About Me

My photo
A neo-Londoner, who silently longs for his native countryside. Beau, beau, beau et con à la fois.

Thursday, 26 January 2012

Destructive Lyrics

Some days, my job involves a lot of self-conscious marching from breakfasts to coffees to meetings to drinks. I say 'self-conscious', because I am hyper-sensitive to how I must appear to passers by. Long legs, go-go gadget arms, short body (currently elongated by a Jill Sander-inspired green mac - or 'lab coat' as some have said) and far too much hair. It doesn't help that the colleague with whom I work closest is (although female) of a similar height and build, and holds a similar love, it seems, for having loud and distracting conversation whilst strutting. Not that I shy away from this image; one might as well pre-empt judgements others make, and present them with confidence. It's a power thing, of course.

Today has not been one of those days. Today has been entirely office-based and administration-heavy. The great benefit of which has been the chance to listen to music all day long. Such a rare luxury these days, and today's choices were rarer still as I almost without thinking turned to an old university favourite: AccuBroadway.com. It is an exclusively musical theatre-oriented free online radio. It's true, it doesn't have the most diverse collection (far too much Gypsy for my taste) but there are no adverts, it's Sondheim-heavy, and the sound quality is good through office headphones.

Listening to too much Sondheim in one working day can be counter-productive. Every so often, through the e-mail chains and reports, your ear catches a lyric that is so totally devastating it penetrates right to your core, and you have to go and brew a mug of Earl Grey. I should be used to this by now, and at least prepared for the danger points. I have been totally convinced of the genius of our greatest living songwriter since I was sixteen, but owing to free time restrictions, domestic privacy, and maybe a little self-preservation, I can't recall the last time I sat and listened to a whole Sondheim show right through.

A recent conversation amongst friends was about our favourite lyrics in popular songs. "What's your favourite lyric, Thomas?" It was hard. I've always been a novels above poems boy; music above lyrics. Honestly, I can find lyrics distracting, and often embarrassing. There's a blockage, somewhere in my head, around discussing the emotive, human content of English lyrics, unless they form part of a piece of theatre, like Sondheim. My favourite lyricist, excepting Sondheim, is Jacques Brel. Talking about French lyrics seems easy, and almost natural. The one-step-removal of a foreign language provides a kind of theatricality and encourages a bit of objective distance from the subject matter, which makes it easier to deal with (for me, at least). The one and only love letter (cringe) I have ever attempted was a veiled confession of that fact, and included reams from Brel's most romantic songs. Whilst writing it, I couldn't relax, let go, and say what I (thought I) really felt. Shows that the chap in question probably wasn't worth my attentions.

(He never responded to the letter, by the way. Said he'd written one but would never send it. How pretentious.)

Lyrics, for me, are also intensely, almost unbearably, nostalgic. Sondheim's lyrics are so evocative of University life: the vast green sofa in my third-year room, the almost lacquered dark brown floorboards strewn with papers and piles of toast-crumby side plates (white, with a blue rim). The Divine Comedy, one band whose lyrics I can talk about without blushing, is so closely tied to the (and sorry Charlie for this) oddly musty but comforting smell of one of my closest friend's room. And through nostalgia, comes inevitable sadness, which is where lyrics and musical content differ. I don't feel sad listening to the melodies, the overtures, or the countless pieces of orchestral music I enjoyed through University.

I have just begun reading Iris Murdoch's The Book and the Brotherhood, which contains one of the most powerful descriptions of 'the past' I've ever come across: A character - now in his 50s - is visiting the rooms of his University supervisor:

Gerard got up and went to the shelves, knowing where to look, and as he touched the books he felt some fierce and agonising sense of the past. It's gone, he thought, the past, it is irrevocable and beyond mending and far away, and yet it is here, blowing at one like a wind, I can feel it, I can smell it, and it's so sad, so purely sad.

Having written the all the above, it's becoming clearer why one particular song that came through my headphones today has had such an effect. It's the title song from one of Sondheim's worst-performing shows, Anyone Can Whistle. Not a piece I know at all well, but I've heard this song a few times. But never has it struck so loud a chord as it did this afternoon. Read it, if you like, and tell me why.

Or tell me I'm being sentimental.

Anyone can whistle,
That's what they say. Easy.
Anyone can whistle
Any old day. Easy.
It's all so simple:
Relax, let go, let fly.
So someone tell me why can't I?

I can dance a tango,
I can read Greek. Easy.
I can slay a dragon
Any old week. Easy.
What's hard is simple.
What's natural comes hard.
Maybe you could show me how to let go, lower my guard, learn to be free.
Maybe if you whistle,
Whilst for me.

No comments:

Post a Comment