The tank fullSo I'm at 110 on Stein Rd before I hit the dip and I think if I hit 120 the car will leave the ground.
And how fucking cool will that be! To fly on a sunny day, to fly away.
There is a man ahead in the road. I slow down. He is a man in a turban. You see all sorts of things, but this is odd. A man in a turban in the exurbs, just walking up Stein Rd.
I am listening to the mix I made for this trip and it's perfect for the day. This spring has been quite lovely here: there has been some rain and the trees are green and alive, the jacarandas are in bloom and there are hints of wildflowers. Through the polarised lenses of my new shades, the world is warm and inviting.
The first song up is How I escaped my certain fate by Mission of Burma. It's to set the tone (because this is a postpunk mix, with most of the songs dating from the early eighties, when punk mutated into a creative and intelligent artform that to this day speaks to me because it was made by (mostly) men like me, or who at least I flatter myself are like me). I am singing -- shouting -- along:
Can I count on you
if I fall apart
if I fall
if I fall apart?
And I did fall apart, and I had no one I could sing that to, because I was too crazy to love anyone enough to trust them or for them to trust me, except the person I did love, who was crazier than even I was.
Next up is Fragile, which is S's song. I mean, it's a song that makes me think about her. I have probably mentioned it before but I have songs like that: it's not that they invoke memories in particular; it's more that they invoke the person. I didn't put it in my mix because of her though, but because it is such a perfect example of what punk became when clever, arty boys took on the form and made it into a more arch commentary on our times. What I think I love about this genre above all (apart from the crunchy guitars) is its willingness to be complicated. It appealed to me as a young man, that other young men should be glad to say about themselves that they were confused, unhappy, alienated, scared of their own feelings and those of others:
I have a feeling of love
scorches where it lands
Which is quite so. But what can follow such a great song? Well, you can't have a postpunk mix without Joy Division, that's clear. I chose Transmission, because this mix is upbeat on the whole, although I'm feeling a bit more like Atmosphere these days. But Transmission is fairly early Joy Division, so it has more punk bite and less of the deep, hollow high art that they later created. Also, who doesn't love to sing along with that great last verse and chorus:
Well I could call out when the going gets tough
The things that we've learned are no longer enough
No language, just sound, is all we need know
To synchronize love to the beat of the show
And we could dance
Dance, dance, dance, dance, dance, to the radio
It feels good to be out on a spring day, the tank full, the car running well. Freakscene is burning the air. I don't know whether it counts as postpunk but, well, it came after punk and couldn't exist without it. It's one of those archetypal indie songs, which everyone into this kind of music knows intimately. And I think we are only ever truly sad when we cannot think of anyone we could sing this to:
Sometimes I don't thrill you
Sometimes I think I'll kill you
Just don't let me fuck up will you
'Cause when I need a friend it's still you
And suddenly I recall the dream I had last night. I had put it to the back of my mind because it was a bit frightening. Lightsabre cocksucking blues, by Mclusky, is next up, but it's not right for this moment, so I forward it on. The next song is not right either, but the dream is short enough for me to recall it and move on mentally, or try to. So while He's a whore, by Big Black, is playing, and I am singing along at the absolute top of my voice, because I'm a whore! And I'll do anything for money, and I'm not in the least bit ashamed of it, I am thinking it over. I am in a car with K. It's not this car. And it's weird that I'm driving, because I think she will be someone like Mrs Zen, who does not like to be driven, but likes to drive, and I've never really cared, so I just be the passenger, but maybe K has wanted me to take control, and I feel like I'm in control. And we are negotiating the promises we will make and the lies we will tell -- the promises for us and the lies for others, because if we promise each other, we will have to lie to others, and let me tell you something, I never did much of either before I came to this place, because I didn't like to make promises I couldn't keep, and I was proud to be honest -- and it feels good because I am in a car with K! And it doesn't feel unreal or forced, as dreams obviously often do. It feels like it could some time happen, is not impossible or unlikely.
It's a bigger car than mine, that's what is different, so that we are not touching each other, and it would be a strain to bother. But that's okay, because we are together in a way that doesn't need touching.
Then, out of the blue, there is a voice in my head. A weary voice that sounds like someone who has been patient with me, and still has reserves of love for me that I cannot fathom, but is disappointed. And although I could not articulate why, I know exactly why. And all it says is my name, David, just like that, barely louder than a whisper. It's a real voice. I am not dreaming it; I am hearing it as though someone has awoken me by talking to me.
I should probably consider swearing off the weed because God does not often talk to me in my dreams. But it feels good; this morning I felt uplifted, because I realise that even I am not beyond redemption, that what I have failed to do is allow my heart to set my course, and that made me unable to stay in one piece.
Next is Tom boy, by Bettie Serveert. The more widely travelled reader will recognise that that is a Dutch name, and Bettie Serveert are, I fear no contradiction, the only good band ever to come of Holland, with the possible exception of Focus, but they only had one decent song, amirite? Tom boy is one of my songs for Naughtyman (the other is The broads by Minotaur Shock) and it's a belter. Tom boy is an outsider anthem, an extended fuck you from Carol van Dijk to the haters, or at least it seems to be:
They call me a Tom Boy and I let them
'Cause only a Tom Boy could forget them
And simply change it
They call me a Tom Boy and I love it
'Cause only a Tom Boy could stand above it
By simply changing
I suppose you could complain that I strayed from the postpunk vibe, but for me it's not as narrow as punky sort of bands that happened along in 1978-80, but would be wide enough to encompass alt.rock bands that could not have existed without punk. So R.E.M. scrape in, because before they became a sucky stadium-oriented borefest, they were a smart postpunk band. I chose Superman because a/ I love covers that surpass the original and b/ I feel it applies:
I am, I am, I am Superman and I know what's happening
I am, I am, I am Superman and I can do anything
You don't really love that guy you make it with now do you?
I know you don't love that guy
'Cause I can see right through you
It seems like exactly how I feel about life just now. I am not feeling downtrodden or hurt, although I should be. I'm feeling capable and alive. Yes, the serotonin is through the roof. I must have eaten some good cheese! This is why I'm never, and I mean never, getting treatment for whatever ails me. Well, there are two reasons. One, depression sucks, obv., but mania is as good as it gets. Some mornings it's like someone pumped me full of coke (the white stuff, not the horrid fizzy drink) and set me loose. I really wish you could be with me right now, if you think you would like to be with me, because I am great to be around, as long as you like to listen instead of talk. I become capable of anything, and so warm you could use me as a stove! This is a good time to hit me up for a loan, or ask me to help you move home, because I feel boundless and able.
It's when I make my best plans. And I've had the creeping notion that I will visit America. I've always wanted to, and I started thinking about it a lot. Partly, that's because I have been having (very mild and I'm pretty sure muscular) chest pains. And I started thinking, I could die soon and I'd really regret not seeing San Francisco. So I will, if I can get the money together, maybe next month, maybe early next year (and maybe never, of course). Maybe also Portland, Oregon, and Vegas if I can, and if I'm welcome in the first and have the money for the latter.
Vegas! Mecca, innit.
But maybe not. I told Mrs Zen and she was pretty pissed off. She wants me to want family holidays, not to do things for myself. That's not totally unreasonable but hello? We've been married for 14 years and you never noticed I am the kind of person who needs to do things without you? It's not even about her. I am that kind of person. You could call it self-absorption, if you like. You could call it selfishness. But I am just someone who feels I spend a lot of my time satisfying others in one way or another and sometimes want to satisfy myself.
Aren't we all, if we're honest?
It's odd, listening to Sixteen again, by the Buzzcocks, because it's punk, plain and simple, yet it fits very well into this sort of mix. But the Buzzcocks were not about anarchy or anger; they were all about love. Pete Shelley wrote some truly great love songs, all about the kind of love that exhilarates and excites you: headlong, wonderful love, forbidden, crazy love, loving someone you shouldn't, loving someone who doesn't love you. Ah me, but of course I chose none of his love songs. I think Sixteen again is all about how we never age if we never let ourselves, how inside us we still hold those gauche children, their hearts yet to be broken. Well, maybe not, but I was another year older yesterday and I do sometimes wish I could turn the clock back.
And then I stop with that shit, because there is nothing wrong either with being older and wiser, and in some ways I am, and I know that I can be sixteen again if...
Long before the Cure became dreary Goff whingers, they were teen punks. They actually weren't very good punks and would have disappeared without trace, likely, without Boys don't cry. It's something of an update on Tears of a clown:
I try to laugh about it
Cover it all up with lies
I try and
Laugh about it
Hiding the tears in my eyes
'cause boys don't cry
But we do, sometimes. We are required to shoulder our burdens manfully, and we usually succeed, and we learn to be strong in a way that makes us somewhat rigid. But if we allow it, there is still within us something fragile, which when it is touched, can leave us unable to maintain our facade. Sometimes it is as little as a song that has meaning for us that will be the last straw; sometimes we need to be severely hurt; sometimes we can only allow ourselves to grieve when we have real cause for grief.
For me, it is the realisation that I could find happiness but never will that creates a yearning in me so deep and broad that I cannot prevent tears from falling. Sometimes, it feels like between you and others there are chasms infinitely deep, infinitely wide, so that you cannot ever hope to reach across them, and sometimes you realise that they are just as wide as the width of two arms and all you need is that they reach out at the same time. Yet you cannot find the way to have them do it; which is not to cry over -- what is truly heartrending is the impossibility of knowing whether there is a way.
Having had a snivel, we feel washed out, so what's better than So run down, by the Psychedelic Furs? The Furs are all about our wasted lives, the shit we bother with that is meaningless and empty:
sometimes she says she loves me
i just don't believe it
all day she says
my set it plays
love songs all day
it sells toothpaste
it sells love
and it sells hairspray
ha ha all day
I once saw the Furs at Glasto. I was off my face on acid and Butler was about thirty feet tall with a coat of neon lightbulbs. I don't remember any of the songs they played and it's entirely possible that I was completely deaf at the time.
Winding down, I choose Bed of nails, by Husker Du. The Warehouse album that features it is like a journal of heartbreak: wistful, yearning, hurt in parts, uplifting too. Bed of nails is the sound of a man who has been cast down a well and does not know how he can climb back out. I know that sound. It is also about how you are forced sometimes to tiptoe on a highwire, to keep everything just so, to hold it together so that your life can be liveable. Who writes stuff like this:
Sometimes i just pretend that all the lies are true
And i know i might depend on you
But if my concentration breaks
I'm washed away with pain
And then my feet begin to bleed upon my only bed of nails
And i'm stuck here in the middle of a sea of lies
Inside my bed of nails
From years and years of practice
I know just how to stand
Alone with perfect balance, hand in hand
Prepared with boards and hammers
And several bags of nails
I could build a wall to lean on
Roof above my mind
I can see you've got your own plans
Please don't drive your nails into this heart of mine
It's wrenching stuff, but I think what moves me most is that Bob Mould was able to climb out of his well and become happy.
I finish off with The hardest walk, by the Jesus and Mary Chain. Man, that is the sound of my youth! Phil Spector with feedback, the Ronettes with a heroin habit. Looking back, particularly with the accretion of the rest of their (awful) records, it's hard to recall how invigorating and wonderful Psychocandy was. Until you listen to it! And man, it still rings the same bell for me.
And this is such a fucking great song! I want you to love it too. Give it a shot:
And I'm stuck in a shack
Down the back of the sea
Oh and I'm alive and I'm alone
Inside a sick sick dream
Oh is it me
Is it me that feels so weak
I cannot deceive but I find it hard to speak
The hardest walk you could ever take
Is the walk you take from A to B to C
Oh honey I talk
Don't want you to want me
Don't want you to need me
That last verse... man, it's as good as pop gets, confused, desperate, in love, and if your life has been like mine, your heart sings along and you find yourself pulling into your drive in this quiet suburb, scaring the neighbours' dogs because you cannot stop yourself from singing along as though your life depended on it, and if it depends on anything, it does.
So you know, there it is. The engine's running, the tank is full and I'm going for a drive. Hop in. Don't worry about where we're going. We'll know when we get there, baby.
If by some chance I've made these songs sound worth a listen (and you actually made it to the end of that blather, or more realistically, skimmed down to the link), the
mix is here. In the unlikely event that copyright holders find this and don't like me sharing their music with my friends, the email addy is top right etc etc.