be ones own man

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

(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!!. In 2002, the band performed the song on John Safran's Music Jamboree.


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 singer is not about actually doing these things themselves, but their own 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!


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, whom TISM subsequently invited to a fist-fight.

The single was issued with two covers. Prior to the "pills" version was the infamous "tombstone" cover - depicting Phoenix' tombstone - which was withdrawn.

Track list

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

See also

External links

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