Lyrics: Practical Man |
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Practical Man

by Clive James and Pete Atkin

Last night I drank with a practical man
Who seemed to think he knew me well
He had no debts and he had no troubles
All night long he kept setting up doubles
And he asked me 'What have you got to sell?'

'I'll see you right' said the practical man
'A boy like you should be living high
All you do is get up and be funny
And I'll turn the laughs into folding money
Can you name me anything that can't buy?'

'So you deal in dreams' said the practical man
'So does that mean you should be so coy?
I fixed one chap a show on telly
Who limped like Byron and talked like Shelley
Through a ten-part epic on the fall of Troy'

'I'll tell you what' said the practical man
As he tapped the ash from a purple fag
'Let's head uptown for a meal somewhere
You can sing me something while we're driving there
There's a grand piano in the back of my Jag'

So I sang my song to the practical man
It sounded bad but she couldn't hear
And the silent lights of town went streaming
As if the car was a turtle, dreaming
The night was sad and she was nowhere near

'It's a great idea' said the practical man
As they brought in waiters on flaming swords
'You love this chick and it's really magic
But she won't play ball — that's kind of tragic
Now how do we get this concept on the boards?'

'I see it like this' said the practical man
As he chose a trout from the restaurant pool
'We change it round so she's going frantic
To win the love of the last romantic
And you're the one, her wild creative fool'

So I thought it all over as the practical man
Watched them slaughter the fatted calf
I saw again her regretful smile
Sweet to look at though it meant denial
It was bound to hurt but I had to laugh

And that's when I told the practical man
As he drank champagne from the Holy Grail
There are some ideas you can't play round with
Can't let go of and you can't give ground with
'Cause when you die they're what you're found with
There are just some songs that are not for sale

Note (from Collected Poems)

Although it is true that we ended up taking out an injunction against our first agent, we would both have liked to meet a Practical Man who really was practical. The music business in those days was too much of a jungle to navigate unguided. It will be noticed that the Practical Man in the song is cultivated as well as rich. But from my angle he was all too practical; although it was the merest posturing on my part to write a line like ‘There are just some songs that are not for sale’. We would have dearly liked to sell some songs, if only to keep eating: but the music business in those days was all against it, because we had started writing songs to be sung by other people at the exact moment in history when the singers had started writing their own songs so that they could be paid twice. Nowadays the music business has collapsed completely and the Practical Man is doing something else, such as delivering lectures on sustainability, or calling you up to say that the bank owes you money.