Wednesday, March 18, 2015

Hamburger Lady by Throbbing Gristle

So, burn victims.

Here is possibly the most well-known song by British group Throbbing Gristle.  Along with Cabaret Voltaire, Throbbing Gristle is frequently credited with creating the industrial genre in the late '70s.  Composed of 4 members, and fronted by a gent named Genesis P-Orridge, Throbbing Gristle started as a performance art troupe by the name of COUM Transmissions.  In 1976, they gave their final performance as COUM, and debuted as Throbbing Gristle.  For five more years, they tore a bloody swath through the underground music scene.

Throbbing Gristle focused on creating grating and hateful soundscapes using tapes, synthesizers, and traditional instruments.  Add on the horrifically weird spoken-word lyrics that Genesis P-Orridge moaned out, and you had something that made the punk movement look safe and manageable.

Most of the lyrics for Hamburger Lady are obscured by the oscillating filter applied to the vocals.  Swirling around with the undulating droning and alien synth-squeals, the only words I tend to pick out are the sing-song "Hamburger Laaaaady" and "burned from the waist up."  Thus, I didn't immediately gather how horrible the content of this song was until looking up the lyrics.  According to the internet, many of them were taken from an actual doctor's notebook wherein he detailed caring for a woman burned so terribly that she made the attendant nurses ill.  The severity of her injuries has caused her to look like raw hamburger.  In reality, they are a little extra-nutty.

Here are the lyrics for your edification:

By far worse is the hamburger lady.
We must heal them for the qualified technicians,
Alternating nights are automatic
She's lying there,

Hamburger Lady
Hamburger Lady

She's dying,
She is burned from the waist up,
On her arm,
Her ear is burned,
Her eyelashes are burned,
She can't hold things up,
And even with medical advances,
There's no end in sight,
For hamburger lady,
She wants me to tell you of her calm mind
From which the double play laying,
The propping chair,
Leave her,
She's burned from the waist down,
Has to eat her life through tubes.

Hamburger Lady 
Hamburger Lady

She's okay if you change the tubes,
Tubes in her legs,
The tubes in her arms,
She's okay,
Then it came out and saw the burn net,
Indeed in the account of killing,
And it flashed on the carpet,
And it flashed on the floor,
The hamburger lady,
She came to rest,
Because of the burn she needs relief, 
From the medication,
The qualified technician.

Hamburger Lady
Hamburger Lady.

Right now, you're either very creeped out by listening to the song and reading the lyrics, or you're underwhelmed.  If you're underwhelmed I imagine you're asking 'Joanna, what is the point of this?  Why did I even bother listening and reading to something so sad and gross?"

Well, let me explain.  Hamburger Lady is indeed horrific.  But, in a way, the fact that it still reads as disturbing today is a testament to how light-years far-out Throbbing Gristle was at the time.  This was before Slayer shrieked about worshiping Satan, or later metal musicians wallowed in songs about having angry sex with demon pigs (I'm not sure that this song actually exists, but I'm not gonna bet against it).  This was a time long before NIN or Marilyn Manson's The Beautiful People music video.  In terms of experimental madness, this was even before Nurse with Wound got going.

These days we find Slipknot cute enough to mash-up with Justin Bieber.  Yeah, there's still really hardcore stuff out there, but one could say that the naive days where parents were willing to sue Judas Priest for corrupting the youth are over.

Considering this cynical age we live in, I think Throbbing Gristle's Hamburger Lady, then, deserves some respect for still pushing boundaries.



  1. This song always really creeped me out. The mental image of said "Hamburger Lady" is downright chilling. Still really impactful to this day!

  2. These lyrics are incorrect: "Then it came out and saw the burn net,
    Indeed in the account of killing," They actually read "Then it came out and saw one of the burn nurses
    She was eating a can of chili-mac". That corresponds to a part of the letter which describes a technician who assisted with helping change the tubes but fainted when he saw a nurse outside the room eating chili-mac. I've also always found this song to be very disturbing and chilling.