Nothing to chauffeur a classiomatic

One of my favourite records (now CDs) of all time is Duran Duran’s Rio. I’ve listened to it countless times, and almost all of those times on speakers, not headphones, until recently, when I started listening to music at work in the afternoon to keep from getting drowsy.

Towards the end of the last track, “The Chauffeur,” there’s some speech and other sounds. The speech is in a resonant male voice with a somewhat toasty British accent. For years I really didn’t know what the voice was saying. You can’t tell that well over speakers, especially with the pan pipes, synthesizer and especially drums going all at the same time. I amused myself imagining the most audible bit was “It’s Maury Niska-Nagay, and Maury’s… covered in shit.” I knew, of course, that that certainly wasn’t it, though there were sounds of that general order.

But recently, listening to it on headphones, I thought, “No, really, what is that dude saying?” Sensibly enough, I didn’t just try to figure it out myself first. I looked it up. I found out at Ask Katy that it was “from a nature record that the band found. The man is talking about ‘insects in the grass’.” And several lyrics sites were quite obliging in giving what the specific words were. Well, to a certain extent.

All the sources pretty much agree that the most audible part (which starts just after 3:51 in the song) is There’s more to this kind of camouflage. More than just colour and shape. A few put it as “more of” rather than “more to,” but if you put on your headphones and listen it’s pretty clear.

Many of the sources act as though that’s all there is of this voice. But my ears told me otherwise. There’s a short bit before it (just after 3:38), and a longer bit some time after it (starting about 4:46), and possibly another little bit later (at 5:02).

The beginning of the bit at 4:46 is also often included. Most of the sites you visit have it as Who’s going now; some have it as Who’s calling now. But there’s more to it. And the rest of the sentence gets a variety of interpretations. The ones that have Who’s calling now? tend to have From the twilight’s last gleaming. The ones that have Who’s going now often have no more, but if they have a rest of the sentence it’s often into a classiomatic.

Into a what? WTF is a classiomatic?

Whatever it is, there are a lot of people out there saying that’s what the guy is saying! People post a question: “What’s that voice saying?” And others say, “Who’s going now… in to a classiomatic.” And others are like, “Yeah, that’s it.” And the person who asked is like, “Thanks, now I know.” And you get the sense that the more people say it’s so, the truer it is, or something.

I reasoned that, given that the voice was the same all the way through, whatever he was saying had to relate to insects in the grass. “Classiomatic” didn’t seem likely. But I figured that if I followed the lead on “classiomatic” I might find someone saying what it actually was. I might even find out what a classiomatic is!

Well, first of all, the answer to “What is a classiomatic?” is “A mishearing of some speech in the background of ‘The Chauffeur’ by Duran Duran.” The word didn’t exist before, and it still doesn’t have a real object to refer to. If anyone can find good evidence for the existence of classiomatic prior to the release of Rio, please post it. I’m not holding my breath waiting for something to show for it.

But, in the world of ‘net “knowledge,” which often operates at about the same level as the general “knowledge” of grade 8 schoolkids, that’s no obstacle. This “classiomatic” is passed around like a doobie. Google |what is a classiomatic| and you’ll get this page first: a foray into that dungeon of the benighted, Yahoo Answers, where the blind lead the blind and other blind people vote on which road looks best. (If you think my criticism of Yahoo Answers is harsh, just check it for anything to do with, say, English usage. Even –and sometimes especially – the “winning” answers can be breathtakingly ignorant.)

But in this case, the “winning” answer doesn’t pretend to know; the author just has the most appealing imagination, which is not such a bad approach for an illusory word. Another one of the answers gives a brief exegesis on the etymology of classiomatic and its significance in the song. It’s useful for two reasons: a) there really is a basis for a construction such as classiomatic; it’s made of discernible English parts; b) it talks about its relation to the song, and while the actual details on the word are outside of reality, you can see where the ethos of the song – as reinforced by its video, which involves a “classic” or “classy” kind of eroticism (fair warning: bare tits near the end) plus a shiny car (automatic?) – could make such a word seem plausible.

But anyway. None of this got me any closer to the real words.

And what about the other two bits I could hear? No one, anwhere, seems to even acknowledge they’re there.

So I opened the track from my CD in a nice little program called Amadeus II, which I use mostly to cut music for my wife’s figure skating students’ programs (it does a great job). It has a few filters and tools, nothing really really super-high-end but enough to help trim out some of the distracting noise. I put on my headphones and listened. Used up a nice little piece of my evening on this exercise (add the writing of this post and “a nice little piece” = “all”). And here are the results.

After 3:38, the first two words are actually pretty clear: “known as.” After that, it sounds fairly clearly to me like “Albert Schweitzer.” Evidently these insects had something to do with the good doctor. Or else the “known as” refers to something that just sounds pretty much like “Albert Schweitzer.” But it sounds sufficiently much like that to me that I will put, provisionally:

3:38 …known as… Albert Schweitzer.

There follow some breathing-type sounds, like Darth Vader (the sound quality of this guy’s voice is somewhat Vaderish, too, which had me wondering at first, back in the ’80s, whether it was a Star Wars clip). Then some insect chirps.

Then, at 3:51, exactly what pretty much everyone hears:

3:51 There’s more to this kind of camouflage… More than just colour and shape.

Then there’s more chirping and a lengthy section of the music. (The vocals end before the beginning of the sound clips.) Then there’s the real problem segment. And it trails off some near the end and has loud percussion and all that… Knowing the subject helps to guess. But this is a real exercise in top-down effects on speech perception. If you think you hear something, it sounds more like what you think you hear. It’s similar to how things in the dark can look exactly like human forms and faces, and then when you turn the light on they look nothing like them. Categorical perception is a fascinating issue in linguistics; it’s why anglophones often aren’t even aware that there’s an aspiration on the p in pan that’s not there on the p in span, even while some other languages would treat those two sounds as different, and why speakers of Spanish merge some English vowels and speakers of Japanese have a hard time with l and so on. It’s also responsible for the speech-to-song illusion, whereby a snippet of speech, taken out of context and repeated, can come to sound enough like music that many people will repeat it as music. (Check out the link. It’s really interesting. For the record, I heard the speech the same all the way through, as did some others I know, but others – no less linguistically trained, to be sure! – hear the illusion.)

So I listened and listened and applied some filters and some other filters and tried different headphones and thought about it and… First of all, once you get it clearer, it’s pretty clearly “Who’s going now,” even though I would like it to be “Who’s calling now,” since my guess is that the “more to this kind of camouflage” is sound, i.e., the chirping. After that? Next is “in the” for sure; once you listen carefully, that’s evident. Next I found could be “tall grass” or “tall glass” or… but “tall grass” makes sense. And after that? I kept listening until something fell into place. The vowels are [i] [ai] [ei], what we tend to call “long e, i, a.” And what fell into place was “near my tail.” Now that’s what I hear pretty clearly. Could be top-down effects! But I do think I have it. So:

4:46 Who’s going now… in the tall grass near my tail?

Note that there’s a certain pattern to that which, with some transposition, could suggest “at the twilight’s last gleaming.” Also note that, if you listen with all the music and everything, heard over speaker, “into a classiomatic” actually sounds like a plausible transcription, the unlikeliness of it aside. A useful lesson in the fuzzy nature of speech phonetics. You only distinguish speech sounds by the harmonics (in technical terms, formants) made by the shape of your articulatory passage, especially your tongue. The main distinguishers are the resonances from the throat to the the back of the tongue, which are lower when the tongue is higher, and the resonances from the front of the tongue to the mouth opening, which are higher when the tongue is farther forward. There are other factors and resonances, too, certainly, but it’s really about harmonics. And many things can interfere with and distort those! Yes, there’s more to this kind of camouflage…

Oh, and the fourth bit of speech? I’m not 100% sure I hear it, but it might be there; it’s very brief and whispered. Put on your headphones and pay attention, and you may hear an important admonition:

5:02 Listen.


Addendum, three years later: a commenter (below) has directed my attention to a video with the band members answering questions, and one of them talks about this. On the basis of what he says, and of input from other commenters, I can confidently revise my hearing of the key line a little:

Who’s crawling now, in the tall grass near my tent?

53 responses to “Nothing to chauffeur a classiomatic

  1. Note, by the way, that if you have the Greatest Hits CD, this song — like others — is trimmed and you don’t hear all of the speech in question.

    And if you have the single of Rio, the version of this on the B-side is completely different.

  2. Excellent write-up. Now that I listen, given this new direction, it makes complete sense…. or is it my mind wanting to match the sounds to the text?

  3. I used some audio software to accentuate the vocal as much as I could. I think the last part is “who’s going now….in the tour past the Arctic?”.

    • And what would that have to do with bugs in the grass, which is what the clip was reportedly about?

      I’ve listened to it quite a few times with a fair amount of filtering, and that’s not quite like what I heard. But of course ideally we’ll ultimately find out from the actual source… Perhaps I should email Simon LeBon. Or his producer.

      Anyway, we’re agreed that it’s not “into a classiomatic!”

  4. This was a great article. Thanks for posting.

  5. I recently ripped my 20+ year old import Rio CD. There is definitely more after 4:48. Of course I didn’t have ProTools back then. I supposed I’ll import it and work the audio over to see if the voice can be isolated.

  6. And if anyone ever identifies and finds the source recording…!

  7. An update: Filtering 4:43 – 4:47 –

    – bandpass filter to allow 90Hz->4.8kHz through
    – chorus with low delay and a high width to broaden the frequencies of the voice
    – pitch shift to slow it down a bit

    It cleared up this a great deal. I hear,”Who’s crawling now in the tall grass of the …?”

    It will take more work to clear up the last syllables.

    There is also a short set of syllables before “There’s more to…”.

    I’ll work on both to see how it cleans up.

  8. it says

    “what’s going on now in the twighlight zone”

    • Hmm. I hear more syllables. It gets quieter towards the end, so it’s possible to miss them, but I do think there’s more to account for. I’m wondering, too, whether something on insects in the grass would refer to the twilight zone… not impossible, of course.

  9. I’d always heard the (almost) final words at 4:46 as ‘in the toy cars in the attic’, referring to the theme of being a chauffeur. That doesn’t stand up too well now, having read that the rest of the words refer to insects. It’s been a puzzle for years….

  10. It does sound like John Hurt in Watership Down

  11. Hi James, It’s been really amazing reading this post of yours as this exact puzzle of trying to work out the exact spoken lyrics at the end of The Chauffeur is something that’s baffled me since 1983!!

    I’ve always thought without doubt that the lyrics at 3:51 are indeed “There’s more to this kind of camouflage… More than just colour and shape”

    But what I found interesting is Al’s comment above as I always thought the lyric at 4:46 was “Who’s going now, in the twilights of the attic?”

    I know that Nick Rhodes has stated that he found a nature recording and used it as a background sample when recording the track and that it’s sample of a man talking about the behaviour of insects in grass but why is it so hard to make out exactly what is being said – Aghhhhhh!!!

    I’m thinking of contacting Nick directly via the ‘Ask Katy’ section on the official Duran Duran site as surely he must use the exact sample frequently.

    I’ll let you know if I get a reply!

    • Oo! Yes, nothing like straight from the horse’s mouth. Of course, it may turn out to have been something that was lying around that he hasn’t looked at since. But it can’t hurt. Might even identify the source specifically!

  12. Hi James – A quick update for you – I emailed Katy that runs the official Duran Duran website and she emailed back to say, and I quote:

    “They (the band) have no idea, sorry (it has been asked before!)”

    So I guess we’ll never really ever know :*(

    • Ah well. Someone somewhere has to have that “insects in the grass” record. Maybe it’ll show up on YouTube sometime. Maybe one of us will stumble on it in a library or store sometime!

  13. I am completely blown away. In short my girl friend died on my birthday three years ago in a car crash. So last week was I celebrated her birthday (3.23.82). I heard this song and thought of how I used to drive her all the time – Me…The Chauffeur…Until she got that corolla that crashed and killed her.

    Regardless I heard this phantom’s voice. Gave me chills. I think I heard ‘your time will come soon’. So everyday for the past week I’ve been listening to this song trying to figure out what is being said. I find it strange the last post was on her birthday.

    The fact the band had never been asked this before tho blows my mind. I started thinking maybe some of the audio is a poor bleed from some old tape back in the day. Perhaps some backwards masking. Regardless it is so strange that nobody knows what is being said. It reminds me of how Micheal Stipe barely knew all the lyrics for End of the Word As We Know It, and had to ‘look them up on a computer, and not sure they’re right’.

  14. Like it! I just wondered this myself.
    My ears say either
    “who’s calling now..in the twilight schematic”
    or
    “who’s calling now..in the twilight-skimmed attic”

    twilight skimmed you say? Yeah I think if this..

    G

  15. No actually, listening again I concur with an above post, twilight of the attic.
    Attic being the treetops of a forest.
    F

  16. This is great! After revisiting this song some 15 years after I first fell in love with it, I only now became aware that there ever *were* these words at the end. But I was ever so dissatisfied with the “classiomatic” solution all the lyrics pages suggested. I just immediately figured the guy was saying “axiomatic” and that the word “classiomatic” didn’t exist. As a test, I just googled the word “classiomatic” and as I suspected only pages relating to “The Chauffeur” appeared. As for the “blind leading the blind” Yahoo answers, etc. (I couldn’t agree more) I knew these “interpret it yourself” answers were pure BS if the sample were in fact pulled from a nature/insect source.

    Anyway, I have no new solutions to this, but I’m just glad to have found the remnant of reason–those unwilling to buy into this “classiomatic” bunk! 🙂

    Thanks so much everybody!

  17. “Who’s calling now? In the tall grass near my tent.”

  18. Fascinating stuff. Thanks to the Internet I now know many others have been straining to understand these words for close to 30 years. The first longer sentence was never particularly clear for me. I always assumed it ended with the phrase “…covered in shade.” Now that I’ve isolated the voice using Audacity I can confirm it is “More than just color and shape.” The longer sentence towards the end was much more audible to me over the years. I always assumed it was “Who’s calling now, in the 12 clocks in the attic?” The first part of that sentence seems pretty dead on. It is a nature record about insects and we hear plenty of crickets throughout the track. Chirping crickets would be “calling” wouldn’t they? But the phrase could also be “…in the toy box in the attic.” I don’t think it’s twilight because I hear a distinct “s” sound before what I think is “in the attic.”

    • Insects making chirping noises very often are in fact calling, to each other.

      I used Amadeus. I think we need someone with more expensive software to make it clearer. Or if we could find the original recording!

  19. great post. I have played this song at my wedding and the mystery of the final speech has baffled me for years.
    I believe the truth is that Nick picked up a random recording to use as a sample in the song and there is not much meaning associated with the song itself.
    Nevertheless we are only humans, why we are moved to do certain things, random or by some overhead will it is still unresolved.
    Unfortunately…

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  21. This is a great post! Thanks for your time and efforts in dissecting the “The Chauffeur” mystery. I have ALWAYS heard the word “twilight” in there. I agree with the other post that it’s, “who’s calling now… In the twilight schematic?” Makes sense to me, considering the subject matter, and when you’re listening it sounds right. You definitely hear “(something)matic”, hence the “classiomatic” theory. But he is talking about bugs “calling”, and when do many begin calling? At twilight! Synonyms for “schematic” are “illustrative” & “representation”. I think, basically, the man on the nature record is just saying, “which insects do we have calling in (this) evening’s schematic (or representation)”. Either way, I’ve concluded one thing: I’ve thought about this too much!😉

  22. I stumbled across this fantastic post. I love this track and it has bugged me for years what is being said towards the end of the song. I had read somewhere that the nature recording was referring to stick insects and their amazing camouflage… hence the ‘there’s more to this kind of camouflage… more than just color and shape’. I have read that the best way to collect stick insects is in a tall glass. So what I think the guy says at 4:46 is ‘Who’s going now… for the tall glass in the attic?’…. Maybe? Maybe not.
    Like Shannon… and probably everyone who has contributed to this post… I’ve thought way too much about it… but it’s strangely reassuring to know that I am not alone! Lol!

  23. I’ve always heard “more than just colour and jet” ! still hard to hear “shape”…

    Someday the Internet will be intelligent enough to be able to query for a recording that matches what we hear in this song. Unfortunately, that will require somebody digitizing the record and it being available to search engines of the future.

  24. Hello there!
    That’s a great investigation you’ve made into the lyrics of the song!
    I also wondered what are those mystery words in the end of the track but I’ve never thought of it that much. Thank you very much for your analysis!
    I wanted to ask if you know about the video where guys answer the question about these lyrics http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=U8p6k9jdCcc (at around 2:20).
    Actually, I’m not a native English speaker and I might mishear what Simon says as he answers but I think he’s saying ‘calling’, ‘grass’ and ‘tent’. So, maybe you could tell what he exactly says, and that would be a piece of the clue!😉

    • That’s great! I hadn’t seen that! He doesn’t give it verbatim, but he says “and he says things like ‘Who’s that crawling in the long grass near the tent.'”

      Given what we can actually hear (not “long” but “tall”; not “the” but “my”), I think that gives strong evidence for Who’s crawling now in the tall grass near my tent?

      I’m going to make an addendum to the article above to give that!

  25. Cool!
    glad to have found something helpful😉

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  29. At last! Thank you!

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  32. That YouTube is no longer available. . . what was it?

  33. Yeah, that’s the one I mean, where they talk about the spoken lyrics. . . and if there were another chain regarding the overall meaning of the song’s lyrics – that could go on for centuries and still never conclude anything!

    • The video was an interview with the band, somewhere in the mid-’80s; they were all sitting around talking about stuff. It might have been some fan-club Q&A. Alas, there are an appalling number of videos of them sitting around talking. It will be hard to find another posting of that one, since I don’t recall exactly whose show it was on!

  34. I hear “Who’s calling now… from the toy box in the attic?” Which reminds me of a show I watched when I was a kid where a man would go open a trunk in every episode and would find something new to show the audience.

  35. Whose calling now in the tall grass nigger tent.

    Sorry it’s not very politically correct but that was what was said in 1982!

    I heard an interview with Simon Le Bon and he explained it.

    • Yes they were asked it. I think it was in Saturday Superstore or something around the time of the Rio single being released in the Uk. From my memory I think it was someone who wrote into the show to ask them what was said.

      Simon explained that the words were said quite randomly by someone in the studio who was putting on a plummy English voice and talking like it was poetry. It wasn’t any of the band but from my memory it was someone assisting or maybe one of the managers.

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  37. So, me and my friend always thought the person was just talking, not really saying anything specific, this is what we agreed on: mortalescavacatarmorvalencovenjed. We didnt have good speakers in the 80s and we were 13:)

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