A personal diary keeping people abreast of what I am working on writing-wise.

Friday, May 19, 2006


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. It has since been expanded as a concept, as Neal Shaffer takes on a study of album covers over at Leftwich.

Personnel: Tony Hadley, vocals; Gary Kemp, guitar & background vocals; Martin Kemp, bass; Steve Norman, saxophone; John Keeble, drums
Producer: Steve Jolly and Tony Swain/ Label: Chrysalis

He didn't realize the importance of being understood until he was old enough to reach some understanding himself.

As a younger boy, it hadn't mattered that he was weird, because every kid was weird. There wasn't yet any major focus on fitting in. Everyone sat in the same desks in the same rows in the same classes at the same school, so how did anyone not fit?

It was when he was older and had moved on to the other schools that things started to change. Kids now talked to each other in odd ways. He could strike up a conversation with someone--a girl, particularly--and before she responded, it was like she was weighing the significance of talking to him. What was in it for her if she did? Or, more baffling for him, what wasn't in it for her if she did? What did she stand to lose? He hadn't witnessed any corrosive effects to having a conversation with him, and yet his voice repelled.

More telling was seeing the same girls talk to other guys. Suddenly, their attention was focused. Their bodies perked up, and they leaned in rather than lean away. He couldn't see why. The guys he knew spoke in boring, clipped sentences, as if the words were pits of tar and they were walking across them wearing galoshes, sticking and sinking on their way to the end punctuation. What happened to being clever? What happened to wit? Where was meaning?

It was this boy's intention to express something, to speak in words that carried the weight of his heart. So, it was a rude awakening to discover that no one cared about the heart anymore.

Where had he gotten this sensibility from? It wasn't like he had role models for it. Certainly there was no great romance between his parents. His father never sat him down and said, "Son, this is chivalry. This is how you love a woman and how you treat her so that the love lasts." No one instructed him on what kind of flowers to buy or about opening doors or about being a champion who fights for his princess to the bitter end; yet, the boy didn't remember a time when he didn't carry those kinds of thoughts with him.

Sure, there were movies, books, music--but how could he be sure which came first? It was impossible to know if they had informed his worldview, or if he had gravitated to them because they were simpatico. He saw life as a music video, the floors and walls an empty white, and men in dark jackets and slick hair singing about love like it was a game for secret agents, a mission one completes successfully or risk punishment from foreign powers. They were Cary Grant and Humphrey Bogart rolled into one, unafraid of speaking as they pleased and standing where they stood, lovers and fighters both.

The thing was, girls swooned over this band. He knew it because he had seen the buttons on their jackets and the stickers on their notebooks. If he had a microphone and could sing, would they accept his declarations of romance, too? He had tried telling them straight out, but he always fumbled. He tried writing it down, but the notes got passed around, vandalized, or maybe they just didn't want to be asked to read (in which case the boy wasn't interested anyway).

There had to be a magic formula. How could this suavity be brought from the record player to real life? He listened to the album incessantly, tried to decipher any secret message it might contain. If they were spies, then they were smuggling the vital information to him, and with it, he could rule the world--or at least a few hearts.

Except they weren't spies, they were a band, and he wasn't a counter-agent, he was just some kid with an out-of-date fascination. The scenarios they sang about were fantasies of something that had passed him by. A battle had been fought before he was even born, and his side had lost.

Even so, that was no reason to give up, and with each passing year, he would grow more earnest in his pursuit, while also letting go of another sliver of the illusion. It was odd, because the more he chipped away at it, the more real it became. The fantasy element was just a smokescreen, a convenient excuse to insist he didn't believe in it, when really it was right in front of him the whole time. Love was hiding in plain site as itself.

He recalled school dances where the DJ played the song off the record, the one from the video. It was pretty much a given that the tune would find its way into the set at some point. It was a popular song, practically a staple. Teenagers liked to dance close to one another when it was on, let its lofty proclamations guide their steps, and maybe for its duration, their emotions, as well. He liked the song for its imagery. It talked about music, too, of a romance that consisted of staying up all night and listening to Marvin Gaye. The boy wanted a similar experience, but he and the object of his affection would listen to this band instead. No matter how much he tried to get past it, he wanted the love they sang about.

Then it occurred to him: the song's strongest thematic thread was about writing the song itself. There were other references on the album to literature and creating your own code, but it was most explicit here. The lyrics implied that it wouldn't always be easy, but you had to stick to it. The boy's problem was that he had been letting others dictate how his romantic inclinations would play out, and if he wanted them to finally go his own way, he had to craft his own narrative, write his own love song. That's what life was about. Who cared if your style of music was out of fashion? Such worries were for the fickle, and this is about the notion of forever! He knew that much, at least, was true.

When a record ends, you don't discard it. You pick the needle up, put it back at the beginning, and listen again. If it doesn't all make sense to you the first time, it doesn't matter, because you'll get more out of it the second time, until eventually you know the whole thing front to back, every note, every word. That was the way to be understood, to keep at it until he was loved completely, front to back, every odd tick, every flaw. Only then can the code of love be decoded, and at last, the boy will fit.

#52 #51 #50 #49 #48 #47 #46 #45 #44 #43 #42 #41 #40 #39 #38 #37 #36 #35 #34

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Current Soundtrack: Pet Shop Boys, Fundamental/Fundamentalism

Current Mood: artistic

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[to leave comments, click on the time-stamp below, then scroll down on the new page] – All text (c) 2006 Jamie S. Rich

1 comment:

Mike Lechmann said...

Nice narrative. Makes me want to check this record out.