This song by the Arctic Monkeys is about a mysterious woman that Alex Turner once met - and one that he wants to be reunited with.
It is also the key to understanding the other songs which feature on the Arctic Monkeys album Humbug.
Humbug is absolutely packed with mysticism and magical references (e.g. Potion Approaching, Fire and Thud, Secret Door, Crying Lightning) and so this must be considered when interpreting the lyrics of Cornerstone.
Crucially, the title of the song is the key to understanding its central place within the album - and to understanding the song itself.
A cornerstone is, in its literal definition, a stone which forms the foundation of a building.
The cornerstone is also a central concept in the secretive world of Freemasonry and an important idea in the Bible’s understanding of Jesus Christ.
In the Bible the cornerstone, in representing the messiah, also symbolises the power of resurrection.
In other religions and mythologies - particularly the Wiccan tradition - the power of resurrection is believed to be possessed by some very gifted individuals or housed within special artefacts.
In very vague terms the cornerstone is generally believed by most groups - in one way or another - to bridge the gap between the mystical side of life and the everyday.
In an interview about writing the album Humbug, Alex Turner said his songs were “a whole load of words disguising one phrase in the centre that is something that you do want to say”.
With this in mind, the most important lyrics in the song Cornerstone are:
“Tell me where’s your hiding place
I’m worried I’ll forget your face
And I’ve asked everyone
I’m beginning to think I imagined you all along”
The person he is singing about is the same woman referenced in another Humbug song called Secret Door (video 👇) – a mysterious woman who led Alex Turner through a secret passage to a place which revealed the hidden magic and mysticism behind everyday life:
“She swam out of tonight’s phantasm
Grabbed my hand and made it very clear
There’s absolutely nothing for us here
It’s a magnolia celebration…
The secret door swings behind us
She’s saying nothing
She’s just giggling along”
This woman is the “cornerstone” of Alex Turner’s belief in mysticism – the same mysticism which he sings about constantly throughout the album Humbug - and the person who can bridge the gap between the singer’s everyday life and the world of magic.
Because this woman is so mysterious it is incredibly difficult for him to track her down again.
That is why Cornerstone’s lyrics are laced with a sense of paranoia and secrecy.
Having met the woman and seeing this hidden mystical world for himself, Alex Turner must keep a powerful secret and he fears that other people want to get it out of him.
One such “baddie” is the taxi driver in Cornerstone, who it seems might have driven the mysterious woman on a recent trip:
“And I elongated my lift home,
Yeah I let him go the long way round
I smelt your scent on the seat belt
And kept my shortcuts to myself.”
Alex Turner is suspicious of the taxi driver and his connection to the mysterious woman and, therefore, the singer keeps his secrets to himself.
The fact that, throughout Cornerstone, the mysterious woman keeps appearing in the form of other women, “vision tricks” or “ghosts” can be explained by the Wiccan idea of a “fetch”.
A fetch is defined by the 1981 text A Witches Bible as: “The apparition, double, or wraith of a living person”.
A second definition is given as: “A projected astral body or thought-form deliberately sent out to make its presence known to a particular person.”
The magical woman that Alex Turner once met appears to have the ability to project herself into places like “the parrots beak”, “the rusty hook” and “the battleship”.
Interestingly, the Arctic Monkeys song I Haven’t Got My Strange - which appeared on the Japanese version of Humbug and is a B-side to the single Crying Lightning - appears to be about Alex Turner’s own mischievous fetch (“It’s arguable/That I shouldn’t have been there”) and features the word “fetch” at the end of the song.
A video for I Haven’t Got My Strange can be found below 👇
When Alex Turner sings “It was close/so close that the walls were wet” it would appear that he is referring to the frightening sensation of getting too close to the woman’s astral projection, or fetch.
Furthermore, when Alex Turner refers to Letraset, he may be making another allusion to the idea of astral projection.
The Letraset printing company created a popular series of children’s games called Action Transfers, which allowed kids to stick an imprint of their favourite characters from things like Star Wars onto any background of their choosing.
This had the potential to create “surreal or comic effects…whether deliberately or inadvertently…by juxtaposing the transfers and the background inappropriately”.
An astral projection appearing in a pub or a wicker chair - as referenced in the song - would certainly feel like an “inappropriate” juxtaposition.
It is, in fact, when Alex Turner sings about Letraset in the Cornerstone video that he makes a symbol in the air with his hand – a circle with a vertical line running through it.
The circle can be interpreted to be a cornerstone, while the line may represent a wand.
In the Wiccan tradition a wand is a tool which represents air or fire. It therefore representative of desire and willpower.
The symbol is probably not a red herring considering the Arctic Monkeys’ history for creating music videos which cast light on what the song’s lyrics mean.
However, the exact meaning of Alex Turner’s symbol is not clear - it’s probably not supposed to be - but these references may help the interested reader to come to his or her own ideas.
In conclusion, Cornerstone is the key to understanding the album Humbug as a whole.
It is about a magical woman who opened up a secret, mystical world to Alex Turner – a woman that he deeply wishes to meet again.
The lyric that sums up this song is…
“I’ve asked everyone/I’m beginning to think I imagined you all along”
A Witches Bible (book)
www.action-transfers.com (Letraset enthusiast site)