It’s an adjective with a beautiful sound. It means the characteristics of our ape cousins, but of course sharing almost all the same DNA, it also means us. But while there are many songs about apes and monkeys, where is simian in lyrics? It seems to be relatively rare, even though there are various bands that use the word for themselves, such as the Manchester indie outfit Simian who then morphed into the electronica duo Simian Mobile Disco. From the Latin simia for ape, and also simus meaning flat-nosed, SImian can also be a male first name. As narcissists to compare ourselves to apes in sorts of contexts, ironically, humorously or otherwise, from the film franchise Planet of the Apes, to the Will Self’s satirical novel Great Apes.
Or what better way to shares our simian characters that to see again David Attenborough speaking softly while being clambered over by a family of gorillas in the original Life on Earth TV series:
But where does the actual word appear in song lyrics? Here are a few examples. One of the oddest, and wordiest songs by The Velvet Underground from their self-titled 1969 album. The Murder Mystery is filled with multiple talking vocals, shared between all four members of the band, Lou Reed, Doug Yule (who had replaced John Cale), Sterling Morrison, and Maureen Tucker. Here the term is derogatory, with “cheap simian” melodies:
And a robe and a robe
And a bat, no double class inverse could make lying worth dying
With cheap simian melodies, hillbilly outgush, for illiterate
Ramblings for cheap understanding the simple the inverse,
The compost, the reverse, the obtuse and stupid, and
Business, and business, and cheap, stupid lyrics, and simple
Mass reverse while the real thing is dying
Accept the pig, enter the Owl and Gorgeous, King on the left …
Simian characteristics are often compared to those in humans, sometimes in a derogatory way and with racial prejudice, but in other contexts with humour and affection. The facial features of The Stone Roses’ ‘monkey man’ Ian Brown, for example, also come with a certain Mancunian swagger. Another swaggering Mancunian who is more of a large gentle ape, Guy ‘The Gorilla’ Garvey, mentions that walking style, a stroll in Elbow’s Lippy Kids (from Let's Build a Rocket Boys, 2011):
Lippy kids on the corner again
Lippy kids on the corner begin settling like crows
Though I never perfected that simian stroll
But the cigarette scent, it was everything then
Do they know those days are golden?
Build a rocket boys!
Build a rocket boys!
Janelle Monae’s Dance or Die, featuring the poet and rapper Saul Williams, refers to the violent side of the human ape in a dystopian vision in this pop and soul song from The ArchAndroid (2010):
Ghettos keep a-crying out to streets full of zombies
Kids are killing kids and then the kids join the army
Rising and a waking, yes sir here comes the sun
March into the war and with the kick of the drum
The wiser simians have got the bombs and the guns
So you might as well keep dancing if you're not gonna run
And once again, it’s hard to find any word not nestling somewhere in the lyrics of Aesop Rock (there are many simians to be found, including his comparison of two intelligent lifeforms, simian or lizard, in Gopher Guts from 2012’s album Skelethon:
You were sitting at the gate awaiting spirits and provisions
I was privy to a headache over pirouetting innards
In the mirror sweating pitchers; who's there: simian or lizard?
As it were there is a disappearing difference
In ambition and material
So then, we are all variously simian, but what about songs with simian in lyrics? Feel free to add your own below in comments.
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