A Man, A Penguin and Two Dancing Bums

1989 – Hated Uncles: “Variety Show” cassette

John Harvey (vocals) John Kinsella (bass, electric guitar)


Sleepwalking silently through the city streets,
observing the rushing and enjoying
the brushing of girls against my co…
cops directing traffic, looking important, looking officious,
cars driving by as if they’re really controlled by humans,
little do the drivers understand the fragility of machinery,
children being slugged by parents with no sense of humour,
dogs pissing against fire hydrants leaving golden rivers rushing
downstream right into my…ah shit!

And then I saw a man with a briefcase looking in every direction,
I caught his eye and winked loudly, he frowned and rushed away
into piles of paperwork waiting for him impatiently on his desk.

Observing the animals locked behind brutal looking bars like prisoners,
lions yawning expansively and cockily at all who admire their regal demeanour,
they have no need for such peasants as us humans,
monkeys climbing swings and laughing maniacally at the children
who laugh back while holding onto Daddy’s massive paw,
bears down below ignoring all and preparing for dinner by licking
massive paws
with sharp claws ready to tear into their unfortunate dinner,
birds flying around huge cages, flying, but not going anywhere,
shitting in their cages as an act of defiance,
a dog disguised as an innocent pet stands staring at me,
I growl at him
and walk right into a piece of his…ah shit!

And then I saw a penguin in a vest
walking unsteadily and looking drunk,
he kept banging into his comrades and he refused to apologize
to his equally unstable peers,
then he jumped into the water and swam away,
leaving me wondering how much we really had in common.

Wide awake, walking quickly, the shit part of town where one does
not walk alone unless on a suicide mission or is a killer,
the crunching of glass underneath nervous feet,
the shivering of bones as unfamiliar and ominous noises are
quickly picked out by overly sensitive ears,
the nervousness as two strangers pass each other, suspiciously
eyeing each other in a marvellous display of practical paranoia,
I turn a corner and walk into a street littered by sleeping drunks
using garbage as a form of warmth throughout the cold night,
I slip and look down at a piece of…ah shit!

And then I saw two drunks dancing beautiful jazz steps
while grasping a bottle in one hand
and the other’s waist in the other,
they stop and bow and look at me
and start to run away into
the stillness of the night.

And everything began to make sense that night
as I went home whistling Captain Beefheart tunes. (Beefheart?)

Booklet - Variety Show - 10 - A Man a Penguin and Two Dancing Bums 1989
drawing by John Kinsella for the “Variety Show” booklet 1989


  • I wrote the lyrics well before we recorded the “Variety Show” cassette. Maybe 1984-1985, earlier?
  • An important early piece for me in my development as a writer.
  • I wish we had a live recording of this when we played as a duo (or maybe not!). I love JK’s bass on this, and the electric guitar was a great touch – but, man, home recording has come a long way since 1989!

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