the fight, but in the confusion the Confederacy believed they had drawn a retreat, declared victory, ordered the heavily damaged Virginia back to port in Norfolk.  The Union interpreted this as a retreat, and also claimed victory.  The Monitor remained on duty but never fought again.

“depleted” – the battle didn’t end due to depletion of ammunition but, as demonstrated above, as a result of confusion.  Neither the Monitor nor the Virginia were equipped with anything that explicitly “shot flames,” but the fiery blasts that propel and result from shells is significant enough to allow a poetic image.

“mighty of earth”somewhat recurrent phrase in 19th century American discourse.  Most likely an allusion to certain Protestant translations of Psalm 29 – “Ascribe to the LORD glory and strength.  Ascribe to the LORD the glory due to His name; Worship the LORD in holy array.  The voice of the LORD is upon the waters; the God of glory thunders, the LORD is over many waters.”

But to shiver and shake and make shit in their shorts
Because we have been told that if you’ve been assured
There’s a way to live the values yr forefathers gave you
Prepare to be told “That shit’s gay, dude”
And I guess that what they say is true
There is no race more human, no one throws it away like they do

“shiver and shake”“Shiver And Shake,” penultimate song on the Cure’s 1987 double LP “Kiss Me, Kiss Me” – “And I shiver and shake / When I think of how you make me hate.”

“I guess that what they say is true” – quote from White Town’s 1997 hit “Your Woman” – “I guess that what they say is true / I could never be the right kind of girl for you.”

The things I used to love, I have come to reject
The things I used to hate, I have learned to accept
And the worst of the three, you now have to expect:
Satan ain’t hard to see without craning yr neck
He’ll be seventy-some inches tall
He’ll be chugging a beer, he’ll be grabbing his balls
He’s a remote explosive waiting for someone to call

“remote explosive” – Another common term from the news around the time of the making of the record, what with the IEDs and suicide vests in the wars in the Middle East.

He’s just eighteen for now but he’s going to murder us all

Solidarity is going to give a lot less than it’ll take
Is there a girl at this college who hasn’t been raped?
Is there a boy in this town that’s not exploding with hate?
Is there a human alive that can look themselves in the face
without winking, or say what they mean without drinking?
Or believe in something without thinking,
“What if somebody doesn’t approve?”
Is there a soul on this Earth that isn’t too frightened to move?

“solidarity” – political concept of unity created through cross-cultural interest, sympathy, and empathy.  Prominent on social media and liberal college campuses as a progressive attitude toward world peace, etc.

“give a lot less than it’ll take” – inversion of the clichéd sentiment “give more than you take,” used to great celebration by installation artist Jim Hodges.

“is there a girl at this college who hasn’t been raped?” – current surveys report that approximately 1 in 4 college women have experienced rape or attempted rape.

“look themselves in the face” – see note re: “No Future Part Three” on Stuart Smalley.

I think the wrong people got a hold of yr brain
When it was nothing but a piece of putty
So now try as you may, but you will always be a tourist, little buddy

tourist“At Home He’s A Tourist,” track from Gang Of Four’s 1979 album “Entertainment!”  “The Tourist,” closing track to Radiohead’s 1997 “OK Computer.”

“little buddy” – “affectionate” name given to Gilligan by the Skipper on “Gilligan’s Island.”

And half of the time I open my mouth to speak
It’s to repeat something that I’ve heard on TV
I’ve destroyed everything that wouldn’t make me more like Bruce Springsteen
So I’m going back to New Jersey, I do believe they’ve had enough of me

Bruce SpringsteenBruce Springsteen.

“back to New Jersey, I do believe they’ve had enough” – paraphrase of Bob Dylan’s “Just Like Tom Thumb’s Blues” from “Highway 61 Revisted” – “I’m going back to New York City / I do believe I’ve had enough.”

So when I leave Boston, my tail is between my legs
After deep cups of patience have been drunk to the dregs
And now I’m heading west on eighty-four again
And I’m as much of an asshole as I’ve ever been

“So when I leave Boston” – see notes re: “A More Perfect Union.”

“west on the eighty-four again” – that is, southwest, toward New Jersey.

And there is still nothing about myself I respect
Still haven’t done anything I did not later regret
I’ve a hand and a napkin when looking for sex
And that’s no one to talk to when feeling depressed
And so now when I drink, I’m going to drink to excess
And when I smoke, I will smoke gaping holes in my chest
And when I scream, I will scream until I’m gasping for breath
And when I get sick, I will stay sick for the rest
Of my days, peddling hate out the back of a Chevy Express
Each one a fart in the face of yr idea of success
And if this be thy will, then fucking pass me the cup
And I’m sorry, Dad, no, I’m not making this up

Chevy ExpressChevrolet Express, full-size van by GM, in production since 1996, having replaced the Chevrolet Van.  The make and model of Titus Vandronicus,  Titus Andronicus’s long-suffering touring van.

“if this be thy will, then fucking pass me the cup” – “Father, if you are willing, take this cup away from me.  Yet not my will but yours be done.” – Luke 22:42.  Compare “Upon Viewing Bruegel’s ‘Landscape With The Fall Of Icarus'” from “The Airing of Grievances” – “So Father, if it’s possible / let this cup pass me by / But if it can’t without my drinking it / then thy will be done.”

But, my enemy, it’s yr name on my lips as I go to sleep
And I know what little I’ve known of peace
Yes, I’ve done to you what you’ve done to me
And I’d be nothing without you, my darling, please don’t ever leave

“And I’d be nothing without you, my darling, please don’t ever leave” – compare The Beatles, “Oh! Darling,” and Robert Görl’s “Darling Don’t Leave Me” ft. Annie Lennox.

********SRSLY if you have more or you disagree with something or w/e please comment and let us know and we’ll add it.  The cool thing about the internet is that it is collaborative, editable, and forever.



  1. here is where you can comment

  2. you do it by hitting “post comment”

  3. gallons · · Reply

    Resentful that you cut out my elaborations on “Call of the Wild.”

  4. My baby
    Your article is very helpful for me,i like it,thank you!

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