15 September 2010

Why my favourite song ever is my favourite song ever

I think a couple years ago just after Neon Bible came out I made a list and named "No Cars Go" my favourite song of all time (I was 16 when I wrote this rubbish - and it's still one of the most goosebumpy songs ever; when I saw Terry Gilliam's webcast of their NYC set that was the song that moved me to tears), but it's sort of lost some of its power and is perhaps too straightforward to be a "favourite song ever", or maybe I only form "favourite songs" for a short period of time. Anyway this one has been my very favourite for a long while now and while I'm sure I'll have overplayed it soon I realised the other day that I can write enough about this song to convince anyone (including myself) that I find it the most enduringly brilliant song I've ever heard, so I'm going to explore it a bit and hopefully it will explain a lot about me right now & why this song resonates so particularly at this time in my life (& of course is going to continue doing so for ever now). Don't worry, "Get Me Away From Here I'm Dying" by Belle & Sebastian and "Gold Soundz" by Pavement (you were the best song of the 90s, I was totally stoked when you got the Pitchfork approval because this is a song that you can easily love personally - B.O.B. was a good democratic choice for the 00s but it's hard to really LOVE that song whereas Gold Soundz sounds more like the "favourite" song of a generation of indie kids), y'all still mean a lot to me & always will but I've come to the conclusion that "Now You Are Pregnant" by The Wave Pictures is my favourite song ever.

And I suppose that's helped by the circumstances in which I heard that song; the first time it really struck me was the first time I saw the Wave Pictures live, in Nottingham about a year ago. I realised I'd heard it before on Spotify just because of the line about Johnny Cash and the punchline really made me smile because I hadn't even paid attention to the song the first time I heard it. (Songs that sound awesome the first time I hear them never hold up & become my favourite ever or anything). When they do it live, Jonny "Huddersfield" Helm, the drummer, takes lead vocals and Franic Rozycki (bass) and David Tattersall (guitar and the guy who wrote this song and sings on the record) back him up with some gentle fingerpicking. It's almost an ambient effect and really makes you pay attention to the lyrics but it loses some of the catharsis of the chorus. And this was the first Wave Pictures song I listened to when I got home after their brilliant performance - they're the most charming band I've ever seen; David's stage banter is hilarious and you can really tell he loves his job. It just sort of left a warm glow within me & back then I felt like I should have known all the lyrics like a lot of the people there seemed to. At one point Franic was trying to find a bottle opener so I held out my keyring and David's dad shouted to him that I was offering one but then he'd managed to open it on the edge of a guitar tuner. Me and Alex left slightly disappointed that they hadn't played "Strange Fruit For David" (which is their most instantly lovable song but after having listened to all their songs dozens of times it's just a sort of mid-level brilliant Wave Pictures song) but we both got really into the band afterwards.

Anyway I listened to Now You Are Pregnant a lot, on repeat, for the next couple of months, after having perhaps avoided it before because of that daft fucking title. When I was on Alex's radio show Christmas Special the tunes I picked out were "Which Song" by Max Tundra, "Gyroscope" by The Dismemberment Plan, and of course "Now You Are Pregnant". That was when I realised I actually knew all the words (and Alex knew most of them) and we sang pretty much the whole thing along with it, mics were off but we subjected a few of our bemused friends to my not-always-hitting-the-high-notes tenor (this song could've done with being a semitone or two deeper). Beautiful moment. There's something we both really dug about the most obviously appealing aspects of the song, like the punchline and the whole 'or I could rush into the shop and tell you that I adore you' turning point but there's a whole lot about it I suppose I haven't really asked Alex about even though we spent a bunch of hour-long car journeys to band practice just singing along to Wave Pictures songs on the stereo and saying how much we loved the lyrics - I think once I was like '...who's your favourite Wave Picture??'; our fanboyism is a bit ridiculous really. And I'm pretty sure "Now You Are Pregnant" is also his favourite song ever and we have now sung it all the way through in public many times, both drunk and sober, mostly the former, but I've never really gone into WHY it's my favourite song ever and I expect if I did that we'd have pretty different but equally valid reasons.

The song had its only real proper release as the B-side to "We Dress Up Like Snowmen". This is why people haven't heard of it. And well, The Wave Pictures are really low-key, so whereas Moshi Moshi alumini like Bloc Party and Florence & The Machine are massive now, The Wave Pictures have stayed harcore lo-fi and write songs that it takes ages to get into. They're sort of a cult band; I mean I know a lot of people who love them to bits just because I'm in that sort of social sphere. I've even sort of bonded with people because of mutual Wave Pics love.

So the song itself.

I can play it fairly easily on guitar (although barre chords hurt my left hand lots by the end); It's mostly A Bm C#m Bm D D C#m Bm repeat, all in the same barre shape starting on 5th fret. Then E (barred on 7th fret), A5 (which I think is just played open if you have a capo on 5), D (barred on 5 and with a little of the sus2) for the other bits. Which is really not a brilliant chord progression and if I showed it to my pedantic music A-level friends they'd scoff at such an unsavoury structure (I ii iii ii IV iii ii), none of it should work, but that just makes the V I IV bit sound better, cause it's always been building up to the dominant but never makes it until that moment, and I suppose the simplicity it sort of puts the focus on the lyrics. The melody is endlessly intriguing because it is unrepetetive but at the same time flows perfectly and has got stuck in my head a lot of times. But trying to find patterns in the structures proved very difficult - it is as if David improvised melodies over the top of it & shuffled them to best fit the words, so it forms peaks & you get repeated sections in it when you get repetitions in the lyrics; so whereas the melody at first seems improvised which fits the stream-of-consciousness style, the more you listen to it the more structured & methodical you realise it is.

And it's very important to me that it's stream-of-consciousness; it's one of the best examples of literature that mirrors the patterns of consciousness. It's a device familiar to devotees of Modernist poetry & prose, a famous example being Molly Bloom's soliloquy in Ulysses - there's actually quite a lot of literature that is misattributed as stream-of-consciousness, for instance my favourite novel, Mrs Dalloway, is frequently described as such, and I'm actually all right with that because it shares so many features with the style and the point is that Woolf is focusing on consciousness. If I were to mull over the pronouns & tenses David uses in "Now You Are Pregnant" I'd conclude that it isn't really stream-of-consciousness (David eschews the technique to produce the wonderful couplet 'But I don't need therapy because I have cigarettes / And I don't have any bad memories only bitter regrets', two of the most immediately accessible and standout lines), and perhaps I'm only inclined to refer to it as such because it's in 1st-person, however the devices of repetition and non-sequitirs and exaggeration make this sound more like an interior monologue than a poem, but of course it rhymes, because it's a song, and it works even better as a song because there's no need to quibble over punctuation, it's more direct vocally and mirrors actual thought processes better than it does on the page. The fact that David doesn't pin it down to any specific style & breaks lots of rules only makes it more endearing & unique.

When you were satisfying your thirst for success
And you looked older than I did,
I didn't think that that was you at your best.
We were only lonely little kids
Amidst stacks and stacks of slacks and black platform shoes,
We were little kids.
And you could say sorry ten billion times,
But sorry didn't do what you did.
I threw myself at you and I threw myself away
Amidst stacks and stacks of slacks and black platform shoes.
Johnny Cash died today, and you say, you say things,
Lovely things, to lovely other people,
And I'm not invited.

But I love the back garden at my parents' place,
And I love the view out of my Glasgow window,
And I love waking up on the floor of a flat in New York,
And you don't know any of these things.

And I've seen you selling shoes but you've never heard me sing,
And I used to hate your boyfriend and the things you did.
Somehow I found out and I was disappointed,
But I don't need therapy because I have cigarettes,
And I don't have any bad memories only bitter regrets.
Johnny Cash died today, and I could take a train
And take an hour to think on the way of what I would say when I saw you.
And I could walk into the shop and buy myself some black platform shoes,
Talk to the other girls, and just ignore you.
Or I could rush into the shop and tell you that I adore you,
Because I adore you.

Johnny Cash died today and you'd say, you'd say
"It's not like Elvis though is it?"
And you would be right.

So we get the line which is repeated purely for the sound of the words, and I dunno if many people actually do this in their heads but I can totally imagine David Tattersall's internal monologue being really musical (when I met David, he spoke in a vulnerable tenor that made him sound as if he were singing every word he said. I found it quite fascinating, I could listen to him talk all day), so it's quite believable that he could be thinking the phrase 'stacks and stacks of slacks and black platform shoes' just because it sounds so good, rhymed trochees lapsing into the spondaic catharsis of the phrase 'black platform shoes', a phrase which really doesn't mean anything in the context of the song but is repeated three times and certainly makes the text more authentic as something that could be an interior monologue. It's like a memory of something and it's never quite clear where from, because it reappears when they were 'only lonely little kids' (incidentally I somehow doubt they ever met as kids but I think this just adds to the sense of David's childlike attraction to this woman and her immaturity), I believe it's just resonances of the memory of him seeing her at the shoe shop that recur throughout the song, seeing as that's where he appears to be headed during the song.

I should zoom out a bit. I've decided that the song is a snapshot of David's thought process while he is already on the train, even though he's saying he 'could take a train'. Because within this thought process he is thinking about thinking: 'and take an hour to think on the way of what I would say when I saw you', I find this so funny because he's thinking over and over about this woman and then kidding himself that he'll take a train on a whim and only while he's on his way will he start thinking about what will happen when he gets there. He's planning to have a structured think while thinking about things with a boundless creativity and, if we are to suspend disbelief, no apparent structure. But from this structurelessness we reach an answer by the end (not that I can picture the song's protagonist marching into the shop with such conviction), which kind of makes me think that this is as focused as an internal monologue can get (I know for sure when I tell myself I'll plan something like this I always mentally lose track while I'm thinking about it), so he may as well be already on the train. But of course he might not have even had the nerve to buy a train ticket; the main reason I picture this song on a train is because this is the exact setting where these thought processes work so beautifully. The gentle 3/4 rhythm propels along like the train in the background and the thoughts just fall into place around it. I think like this best when I'm on a train, it's where my brain feels most creative for some reason. If I ever write a book of poetry I'll include instructions to read the poems on a train or a bus.

The only guiding aspect that the narrator has over his thought process is his desire to prove to himself that he is not in love with this girl. This is ultimately a song about pretending to yourself that you are not in love with someone and I think that this is something that nearly everyone MUST have experienced and I think most people are probably continually experiencing most of the time no matter how much we try and deny it. And he sort of does a good job because I have no idea what he sees in this girl. She looks old yet is still childish, she is selfish, she hangs out with the wrong crowd and has some idiot boyfriend with whom she's done something unspecified and horrible, and she doesn't even appreciate Johnny motherfucking Cash.

And it's amazing because he keeps DISTRACTING himself from her whenever he thinks something nice about her; there's no concrete nice thing she's done but the odd unjustified positive adjective about her - 'and you say things, lovely things to lovely, other people and I'm not invited' is actually a quite absurd assumption for the narrator to make since he wasn't there but this is exactly the sort of thing I assume about people, all of the time. All this before he spends 3 lines, just as the violin comes in, detailing complete non-sequitirs just to take his mind off the pain of not being invited to whatever it is she gets up to. Or maybe the train just passed by something that reminds him of 'the back garden at [his] parents' place'. For a while my favourite line in the song was the one that follows the 3 non-sequitirs: 'And you don't know any of these things'. He cares much more for her, and knows more about her than she knows about him, and it's unclear whether he's treasuring all these aspects that have nothing to do with her & finding beauty & happiness elsewhere, or, and I really like this, if he thinks that all these experiences, if she knew of them, would make her attracted to him & she doesn't realise what she's missing. All of this of course is irrelevant because Johnny motherfucking Cash died today, who are we to sit around thinking about some stupid girl when one of the biggest musical legends in the entire world died today?

You're supposed to laugh when David sings 'And you'd say, you'd say "It's not like Elvis!"'. It's a brilliant punchline and a surprising way to end such a wistful song, because of course it is funny the first few times but if you look deeper there's something disarming about how this is actually speculative. It's not something that happened but something he can totally see her saying if he were to seek consolation about Johnny Cash's death. Which just makes it more tragic; he adores her in spite of how embarrassing her mannerisms are, how ignorant she is of what is important to him. And by the 4th repetition of the punchline David has come to agree with her; not even her but this imaginary, exaggerated version of her: 'And you would be right'. And I suppose it's not really like Elvis but that's not the point any more, it's about the feeling of forgiving someone's flaws for a reason it's impossible to articulate.

And I shouldn't need to tell you how much I love the violin coda, or what it should make you feel because augh it's beautiful. And when it doubles up it creates possibly the densest musical texture the Wave Pictures have committed to tape! Which isn't very many layers of instrumentation but I mean there are more layers to this song than any other I can think of.

Here is a video of the Wave Pictures singing my favourite song ever a capella; Jonny forgets the words halfway through and David's harmonies are a bit shaky but still brilliant, then Jonny and David sing the alternate ending version which isn't as good because it loses the strength of the rhyme 'ignore you/adore you' but for some reason they tend to favour this version live now, and Franic just looks at them and I'm wondering if this is because he's listened to the superior studio version (I say studio but the Wave Pictures just record things live to 4-track then overdub a bit afterwards) as many times as I have, not because he feels he needs to know it inside out for the band but because it's so goddamn amazing.

I think David has written a lot of songs that are similar in structure to this, but they're largely hidden away and never really recorded (a few have been played live and on numerous Blogoteque-esque web-shows, and actually when I saw them live the first time, about half of their set was new, unreleased songs), and I really just want them to make music upon music upon music but Moshi Moshi, a label for whom I otherwise have a lot of respect, seem to be stifling their output (which probably would be multiple albums per year if they were given the opportunity to produce that many). It's baffling that their most recent album, Susan Rode The Cyclone, was only released in Europe and limited to the Sweetheart EP in the UK - which is a real shame because this is just 6 songs off the album, leaving off 4 great tracks, apparently because it was easier for the label to promote this? It's a really good record but I feel that it doesn't go into any of the meandering songwriting that "Now You Are Pregnant" does so well; nonetheless a lot of the lyrics are about overthinking things and god I can't think of anything better to write songs about. It's also their most cohesive album, and I feel like I'm still exploring it because it took a long time for me to "get" any of the songs apart from classic-Wave-Pics-style "I Just Want to Be Your Friend", sadly omitted from the Sweetheart EP. So when so much of their material is tucked away it frustrates me that their best song is so concealed and indeed that David has written songs even more obscure than this that are probably still absolutely brilliant.

After I decided that "Now You Are Pregnant" was my favourite song, I played it to a few people and they seemed a bit bemused by my choice especially given my experimental tendencies, but I guess I'd have been bemused by it had it been presented to me in that context; it took a heck of a long time to truly appreciate. I finally met the Wave Pictures in June. My band supported them for the first gig of their tour of Britain this June, in Nottingham. As I'm sure you've gathered I have this reverential appreciation of the band and when I met them I didn't really speak to them enough to have a proper conversation. I asked Jonny about the rider and some of my friends kind of put me off while I was talking to David about the setup so he probably thought I was dead weird and I don't think I even said much to Franic. Which is disappointing but typical of me, honestly; I still don't know what I would have said really. I think I'd clued them in that I was a fan seeing as I was wearing a Hefner t-shirt and they've collaborated with Hefner's Darren Hayman a bit, and I was pretty eager to meet them, but I imagine they were still surprised to see me at the front singing every word. They did play "Now You Are Pregnant", upon Alex' request, and there was a row of us (including members of the lovely Of Mice And Mental Arithmetic) with arms around each other's shoulders, gently swaying. There were more people singing along, during the whole set, than I've ever seen at a gig. Later I'd planned to have a chat with them if I saw them after their Summer Sundae set but in the end they cancelled on the day, due to illness, which is perhaps the most a day has been ruined for me.

I dunno if I'm trying to persuade YOU that this is the best song ever but I hope that you can attach yourself to a piece of art like this. I find the song's effects on me like a beautiful memory but because it's somebody else's (and I have no idea whether or not it is fictitious) it comes free of the baggage that such a memory would entail and I can wallow in every detail and it really does make me feel better, and whereas I think music should be about escapism (which is why I love "No Cars Go" so much: it's a song ABOUT escapism), this is escapism that never lets me forget myself as well and I don't really know why but I was in tears while I was trying to type this bit.


Et said...

I remember once seeing a famous painting in a church in Venice. I was on a school trip, and me and my classmates sat down on the pew whilst the teacher starting telling us about this particular work.
He told us to look at the painting, and he told us how to do this. The composition, the details, the way that figures relate to each other, how the colours are balanced. He told us the story of the biblical scene that it depicted, and he told us about the painter and his background.
As he was speaking, the painting became more and more beautiful. What used to be one of the many incomprehensible paintings we were dragged along during an oppressively hot day, became a wonderful, unique work of art.

Reading your blog was kind of like that. Thanks.

cerys said...

This is my favourite song ever too.

Anonymous said...

Agreed with most of what you said apart from it being a 'daft title'. That was pretty fucking stupid, it's one of the greatest song titles ever, as opposed to just picking a word from the chorus, it sets the premise and reason for the song.

Rincewind SW said...

Re the above: I disagree, I don't believe there are any clues to that being the situation in the song and I think it works better as a more mundane situation. When I think about the song I don't take the title into consideration at all really. Also the way it's constructed as a phrase always makes me think it's like a taunt or something - I really don't get it.

Deezer said...

i really liked this. the song is mindblowing. Every single time you hear it, you find a new favourite bit! You've explained your reasons really well :)

and it sort of make me like the song better. But i DO love the title too :)

drin said...

amazing song.

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