24 September 2006

We're one, but we're not the same

Confessions. Pleas for understanding. People desperate to share what they truly are and truly feel, but afraid of scorn, of judgement, of ridicule, of persecution. And so these confessions largely remain hidden.

The other day,
in my old copy of The Book of Lists, I read something kind of interesting concerning a particular song by U2 which made me think about some of the really great confessionals that form part of my music collection. Among these are some familiar radio favourites, open secrets like the catchy single Take Your Mama by Scissor Sisters (found on Scissor Sisters, their 2004 debut album). This song takes the listener along on the camp-as-can-be glam disco journey as a young man and his friends show his mother a gay old time on the club scene. Other songs are hidden gems, like the electro-blues of Hideaway, from Erasure's 1987 album The Circus. This features the harrowing chorus:
Oh my father
Why don't you talk to me now?
Oh my mother
Do you still cry yourself to sleep?
Are you still proud of your little boy?

More questions than answers. In 1996, Pet Shop Boys released Bilingual, where the track Metamorphosis presents us with the oh-so-witty line 'What I wanted was to be a family man, but nature had some alternative plans'. The subject is treated with humour and melancholy in equal measure, you see. Everyone knows what George Michael implies when he says that he'd 'service the community' on Outside, released in 1998 on his Best Of collection, Ladies and Gentlemen. And it's obvious that most of these songs have been created by artists who are icons in the gay community. But what I'm getting at is that some songs are less obvious in exploring this theme, both in lyrical content and in who is behind the microphone.

Every straight man's favourite fag, Freddy Mercury, was possessed by the act of perfecting the multi-layered masterpiece
Bohemian Rhapsody for Queen's remarkable 1975 album A Night at the Opera. The band had to keep overdubbing the operatic vocals until you could see right through the deteriorating master tape. Brian May once remarked that this ethereal piece of work seemed to literally disappear as they were making it. Opinions differ, of course, but in Bohemain Rhapsody Mercury comes to terms with his own homosexuality. It was during this time that Mercury gave up the straight and narrow for what his gay friends called 'the real life'. For 'Mama, just killed a man', read 'Mary, my old self is dead'. There is no more powerful account of a person's struggle with their own demons. In the end, there truly is 'no escape from reality', unless you are resigned that 'nothing really matters' to you anymore.

The most common interpretation of the lyrical content of One, taken from the 1991 U2 album Achtung Baby, is that it's about lovers who need to end a destructive relationship. According to The Book Of Lists, Bono Hewson 'discovered' that the song was actually about a boy with AIDS addressing his father. Anton Corbijn directed the video for the song, in which Bono is singing to his own father while wearing a black gown. Apparently, the sight of Bono singing in drag upset some management types, who were concerned that the video might imply that only gay people get AIDS. In fact, two other completely different videos were duly created, and these lend themselves more to the many other interpretations of the song. In true U2 style, some of the proceeds from the sale of the One single went to AIDS charities. The Book of Lists calls this song an astonishingly potent cry against a fear so powerful it could sever a father from his ailing son.
Did I disappoint you?
Or leave a bad taste in your mouth?
You act like you never had love
And you want me to go without

More questions again. Confessors waiting for a response. This time, will it be judgement or compassion?


Anonymous said...

Wow, where do you get all of your background information? I love learning about this stuff. By the way, I loved your opening lines post also. What about Moby Dick's Opening?

Triggermap said...

I hope you get compassion, acceptance and understanding rather than judgement and rejection from the people you "confessed" to. One thing though - strange use of the word "confession" or
"confessor" - it seems to imply that you are ashamed or remorseful of what you have to admit. To me, confessions would entail owning up to driving over the neighbours cat, or eating the last chocolate, or admitting to something that would lead to police arrest (only after having a bright light shone in my face with ABBA's greatest hits on continous loop for 72 hours in the interrogation room though:P)

mike said...

Wow, what a good post! (Y)

Very interesting, and cool. :)

I can't think of anything else to say... let's hope compassion is around the corner for everyone.

Lexi said...

great post........once again you've covered my learning something new for a few days

Karen Little said...

Good post, man! Wish I could counter with some fantastic hidden-meaning-songs I know myself, but can't think of any offhand.

Have you listened to Anthony and the Johnsons? The title of the album is a confession in itself - I'm a Bird Now - i love the double meaning of it: first it refers to anthony's gender-reassignment operation (he really is a bird now) and it refers to how the operation makes him feel - free as a bird.

Wendy said...

Oh yes! There are plenty of confession outlets. When it comes to music, I find it amazing that people just don't listen to the words. They are happily singing along to their favourite tune but pay no attention to the lyrics. Maybe if they did, we would find some more compassion, acceptance and understanding?

Unknown said...

I don't know, really. I guess I'm a sponge for totally useless trivia. Oh yeah, "Call me Ishmael." I've never read MD, so couldn't put it in the post.

ABBA as torture device? That would get anyone to confess to anything, methinks.

michael & lexi:
Thanks, guys. I'm not connected much these days and don't get much time to update this blog with new posts. Trying to make my updates worthwile, I suppose.

karen little:
Aaargh. I completely forgot about Anthony and the Johnsons! "My Lady Story" is a pretty scary track - actually, the whole album sounds like Nina Simone on acid.

I know what you mean! Like Elvis' Jailhouse Rock and the "cutest jailbird I ever did see" part! Hilarious. Oh, and everything the Village People ever did. And when Karen told me what Kelis' Milkshake was really about, I stopped singing it in earshot of other people.

twanji said...

I have always found it amazing how, unlike ordinary literature, music has the power to speak to us on a more complex level. Perhaps it is the combination of the lyrics and the melodies? If I could choose any form to express myself, lyrical music would be it.
I also have a long list of songs that speak to me... there is a song for every mini-era!

As for 'confessions' - that immdeiately takes my mind to "forgive me father, for I have sinned" - triggermap is right on the money.
I really believe that life is way too short to live in internal turmoil, let alone living apologetically - no matter what your truth is. Ultimately, those who we value most may be the ones we fear being most honest with, but we have to have faith in them and the fact that true love is ultimately unconditional.
I suppose that's what all these guys found out painfully post-celebrity status.

I have to agree with Lexi, this BLOG is great.

arcadia said...

lieflik. few things as intimate as a confession.

Adam said...

Love this post.

One of my favourites is Tory Amos' Cornflake Girl:

never was a cornflake girl
thought that was a good solution
hangin with the raisin girls
she's gone to the other side
givin us a yo heave ho
things are getting kind of gross
and i go at sleepy time
this is not really happening
you bet your life it is