The Smiths: There Is A Light That Never Goes Out"

the following is a mostly unedited transcript of an online conversation between Gentry Boeckel and Ian Mathers talking about the Smiths’ ‘There Is A Light That Never Goes Out’.

[IanMathers] so, how do you want to start?
[Gentry Boeckel] Good question.
[Gentry Boeckel] are you gonna edit this or what?
[Gentry Boeckel] One thing I was thinking about earlier was how when 'zines do these sort of convos they cut it down, so that you get this really awkward sort of convo
[Gentry Boeckel] With both people completely eloquent
[Gentry Boeckel] I don't like that
[Gentry Boeckel] My two cents
[IanMathers] well, I was going to "edit" in the form of making sure it made sense
[Gentry Boeckel] Yeah
[IanMathers] but, for example, I'd leave this bit in
[Gentry Boeckel] OK
[IanMathers] well, do you think we should try to find one moment to pick apart?
[Gentry Boeckel] I'm not sure.
[Gentry Boeckel] Let's let the spirit move us.
[IanMathers] I mean, it's "There Is A Light That Never Goes Out". How do you even start?
[IanMathers] I mean, really, what was I thinking?
[Gentry Boeckel] Good question.
[IanMathers] here, I'm going to take something you wrote and pop it in here, and we can chew it over;
[IanMathers] "
[there’s] the suicidal tendencies of the protagonist. The most obvious example being the chorus with the dream of dying in a crash. The listener gets the impression that the protagonist wouldn't be entirely against grabbing the wheel and swerving into traffic so as to preserve the moment. "
[IanMathers] Do you think he's really suicidal?
[Gentry Boeckel] No, but I think it's a fun interpretation to play with.
[Gentry Boeckel] I think it's pretty obvious the protagonist wants to ask the driver out.
[IanMathers] well, yes, but let me put it to you like this:
[IanMathers] the narrator wants, desperately, for the driver to ask him out
[IanMathers] ("take me out tonight", not "let me take you out tonight")
[Gentry Boeckel] Well, I always read that line as, "take me out of my shit hole of a home."
[IanMathers] that too, don't get me wrong
[Gentry Boeckel] "Out" as in into the world with "people and lights."
[IanMathers] the reason "to die by your side" would be a pleasure and privilege (in my opinion) is because then things never get resolved...the ugly specter of rejection is never raised
[Gentry Boeckel] Exactly.
[Gentry Boeckel] There is something very special about being in a car w/ someone, though.
[IanMathers] yes, the car is pretty key
[Gentry Boeckel] Moz uses that theme in so many songs ("Girl Afraid" most obviously).
[Gentry Boeckel] I mean, my view of cars has forever been tainted by reading "Crash," but still...
[Gentry Boeckel] A car is so personal.
[IanMathers] and private (there are people all around, but they can't hear you, etc)
[Gentry Boeckel] It's very sexual.
[Gentry Boeckel] Yeah, there is nowhere to run or hide.
[Gentry Boeckel] Physically.
[Gentry Boeckel] But still, mentally, he still can't do _it_
[Gentry Boeckel] It's really very immature…I'm just now realizing how immature Morrissey was (and still is).
[Gentry Boeckel] But that's what appeals
[IanMathers] do you think the song is immature, though?
[IanMathers] it's describing very immature behaviour, but there's a level of self-knowledge there that's kind of rare
[Gentry Boeckel] In a way, yes.
[Gentry Boeckel] The lyric about "it's not my home it's their home...." is so pouty.
[Gentry Boeckel] But at the same time it sounds so purely honest and emotional that we let it go.
[IanMathers] ah, yeah, that's kind of what I meant
[IanMathers] I think a direction for this is occurring to me
[Gentry Boeckel] Shoot
[IanMathers] given the fairly large levels of immaturity, naffness, etc
[IanMathers] that afflict the song
[IanMathers] what keeps us coming back?
[IanMathers] I know the two of us and a LOT of other people identify with the song pretty strongly.
[Gentry Boeckel] Because we were that person.
[Gentry Boeckel] If we are listening to the Smiths; if we enjoy them, then we were that person.
[IanMathers] hmm, I was hoping to get away without admitting that
[IanMathers] but I think you're right
[IanMathers] does that make us quasi-masochistic?
[Gentry Boeckel] You're outed.
[Gentry Boeckel] In a way, yeah. It's like nostalgic-masochism
[Gentry Boeckel] But I mean, why do people read stuff like Rimbaud?
[Gentry Boeckel] To relate.
[Gentry Boeckel] "Misery loves company"
[Gentry Boeckel] That and because, well, I'm _still_ that person.
[IanMathers] to quote you again: "
[the song] really hit home with me, and I'm sure many other shy bedsitters who often would love to go out but haven't the courage. In the song, it could be said that the protagonist's love actually gives him the courage to go out. I love how it takes such a trivial moment, driving in the car, and makes it the most momentous and maudlin thing ever."
[Gentry Boeckel] Yeah, it takes something otherworldly like "love" to get someone out of their room.
[Gentry Boeckel] And that was Morrissey's gift, taking those mundane, trivial things and making them turning points.
[IanMathers] like a car ride
[Gentry Boeckel] to take another example, "Girl Afraid" is essentially about what, one look?
[Gentry Boeckel] I mean, the look could be nothing but a millisecond glance.
[Gentry Boeckel] Same with this car ride.
[IanMathers] I mean, the guy singing "There Is A Light That Never Goes Out" sounds like the loneliest guy in the world
[Gentry Boeckel] Who knows how long this ride was? It could have been a block.
[IanMathers] the yearning in each repetition of "take me out tonight"
[IanMathers] that’s some strong stuff
[Gentry Boeckel] Yet all these thoughts in the song are running through the protag.s head.
[IanMathers] see, people like the narrator (and err, us, I guess) are in a certain way constitutionally incapable of getting out there themselves
[IanMathers] so they sit there and wish like hell for someone to drag them out
[IanMathers] but no-one else can tell they want to go
[Gentry Boeckel] Yeah, in my earlier years, my friends would come to my house and beg me, almost forcefully try to get me out.
[Gentry Boeckel] And I did want to go out…but I just couldn't.
[Gentry Boeckel] It's paralyzing.
[Gentry Boeckel] The same sort of paralyzing feeling that the protag. has.
[IanMathers] so when someone finally does get you out
[IanMathers] probably because you're desperately in love with them
[IanMathers] everything, even that car ride
[IanMathers] is just EVERYTHING
[Gentry Boeckel] Yeah, I was getting to that.
[IanMathers] "I want to see people and I want to see light" - the tragedy of the song, essentially, is that he doesn't _need_ the driver to do this
[IanMathers] at least in one sense
[IanMathers] but he's paralyzed otherwise
[Gentry Boeckel] Is it "light" or "lights" ?
[IanMathers] near the beginning, at least, I hear "light"
[Gentry Boeckel] I always thought it was "lights," like other cars, streetlamps, etc, but "light" is even better.
[Gentry Boeckel] Gives me the mental image of Moz in his dark room with the shades closed, giant typewriter on his desk and 45's strewn about.
[IanMathers] so would that be the light that never goes out?
[IanMathers] life?
[Gentry Boeckel] Life, or that yearning for it.
[IanMathers] or both
[IanMathers] and he wants to die, I think, because he can't see doing this again on his own and because he can't honestly see things working out
[IanMathers] the whole "they'd never want me, I'm too _____" thing even though he desperately loves the driver
[Gentry Boeckel] Explain that further.
[Gentry Boeckel] "...he can't see either doing this again on his own"
[Gentry Boeckel] Can't see being in that position again? In the car w/ the other person?
[IanMathers] "this" = going out, seeing people and light
[IanMathers] but most importantly, going out, breaking out of the armor of routine. I don't think he thinks he's strong enough to do it by himself
[IanMathers] does that make sense at all?
[Gentry Boeckel] And letting himself _feel_
[Gentry Boeckel] It does.
[Gentry Boeckel] And still, he doesn't go far enough. He doesn't ask the person the question.
[IanMathers] he can only barely come out of his shell this much with this person
[Gentry Boeckel] But he's made a step.
[IanMathers] yeah, and even then he can't go further.
[IanMathers] I don't think he actively wishes death, but I think he would certainly believe this is as good as it's going to get
[IanMathers] so death is seen as perfectly fine, even maybe a bit desirable
[Gentry Boeckel] Yes, but he doesn't turn the wheel. So there is some hope.
[Gentry Boeckel] There is hope in the simple fact that he _is_ out.
[IanMathers] there is
[Gentry Boeckel] The protagonist, those type of people _want_ to open themselves up.
[IanMathers] yes yes yes
[IanMathers] but it's hard for others (the driver?) to notice, eh?
[Gentry Boeckel] Exactly.
[Gentry Boeckel] I can just picture the Moz character in the passenger seat.
[Gentry Boeckel] A bit curled up, tense....
[Gentry Boeckel] Barely able to look at the driver....
[Gentry Boeckel] But so desperately wanting to...and more.
[IanMathers] I think often in these cases the moz character type is thinking "if only they knew how I FEEL..."
[IanMathers] without actually, you know, letting the driver know how they feel
[Gentry Boeckel] Yes.
[IanMathers] and we've all been in that passenger seat
[Gentry Boeckel] What else do we have?
[IanMathers] I was just thinking... let me go check the emails we wrote
[Gentry Boeckel] OK
[Gentry Boeckel] Shoot.
[IanMathers] first: in terms of the titular light, I wrote this: "it's viewed as this pure ideal light - for it to never go out, of course, you can't ever touch it."
[IanMathers] you can't interfere or interact with it or else it goes out
[IanMathers] I think it's an apt image for moz to use here
[Gentry Boeckel] So how would that translate to the story? That if the Moz character _did_ reveal his emotions, the light would go out?
[Gentry Boeckel] That yearning would be gone?
[IanMathers] well, the _object_ of the yearning would leave
[IanMathers] I think that's what he's AFRAID of
[Gentry Boeckel] Wow.
[IanMathers] wow, as in "wow, you're full of shit"?
[Gentry Boeckel] Wow as in "I feel like I'm sitting on a divan in an analysts' office"
[IanMathers] he's idealized that sort of life, those sorts of relationships, out of his own reach
[Gentry Boeckel] I think it's still mainly fear, though.
[Gentry Boeckel] The simple fear of rejection. And the pain.
[IanMathers] what is?
[Gentry Boeckel] The reason the Moz char. doesn't reveal his emotions.
[IanMathers] yeah, definitely
[Gentry Boeckel] Well, it's prob. important that he ended the song w/ that line.
[IanMathers] yeah, he ends the song with that line... when repeated over and over again, it's a very haunting image
[Gentry Boeckel] Very. Should we assume the character didn't ask/tell the driver?
[IanMathers] I think we're on firmer ground than just assuming...
[Gentry Boeckel] Yeah, if he was going to he would have then.
[Gentry Boeckel] The whole song can probably be boiled down to one point.
[Gentry Boeckel] The darkened underpass.
[IanMathers] yes, exactly.
[IanMathers] that's the crux of the whole thing
[IanMathers] what do you think his "chance" was?
[Gentry Boeckel] His chance to ask/tell/etc
[Gentry Boeckel] No
[Gentry Boeckel] "Ask", not tell
[IanMathers] "and in the darkened underpass
[IanMathers] I thought oh god my chance has come at last
[IanMathers] but then a strange fear gripped me
[IanMathers] and I just couldn't ask"
[Gentry Boeckel] Just couldn't ask
[Gentry Boeckel] But yeah, ask the driver possibly to take him out again, that's the most innocent assumption, but knowing Moz, something sexual is not out of the question.
[Gentry Boeckel] A better question, though, is why does he call the fear "strange"?
[Gentry Boeckel] I would think it would be normal to him by now.
[IanMathers] because he's listening to his mind, not his heart (again, speaking from experience)
[Gentry Boeckel] Ah.
[IanMathers] rationally, he shouldn't be scared, but he's petrified
[Gentry Boeckel] I like that.
[IanMathers] thanks
[IanMathers] he's not, as much as I hate this phrase, "in touch with his emotions", which is a strange thing to accuse morrissey of being, but...
[Gentry Boeckel] He seems to know all of the above, though.
[Gentry Boeckel] He seems to be aware of his faults and the reasons for them.
[IanMathers] again—intellectually, but that doesn't help him
[Gentry Boeckel] Yes.
[IanMathers] in fact, it makes it worse
[Gentry Boeckel] Exactly
[IanMathers] well, think about it: it's very easy to convince yourself _intellectually_ that rejection isn’t the end of the world, but emotionally is a whole 'nother thing
[Gentry Boeckel] It's his mind beating his heart to pulp.
[IanMathers] good turn of phrase
[Gentry Boeckel] I try, I try...
[Gentry Boeckel] This is so therapeutic.
[Gentry Boeckel] Because, like I said, I'm still that person as much as I hate to be.
[IanMathers] well, to quote bill murray in lost in translation, "you're not hopeless"
[Gentry Boeckel] But it's in those miniscule, mundane moments like the one captured in the song that give me hope.
[IanMathers] ...which is why it's such a great, great song.
[IanMathers] actually, I think that's a great place to end it.
[IanMathers] what do you think?
[Gentry Boeckel] Yeah.
[Gentry Boeckel] I do.

By: Gentry Boeckel and Ian Mathers
Published on: 2004-02-19
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