THE MAN WHO BUILT AMERICA

"A million miles from his starting place "


Part of the Annotated Lyrics Horslips Pages
Compiled by Lee Templeton, San Francisco

See him driving those golden nails
that hold together the silver bars
That one day gonna take us to the stars
cos he's the man who built America
See him walking the golden wire
a million miles from his starting place
and see the world reflected in his face
cos he's the man who built America
You coloured kids on the border line
and all you golden children of the sun
He's father to you each and everyone
cos he's the man who built America


Building them up, your dreams
tell me, who's gonna knock them down
Not him, not the man who built America


In every precinct a golden mile
in every doorway stands heart's desire
but see him crouching running through the fire
cos he's the man who built America
You kill the rich and you con the poor
You stalk the streets with your 45's
but no-one's going to take the man alive
cos he's the man who built America.


Recorded On:

  1. The Man Who Built America
  2. The Belfast Gigs
  3. Horslips, The Best of
  4. Roll Back
On Roll Back, this verse is omitted:

You coloured kids on the border line
and all you golden children of the sun
He's father to you each and everyone
cos he's the man who built America

The chorus is:

When he builds your dreams
tell me, who's gonna knock them down
If he builds up your dreams
tell me, who's gonna knock them down
Not him, not the man who built America

Source Tune:

Original to Horslips. Written in waltz time (cf. Roll Back).

Covered By:

  1. Horslypse - Tribute with a Capital T, Omagh

General Notes:

"We were all getting ready to play what we were doing and then he said, looking around as if he was going to produce something illegal, 'Would you like to hear a new Horslips single?' And we all said 'Yeah, yeah...we really would!' And he put it on. And our little demo sounded so...sort of, it just sounded like it...It didn't sound at all. It had no sound. And just this extraordinary thing came on. They'd just been to America with a serious American producer. Steve Katz I think was his name. It was The Man Who Built America a song that, years later, I would rip off.

And nearly win an Oscar. DID win a Golden Globe."

Bono, interview, Return of the Dancehall Sweethearts

General Notes from Albums:

The thesis here is that the Man who built America is Irish. Which is true. But only on one level. Thus the man a million miles from his starting place with the world reflected in his face was moon walker and well known Irishman Neil O'rmstrong.

Notes on Horslips, The Best of..., Edsel Records

Annotated Lyrics:

"driving those golden nails"

"It was a sort of sequel to the theme of Wrath Of The Rain specifically from that line 'I see them today in the streets of their cities, we nod to each other again'...I was kind of following on to see what kind of America they'd built and had been built around them. Hence the golden spike where the Eastward railroad met the Westward. The golden mile was the gold lined umbilical cord of the space walker with the distant earth reflected in his vizor."

Barry Devlin, interview to site, September 2007


May 10, 1869, two railroad companies, Union Pacific and Central Pacific, joined 1,776 miles of rail at Promontory Summit, Utah Territory. This event sparked unforetold consequences still reflected in our great nation today. Golden Spike National Historic Site commemorates this incredible accomplishment of the completion of the first transcontinental railroad.

Golden Spike National Historic Site, National Park Service, nps.gov


Conflict often erupted between Irish and Chinese workers, especially in the last year of construction as pressure mounted to push the lines to completion. This was due partly to racial animosity and partly to intense competition. Foremen and managers for the UP goaded their Irish workers about how much faster the Chinese on the CP worked. It was a challenge to their ethnic and male identity and implied that they might be replaced by Chinese workmen if they didn't pick up the pace.

On occasion the rivalry grew deadly. After a brawl between Irish and Chinese workers, the Irish took to setting off dynamite charges near Chinese workers without the customary warning. Several were seriously wounded. A few days later, a blast set by Chinese workmen went off near a UP gang and buried a number if Irish workers alive. Both sides agreed to a truce after that.

Edward T. O'Donnell, 132 Years Ago: The Continent Spanned, edwardtodonnell.com


"golden children of the sun"

"'The colored kids on the borderline and the golden children of the sun' was about white and black and Hispanic in the Watts riots, as was 'in every precinct etc' but more specifically about Robert Kennedy and MLK . And 'you kill the rich and you con the poor' was a kind of upside down version of Republican and Democratic politics. So, a go at pretty much everything then with all the callowness of youth."

Barry Devlin, interview to site, September 2007

"stalk the streets with your .45's"

The .45 ACP would become one of the most successful cartridges of all time, among both military and civilian users. It has been used in innumerable handguns and submachine guns (including most famously in the M1911 pistol) since its introduction.

.45 ACP, Wikipedia entry, wikipedia.com


LT: There is also the .45 Colt revolver, developed by the US Army in 1872. Essentially, the .45 (revolver or automatic pistol) is almost always linked to the US military in the histories I found online. It's also worth noting that Lynyrd Skynyrd's anti-handgun song "Saturday Night Special" (1975) referred to smaller, inexpensive handguns of .22 to .38 caliber. Earlier in the decade, Inspector Harry Callahan (hey!) popularized the .44 Magnum.

"the man who built America"

LT: While taking a break from working on this page, I went downstairs to find my husband watching a PBS show on skilled labor in San Francisco. Even before the '06 Quake, the constant need for building and construction in the City gave local labor unions a stronger platform for negotiation that other laborers in other parts of the country did not have. In 1900 the San Francisco Building Trades Council was able to demand and ultimately secure an eight-hour workday with a $3 a day wage for its members. Leading the BTC was Patrick Henry "Pinhead" McCarthy, an apprentice carpenter from Limerick, Ireland who immigrated to America in 1880. In 1910, he was elected Mayor of San Francisco.



First Posted: September 8, 2007
Last Revised: September 9, 2007