The Conqueror Worm

by X-tal

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The final album by X-tal, released in Germany on World Service/Rough Trade Deutschland in 1996. An outpouring of last thoughts recorded over time at a congenial home studio.


released September 1, 1996

Produced by X-tal and Wally Sound
Recorded and mixed Oct. 1995-Feb. 1996 at The Wally Sound (original location), San Francisco, CA
Cover art by Allison Moseley and Nils Plath

J Neo Marvin: Vocals, guitars, keyboards, melodica, dulcimer, khaen, and harmonica
Mick Freeman: Drums, percussion, and vocals
Allison Moseley: Vocals and bass
Mark Zanandrea: Vocals, guitars, dulcimer and mandolin

Meri St. Mary: Lead vocal on "Misadventure"
Melanie Clarin DeGiovanni: Accordion and vocal on "Needle To The Thread"
Wally Sound: 12-string guitar on "Edge Of The World"



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X-tal San Francisco, California

Here, for the first time, the entire recorded output of X-tal in one place.

X-tal (1983-1996) were a San Francisco post-punk band fronted by J Neo Marvin. Greil Marcus of the Village Voice described them as a “small-time San Francisco combo that wears their defeated leftist politics on their sleeves and can open for the Mekons without letting you forget them when the headliners come on.” ... more

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Track Name: Mark Time
Waiting for the phone to ring
I can hear the mockingbirds sing
“You’re out of it and you’re out of touch.
Stop trying to make it all mean so much.”

Rack my mind. Thoughts just grind.
Soul to keep, no time to sleep.
Toss and turn, emotions burn.
Hunt them down, they can’t be found.

The stale motions that bring them praise
I sit back appalled and amazed.
Their diarrhea pays their rent.
I suppose they’re quite content.

Rack my mind. Thoughts just grind.
Soul to keep, no time to sleep.
Purge myself. Destroy my health.
Books and bottles knocked off of the shelf.

A little nonsense never hurt you, but shallowness is not a virtue.

Dueling in the marketplace
Marking time and taking up space.
You can talk about nothing all night.
I’ll shut my mouth till I can say it right.

I get too candid for my own good.
Sometimes I don’t equivocate like I should.
I cast my mind to long gone days
When there was more around to take my breath away.

Rack my mind for words I can’t find.
I don’t even care if they rhyme.
I can’t plug gaps with bullshit lines.
It just won’t work, no, not this time.
I can’t mark time. I’ve got no time.
Track Name: Losing Ground
If the first shall be last and the last shall be first
Do the ones in the middle just get bored?
Do they have to change their seats? Is their station incomplete?
Are they the ones who get ignored?

Well I had a talk with God and I found him rather odd
He's such a quiet guy
You would think in all this time he'd come up with one good line
Just to show you that he tried

If the devil wants your soul and you owe it to him whole
Just say his shoe's untied
You'd be surprised how well it works as he's staring at the dirt
And you will never die.
Track Name: Edge Of The World
You told me I had to have fear, but didn’t mention why. Why give advice when you don’t know what’s true? We’re so far from anywhere else with so much to prove. Couldn’t go back even if we could turn around, there’s nothing left to go back to. Drive on into the dark. Will we all fall over the edge of the world? If I could walk away, search for something higher, with my soul intact and my head on fire, would we all fall over the edge of the world? I’ll take you all over the edge of the world.
Track Name: Misadventure
Laudanum and terror don’t mix all that well.
One warm ticket to dreamland through a thick fog of Hell.
I sharpen up my knives and laugh just to keep wide awake
And remember all the exits when I don’t know what’s at stake.

Venus, Mars and Jupiter
Shed your lovely light on her.
A queen’s ransom she’d fulfill
For extra-planetary swill.

It’s creeping up behind.
There’s something wrong that she cannot explain
But she knows it when she sees it.

Now I’m hungry, tired and weak. I’d gladly turn the other cheek.
Best not catch me rested and fed. I’d rather see you all were dead.
Somebody sent me up to Cripple Creek, but said I could stay there for just one week.
I danced all night and I slept in the sun. When it was over, I was finally ready to have fun.

Sweated out the poison.
Bought a brand new skin.
But the jailer woke me up to the same old sin.

It’s creeping up behind.
I can’t spell it out for you in 25 words or less
Ah, but trust me, yeah trust me.

It’s looming up ahead. It’s creeping up behind.
Confused, dissatisfied, all twisted up inside.
Don’t leave me alone here. Please leave me alone.
Track Name: Windbags
The man with the loudest voice
Surely must have the most to say
And all of it means more, you know,
If you hear it on the radio

He puts his finger on the pulse
Crushes it till it turns blue
And if they amputate the hand
It must not have belonged on you

Drown me out, speak your mind
Stroke yourself till you go blind
Call the shots, fire away
Do you win if I don’t play?

Grand Inquisitor takes a stand
For the ““real people” of this land, yeah,
You can tell which ones are real because
They’re the ones he never interrupts.

In the free market of ideas
Who’s that down there tearing up the field?
It’s the man with the loudest voice
As if we ever had a choice

Drown me out, speak your mind
Stroke yourself till you go blind
Call the shots, fire away
Do you win if I don’t play?

See those teeth that brightly shine
Just another mouth in a long long line
We’ve endured a lot from the likes of you
No doubt we’ll endure this too.
Track Name: Down
You have treated her unkind
When you romanticized her mind
And made unreasonable demands
To be the things nobody can
She will always let you down

Now you think you sing the blues
For everything she's done to you
But they fade away from sight
When you put them to the light
She will always let you down

Don't you miss the good old days
When you always had your way
You never understood the girl
You wouldn't last one day as her.
She will always "let you down"
Track Name: The Hypnotist
Can you explain yourself?
Can you justify your hate?
Itemize your prejudices
Clean them up and make them shine
Assemble the shards…glue them together

Call it a world view
Someone might follow you
And maybe if you’re lucky
They’ll bring their friends around too
Call it a party…call it a calling
Tapping into that vacant goldmine.

And if you were born on the other side
You’d be lifting your sword for the other side
12th century fools holding 21st century tools
This is the mosque, this is the temple
The enemy’s inside, it’s all so simple
Tortured, raped and killed for living on the wrong side of the hill

But I digress…tell us all about your cause.

Can you create a myth?
Some heroes and some villains
Treacheries, ancestral sins
Buried in the distant past
A secret pledge…a secret handshake

Somebody’s got to pay
They made you live this way
Subhuman obstacles to a new and brighter day
The time is now, and you know just how
You’re a leader of men with a sacred vow

And if you were born on the other side
You’d be lifting your sword for the other side
The more you lie the higher you can fly
This is the church, this is the steeple
Open up that door, slaughter all the people
A nation moves as one and time moves backwards when you’re having fun.

Are you proud of the history you are making
When look in the eyes of your victims
Oh, it must make you feel something.
Track Name: Slow Fidelity
I lost my way
Track Name: Pollyanna
On a rolling highway I took my car
Got off in Texas, thought, "gone too far".
I let my hair down, I drank a beer
Laid down in the tall green grass and thought, "far from here."
Well I've gone too far, well I've gone too far
Well I've gone too far, yeah, yeah, gone too far.

I took my dress off, it was far too hot
Felt the heat, was drenched in thunder
Far from here, far from here...
Track Name: Needle To The Thread
I take the needle to the thread
And tie the knot as best I can
Between the spirit and the flesh
Until it comes apart again
Fade away, I never knew you all
All is said and done

Have you thrown it all away
Sacrificed all that you can
For the smallest crust of bread
From a strange and fickle hand
Fade away, I never knew you at all
All is said and done.
Track Name: I Was A Teenage Christian
Picture the spring of ’72
Fourteen and a half and friendless
I was a target from day one
I liked the idea of a universe with justice
Eating lunch alone as usual
Two fairly cute girls come up to me
Would I like to go to a meeting on the hill
I was so bored, I said OK

In a circle sitting on logs
A crowd of friendly hip young people
Seemingly unbound by the social rules
Open hearts and big bright smiles
I was greeted with warm affection
They understood my disillusionment
With the church and the human race
They had a better way

Hark the herald angels sing, hello misfits of the world
Just how far will you go to end your loneliness?
What odious club will you join? What ideals will you espouse
Just so you could have someone to talk to?

I was no stranger to spirits
I did not belive that death was the end
Once I heard the cool, calm voice of God
When I was hyperventilating
I was not a sucker for dogma
But Jesus Christ, my soul was starving
And these people all seemed to nice
And their ecstatic joy was contagious

So I got picked up at home in the evening
And whisked away to a plain downtown building
They served spaghetti and we sang and prayed
Insisting all the while that they were not a church
A man got up and said that he’d seen great things
Great changes brought about by Jesus
He’d seen hippies who’d cut off all their hair
He’d seen surfers throw away their boards

Hark the herald angels sing, hello misfits of the world
Just how far will you go to end your loneliness?
What odious club will you join? What ideals will you espouse
Just so you could have something to belong to?

(Secret evil backmasking:)
“Yad yb yad ylraen erom eeht wollof dna
Ylraed erom eeth evol, ylraelc erom eeth ees ot
Yarp I sghiht eerht, Drol raed ho
Yad yb yad, yad yb yad.”

I prayed every night for God to impress me
I couldn’t let down my great new friends
I prayed for Jesus to come and convince me
That he played by these people’s rules
This went on for about a month
As a war raged on inside me
Striving to improve and purify myself
While a screaming inner voice grew louder.

How could I be saved if I had not sinned yet?
How could I judge a life I had not lived yet?
I read the fine print and the void burst open
The ball and chain at the end of the rainbow
I turned my back on the gates of Eden
I expelled myself from paradise
I took my chances with the lake of ire
It’s my party and I’ll burn in Hell if I want to!

Hark the herald angels sing, hello misfits of the world
Just how far will you go to end your loneliness?
What odious club will you join? What ideals will you espouse
Just so you could have something to live for?
Track Name: How Would You?
We will stay a while on this tiny stone
And for this moment we will call it home
I can't help but wonder if this is the end
Or just a taste of what we'll have again
How would you like to float away?

You may ask of me what I really am
And I will answer if I think I can
But we were brought together by coincidence
And we can only dream of what it meant
How would you like to float away?
Track Name: Protest Star
How does it feel to be the one
They’re always talking about?
To be the name on everybody’s lips?
And all your slogans are suddenly hip?

How does it feel to be so green
And so closely observed?
They know your routine before your voice is heard
How does it feel to be a household word?

This is the arena where we work out all our traumas
Where we cut ourselves open and make fools of ourselves
Over and over again.

How does it feel to be the next flavor of the month?
A confrontational caricature?
Someone that anyone can sum up?

How would it feel to hear people say they knew you when
Before your image went to your head?
They’ll call you on everything you’ve said.

How will it feel when your ideals have become an act?
A parody of the scars on your heart?
You’re set in stone before you even start.

This is the arena where we foist our primal agony on the public
But you shouldn’t act so arrogant
Because the papers love to make you look stupid
How does it feel?
Track Name: A Lemon Song
I’m in the corner, sucking on a lemon
Trying to put a curse on the marching band
The trumpet players’ lips get stuck
The drums implode and the flags curl up
I’m in the corner, sucking on a lemon.

A salamander slithers into the spotlight
A creature slimy enough to thrive in hellfire
He’s come to save us from ourselves
I can’t wait to see my cell
All aboard for the tent city in the desert

Suddenly all we see is you
Philosopher king of the evening news
The channel changes when you wave your wand
This land is your land, we just work here!

Human social nature abhors a vacuum
Vote for Satan, at least he stands for something
I can see the future: a 500 foot high marquee
It flashes one single word over and over:

The wind is insane tonight, just hear it roar
Hurling fat tree limbs into my front door
But the rain falls so gently in the midst of it all
And neither one cares a bit what you or I think.

Rage is all the rage, in the ’90s rage is money
The righteous fury of a baby who won’t share his toys
It’s so easy to climb those charts
It’s so easy to win those votes
Selling pointless phony blind cheap stupid powerless anger
(And while we’re on the subject…)

Everybody digs it when you’re angry
After all, anger is a vital component of rock and roll
But dare to tie that anger
To something that actually matters
And Americans will hate you and tell you you’re too preachy

We’re so cute, we’re so cute when we’re angry
We’re so cute, we’re so cute when we’re angry
And by itself that’s nothing, absolutely nothing
We’re so cute, we’re so cute when we’re angry.
Track Name: Fall Start
Child typing on a gramophone
Unaccustomed to the speed at which the ribbon flows
A little something for the foreign son
Translated from the native tongue
A package deal at a higher price
A guaranteed facsimile of something nice
Look at everything staying up
Said the juggler as another dropped
Fall start run it into the ground

See the woman with the tired hand
Catch the only seat on an empty train and hide away
A message written on steamed up glass
Condensation from a struggle that became a fray
Tear away West Portal green
If only sleep then you will never dream
Buried deep in domestic bliss
It's only dark from the sound of it
Fall start run it into the ground

Track Name: What Now?
All of the medicine that used to nurture and sustain you
When did it turn into the poison that burns out and drains you?
Confront yourself at night, you lie in bed awake alone
What do you really want to be? Man, you’re not even close.
What now?

You played your party trick
Pulled out the rug and left me standing
So I’ll shake your hand one last time
As I slip into the quicksand
What now?