Vera Lynn – Yours

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Commitment, dedication, promises. The song was originally written by the Cuban composer Gonzalo Roig in 1911, with lyrics written by him and his wife Blanca Becerra. Especially the Spanish version has become a standard, but even then it took about 20 years. I’ve always loved this version by Vera Lynn recorded, like most of her hits, during WW2.

Previously I wrote about the Momus song Rhetoric which has similar statements, trying to say “I will be eternally yours”, but phrasing it in such a way as if there was a condition in which love might end. Additionally there’s the idea that two people might be born to be with each other, a belief in destiny.

It is not important whether such a thing as destiny is real, or even could be. The emotion alone matters, and how love is such a strong impulse that it changes our thoughts, beliefs, our very being. It makes past disappointments insignificant, the present becomes fuzzy, permanent intoxication upon just seeing the beloved, and the future is suddenly certain, as if the universe itself had decided that this love must happen. Sure, one may think about it scientifically as a cocktail of hormones and the body trying to find a suitable mate, but what I’m interested in is the stuff of poems and paintings: the human experience, as unrealistic as it might be, as fanciful and inventive.

It is in the glory of the stars, in the birdsong, in the nights full of music, and when there is no music around, the notes still keep ringing. We hear them breathing together, sitting opposite each other drinking tea, or holding each other until the morning.

I have a fond memory of singing this song on a warm night while walking through some industrial park somewhere in New Zealand. “Here or on far distant shores”. I was not in a relationship at the time, but just thinking of love that transcends time and space is comforting, and how the thoughts may be with the beloved no matter what the distance is. There is time to be present, to focus completely on what is at hand. But can poets ever really do that, just to describe what is in front of us? Well, in a way. An important part of writing is observing things closely, being really present. But then to turn it into actual poetry or stories one has to sit down and remember, twist it through some viewpoint to make it interesting. In that way writing is also about displacement, thinking about things that are not here, things that have never been. Yet what a wonder it is, to be in love and to be relieved of the self-imposed duty to think of metaphors, and instead to reflect on the world with another soul, not just reflect images of beauty I happen to find in nature or in the city.

Momus – Rhetoric

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Floating, dreaming. The music bounces and flows at the same time, creating a sense of relaxed excitement. Contradictions inherent in falling in love. Anticipation, nervousness, eagerness, fear.

A Momus documentary states that this is a tongue-in-cheek attempt to write a love song. It’s fascinating that the song at the same time subverts the clichéd hyperboles of traditional love songs while still embracing them. There’s a sense of genuine feeling while still admitting that these phrases professing eternal love are glib and disingenuous.

The trick is in the contrast of unrealistic and realistic statements. Most declarations here sound meaningless because they’re never going to be tested, hence it’s just rhetoric. It’s easy to claim love will last until the end of time, until astronauts go walking on the sun. The fact that it’s never going to happen sounds reassuring, but listing impossible things would quickly become boring. It’s not difficult to come up with endless similar phrases, and in the end they amount to nothing, when in reality people broke up for petty reasons.

Yet there is cleverness in the hyperboles. In particular I like “till the melting clocks have chimed a melting hour,” probably referring to Dali’s The Persistence of Memory, and the phrase is just as surreal. What does it actually mean? Does it have to have a meaning? I don’t think so. It’s a love song, what do you expect?

And here come the contrasts: while they’re still declarations of lasting love, saying that “I’ll love you till the razorblades are held against my neck” or “you turn into a person I don’t know” are very well conceivable. These statements draw actual limits on love, something much closer than the end of the world. It makes the other statements look ridiculous, which is why this is tongue-in-cheek, showing the artificiality of love confessions while still saying that love is real. It’s just not usual in pop songs to say that there are limits to love, even if everybody knows it.

I don’t know if it’s intentional, but on the album Timelord this song, with its final line “I love you like the bee that dies, dies astride a queen” is followed by a song called Suicide Pact: “We were lovers – we made a suicide pact,” further bringing in some irony. The gentle followed by macabre. Not an uncommon theme in Momus oeuvre.

And still, the music is pleasant, and the repetitive phrases mean that if one is not attentively listening to everything, it’s easy to just go with the flow, embrace the feeling as a genuine declaration that doesn’t expose anything problematic in these songs. And maybe that’s what falling in love always entails, some forgetfulness of the myriad ways that relationships can go wrong, and how they do go awry around us. Just maybe not this time, not for us. May we find happiness that lasts till the world has stopped and time has lost its power.

Depeche Mode – One Caress

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More ambiguity. Dark music with minor and diminished chords, striking, dramatic strings strings, but a gently lilting, swaying melody in 12/8. Lyrics that are an appeal to a girl, yet with focus on darkness as salvation, whatever it is. It’s mostly the word darkness that makes the song mysterious, since it’s usually presented as a negative thing.

There is a religious aspect with talk of sin and how the girl’s darkness can somehow be redemptive. It’s the theme of the album Songs of Faith and Devotion, which is, as I’ve mentioned before, a reference to Leonard Cohen’s Songs of Love and Hate, and how he also blends the secular with religious love, although mostly on later albums.

The girl might not be an actual human being, but a symbol of something else, be it illicit substances or death itself. Where do we seek salvation? In the middle of desperation we can cling to anything, ultimately to the notion of death as an end. Or the song can be heard as some kind of vampire story.

It is not clear who is doing the seducing. The narrator is pleading, but it’s almost like he’s the one asking to be seduced, hoping for a solution when the world leaves him unimpressed. The caress of a beloved, the caress of death, it’s all conflated in this religious imagery. Yet the soft singing and the impassioned arrangement is seductive in itself.

I remember listening to this song in the dark when I was a teenager. At the time I often listened to music with the lights out. It was somehow comforting. But darkness with music is different from darkness without. With music you can focus on other people’s emotions, escape from reality. Without it you have to face the emptiness of the night, its vague feeling of threat, or then your own thoughts, emotions, and your own emptiness. A lot of people aren’t comfortable with that, even when they say they love the dark.

It’s the darkness enhanced that’s seductive, a reduction. Mundane daytime phenomena are removed from the equation and it’s easier to see life to be simple. Perhaps that’s the true seductive notion, however we may pursue it. We’d like things to be simple, love and peace of mind to be attainable, and whatever object we attach to it, we call it a solution, salvation. That is what creates a sense of religiousness. Even the mundane becomes otherworldly when we ascribe such life-transforming powers to it. And to place such high hopes on a human being is inadvisable. It’s a burden to that person as much as oneself, even if it may sound somewhat flattering.

We may be saved by others, but they’re not saviors; their existence shouldn’t be defined solely by it. Even if we met some truly enlightened being who has limitless love, defining them as a savior means we’re already giving up on the notion of developing compassion for ourselves. Even better than compassion is the ability to inspire it in others. That kind of saving I’d hardly call darkness. But that’s just a label, as any description of comfort is bound to be symbolic. Darkness, light, green in blue. Maybe it doesn’t matter.

Some people do thrive on it, trying to save one person, only to become darkness themselves. Mutual destruction, a whirl of despair, clinging to each other as the last hope in the world, and the more the two cling to darkness, the more hopeless the rest of the world seems. It might be better to just look outside for a while, find something else worth admiring. Holding only one thing dear sounds like a recipe for depression as well as its symptom. And when one loses the only thing that mattered, what then?

Well, maybe. Leonard Cohen: “Only one thing made him happy and now that it was gone everything made him happy.”

Al Stewart – A Small Fruit Song

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A minor key, some hesitation, melancholy, perhaps expectation. We are different. No matter how smooth the arpeggios, how we fit together like bursts of bluesy scale runs with strummed chords, there is always something we might not understand about each other. It makes us vulnerable.

But difference is also a source of excitement. I don’t always understand you, but that means there is always more to explore, as long as we don’t take each other for granted. We can talk about our fears and desires, but there is something ineffable. The truth is that we’re hardly aware of our own motivations, sometimes realizing years later that what we thought was rational was just feelings which had been rationalized through some strange logic. So we shouldn’t take each other for granted either.

To be kissed to the core, the warm flow of feelings, bodies close, minds closer. Perhaps it’s a dream of something hardly possible: to be known like no-one else has known us, at our most bare essence. Does such an essence even exist? Perhaps if I surrender I could find it with you. Then what? Maybe the consequences don’t matter, because it’s a dream that can never be perfected, an ideal toward which we can strive together, trying to open up to each other. We may skirt around it for an eternity.

The core, the essence, the soul, it may just be a fabrication of the flow of ever-changing thoughts. When I want to open up, what is it that I am revealing? Is it just emptiness trying to take some tangible form for a moment only to fade away when the attention goes away? Whatever it may be, it is a very basic desire, perhaps a need, to strive for: affection for something we may not even know well ourselves. Whatever I am, I desire acceptance, and wish you to be the one I let close like no other orange.

The lyrics are simple like a nursery rhyme, but that is why apples and oranges can be taken to some pretty far-off interpretations about difference. “Orange” is the woman who was the subject of many of Stewart’s early songs. The relationship didn’t end well, so hearing the minor chords here, and the use of past tense, seems like an anticipation of the stormy end. But that’s just hindsight.

A note on the music: Stewart is not always considered a part of the late 60s folk revival scene, but the influences are clearly there. Here the fingerpicking style is reminiscent of Bert Jansch. Stewart’s songs had a more pop-oriented approach later, but in the early songs the influence of Dylan and Fairport Convention can still be heard.

The Alan Parsons Project – Old and Wise

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Sung by Colin Blunstone of The Zombies, Old and Wise sounds thoroughly wistful even while the lyrics are a message of hope. This ambiguity makes it possible to pick whatever interpretation we need at the time. It is a song about love and hope, forgetting and remembering, acceptance and defiance, all kinds of conflicting emotions that may be present when thinking of death. The same ambiguity is reflected in the music which is both dramatic and sensitive.

The line “you were a friend of mine” strikes me as a central point, and it’s reiterated with a different focus. The first time it’s about the narrator thinking of the happiness, intimacy, completion. How humans are social animals and depend on each other even when things are going awry. How friendship and love are important and give meaning to our lives, and how they make us feel like bitter words and autumn winds lose their meaning. It is not only a song about facing death but about facing life. How to make existence seem meaningful when there are countless narratives to choose from, many of them full of bitterness, degradation and despair?

The second time the line is a plea for those left behind to remember the friendship. It is significant that the narrator doesn’t ask to be remembered as such, the focus is on the friendship, and maybe even further on the friend. What the friend should remember is his or her own experience of the friendship as something to be happy about, all the things shared, and the importance they held for the deceased. Not focus on the sadness of what has been lost but the importance of something having been real in the first place, the existence of a relationship. When the physical form is gone, that which is intangible, the notion, the relationship still remains, only now its existence only depends on the one left behind.

Nevertheless, I can’t help feeling sad when hearing this song, but maybe because I associate it with an old break-up. At the time I was listening to The Alan Parsons Project, and maybe I was thinking of the good things we had and how I’d like to grow old still remembering the relationship fondly, even though things didn’t work out. To remember the friendship and laughter and not be bitter about things ending.

The lyrics also state “When I’m old and wise,” which implies that the narrator doesn’t necessarily think like this, but recognizes that it is the sort of wisdom to aspire to, the attitude that would be good to have when growing older. Strangely enough, the older I become, the less certain I am of things, questioning what our notions of wisdom even mean, and whether it is important to define wisdom in the first place.

The song reminds me of this poem by Christina Rossetti. Perhaps not a direct influence, but I’m sure the songwriters would have known such a classic poem on death. It is possible to remember, and yet look forward in life.

Remember me when I am gone away,
Gone far away into the silent land;
When you can no more hold me by the hand,
Nor I half turn to go yet turning stay.
Remember me when no more day by day
You tell me of our future that you plann’d:
Only remember me; you understand
It will be late to counsel then or pray.
Yet if you should forget me for a while
And afterwards remember, do not grieve:
For if the darkness and corruption leave
A vestige of the thoughts that once I had,
Better by far you should forget and smile
Than that you should remember and be sad.

Al Stewart – I’m Falling

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I was 17 when I first visited London, and I distinctly recall buying Orange, the album which included this song, on that trip. It was in an HMV store among a plethora of other albums I wanted to buy, back when it was much more possible than today to just go to a record shop and find things that most people haven’t heard of. I also remember the innocent energy being there with friends, climbing lamp posts and finding delight in smelling black pepper.

And partly I associate that innocence also with this song, which just might be the most romantic one among Stewart’s repertoire. It is full of anticipation, and while it was probably written in an already established relationship, I also remember it as a symbol of early infatuation, that time when everything seems possible, love is an experience of being healed, a feeling of hope and fulfilment.

There is a clear sense of time and place, images that convey leisurely existence with nowhere to go, no obligations, only the sense of burgeoning affection. It is appealing because of the sense that very little is moving, yet emotionally there is a direction, falling in love, gradually moving toward understanding and intimacy. The world is moving in one direction, but it barely affects the lovers who are making tea and having biscuits, getting to know each other, somehow aware of jobs or people going to movies. It always struck me as a lovely image, and experiencing the feeling oneself for the first time is very memorable. It’s as if nothing truly exists except this bubble of tenderness.

Yet time keeps passing. It is Sunday afternoon turning into evening, and the lovers are aware of Monday morning, and the temptation to not go to work the next day. But perhaps it is this awareness of the limits of this freedom that gives it such a special hue, makes it possible to concentrate on the senses, being present just for each other. Awareness time can either make us live in the moment ever more fully, holding on to each sensation, or it can make us perpetually absent, always living for the future that never arrives, always planning ahead, thinking of what could be instead of what is.

The song is an exploration of the present within that context, the preciousness of each second spent together while it’s still possible, gentle hands, the gentleness of light inside while the night is falling. When it is possible to live like that, fully in the moment, sharing the sensations with someone who wants just as much to be there, to open up to that intimacy, there’s really nothing else to wish for. How nourishing the light can be, the touching fingers. The endless waves that keep crashing to the shore, the undulation of time itself. The afternoon tea, the conversations, the presence, the sleep, all rolling together to form this wonderful bubble.

All About Eve – Martha’s Harbour

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Love always entails a paradox, simultaneous peace and restlessness, not only in succession but in the same moment, reaching out toward a person who seems like salvation, but who yet also symbolises perdition. The more desperate we are to find solace, the more vulnerable we become, and more aware of our own helplessness when facing someone who is still a mystery, perhaps always will be.

So we look for a way to sail the stormy seas, the safety to face the waves, whether stormy or peaceful, feeling helpless while doing so. It feels like it’s worth the risk, depending on how we see ourselves, whether we believe ourselves strong enough, should the waves suddenly start to look overwhelming.

The harbour in the song is a place of safety and solitude, but the heart longs for the sea. In contrast, a harbour could also be an image of love itself, the beloved as a place of rest and security. These are not merely metaphors. That is, using a metaphor strengthens our own prejudice and starts to become a reality in itself, the image takes over the original feeling, gets locked into place, until there’s no way for the original feeling to change, be it of hesitation or safety.

The sea is also an image of freedom. If I could sail you out into the open, maybe i could feel free and safe at the same time. That is what love is like at its best, support and encouragement that enables us to venture out, to be ourselves more fully. I wouldn’t go as far as to say that one cannot be oneself being isolated in a small harbour, but surely the more we face different situations, the more we discover in ourselves, at least of our abilities to survive in different environments.

Love gives us that trust in ourselves as well as the partner, enabling us to take the chance. But before that, one has to take the chance alone, to see whether the wave carries us or if we sink into the sea, never to surface again. Yet, human beings are buoyant alone as well. Both solitude and entanglement may feel like freedom or then a prison. Largely it a question of attitude, but much more so when one doesn’t have to consider another person’s wishes and desires.

It can make relationships more frightening. Yet it is all that matters to those who have found the kind of relationship in which it doesn’t feel like anything of importance is sacrificed while life is enhanced by all the support, the little touches, the conversations, the presence of another being with whom to reflect yourself, to share the intimacy and moments of despair as well as joy.

Mojave 3 – Mercy (Strings Version)

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Another dream, another crack in the heart. Mojave 3’s music is oozing melancholy just like that of Slowdive, the previous band of the 3 members. But here Neil Halstead’s solid songwriting is much more obvious when not bathed in a swarm of buzzing and bleeding guitars. The fragility, the sensitivity come to the front, and the very human experience of hopeless love is revealed in its raw essence.

The lyrics are somewhat ambiguous. The song could be about early stages of a relationship, that uncertainty, one person’s hesitation and messes that become an obstacle. However, I’m hearing it more as a lamentation on a relationship already ending, the attempt to hold on to what was good and the inability to keep things together because the other person isn’t trying enough, and the realization that they don’t have enough love. They are more preoccupied with a mess of their own. Perhaps drugs. Maybe I’m reading too much into it because of Slowdive’s reputation with drug use, but the line “You’re taking all my time, you’re taking all the time,” has ambiguity like that; “taking” has dozens of possible meanings, and here it’s possible that the second instance is not referring to time but to drugs, like saying “you’re using all the time”. But it’s just that one line, not enough to lock down the meaning to one interpretation.

Also there’s the tragedy of choices we make, ostensibly innocuous, not intended to hurt anyone, made from the viewpoint of our own needs. But in a relationship those choices may still hurt the other person. A shared life, the clashes of conflicting needs and desires.

Yet there is always beauty, and most of the time it seems worth it, despite the possibility of heartbreak. Even feeling resigned, slowly accepting that the other person will never have enough love, at least not in this relationship. The strength of hope, when we full well know that there should not be need to beg for someone’s affection. It is freely given, and if there’s a need to start bargaining for it, they don’t really care, not enough. Yet you keep wishing. You can’t feel their love, but the impulse is still strong enough to sing out your need.

And even when things are over and you know the relationship is beyond repair, you still keep the memories, hold on to them. They may even seem like the best thing you have, because they become the symbol of all the love the world once had to offer, and all the love you have within. We have so much capacity for loving everything, yet in a relationship one person may become the one focal point without whom it seems that love wouldn’t even exist. Yet love keeps streaming without a beginning, without an end, this ability to reach out and care for each other. Even when it’s not felt to be real at all times. We always have warmth to share, and warmth to look at things together, to choose and see beauty in everything around us, in the person chosen, in ourselves. Mercy.