“The Puppet Has Cut His Strings” by Elvis Costello


Elvis Costello’s “The Puppet Has Cut His Strings” is a highly allegorical song. And we would have to presume that some of its lyrical content is only really decipherable to the singer himself, since this narrative is actually based on Elvis witnessing the passing of his father. 

That is something that the listener would likely be able to ascertain him or herself without such foreknowledge. That is to say it becomes pretty apparent about midway through this piece that the vocalist is addressing an older person who is indeed in the process of leaving the earthly plane and proceeds to pass before the song is finished.

“The Puppet Has Cut His Strings”

The title of this track can be found during the opening bars and also at about the midpoint of its singular verse. And all lyrics considered, the titular “puppet” would be a moniker for the main subject, who once again would be the singer’s dad. 

And the ‘strings he’s cutting’ lead back to another female character who is not identified and is seemingly only referenced in this line. 

So the implication would be that she is the puppet master, and the subject, as stated, the “puppet”. So it is feasible that this female character is meant to serve as a personification of life itself. And therefore ‘the puppet cutting his strings’ would be a metaphor for Costello’s dad now disassociating himself from life, i.e. dying. 

Also interesting to note is that the narrator does indeed use the simile of a “puppet”. This therefore connotes that his father was in some sort of less-than-favorable position at the time of his departure and presumably, by implication, during an unspecified period of time leading up to said event. 

So with that in mind, it is possible that the aforementioned female figure is rather a personification of death than life. We can postulate that the singer’s pops perhaps died a slow, drawn-out death, or something like that.

And so it is with this entire piece, that the listener is forced to make such assumptions in the name of understanding exactly what’s going down. 

Narrator’s Father Dies A Lonely Death

But as stated earlier, some subsequent parts of this narrative are a bit more understandable than the title segment. 

So for instance, we can conclude that the passage which immediately follows the intro alludes to the idea of Elvis’s dad having died lonely. The vocalist is sort of implying that he was the only person at his father’s deathbed.

Life Goes On

The next passage seemingly points to the notion that even though it may be a gloomy day in the life of the vocalist, outside everything is as sunny and beautiful as it’s always been. In other words, Elvis is probably speaking on the concept of how even though a death may be devastating to those directly involved, to the rest of the world it’s just another day.

A Feeble Addressee and the Funeral

The following few lines start off a bit more literal, i.e. more directly connoting that the singer is chanting about interacting with a feeble person. Then comes a re-rendering of what can be called the hook of the song, as in the few lines in which the title is recited, as analyzed above. 

Subsequently, the closing part of the narrative seems to center primarily on the subject’s funeral. And there is also a sense of sadness on the part of the vocalist himself which, understandably, permeates throughout this entire piece (for instance referring to his father as a “puppet”).

In Conclusion

All of the above said, heavily symbolic songs like these can sometimes be frustrating to decipher. They may make for good listening, and you have to respect an artist’s artistry. But at the same time, composing lyrics for mass consumption that the masses may not even be able to understand kinda defeats the purpose. 

But again, Elvis does an admirable job of treading that thin line between being personally artistic and getting the main point across, which is that someone he loved has died. And at the end of the day, you can’t really expect someone to just speak freely, to the public even, about a life event as profound as the death of a parent. This is even more difficult if it is a parent who was actually instrumentally involved in their upbringing.

Elvis Costello, "The Puppet Has Cut His Strings" Lyrics
Elvis Costello describes "The Puppet Has Cut His Strings"

Elvis Costello

Elvis Costello is a late 20th century English singer, not to be confused with American music icon Elvis Presley (1935-1977) nor legendary comedian Lou Costello (1906-1959). And even though Costello’s discography dates back to the late 1970s, he has remained very much active into the 21st century. 

Release Date of “The Puppet Has Cut His Strings”

“The Puppet Has Cut His Strings” is derived from “Wise Up Ghost”. This is a collaborative album he put out alongside popular hip-hop act The Roots on 17 September 2013 via Blue Note Records

This was one of the last songs Elvis and The Roots put together for “Wise Up Ghost”.

Credits

In terms of the specific artists credited with its composition, Elvis and Roots’ member ?uestlove (pronounced Questlove) contributed to the composing of this piece.

In creating this song, the pair were also aided by Steve Mandel and Ray Angry, who is also down with The Roots. But that said Costello was definitely the main songwriter of this piece. He is said to have even done so in “one draft”. He then proceeded to record his vocal in his kitchen.

The Puppet Has Cut His Strings

Who was Elvis Costello’s Father?

Elvis’ father was called Ross McManus (1927-2011). He was a professional musician himself. In fact he was so successful in that regard, particularly during the 1960s, that he even has his own Wikipedia page. As such, he was instrumental in Elvis taking up a likewise interest. Furthermore, Ross also played his primary instrument, the trumpet, on a couple of his son’s albums.

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