Rollercoasting (Part Two)
hen I was fourteen and convinced I was in love with a friend I used to listen to a song called “Shadow” by Mega City Four over and over again. Where were we? Oh yes… we were here. What was that about, exactly? Partly about filling time and an obligation to get a column in, about spewing out some words to a deadline on whatever subject seemed like the one I could produce 1,000 or more on quickest and with least fuss. Firing them into outer space. Write what you know, they say. What do I know?
Of course that’s not what it was about—it’s what it was. What it was about is this—it drew me to it because it moved me in one way or another—which is the key sentence. I know it is because someonee emailed me and told me that it was. And also because I meant it to be. I think.
I think people are scared of overt displays of emotion. Not performances of emotion—if that were the case then Mariah would be a waitress and The Daily Express wouldn’t STILL be putting Princess Diana on the cover every.single.fucking.day despite the fact that she died nearly nine years ago. (And it wasn’t the French or the Russians or the Iraqis who killed her, it was the American NSA, frightened that her campaign against landmines would jeopardise the effectiveness of American forces overseas [specifically in oil-rich countries] because they refuse to land infantry unless they can surround their base camps with landmines to keep out the locals. And if you can’t land infantry you can’t control oil fields and if you can’t control oil fields your populace at home can’t drive the economy by driving Humvees because 9mpg is too expensive for anyone if you pay an actual fair price for the black death milk that you need to run it.)
Displays of emotion are different. Real, actual hurt or joy or… pick an emotion. I’m not sure how many there are. Perhaps only three. Hurt, joy, and desire. Infinite shades of each. Equal parts hurt and desire make jealousy, perhaps. A bit of creative chemistry and the whole gamut of human emotions is in there. One part joy and one thousand parts hurt and you have bereavement. Maybe. Three parts desire and one part joy and you have (the first flush of) love? Someone, somewhere, in a lab, is proving this right now.
But there are levels, crossover between performance and actual display. We know “I Know It’s Over” is fake, is too over-wrought and deliberately so, a spectacularly controlled performance layered with just enough pathos and irony (”If you’re so funny / Why are you on your own tonight?”) to let the listener know that Stephen Patrick Morrissey is playing a role, playing his role with a daffodil and a boxing glove and a half-pound of Brylcreem and a book by Evelyn Waugh that is stained by the butter-drips from crumpets.
But why are we scared? If we are scared… Coldplay’s angst is too non-specific. Mariah’s too theatrical. Bono’s too—wtf is wrong with Bono? Angst about God isn’t angst. And besides, we’re not talking angst. Joy is as valid, as profound (more so) as pain, as desire. But I’m not in the mood for it right now, not quite. I’m in the mood for longing. Don’t ask why, because the answer would break your heart at 40 paces.
“This is not my beautiful house / This is not my beautiful wife...” The incongruity of something so strange and so uplifting also being so bittersweet is what gets me, that sense of bizarre wonder mixed with fear—“how did we invent bricks, how did we invent batteries, why did we fly to the moon, where did my life go?” all mixed together, none of them answerable. My career’s taking off in all directions at once and I’m doing Manchester and Geneva in four days at someone else’s expense and all I want is to see her smile because the rest means nothing.
“Oh we’ll know, won’t we? / Stars will explode in the sky / But they don’t, do they? / Stars have their moment, then they die...” The futility of waiting, of hoping, of trusting romance over…what? Practicality? Utilitarianism?
“Are you just riding a new man / Who looks a little like me?” The least sexy man in the world capturing sexual jealousy in a veiled, wearied, bitter couplet.
“I know I need a small vacation / But it don’t look like rain / And if it snows that stretch down south wont ever stand the strain…” The solo, slow and reverberating and totally without ostentation. The hints at uplift in the drums at the end, fading just as joy emerges, as the clouds break, as the telegrams pass through the wires. Kanye’s accident was sad, but it never made me feel like this.
“Did you ever hear the one / About that bird girl / Who went to sea? / She took off from the rooftops / And landed next to me…” Stories as better than reality, perhaps.
“Won’t you let me walk you home from school / Won’t you let me meet you at the pool?” You can never go back. Never.
“Been climbing trees / I skinned my knees / My hands are black / The sun is going down…” Just remembrance, and beautiful, and lost so therefore unattainable and the saddest thing ever.
“So / Something I was trying to start / Made its way to you / And you rush in / Like you always do...” I still don’t know what it means, because even though I know that meaning comes from me and not from it, I can still only understand how it feels and not why.
Of course the words themselves mean nothing; if you’re reacting to them it’s because you remember how and when the words come. Without context they’re just pots of paint and fresh brushes.
Of course if I was focused, if I wasn’t drunk, if this wasn’t due in an hour, I’d try and find some conclusions. Align the stars… “I can never care for so-and-so trendy pop phenomena because it can’t move me like such-and-such can.” When people say “The lyrics such-and-such writes these days are rubbish compared to the old ones” what they mean is “I don’t relate to them as much as I relate to the older ones (perhaps because I am older, harder, dead),” and that is a problem with the listener, not the lyrics. I’d say something about the nature of performance, about Barthes and dead authors, about Spiritualized and Britney Spears and The Spinto Band and something else beginning with “sp.”
Of course if I knew what I meant you’d understand.