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This Charming Man (The Smiths)
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"This Charming Man" is a song by the English alternative rock band The Smiths, written by guitarist Johnny Marr and singer/lyricist Morrissey. It was released as the group's second single in October 1983 on the independent record label Rough Trade. The song is defined by Marr's jangle pop guitar riff and Morrissey's characteristically morose lyrics, which revolve around the recurrent Smiths themes of sexual ambiguity and lust.

Punctured bicycle on a hillside desolate
Will nature make a man of me yet?
When in this charming car
This charming man

Why pamper life's complexity
When the leather runs smooth
On the passenger seat?

I would go out tonight
But I haven't got a stitch to wear
This man said, "It's gruesome
That someone so handsome should care"

A jumped-up pantry boy who never knew his place
He said, "Return the rings"
He knows so much about these things
He knows so much about these things

I would go out tonight
But I haven't got a stitch to wear
This man said, "It's gruesome
That someone so handsome should care"
Na-na-na-na-na-na-na
This charming man
Na-na-na-na-na-na-na
This charming man

Ah, a jumped-up pantry boy who never knew his place
He said, "Return the ring"
He knows so much about these things
He knows so much about these things
He knows so much about these things

PUNCTURED= If a bicycle is punctured, it has a flat tyre (the tyre has been pierced and air has come out, so you can't ride it).

DESOLATE= (dated) Deserted, with no people.

CHARMING= (a bit formal and a bit dated) Cool, nice, fantastic, attractive.

PAMPER=  To treat with extreme or excessive indulgence, kindness, or care. In this case "to pamper life's complexity" means to make life even more complicated than what it is now.

LEATHER= /leðə*/ A fabric made out of the polished skin of some animals (see picture). A car with seats covered with leather is often a luxury car.

RUNS SMOOTH= Feels smooth when you move your hand on it. Smooth is soft and nice to touch, with an even feeling (opposite: rough)

I HAVEN'T GOT A STICTH TO WEAR= I haven't got anything (appropriate) to wear; I haven't got (the right) clothes for the occasion.

GRUESOME= (dated) /gru:səm/ Shocking, frightful.

SHOULD= This modal verb doesn't mean anything here and it's not used for giving advice, it is only signalling that the verb CARE is in a subjuctive mode. The meaning of this sentence is:
- I am shocked because you, handsome boy, think that is important.

JUMPED-UP=(informal) insolent, arrogant. Also: parvenu, who has suddenly climbed up the social ladder or risen in importance.

PANTRY BOY= Literally, a boy who works in a pantry (a little room where food is kept), the lowest type of house servant. For the servants working in an aristocratic house, being a pantry boy was the lowest rank, and becoming a bulter was the highest rank in service. So figuratively, a pantry boy is someone who is very low class, at the very bottom of the social scale. The expression "a jumped up pantry boy" means a person who is very low class but behaves as if he were someone important.

WHO NEVER KNEW HIS PLACE= In a classist society, you must know your place and behave accordingly, and meet people from your own social level. If someone "doesn't know his place" (in society), that's a terrible and embarrassing thing. The line "A jumped-up pantry boy who never knew his place" is taken out of the movie Sleuth, as you can see here: A jumped up pantry boy.

RETURN THE RINGS= Again, this is an obvious reference to the movie Sleuth (1972, with some homoerotic content), where the "pantry boy" is mistakenly accused of stealing the rings, so he is asked to return the rings.

HE KNOWS SO MUCH ABOUT THESE THINGS= (sarcastic) He knows better because he is superior (or so he thinks).

In this song, a male protagonist, who has punctured his bicycle tire on a desolate hillside, is approached by a "charming man" in a "charming car." After a brief hesitation, the protagonist climbs into the car with the man, who flirts with his passenger and invites him out later that evening. The protagonist rejects the man's offer, because he hasn't "got a stitch to wear." Front man, Morrissey, told Undress in 1984 that this latter line was written from personal experience: "For years and years I never had a job, or any money. Consequently I never had any clothes whatsoever. I found that on those very rare occasions when I did get invited anywhere I would constantly sit down and say, 'Good heavens, I couldn't possibly go to this place tonight because I don't have any clothes, I don't have any shoes.' So I'd miss out on all those foul parties. It was really quite a blessing in disguise."


The lyrics of "This Charming Man" comprise a first person narrative in which the male protagonist punctures one of his bicycle's wheels on a remote hillside. A passing "charming man" in a luxury car stops to offer the cyclist a lift, and although the protagonist is at first hesitant, after much deliberation he accepts the offer. While driving together the pair flirt, although the protagonist finds it difficult to overcome his reluctance: "I would go out tonight, but I haven't got a stitch to wear". The motorist tells the cyclist: "it's gruesome that someone so handsome should care".

Morrissey deliberately used archaic language when composing the voice-over style lyrics for "This Charming Man". His use of phrases and words such as 'hillside desolate', 'stitch to wear', 'handsome' and 'charming' are used to convey a more courtly world than the mid-Eighties north of England, and evoke a style that has, in the words of the music critic Mat Snow "nothing to do with fashion".


Morrissey lifted the line, "A jumped-up pantry boy, who never knew his place," from the 1972 film adaptation of the homoerotic play, Sleuth, starring Laurence Olivier and Michael Caine. The film itself is referencing the 1945 novel, Loving, by Henry Green. In this story, the caretaker of an Irish castle, Charlie Raunce, accuses his pantry boy of being "jumped-up" and "not knowing his proper place." Later events include the theft of a ring, for which the pantry boy is wrongly accused. (thanks, Lannie - Cedar Rapids, IA)


 

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