Hello, I am a teacher at Mira Loma High School and I am currently teaching
NIGHT by Elie Wiesel and I was thinking of using the lyrics from “Budapest
by blimp” as an example of entertainers trying to raise the consciousness of
society to the atrocities that have been inflicted on humanity.
This being said, I was wondering if there was any way that you could help me
to learn more about Thomas Dolby’s inspiration for the song?
Or what the blimp symbolizes?
Or anything else related to the song?
If you can not help help me with this, can you steer me to someone who
Anything is appreciated.
Mira Loma High School
Michael, this is quite timely as the song features in my current video podcast. I’m sometimes reluctant to spill the beans about everything that was going on in my head when I wrote a song, because sometimes people form their own opinions and make connections that relate to their lives, and I don’t want to supplant those with my ‘official’ version. But I’ll tell you a little bit about ‘Budapest By Blimp’.
On the surface it’s a nostalgic love song written for a woman I left behind in Europe. The US places a high value on everything European, which it equates with class and substance. American immigrants over the years have mourned the loss of their old world values. I use terms which work both in the US and back home: ‘on the corners of boulevards’, and ‘in the cafes and shoppping malls’. Many of the terms refer to American attempts to emulate Europe—’under pillars and palaces…’ always made me think of Washington DC. It seems I’m missing European charm and history. A train whistle blows mournfully in the distance.
But things are not quite what they seem. In the second verse it starts to turn a bit nasty. I complain ‘how far away I’ve drifted’. It’s all a ‘tragedy’, a ‘grand illusion.’ And it’s not at all the way they taught you in school.
An innocent child’s voice comes in—sounding less like a happy Hungarian schoolgirl, more like an orphaned refugee. The instrumental textures become a bit more unnerving, and strange voice samples almost sound like tormented ghosts from the past. The song crashes into an instrumental with a strong sense of urgency to it, like fleeing through cobbled streets at dusk.
The worst case scenario hits…. your imagination fills in the blank. A wolf howls. The fog clears. And an obscene, rouged Cabaret-style face appears, welcoming you (in pidgin French) to what’s left of Europe’s splendour: ‘a shriveled page, ripped from the book of history.’ All those riches America holds in such high esteem are really ill-gotten gains, amassed in Europe at the expense of all the tribes and races we trampled to become the great continent we were. It’s an ugly smack in the face for Imperialism through the centuries. We end the song floating over a huge, delusional crowd, packed into a spendid city square for a night rally, chanting for some imaginary leader. But the leader won’t give them what they want to hear. Over the tannoy he screams that the march of nations is ‘not really a goosestep—more of a limp.’ Overhead looms our massive gas-filled dirigeable, which could ignite and explode at any moment, leaving nothing but a crumpled, smoldering iron frame.
I never made a video for this song, because as you can tell, it would require a huge budget and a cast of thousands. But even if I had them at my disposal, I’m not sure I’d make the video. I think the song already tells the story the way I want it told. I’m delighted at the thought of your kids listening to it, 20 years after I recorded it, and still picking up on the imagery. I hope this helps!