In A World Possessed By The Human Mind references


We should start by mentioning that the album title Man Machine Poem was not the original title for this album. As it was described to me, the album title was changed last minute "because David Bowie died." Your guess is as good as mine. The revised title is of course drawn from the 2012 Hip song of the same name. Gord told the CBC's Wendy Mesley that much of the 2012 record was about his wife Laura's fight with cancer.

Sadly, Downie's own cancer diagnosis became known a few weeks before the release of 2016's Man Machine Poem album. Many of the lyrics that were Laura inspired then, and may have been again here on In A World Possessed By The Human Mind, now seem to fit Gord himself, tragically.

"...Just give me the news
It can all be lies
Exciting over fair or the right thing at the right time"

"...Everything is clear
Just how you described..."

Gord explained to Mesley in the 2012 interview that the references to "clear" were taken from the jargon nurses used while looking at Laura's blood or scans.

From Cameron Westhead:

"I may have some information to add to your references for the lyrics to "In A World Possessed By The Human Mind." I am an operating room nurse that specializes in neurosurgery, and I think this song describes Downie's experience in the operating room. Allow me to elaborate:

(SD: I should note here that much of the album was written and recorded before Gord's cancer diagnosis. While not Gord's experience in an operating room per se, perhaps an experience he shared with Laura and would then, unknowingly at the time, undergo himself.)

Just gimme the news
It can all be lies
Exciting over fair or the right thing at the right time

Explanation: oftentimes brain tumors can't be fully diagnosed until a physical sample is taken, so "gimme the news" is what patients want to know after they wake up from surgery.

Everything is clear
Just how you described
The way it appears, 'a world possessed by the human mind'

Explanation: nurses and doctors (at least good ones) prepare their patients for the surgical experience by describing what the patient can expect. Having an understanding of the process helps patients cope with the unfamiliar sites, sounds, and routines of a hospital.

Then I think I smiled
Then I think you said, 'it's fine'
And quietly I dressed in a world completely possessed by the human mind

Explanation: midazolam is one of the drugs most commonly given during anesthesia induction, and it has a strong amnestic effect. That is, even though the patient is conscious, they do not remember what they said or did while under the effects of midazolam. So "I think I smiled" and "I think you said" is likely a reference to what a patient would expect to have happened, but can't be certain since the midazolam creates amnesia for that experience. Getting "quietly dressed" may be a reference to how surgical patients must put on a gown and take off their street clothes to go into surgery.

We're in awe of no one
We've none of their fear
Fighting's going nowhere, and we stay right here

Explanation: good surgeons and surgical teams are humble and unafraid. They are confident in their abilities, yet also know their limitations of what they can and can't do to help patients. Being too aggressive when trying to remove a diffuse tumor can cause a patient to lose functions yet not provide a better outcome in the long run. That is, the goal of a surgery for a tumor like this is to take as much as possible (known as debulking) but not to go after every last bit because that can risk serious complications like bleeding or compromised neural functioning. With an invasive tumor, it is inevitable that some will be left behind no matter how good the surgeon is, so the real goal is to remove as much as possible to reduce the pressure a bulk forming tumor creates inside the skull. Sometimes the tumor is proximal to major blood vessels, brain stem, or neural tracts that would result in debilitation if they are disrupted, so surgeons steer clear of those areas in these types of cases. The tumor left behind is then dealt with by radiation and/or chemotherapy.

Where everything is quiet
A little super-dangerous
'In the shadow of the law and with colours of justice'*

Explanation: staff in the operating room try to keep a quiet atmosphere when the patient arrives and until they are anesthetized. This helps keep patients calm and have a better experience. "Super-dangerous" probably refers to the fact that Downie is about to have brain surgery, which most people would consider "super-dangerous." Luckily, surgical teams are highly trained and rarely have adverse outcomes.

Then I hope I smiled
Then I'm sure you said, 'it's fine,
They got no innarest in a world completely possessed by the human mind!'

Explanation: reference again to the amnestic effects of midazolam.

Everything is quiet
Lil super-dangerous
Quiet enough to hear god rustling around in the bushes

Explanation: sometimes patients describe the only thing they can hear is their heart beat in their ears, which could explain "god rustling around in the bushes."

Oh, but it was you
Girl, I was so afraid
You said, 'you shoulda seen the look on your face'

Explanation: when patients wake up after surgery, they are often disoriented. Downie could be describing seeing his wife after surgery and being slightly disoriented. Also, when patients are recovering from anesthesia, they can display interesting facial expressions.

"...They got no interest in a world completely possessed by the human mind."

A Neil Young reference of sorts? Here's Michael Barclay's take from Never Ending Present:

"Neil Young's influence surfaces when Downie purposely mispronounces "interest" as "innarest" in the song "In A World Possessed By The Human Mind." "Innarest" is a vocal tick of Young's left intact by biographer Jimmy McDonough throughout the book Shakey."