The liner notes on "Alive In America" describe it like this: "Minor chords. Brooding. Scary little kid. Terrorists, media, identities. Oedipal transposition. How resolved?"
Here's another song which absolutely sends me, both musically and lyrically.
Many have described "Johnny's playroom"--"a bunker filled with sand"--as a kid's sandbox. If so, perhaps the narrator is watching a kid play soldier in his sandbox--wiping out the bad guys and making the "sidewalks... safe for the little guy," i.e. the average joe. But watching him sends the narrator into a reverie, remembering a terrorist attack, perhaps from a real bunker. I always think of the SLA, the Symbionese Liberation Army, which was a tiny revolutionary cell in LA around the time the Dan were there. The SLA got a lot of exposure by kidnapping Patricia Hearst, scion of the Hearst publishing clan, and she converted to their cause as "Tania." I remember hearing her communiques, always preceded by the playing of "Mosadi/ Woman" by the Crusaders, one of my favorite jazz tunes, which was appropriated as the SLA theme song. Anyway, it could be any of a number of solitary terrorists with arcane and not always explicable causes--think "Don't Take Me Alive." The narrator is a witness at the inevitable showdown--"I saw the fireworks/ I believed that I was dreaming/ Till the neighbors came out screaming." I make a link between the boy and the terrorist, which gives this song incredible poignancy for me--here's this kid doing what kids do, playing war games in a sandbox, when that kind of behavior by adults is crazy and fatal. What do we do about our children playing these games? Shrug it off as normal and natural? Or should we be afraid that that behavior might foster terror such as we've seen recently in Arkansas and Oregon, or daily on inner city streets?
OK, I'm sorry; there's a reason this is called "fever dreams."
Another touch of genius in this song is the use of assonance in the form of long vowels, especially "e" and "i," to keep the lyrics scary and your nerves on edge: "III saw the fiiireworks/ III beeelieeeved that III was dreeeaming;" "when the siiidewalks are saaafe for the little guyyy." "The Nightfly" also uses this technique to great effect.
KD (GB, 11/7/99): 'Third World Man' is the perfect, pathetic, disgusting ending to the last chapter of the first book of Dan. It weasels and worms its way to the end, leaving ends untied and dreams unfulfilled. It blasts fireworks and boasts what could be the best piece of solo guitar in any Dan song. It's a funeral dirge when the trombones and trumpets should be blaring. The perfect place would be in between the A and B sides, as you said, but it's like calling an old girlfriend that still wants you. Even if she's the best you'll ever do, if you screwed it up once, it's just tainted.
Blaise (GB, 12/10/01): Prophetic lyrics dedicated to John Walker, American Taliban:
Is a bunker filled with sand
He's become a third world man
He's been mobilized since dawn
Now he's crouching on the lawn
He's a third world man
Soon you'll throw down your disguise
We'll see behind those bright eyes
By and by
When the sidewalks are safe
For the little guy
I saw the fireworks
I believed that I was dreaming
Till the neighbors came out screaming
He's a third world man
When he's crying out
I just sing that Ghana Rondo
E l'era del terzo mondo
He's a third world man
See? Now it all makes sense, finally. Life, it imitates art.
Truk (12/25/01): Third World Man: This song may simply be a musical poem inspired (perhaps) by the authors' closely knowing someone afflicted with paranoia and/or outright paranoid delusions, due to either schizophrenia; a "mood" disorder with psychotic features; or, chemical dependency with drug-induced psychotic features (e.g., especially cocainism, crack intoxication, amphetamines, hallucinogens, etc. Narcotic dependency may also engender intense paranoia); or, perhaps, some combination of maladies thereof.
"Crusaders One"; boy do I love this one. Lots of Steely links:
Wilton Felder, Larry Carlton, Chuck Rainey, and Joe Sample, who is still
"The Nightfly," on the eponymous album
"Don't Take Me Alive," on "The Royal Scam"
"Listening Wind," by Talking Heads, on "Remain In Light"
"Under African Skies," by Paul Simon, on "Graceland." Both these tunes also have a theme of liberation struggles, but in the Third World. Perhaps the Third World Man was emulating someone like them.