02 May 2006

the pogues - "a rainy night in soho" (from the hell's ditch lp, available for purchase here.)

several years ago, nick cave delivered a lecture called "the secret life of the love song" for bbc radio 3. in it, he asserted that every song is a love song. i'll buy that. he loses me, though, when he says that every love song worthy of the name is a sad song--al green's "l.o.v.e. (love)" came immediately to mind as refutation; soon after, so did "breathless" from ... the last nick cave album.

i understand what he's saying. love is temporal, rooted to the earth; like all things w/ roots in the earth, it must die. in other words, "every bond," as a character says in joyce's "a painful case," "is a bond to sorrow." (these words were quoted to me by x upon our parting; i didn't remember their provenance until later, when it was too late for her & i to discuss them.) on the other side of this argument, w/ a temperament arguably as dour as cave's own, is søren kierkegaard. he too has an art of love, put forth in works of love : "when two people will not love one another for ever, their love is not worth talking about, even less worthy of artistic celebration."

the love in shane macgowan's "a rainy night in soho" would be worthy of artistic celebration by kierkegaard's standard--and somehow also worthy of being covered by nick cave, go figure. "i've been loving you a long time," shane sings, "down all the years, down all the days," a love that began before this song was written, a love that will continue long after the fade, even if we "never find out what it means." normally, i'm not much of a pogues guy, but when shane works in this vein, instead of working heroin into his veins, i find the band irresistible. it's like a paradox that kierkegaard speaks of : the law seems to restrain freedom, but w/o the law there can be no freedom; w/o the beery, brawling bravado of much of the pogues catalog, i'd be unable to find the charm in songs like these.

shane's love defies temporality and struggles for the "blessed independence" of kierkegaard's eternal : "i'm not singing for the future / i'm not dreaming of the past / i'm not talking of the first time / i never think about the last." kierkegaard describes independence in love thusly :
if when another says, "i cannot love you any longer," one proudly answers, "then i can also get along without loving you."--is this independence? alas, it is dependence, for whether he shall continue to love or not is dependent on whether the other will love. but he who answers, "then i will still continue to love nevertheless"--his love is made eternally free in blessed independence.
that there has been a "last time" to be thought about suggests to me an ending, but shane continues to humbly carry a torch for his love. "still, there's a light i hold before me," he sings, "you're the measure of my dreams, the measure of my dreams."

"a rainy night in soho" is just the kind of song that makes you want to take a walk in the rain, safe in the knowledge that neither a monsoon nor the strongest gale could snuff out the light you hold before you. it emits a faint, warm glow, like streetlights reflecting on snow on a cloudy winter night, or like the dying embers of the family hearth when you've been gone a long time."when it is impossible to possess the beloved in time," in kierkegaard's words, "a rainy night in soho" is like the voice of the eternal, reminding you that you shall love, you cannot give in to despair, even if for now you must, as barthes says, imprison those words behind your lips. for there will be another time.


jon manyjars said...

It's interesting, because when Shane sings, "I never think about the last," I assume he's saying that he won't admit to the possibility that his relationship may end some time in the future. You hear him as saying that there has already been a last time.

Nick Cave is interviewed extensively in the Shane McGowan documentary "If I Should Fall from Grace with God", where he makes it clear that he's a huge fan of McGowan's music.

fred said...

is it so surprising that i see the jar half-empty, jon? ;) but, no, i've always thought it was that way, even when times were less lean.

jon manyjars said...
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jon manyjars said...

Sometimes a cover version can suggest different meanings in a song's lyrics. When I heard "More Than This" by Roxy Music, I thought it was a pleasant love song, and that its refrain, "there's nothing more than this," was a plain but harmless superlative: this is the ultimate, babe!

Then I heard Robyn Hitchcock's austere live version of the song, and the same refrain sounded to me like an existential cry, or an atheist inviting the listener to argue against his conviction that existence ends in death, and that there is no afterlife: "There's NOTHING more than this. Tell me one thing more than this."

Anyway, I hope you are listening to your own advice: "you cannot give in to despair."