Soul Removal / Height Down

Private IdahoRiver’s last will and testament. A mysterious song recorded by River and John Frusciante at an unknown time, though I suspect it was the night before he died. John Frusciante attempted to release the song on his 1994 album, Usually Just a T-shirt, but was forced to remove it by River’s mother. In 1997, he renamed the song Height Down and released it on his solo album Smile From The Streets You Hold.

Designed by Frusciante, the album cover depicts the scene of the crime featuring the poisoned drink, the two-way mirror leading to Johnny Depp’s office and what looks to be a soul rising from a heart. We see a full moon looking down on the scene and a snake-like form emerging from the bottle (the sidewinder) and biting the lined figure with the three shapes. To the right of the snakebite there appears to be a sad face staring at the bottle. I believe the lined figure symbolizes River, perhaps in the form of an acoustic guitar which he brought with him that night. The three shapes represent those responsible for his death in order of guilt: The Kingship (the diamond), Heart Phoenix (the heart), and Michael Stipe (the zero). We also see a scaly, smaller figure to the left of the shapes with a frightened expression and what looks to be a red hat. It appears to be reaching out to the lined figure. Still not sure about that one. Not sure about the symbol to the right of the bottle either, perhaps a phoenix bird rising from its ashes?

The artwork on the flipside of the album depicts a fishlike or birdlike figure with legs that appears to be on the verge of falling over face first, which is exactly how River fell. The photographer on the scene that night, Ron Davis, described River as “looking like a fish out of water” as he convulsed on the pavement. An X marks the spot where the figure will fall and the background is colored red. To the bottom left-side of the figure we see what looks to be a red knife/sword with (possibly) cat ears attached. Not sure about this either but it does fit in with R.E.M.’s song The Worst Joke Ever describing the cat burglar falling on his knife.

River_Diego2The lyrics read like a riddle. For a more in depth analysis you can go here, but to summarize, River will send flowers to his mother for his funeral. Blossom castle scents is a reference to the poison in his drink given to him by his mother’s guest (presumably Michael Stipe). The gift is given to him at the Viper Room owned by his friendly rival, Johnny Depp. He describes the aftermath of his death and seeing the symbolism in the Rolling Throne spread as well as his own cremation. Gather round the fireplace feelin’ freaky son. The murderless helping hands are his friends, possibly P, who were called in for his soul removal, a volcanic change of plot that I have yet to solve but obviously went horribly wrong. He knows the kingship wants him dead and his mother is following suit. I believe the line, “kingship gives it to her for me,” has a double meaning and I’ll leave it at that.

John Frusciante’s part is a plea for River to forego his plans (his volcanic change of plot) and skip going to the Viper Room. Frusciante is afraid it won’t work and that they’ll be sabotaged. He wants River to stand down. Height Down.

Soul Removal

Two, three, four…

I’ll send flowers again for her
Blossom castle scents has her guest
a gift described, disguised as my rival.

Lovely life full regret
psychos did you hear dirty boys only
see that Rolling Throne story unfold
yeah or how it might be
I can sure see how they’ll take
gather round the fireplace
feelin’ freaky son.

Murderless helping hands in a soul removal.
Leader says century now
Kingship gives it to her for me.

Feather ascends

Failing light nailed its spike through the wall
to realize that they’ll come after what you’ve planned for
I’m pleading foregoing tomorrow to do it right.

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16 thoughts on “Soul Removal / Height Down”

  1. I never really thought about this song being recorded just before his demise. It totally makes sense, as River wanted to show a new song to his brother which might have been this one, and it also explains why it was released posthumously as well as the creepy lyrics that are nothing like what he used to write for Aleka’s Attic. Is there any way we could get John to tell us?

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      1. I was responsible for that anon comment, I was just too lazy to properly log in. I salute you man, I think you did a cracking job with this site.

        Not too long ago I read in the webpage Rio’s Attic a timeline of River’s life and I thought it was odd that he prepared his will so shortly before dying, as well as it not mentioning his father (I mean, River wanted to make a film about him – how much could he have hated him?) so when I stumbled upon your theory I felt like all those fishy details and the lack of a proper police investigation finally made sense.

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  2. That symbol to the right of the bottle, on Frusciante’s album cover, looks similar to the fleur de lis of the fleur di lis and square and compass ring, Brad Pitt has worn:

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  3. I never understood why would Arlyn want to have this song unreleased, and why she didn’t keep on insisting. Was it okay for John to put it on his next album after he changed the song’s name, making the main theme less obvious? Or perhaps she was never aware of the album coming, and when she found out got the album pulled (that being the actual reason for it being out of print instead of John being embarrased by it)? Niandra Lades and Usually Just a T-Shirt is “embarrasing” as well and probably released for drug money, too, given its timing. Yet it was reissued.

    An old quote from his website:

    “I recently listened to ‘Smile’ again and really loved it, it’s really a wonderful album and it should be out there, people should be able to listen to it.”

    I wonder what sort of problem affected him…

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      1. The lyric “failing light nailed its spike through the wall” makes me think that John’s vocals were added after River’s passing. The recordings on Smile from the Streets You Hold aren’t unaltered tapes as the lo-fi approach may have you believe, listen to the pitch effects in Enter A Uh. I haven’t listened to his first two albums throughly, but I think one way to tell would be to the compare his vocals in Height Down to those in Niandra Lades and Usually Just a T-Shirt’s songs and hear if they match. His voice sounded different in 1997 due to his teeth falling out. He might have recorded them long before that though.

        If they were added at a later time, it would give more evidence to the case of him speaking through his music, and also the lyric “will we ever get together in a song?” in Dark/Light would make more sense, as in: his wish wasn’t fulfilled. I could also take River’s vocals and put mine after his, you know…

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  4. I know this is not the best moment for requests, but when you have time I urge you to write the article Smile From The Streets You Hold deserves. It’s one of those rare works released shortly after River’s death where we can feel his ghost throughout them, so to speak. When I left my previous messages here, I only listened to four songs of the album: the ones featuring River, Life’s A Bath and Enter A Uh, and now that I have heard some more I conclude it’s worth analysing.

    Take for example the title track. The lyrics “you’re the one who knows me best. Put your things, put your plan to the test” and “you’re the one with the stars” make me think it’s written for River. But the most interesting part comes right after the later line, when John’s singing is suddenly overlayed by guitar for some seconds and is silenced beyond the song’s structure, as if something wasn’t supposed to be heard. When John began tweaking the tapes, did he realize he slipped his mouth a bit too much on this one and muffled one possibly incriminating lyric?

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  5. I know this is not the best moment for requests, but when you have time I urge you to write the article Smile From The Streets You Hold deserves. It’s one of those rare works released shortly after River’s death where we can feel his ghost throughout them, so to speak. When I left my previous messages here, I only listened to four songs of the album: the ones featuring River, Life’s A Bath and Enter A Uh, and now that I have heard some more I conclude it’s worth analysing.

    Take for example the title track. The lyrics “you’re the one who knows me best. Put your things, put your plan to the test” and “you’re the one with the stars” make me think it’s written for River. But the most interesting part comes right after the later line, when John’s singing is suddenly overlayed by guitar for some seconds and is silenced beyond the song’s structure, as if something wasn’t supposed to be heard. When John began tweaking the tapes, did he realize he slipped his mouth a bit too much on this one and muffled one possibly incriminating lyric?

    Then we have I May Again Know John. Lyrics for it vary around the web, since his vocals are very distorted and it’s hard to make out what he says, but I think the transcription found in the Invisible Movement fanpage is pretty accurate. At the very beginning of the track he is definitely saying “remember me if you loved me, Mother Nature’s slaughtered me”. Don’t you think he may be referring to Heart Phoenix? Many of her children were named after nature, so Mother Nature is one appropiate if perhaps lazy nickname.

    I believe now more than ever that Heart’s holding back this album’s reissue. I’ve picked a couple more clues, but I want to know what you think of these so far.

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  6. With respect to the album cover art, it is possible the diamond, heart, and oval refer to the family members involved: diamond = Joaquin (similar to a leaf shape and is green), heart = Arlyn (heart of course), oval = Rain (similar to a raindrop shape and white/clear). Rain and Leaf played part in delaying the paramedics/not informing them of his drug use. Heart dropped the investigation and forced everyone’s silence. It also makes sense to me that they are represented in the art because they are all connected to the same string.

    I just wish I could figure out what that symbol is on the bottom right. Seems that could be a very obscure but important clue.

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  7. Hi, I’m looking at the description you made about the cover art of Smile, and it’s not true. Toni Oswald said on an interview to Universo Frusciante that the cover was a painting that John did in 1991/1992, while in tour with the Chili Peppers. It was not made after River’s death and it has nothing to do with him.

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