March 04, 2008

B is for Bernard ...

Normally on ideofact, Bernard is followed by the word "Shaw," as in George Bernard. More later on Shaw -- I read an amazing passage from Chesterton that I think gets to the complications of Shaw, who in many ways was as much of a champion of "traditional values" as Jonah Goldberg (something I started going into here). No, this is a post about Bernard Sumner...

I used to joke with a good friend that New Order songs all had the same theme--I've been such a nice guy, but for some reason you won't talk to me, and now what am I going to do? Think of either the opening line of Blue Monday -- "Tell me how does it feel to treat me the way you do," or, say, these lines from Love Less:

I spent a lifetime working on you
And you won't even talk to me

My characterization was unfair to Sumner, who has the very rare ability--whether in pop music, politics, journalism or literature--to write very simply and directly. Consider Electronic's song "Getting Away With It", and the refrain -- "However I look it's clear to see that I love you more than you love me," or the song's opening couplet,

I've been walking in the rain just to get wet on purpose,
I've been forcing myself not to forget just to feel worse

Lately I've been cheered by the song Regret, the single from the very uneven Republic album. I like the almost alchemical feel of the line, "You used to be a perfect stranger, now you are mine" -- it's incredible to me that so many of us now go through life like this. A century or so ago (in some parts of the world right now) you married in your village or your clan, within your congregation or county -- there was no such thing as a perfect stranger. By the time of my sophomore year as an undergraduate, every woman with whom I became involved had, just a few weeks before or less (mostly much less), been a perfect stranger, including the one I married (some would say tricked into marrying me, and I won't argue). Of course, relationships also spring up all the time between people who have known each other for quite a bit more time -- friends and co-workers -- and I suspect that our companies and companions substitute rather nicely for county or congregation, binding people quite closely.

Regret, incidentally, isn't about such bonds -- Sumner sings,

Maybe I've forgotten the name and the address
Of everyone I've ever known
It's nothing I regret

Some assume that the song is about drug addiction (read the comments here, for example) and I suppose it could be (although it could also be about illness or depression -- the lines, "Wake up every day that would be a start/I would not complain of my wounded heart" are open to interpretation); I prefer not to read so much into pop lyrics. The upbeat quality of the music backing them often says as much as the words -- and there's nothing to regret about that.

Posted by Ideofact at March 4, 2008 12:23 AM