Love Songs Deconstructed #1

#1  Just the Way You Are

As a rule, I avoid love songs these days. I am an emotional man and, therefore, despite the fact that I rarely drink anymore, when the nights get long and the insomnia gets bitey, I know I’ll end up clutching old photographs and waving my fist at the sky.

Nonetheless, I’ve been listening to a lot of music again lately and, to be honest, you can’t completely escape the form unless your tastes run to Norwegian death metal. Even then, there are a number of artists who have a fair old pash on for young Satan.

I suppose I could skip the songs when they come on, but that feels like giving in, and so, to prevent myself from melting into a pool of teary, bereft mush, I’ve decided to start examining these songs with a critical eye, rather than with a broken heart and other disgruntled body parts.

Today’s entry is the evergreen standard “Just the Way You Are” by Billy Joel. Now, despite my occasional lapses into musical pretension, I bow to no one in my love for William of Joel’s oeuvre. Scenes from an Italian Restaurant is the fucking bomb and I’ll fight anyone who says otherwise.

Now, Just the Way You Are is not my favourite song on the otherwise impeccable album The Stranger, despite its Grammy glory and its ubiquitous presence on many soothing radio stations. However, my soppy, youthful impression of it was that it was a song of acceptance, of the kind of love to which we all should aspire.

Let’s see how well that stands up, shall we?

Don’t go changing, to try and please me
You never let me down before
Don’t imagine you’re too familiar
And I don’t see you anymore

Okay. So far, not too bad. Billy doesn’t want to impose some kind of patriarchal hierarchy in which his partner feels the need to conform to some imaginary ideal in order to retain his affection.

That’s nice.

Nonetheless, it raises a few questions: Why is he bringing it up now? Has there been an incident? An accusation? Has Billy been consumed with his work, banging away at the piano as precious time ticked away that might have been vitally spent maintaining communication within the relationship?

Looked at from a certain angle, it’s a rather defensive statement. You can imagine it as the rejoinder in a particularly heated argument. But we’ll give Billy the benefit of the doubt here. Perhaps he was simply concerned that she might feel that way and wanted to reassure her. That would certain demonstrate a healthy lack of complacency.

Let’s continue.

I wouldn’t leave you in times of trouble
We never could have come this far
I took the good times, I’ll take the bad times
I’ll take you just the way you are

Again, fair play to him. It’s a fine sentiment. He’s in it for the long haul. Although, if I were his partner, I might be tempted to think: “And what exactly is wrong with the way I am, that you have to make a special point of mentioning it?”

But Billy isn’t finished. He’s moving from the big picture to the little details now, which are, of course, important.

Don’t go trying some new fashion
Don’t change the color of your hair
You always have my unspoken passion
Although I might not seem to care

Hold on a minute. Why shouldn’t she try some new fashion, if that’s what she wants to do? You’re telling her how to dress now? And what business is it of yours what colour her hair is? What is this, fucking Vertigo?

And, I think you need to ask yourself, why is your passion unspoken exactly? Obviously, you’re aware of the problem, but you’re unwilling to modify your behaviour. I think there may be some intimacy issues here that merit discussion. You can’t just say, “Look, I know I appear to be largely ambivalent to you, your feelings, your hopes, dreams and ambitions, but, trust me, I would still jump you as soon as look at you. Provided you don’t get highlights or anything.”

I’m starting to hear alarm bells here, Bill.

I don’t want clever conversation
I never want to work that hard
I just want someone that I can talk to
I want you just the way you are.

Fuck me. That’s romantic. “It’s fine. I don’t mind that you have the intellectual acuity of a decomposing squirrel. Smart’s not my thing.”

Charming.

And he never wants to work that hard? What is that? Way to make someone feel special. “Sure, I want to be with you. I just don’t want to put in any effort.”

And how’s about talking with someone, rather than to them? Huh? Or, are you concerned that said talk might reveal some hitherto unexplored academic side of your partner? I mean, I know, that’s such a boner-killer.

Idiot.

But let’s be fair. Every relationship has its ups and downs. We all have to work through our own baggage to make it work. Maybe Bill is just putting it all out there, for comment. Perhaps he finds articulating his feelings difficult – his passion is unspoken, lest we forget –  and this is a genuine cry for help.

I need to know that you will always be
The same old someone that I knew
What will it take till you believe in me
The way that I believe in you.

Motherfucking Christian-Grey-looking motherfucker. You will not change. You will not experience personal growth. You will, however, adjust your feelings to match my own.

Fucking hell. You need to know, do you? Well, it’s not all about your needs. It’s about time you learned that, if you want to be with a grown-up woman.

I’ll be honest, Bill, if this is representative of your genuine feelings, I’m disappointed in you. I’m desperately trying to convince myself that this is a character song and you are subtly examining the dark side of conventional masculinity and its effect on the self-worth of both parties.

I mean, if that’s what you’re doing, it’s genius. The dichotomy between the soft, sweet melody and the vicious cycle of control and emotional violence described in the lyrics is truly and brilliantly unsettling.

I said I love you and that’s forever
And this I promise from the heart
I could not love you any better
I love you just the way you are.

Oh dear, oh dear. What a note to end on. He couldn’t love her any better. I mean, that would just be asking too much. He’s not even willing to bloody try. She should just shut her mouth and get on with it.

God, this is such a sad song.

What also worries me is that, contextually, this is also a man who, rather suspiciously, keeps denying acts of arson in the first person plural, so I’d advise professional help and, at best, a trial separation.

Join me next time when I examine the tragic identity crisis at the heart of “Don’t It Make My Brown Eyes Blue”.

 

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Home Fires, February 28th, 2017

“I have my books, and my poetry to protect me” – Paul Simon

I am aware, largely because I’ve more-or-less adjusted to existing in linear time now, that it has been awhile since the last entry in The Sane Diary.

I’m not sure exactly why this is, but it was, at least in part, an exercise in letting myself off the hook and not letting the daily routine of writing it become an obsession, rather than a genuine means of expressing myself.

It is also true that after months of taking my medication like a good boy and trying my best to address some of the day-to-day issues that pushed me firmly over my stress limit, this new way of being has become the standard, rather than the exception.

So, I’m retiring the Sane Diary, in the hopes that sanity has stuck and that, having accepted that medication will be a baseline necessity for the rest of my life, I can get on with living it.

It has been a journey, down a bumpy road, in a car with faulty shock absorbers. But I took it and I’m still here.

So, welcome to Home Fires, this journal’s new incarnation. I’m thinking it’s a bit like Doctor Who when The Doctor regenerates. Same person, different spin.

So, where are we now?

My brain has grown quieter, my thought processes have slowed, my attention span has regained a degree of elasticity and, most of all, I am alarmed and dismayed by words and actions over the last 15 years that made perfect sense to me at the time. For a long time, as the chemicals forcibly rewrote me, I felt at sea, with no firm mooring on who I was. Now, it’s who I was that feels alien – the arrogance, the anger, the obsessions, the wild flights of fancy and the freefalls of anxiety and despair. I can’t fathom many of the things I said, nor the ways in which I reacted to events that would now elicit an almost polar opposite rejoinder.

So, I mostly potter around the house now, cleaning and fixing things up as I go. I look after the children and brush aside their insistence that they need no looking after, provided I feed them regularly, do their laundry and fetch that thing to which I am a millimetre closer than they are. Having them living with me on a more permanent basis, half of the week, does, at least, feel like my life. And they seem to have adjusted well, even Hero, who is usually allergic to change in the way some unfortunate people are allergic to bees, or gluten.

I take comfort in cleaning and organising, in alphabetising my library and charting the path of my education in literature and film. I enjoy hanging pictures, fixing electrical issues, assembling furniture and generally being handy. I spend many of my evenings finally sifting through the boxes and files of memorabilia: the handwritten lyrics, the flyers and posters and the photographs from the road.

I don’t feel the need to drink, or to see in the day from the wrong end and battle the rest of it through a fog of exhaustion.

In the past, when I was more regularly interviewed by the press, I raconteured within an inch of my life. It’s been particularly reassuring to discover evidence that I wasn’t making up as much of it as I, in my new, more reliable, state of mind, feared.

I work hard and I go home. I’m trying to eat more healthily again and get back to exercising, having slid into bad habits and body dysmorphia (is it dysmorphia though, if you actually look like some pudding that has been shoved into a leather bag?) as I adjusted to this slower pace of life, with work restricted to the office and never carted home.

I’m still sad, often very lonely when the girls aren’t around, but at least I know why. That genuine emotion and all the others branching to and from it haven’t disappeared with more symptomatic reactions. I can trust how I feel, which is perhaps the most discombobulating aspect of it all.

There’s little I can do about it, other than live and cling to this undoubtedly improved version of myself.

Sometimes, I even feel inspired to create again. To tell stories through this new lens. I’m still gun-shy. I don’t ever want to go down the road of believing that I’ll “make it” in some way, that my art is really for anything than expressing myself creatively.

I need to enjoy it for its own sake and not let it take over or replace my life.

I was reading the play Equus recently, in which one of the characters worries that “curing” his charges may make their lives easier, but removes the passion that makes their lives extraordinary.

I’ve battled with that question all my life. I’ve finally decided it’s a ridiculous excuse for not getting your shit together.

I guess we’ll see.

The Sleuth Diary, February 4th – February 13th, 2017

“Game and set, I think.” – Andrew Wyke

Mood: Omnibus

You may have noticed – or not, I don’t want to presume – that there has been a brief hiatus in the Sane Diary, largely due to my being away in that strange half-life that is performing in a play.

In this case, Sleuth at The Little Theatre, Leicester, directed by Edward Spence and starring myself, Jaz Cox and Max J Cazoli.

You’d think that I’ve had a lot to say over the last ten days or so, what with theatrical life being so rife with incident, accident and emotional fervour.

And I have, but partially by design and partially through exhaustion, I made the decision to commit my energies purely to the play and the 6,013 other things I need to do in the course of a usual day. Most of which involve fetching various things for my daughters, to the degree that it begins to feel like a Herculean quest. (“Fetch me, oh man of Canada, the fruit of the cocoa plant from the furthest TESCO in the land. Oh, and toilet paper.”)

I’m still recovering from the theatrical extravaganza, but here’s a quick rundown of the last 10 days, just to get us back up to speed.

Saturday 4th – Dress Rehearsal

On the stage, in costume for the first time. Many technical aspects to be worked out, such as when things explode and how to avoid this including the actors.

Sunday 5th – Dress Rehearsal 2

Final checks. First bout of nervous vomiting. Fell down my own stairs and twisted my ankle. Not too badly, but it was a close call, considering we open tomorrow. I try to limp heroically. No one notices.

Monday 6th – Opening Night

Plays should not have an opening night or, if they must, no tickets should be sold to the public. The actors are in front of an audience for the first time, hearing laughs where once it was simply the director shouting, “That is not the line.” Nonetheless, it appears to go well and the first reviews start coming in as I taxi home. Foolishly, I read them. Thankfully they are good, but I’m still left rattled by the suspense. 

Tuesday 7th – Night Two

Settling in now. The audience are particularly prone to laughter tonight, so much so I want to check if my penis is inadvertently hanging out of my costume. No, no, it’s the text. That’s good. Because my self-esteem is rubbish at the best of times.

Wednesday 8th – Night Three

Daughter #1, as she insists on calling herself despite only being 8 minutes older, has been working backstage on the production. I’ve been thrilled with her work ethic and dedication to duty. I’ve been less thrilled with her nightly critique of my performance, which I feel is rich from someone whom I can remember from before they knew how to blow their own nose. Still, she’s usually right, which is annoying. Also strange is that most of the people in the theatre haven’t met both twins, which is unusual as they are seldom parted, so when Daughter #2, who is in the audience tonight, appears, she happily enjoys congratulations and praise for a job she hasn’t done. They don’t think they look alike at all, so they are always perplexed.

Thursday 9th – Night Four

When you are aware that you have people in, people about whom you care and, more vitally, who you will have to face in the bar afterwards, it does fire your performance to a new level. It was probably a mistake to deliver the entire play to their seats though.

Friday 10th – Night Five

When you’ve delivered a play a few times, the danger can be that you can catch yourself thinking, “I’ve done this bit already” in the middle of a performance and be tempted to skip ahead. This is a dangerous line of thinking to pursue. Much as it would be during sex.

Saturday 11th – Night Six

Matinee and an evening show today, so confusion will reign supreme. Hear my hair being described as a wonderful wig, which is half frustrating, considering the lengths to which I went to render it this colour, and half, oddly, flattering. In the end, I choose to only hear the word “wonderful” which a trick actors have. You could probably tell me I had a wonderful tumour and I’d curtsy graciously.

And then, suddenly, it’s all over and all I have to show for months of work is a bagful of damn fine memories, a slightly sore ankle and a hair full of peroxide that I now need to return to its usual brunette glory.

And a Dorian Grey style portrait of myself looking creepy.

Sunday 12th – The Day After

Asleep.

Monday 13th – Today

What do I do now?

 

 

 

 

 

 

The (Not Entirely) Sane Diary, February 3rd, 2017

“Bang? War! I must write me memoirs” – Major Denis Bloodnok, The Goon Show

Mood: Yes

So, I’m sitting backstage in the theatre in a red silk dressing gown, an unfortunate mirror in front of me, reflecting my platinum blonde hair and silvery beard. I don’t even know who’s looking back. It’s not me, that’s for damn sure.

I’m hoping it’s the character I’m playing and not a serial killer pretending to be my reflection. Because that would be weird.  Also, how did he manage to match the scar over my right eye so exactly? (I fell out of a highchair when I was little. Well, they say fell. I suspect pushed.) First time I had stitches and the only time it wasn’t due to a self-inflicted injury.)  Stalker! Hold on, that’s actually marginally better than a serial killer.

Actually, I’m being unfair. I don’t want to pigeonhole the poor hypothetical chap. He is perfectly capable of being both a stalker and a serial killer, I’m sure.

Power to the peep hole, as they absolutely never say.

Nothing is quite right today, so I’m defaulting to nonsense. You may have noticed. Unless, of course, you aren’t reading this, in which case we have nothing to say to each other. But I miss you. I do. My aim must be off.

There are the traditional light bulbs surrounding my dressing room mirror, which is more pressure than I care for at the moment. I feel like I’m required to have a bunch of really good ideas and I’m running dry at the moment. (Running wet takes too much energy and leads to Pneumonia. Which is a small town in Texas. Probably.)

It’s tech rehearsal tonight, which means that the stage crew shove us under some incredibly hot lights and blow a few things up, for reasons best known to themselves. I was sure this was Much Ado About Nothing. It probably is.

That might just be me. Which would explain why my co-star keeps punching me every time I call him Beatrice.

Which is odd. Because his name is Beatrice.

Ah, my ten minute call has arrived. I ordered twenty minutes ago, so I think it’s free.

Show time!

 

 

 

 

The Sane Diary, February 2nd, 2017

“And the drugs don’t work. They just make it worse.” – The Verve

Mood: I really don’t know.

I’m struggling today and I don’t know why. Well, I have some ideas, but none that – up till now – the heroic dose of medicines prescribed to me haven’t been quieting.

There have been a couple of moments over the last couple of days where I’ve felt I was losing the plot, but after these many months of fairly steady sailing, it is genuinely easier to course correct. But that old weight has settled on my chest, that old mixture of tears and impotent anger is attempt to cauterise my wounds from the inside. Like a dick. (Speaking of which, the anger is impotent, not I. I remain pointlessly functional.)

It’s the kind of feeling where you want to say, “I don’t know what’s wrong with me.” Of course, that would be a lie. I know exactly. But I’m not supposed to feel this anymore, even this watered-down, manageable version of it. It’s aching like a phantom limb.

I want to cry. And I’m not against crying. I am almost entirely sans macho. However, I am not entirely sans ego and I did a lot of crying over the last year. I’m not supposed to want to cry anymore.

Yes, I know. That’s life. We all have days like these. It’ll pass. I know all these things intellectually. But I’m still angry. Angry that I should have to jump through so many hoops to change my life, my path and my vision of myself and still have to put up with this shit.

I also know there has been a lot of stress, and maybe I’m less aware of it in the moment when I’m medicated. So it gets sneaky.

I don’t want to feel hard done to. I don’t want to feel angry. I want to be okay. Damn you, you stupid brain, you stupid body and you stupid set of stupid stupidnesses, imported at a ludicrous price from Stupidville by an idiot.

It’ll be fine. It’s always fine. And I know life isn’t built to be fair. I’m not a child. But, you know what, in this moment, fuck it. This sucks.

The Sane Diary, February 1st, 2017

“Actors may know to how to act, but a lot of them don’t know how to behave.” – Carrie Fisher, Postcards From The Edge

Mood: Darling

I’ve just got out of the theatre, where we have moved Sleuth from the rehearsal room to the stage, its sets nearly complete and our opening night mere days away.

I feel very at home in the theatre. I used to feel that way about film sets until the stress and responsibility finally came crashing down on my metaphorical testicles.

Still, acting remains a glorious distraction from pain. It’s amazing how well you can still perform even when reality continues to gnaw at your undercarriage.

Wow. This is the most action my southerly regions have had in ages. Shame it’s all so violent, not to mention hypothetical.

I’m a bit adrift at the minute. Literally everything around me is different. Some things are good. The new job suits me and contains enough creative employment to keep me from total atrophy. The new house is a boon. Space for the children. Space for the books. Space for the me.

Still, obviously, there is distinct undertone of runner- up about the whole thing. Like winning the lottery just after the aunt who needed the expensive operation has died.

I have the beginnings of a very comfortable, secure life, won through hard work and personal growth. What it means for the children and our time together is beyond fantastic. Can’t be faulted. I’m so happy about that. I’m giddy to regain my chance to shout at them in the mornings when they won’t get out of bed, try to force a healthy breakfast down them, realise five minutes after they leave the house that one of them has left behind everything they need for school, including their sister and, generally, be treated like both the cause and cure of all the world’s ills.

I’m not even kidding. I’ve been jonesing for all that good parenting stuff for ages.

But I’m lonely. Desperately so at times. It doesn’t beat me, but it gets in a few sharp punches.

But I get up every morning, I do what I do the best way I know how and I keep going. It’s what we do, isn’t it?

I don’t even begrudge it. I’m not the only lonely person. The world doesn’t owe me a thing.

I just don’t like it.

Once I was crazy, distracted, insufferable and loved.

Now I am saner, kinder, more focused and… not so much.

Meh. It is what it is. And people wonder why I don’t believe in God. There are enough bullies in life without sticking one in the sky as well.

 

 

 

The Sane Diary, January 31st, 2017

“The only boy who could ever reach me, was the son of a preacher man.” – Dusty Springfield 

Mood: Walking in Memphis

It’s raining, my glasses are steamed up and I’m listening to Dusty in Memphis on my way back from a rehearsal run of a play what I’m in.

I think it’s going to be fairly epic actually, and I’m the harshest judge of my own work going. It’s still a surprise to me when I act anything to my own liking, let alone that of an audience.

It doesn’t seem like something I should be able to do. But then I think that about a lot of things, like playing the guitar or having sex.

Those are things other people are good at. Those are things that other people do. And I am sure that there are folk who would be more than happy to enumerate the deficiencies in my attempts to prove otherwise.

Thanks to the religious wingnuts who raised me, I was sheltered from the real world just as my illness was also beginning to definitively up its game in terms of fucking with my sense of reality.

The end result of which is that I have never felt as though I belonged. Now I know there are plenty of folk that manage to feel that quite effectively without a mental illness or an abusive childhood, but what can I say? I’m old school.

Art used to be the tool I used to connect myself to humanity. Then, somewhere along the line, the pursuit of it became the weapon I used to alienate the bits of humanity I loved best.

Now, I don’t know. Not yet. Sometimes I feel like a nomadic Dad, trying to explain the world to other people, sketching out my errors and my regrets so that they may avoid similar.

Other times, the child I was is still weeping for its mother, or a mother willing to put aside their entrenched lunacy and put my confused and apostate needs first.

I’m a laugh at parties, me.

I guess it’s all a relief valve. I filter the remaining grief and angst into characters and sentences and chords. I bleed the radiator of my soul. (I just moved house, so my metaphors will likely be themed for a bit.)

So, do come and see me sublimate my past and my frustrations.

A splendid time is guaranteed for all.

Also, you can drink in the interval.