(He'll Never Be An) Ol' Man River

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"(He'll Never Be An) Ol' Man River"
Single by TISM
from the album Machiavelli and the Four Seasons
B-side "Abscess Makes the Heart Grow Fonder"
Released June 6, 1995
Format CD single
Recorded Platinum Studios
Genre Alternative rock
Length 7:12
Label Shock/genre b.goode
Writer(s) TISM
Producer(s) Lawrence Maddy
TISM singles chronology
"Let's Form a Company"
"(He'll Never Be An) Ol' Man River"
"Greg! The Stop Sign!!"
Original Artwork

"(He'll Never Be An) Ol' Man River" was the first single to be released off Machiavelli and the Four Seasons (1995) by Australian alternative rock band TISM.

The title never appears in the song, and due to this, it is commonly (though incorrectly) referred to as "I'm On the Drug That Killed River Phoenix". The title references the play Show Boat and the famous song Ol' Man River, indicating that River Phoenix will never be an "ol' man" because he died at age 23 of a drug overdose.

It is arguably TISM's most popular track, or at least, most well known, as it reached #9 in Triple J's 1995 Hottest 100, one number ahead of Greg! The Stop Sign!!. It is also the only TISM song to reach the singles chart in Australia, peaking at number 23.[1]

On the 27th of April 1995, the band appeared on the RMITV show Under Melbourne Tonight and performed the song[2][3][4]

In 2002, the band performed the song on John Safran's Music Jamboree with traditional Greek instruments and slightly different lyrics.


The song opens with the refrain I'm on the drug that killed River Phoenix and, as the song continues, talking about a wide variety of celebrities who died due to some sort of excess. As the song progresses, it becomes clear that the addiction is not about actually doing these things himself; rather, his addiction is vicariously following celebrities and their excesses and premature deaths. As with a number of TISM songs, it is a comment on the fairly vapid state of popular culture.

Example verse:

I drank the slab that Bon Scott drunk;
Injected some of Hendrix' junk;
I booked a seat on Lynyrd Skynyrd's plane;
Mama Cass's sandwich? I ate the same!

And ending in ...

Now I'm bored and there's no stoppin'
I need another celeb to fill a coffin
Where will I get my next drug action?
Odds on it'll be Michael Jackson

The song is performed in drop D tuning.


Not unique for TISM, controversy surrounded the release of this track. The main lyric I'm on the drug that killed River Phoenix enraged a number of people, even reportedly reaching friends of the late actor, the Red Hot Chili Peppers, leaving the band's Australian-born bassist Michael "Flea" Balzary (a close friend of Phoenix) "wanting to kill" TISM. TISM addressed this controversy in 2004:

"By the same token, Hitler-Barassi says, "I'm on the drug that killed River Phoenix", the line that famously enraged Red Hot Chili Peppers bassist Flea, "wasn't about River Phoenix at all. That song was about fame, and the people listed in it weren't even real celebrities."

But did he get the opportunity to explain that to Flea?

"I had him on the ground and I was just about to break his nose with my forehead and I said, 'You do know, Flea, that satire is a legitimate art form stretching back to ancient Greek drama?' And he said, 'Oh, that's OK then, Ron'. He's a good guy, Flea. He's a mate of ours," he adds unconvincingly.[5]

The single was issued with a second "pills" cover after a version depicting Phoenix's tombstone was withdrawn.

Track list[edit]

  1. "(He'll Never Be An) Ol' Man River"
  2. "Abscess Makes the Heart Grow Fonder"
  3. "Dicktatorship"

See also[edit]


  1. ^ [1] Retrieved 2012-06-02.
  2. ^ http://www.discogs.com/TISM-Unauthorised-Unofficial-Unendorsed-Underpants/release/3268607
  3. ^ http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0sh-WWLXsDo
  4. ^ http://www.nme.com/nme-video/youtube/id/0sh-WWLXsDo
  5. ^ Dwyer, Michael. (2004-07-02) The phantom menace. (article). The Age. Retrieved 2007-12-11.

External links[edit]