PERMANENT RECORDS: IT'S THE STORM THAT I BELIEVE IN
Permanent Records is a year-long project. Each Friday (or thereabouts), I will post a new entry about one specific album, chosen due to its significance to myself as a fan. Though the list is numbered, a particular record's placement should not be considered a ranking. There will be 52 albums in all.
This endeavor is based on a concept started by Chris Tamarri at Crisis/Boring Change.
49. THE CARDIGANS - LONG GONE BEFORE DAYLIGHT (2003)
Personnel: Nina Persson, vocals; Peter Svensson, guitar; Lars-Olaf Johansson, keyboards; Magnus Sveningsson, bass; Bengt Lagerberg, drums
Producer: Per Sunding & the Cardigans /Label: Stockholm/Koch
Let me tell you a story about a girl.
Yes, this entry centers around the female of the species. A lot of them will, so you might as well make your peace with it now. Our music is invariably tangled up in the highs and lows of our lives, and for a lot of us, that means relationships have soundtracks. The chick factor will sadly be a big factor in what I choose to write about.
Sometimes, my life and a particular song or album converges so completely, I have cause to wonder if there is something cosmic about it, if divinity and fate do take an active role in the everyday affairs of human beings. At some point in 2003, did God lay His hand on the Cardigans and say, "In 2004, Jamie S. Rich will be suffering from a nasty break-up, and I need you to write a track that will ease him through"?
I had been in an on-again/off-again relationship for six years when Long Gone Before Daylight surfaced in the U.S. If we were to call the relationship in terms of official time, it was off more than it was on, but as anyone who has been in such a liaison knows, there is no official off time. You're in it wholly through the entire thing, whether you know it or want to admit it or not. The fanciest metaphor I can come up with for this girl and I was that she was a car and I was a boat, and no matter how much she tried to leap in the water and grow a propeller, it did about as much good as me jumping on land and trying to grow wheels. For those times when the coastline and the highway ran parallel, it was great. We could pretend there wasn't that big a barrier between us, forgetting that at some point the highway would take a turn or go into a tunnel, or I'd have to steer around a reef or something, and we'd be out of sync once more.
At around this time, we'd been on the same path for nearly a year, and we gearing up for a big change. I was leaving my job in comics to pursue writing full-time, and she was going to make a move-up on her career path, one that was going to take her out Oregon. The plan was that I would go with her. The timing was perfect. I was ready to start something new, and the opportunity was in front of us.
Only, as the date approached, the cracks began to show. When it came down to it, she started to hem and haw about the whole thing. What had seemed like an answer of timing became a question of time: as in, would she have time for me what with all these new responsibilities. What I was hearing was "No" disguised as "I don't know," a signal of obfuscated clarity that it was up to me to read, and that it was up to me to make a decision about. I decided even if "I don't know" was the reality, it was not good enough, so I chose to end it.
Problem was, I ended it three months before she was due to leave, so rather than quickly ripping off the band-aid and dealing with the pain, it was a long and slow process, like a dream band-aid that keeps growing and the more you pull the more there seems to be attached to your skin. At some points over that summer, I felt like I was in a scene from the British sitcom Coupling, where Steve tells Jane, "We broke up," and Jane responds, "No, we haven't. I don't accept that," over and over and over again.
This is where the Cardigans came in. Specifically, the song "Communication," the first on Long Gone Before Daylight. Four minutes and twenty-eight seconds of exactly what I was feeling.
"Communication" is a fairly simple song. For the album, the Cardigans had dropped both the kitschy cocktail sound of their earliest recordings and the more synthesized instrumentation of their previous disc, 1998's Gran Turismo. Emerging five years later from whatever wilderness they found themselves in, the Swedish band had adopted an approach more akin to country rock, like Mazzy Star on a clear day looking on to forever. Peter Svensson had bought a steel guitar, and he liked it. A lot.
The most straightforward example of this approach is "Communication," a song that slowly builds as guitar, piano, drums, and the softest of strings quietly dance with one another while Nina Persson pours out her heart. The main body of the song is almost matter-of-fact. Persson is down about a love affair that isn't quite connecting, but she's mellow and mournful, not overly plaintive. As she sings, it creates a shiver in the room. The fire has gone out. It's honest and raw almost to the point of making me question whether it's okay for an artist to be so up front with her feelings; or worse, am I so detached as a writer, I wouldn't have the guts to write something like that. (This entry, I guess, is my answer, even if the same fears still exist. What is too much to reveal? When do I invoke my authorial right to lie? Will she read this? Am I being fair? Isn't there a character I can hide behind?)
Beyond the honesty of emotion, though, the lyrics held a scary parallel for me. "For 27 years I've been trying/ to believe and confide in/ different people I found/ some of them got closer than others/ and some wouldn't even bother/ and then you came around." That's me! That could be me! I was right around that age when I met her, that was how I felt about it. Okay, so that's how most people feel going into a new relationship after some botched ones, but we're talking a selfish listening experience here, and this is how the song--not just the song, the album--begins. God, Cardigans, me.
It's a hopeful and romantic opening, but it's not to be. The problem comes later in the first verse, when Persson reveals that this connection is one-sided. "I never really knew how to move you/ so I tried to intrude through/ the little holes in your veins." This isn't paradise, a fundamental understanding of one another is absent from the relationship. And isn't it nice for once that rather than a song being a veiled metaphor about drugs (there were none in my scenario), a drug reference is actually a metaphor for love, for trying to get someone to let you in so that you can know them the way you want them to know you?
More than once in our relationship, we argued about things that had been said and what they meant. I remember trying to tell her how I felt like we spoke two different languages. To be more precise, I was a lot less fair than that: I accused her of hearing things that most people hear and ascribing to them a meaning that most people do not have. It's a sad day when you have "most people" on your side, but I take that as an emblem of my struggle. I was resorting to any language I could find that would get my meaning through. I didn't care what it ended up being, as long as it worked. Yet it never did--or if it did, it was a patch that didn't hold--and being who I am and how I would deal with things, I would retreat, hiding in the world I have in my head and trying to ignore the problem, pretend it doesn't exist. Part of the chorus of "Communication" is "I've seen you, I know you, but I don't know/ how to connect/ so I disconnect," and every time I heard it, I so got it. I got it 100%.
It chills me still to listen to this song. Every time I hear the opening chords, I stop dead. I must've listened to it hundreds of times over that summer--and eighteen times straight while writing this--it's never stopped having an impact. Probably for every one time I played the whole of Long Gone Before Daylight, I'd wager I listened to "Communication" three times. I sent it to people over e-mail, and rather than explain to them what was going on with me, I would just say, "Listen to this song. It's got it all." Which is not to discount the rest of the album, which is amazing. I love it front to back. The second song on it (also the lead single), "You're the Storm," got a lot of play off me, too, as it reminded me of the better parts of this failing relationship. Its battle-themed similes and the comparison of one's lover to a destructive yet necessary force of nature was all too accurate to how I felt about this girl. Which is an important distinction. For as crappy as it had become, it was a necessary part of my life, for part of who I was and was becoming.
Of course, that didn't mean it wasn't finished. Storms blow over, after all. "Communication" had a bigger role than just being an understanding voice in my sorrow. At about the 2:50 mark, the song goes into an instrumental bridge, a guitar solo that, as it rings out, changes the key and raises the tempo. At 3:15, everything shifts. Nina Persson is no longer mildly accepting of her fate. She becomes defiant. If she isn't being listened to, she will at least be heard.
"Well, this is an invitation!
it's not a threat
if you want communication
that's what you get
I'm talking and talking
but I don't know
how to connect
and I hold
a record for being patient
with your kind of hesitation
I need you, you want me
but I don't know
how to connect
so I disconnect
Obviously, you have to hear it to get the full effect, as the vocals rise and rise all the way through, but there is so much going on with the language in those stanzas, as well. For the first time, the narrator is crying out, insisting herself. Notice how the words change. It's no longer her seeing and knowing him, it's now about mutual need and want, demanding that what she saw between them was really real, and if her partner is not going to acknowledge it, then she's through.
It was this part of the song that I had to hang on to, the part I needed to embolden me. Lord knows, I certainly did feel like I deserved some kind of award for the patience I had shown, for how long I had hung on. It was time to act on my own behalf. Previous break-ups had been against my will, and this one would be my decision. So on the way to and from confrontations, I would listen to "Communication" on my iPod and let the tears they drew be my inspiration, be my strength. I would stand my ground. I'd disconnect.
And I did.
It wasn't easy, it hurt like hell, but I did.
The author and Nina Persson in 1997. I was in one of the worst stages of my oft-forgotten moptop phase.
Would I have made it through without the Cardigans? Would I have made the same choices? I don't know. Is it worth asking? Because the truth is, for the rest of my life, when I put Long Gone Before Daylight on the stereo--and I will often, trust me--these are the things I will think of. Time and perspective will hopefully show that I became a better person--and a better writer--for its influence, and for the influence of the whole relationship "Communication" helped cap. That's an assessment for a later essay, though, something to be gleaned from future listens. One never knows, Long Gone Before Daylight may transform itself and become a warrior of another kind in a whole different Jamie S. Rich crisis.
Until then, I have 2004 and all these things that surround it, and as Nina says later in the album, on "03.45: No Sleep":
"I've always been too lame
to see what's before me
and I know nothing sweeter than
champagne from last new year's
sweet music in my ears
and a night full of no fear."
That's enough to hold me up right now. Which is pop music, really. It can't solve everything, but it can fill this moment and make it feel like forever.
Reminder: As always, this post is full of links to Amazon. Click on any one of them when shopping, and Amazon will shave a few pennies off their take to give to me. So, if my reviews make you all hot and bothered and you just have to own one of the things I'm talking about, use my link and contribute to buying me more stuff to review. (Those reading a Live Journal feed will likely have to click to the actual blog page first before heading over to Amazon, though.) Either way, thanks for reading.
Current Soundtrack: Pulp, Hits
Current Mood: lonely
[to leave comments, click on the time-stamp below, then scroll down on the new page] – All text (c) 2005 Jamie S. Rich