Life At Rainbow’s End (for all the tax exiles on Main Street)

Streets I knew were rainy, changing
Addresses were rearranging
The cold boy from the suburbs he left there
He’d read the Book of No Return
And me, I burned your picture
For the ashes of the lost
For you had played your games too well
As the martyr and the boss

I suppose I chose a good introduction
From a formerly trusted friend
A good introduction to life at Rainbow’s End
Life at Rainbow’s End
Life at Rainbow’s End

Here I am a millionaire
Sown into these dreams
I’ve burned all the maps that lead here…
So no-one can ever follow me

Only lonely parties start
At the dark side of this world
The gangster with the golden arm
Plays death cards for the girls
I saw the final vicar
Make confession to a dancer
He stood upon the bridge at dawn
And the dancer kissed my cancer

I suppose I chose a good introduction
From a formerly trusted friend
A good introduction to life at Rainbow’s End
Life at Rainbow’s End
Life at Rainbow’s End

Lyrics © John Foxx.

Thoughts on the text © Martin Smith and translated from birdsong.
Link to the post by all means, but please don’t reproduce the content without permission.


The Rolling Stones arrived at Keith Richard’s leased home on the Cote d’Azur in southern France in the spring of 1971 as reluctant tax exiles fleeing the Labour government’s punitive 93% tax on high earners.

“There was a feeling you were being edged out of your own country by the British government,” recalls Richards, but he suggests too that the reason for their flight from Britain was not just to do with their dire financial predicament.

“They couldn’t ignore that we were a force to be reckoned with.”


In 1972 the Stones were indeed a commanding force in British music, their outlaw stance having a rebellious appeal that put both ‘Exile On Main Street’ (the album they recorded in France) and its predecessor ‘Sticky Fingers’ at the top of the British album charts. It was an image that John Foxx and Ultravox admired – raw, edgy and counter-cultural. Over the next three years however, the band experienced legal and logistical difficulties due to their self-imposed exile status, several arrests on drug-related charges and various management conflicts. Life at the end of their particular rainbow was perhaps not as golden as they had hoped.

It seldom is, though it is something we all habitually seek. We are always trying to find the happiness on which our life depends; looking for pointers to show us which way to go. The end of the rainbow represents a place where we will find a pot of gold, the reward for all our work and toils through life. The place where all our dreams come true and everything is just as it should be. But of course, the place does not actually exist and any quest to seek it is ultimately futile.

Foxx opens his lyric with a metaphorical reference to the grey, drizzling streets of suburban England, the dullness of life in Dartford (where the Stones were formed) in direct contrast with the sun-kissed beaches of the French Riviera. The aspirational quest for a  ‘Hollywood’ dream lifestyle of the rich and famous coveted by those ‘condemned’ to a life of domesticated  mediocrity. He sets this into his own context, squatting in several different addresses around London’s Regents Park in 1973 / 74. Many of his contemporaries lived this way at the time, members of the Damned and the Clash for example forming from London SS and other amorphous bands inhabited by a succession of wandering minstrels with no fixed abode.
Foxx alludes further to the subject of exile and evasion by referring to the book of ‘no return’ – a double meaning that connects with, and develops, the idea of leaving while at the same time overtly suggesting that no tax is due by ‘return’ from the cold boy (Jagger? Richards?) to the Inland Revenue…

The narrative returns to the first person in the second stanza, while further extending the metaphor of leaving and loss. Burning a picture of someone suggests the end of a relationship and desire to break any connective memories. He uses the word again in the next verse. It is dramatically and deliberately destructive and final. His lover was unpredictable and difficult – switching inconsistently from martyr to boss. He continues his bitterness in the chorus, delivered in a whisper to give depth and a sinister undertone. His ‘formerly trusted friend’ has betrayed him, affirming a conviction that life at the end of the rainbow (a perpetually content and fulfilled state) is fragile and not the halcyon state we imagine it to be.

If it were, we would all be millionaires.

For the song’s third verse, Foxx puts himself at rainbow’s end. He has arrived in the dreamlike, alter-state where everything is perfect. He uses a characteristic theme to describe his intrinsic happiness – the idea that our experience’s are sown in to the fabric of our being and make us who we are. In later work, expressed through the adopted persona of The Quiet Man, this fabric of grammar and experience becomes the cloth from which his grey suit is cut. Foxx likes to blurs the edges between dreams and reality, between fiction and fact: between the generic ‘Rainbow’s End’ and ‘Main Street’, fictional addresses in the city of the dead. Neither of which can be found on the map he has burned (a second cartographic reference on this album. See Wide Boys) to make absolutely sure he remains alone and safe from the betraying lover he has left behind. And the tax man…

Maps? A source of fascination and more-than-occasional reference. Documents of a journey? The graphic visualisation of a complex reality? A fabric of interwoven lines, symbols and words? Interpretive artworks with no linear, chronological structure, no predefined point of entry or narrative direction? John Foxx subsequent forty year career visualised as a ‘map’ of his journey through a city of his own creating…? Hmmm…

This lyric, like I Want To Be A Machine, is an extravagant piece of writing, at times hallucinatory and dreamlike, other times neo-romantic and elaborate, poetic and carefully structured. Some might say overblown with Art-school pretence… The final verse is set in some kind of sordid underworld, where wide boys and priests play ‘death cards’ to impress the whores draped around the table. The vicar ultimately gets the girl, lustfully confessing all to her in a drunken and challenging reversal of roles. Foxx is a master of this kind of imagery and uses it well throughout the ‘Ultravox!’ album. He’s an equally competent and daring wordsmith too, always seeking to both amuse and confuse with his language. Notice, for example, the internal rhymes – ‘I suppose I chose a [good introduction]‘ and ‘only lonely [parties]‘ , structured to aid scanning and delivery. For a northern lad come south and the associated politics of accent, the ‘southern’ pronunciation of ‘dancer’ so that it deliberately does not rhyme with ‘cancer’ in the last line would be irresistible.

It’s a powerful, disturbing image too, using the tender intimacy of a kiss to shock and discomfort –  which just adds to the mastery of the composition.


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