Songs that seep into the psyche

Isn’t it amazing how the lyrics we hear and internalise in our youth stay with us?

In my professional life these days, I often have cause to attend meetings in Westminster, usually to talk about research funding and how it might be used to do some good.  Whether I turn right out of Westminster tube station or left out of Charing Cross, the lyrics of Marillion’s ‘Forgotten Sons’ always come into my head. As I make my way to meetings, preparing to “stalk the carpeted corridors”, I naturally reflect on the “nameless, faceless watchers” criticised by singer and lyricist Fish, and wonder what he’d make of the current state of my “bureaucratic womb”.  As I turn the corner and catch the street name out of the corner of my eye, I can’t help but shriek “of Whitehall” in my best Fish voice. It happens almost involuntarily, and I just hope that I don’t shout it too loud.

I recently met up with my friend Marv, who I hadn’t seen for about 10 years. Though we have very different musical taste, our friendship was built on the meaning and sustenance we found in rock and punk lyrics, and we spent a pleasant few minutes trading old lines. I discovered that once someone sets me off, I can still recite (with just a minor error or two) the entire lyric of the complex Twelfth Night epic ‘We Are Sane’. Of course, Geoff Mann’s lyrics are memorable, but this is difficult stuff with some unusual words for a rock lyric (‘quagmire’, ‘dogma’, ‘Pavlov’, ‘thrum-humming transistor’, ‘closed circuit hypnosis’, ‘inbuilt psychosis’, ‘Lebensraum’, ‘megalomania’ etc.) and some fast-paced and unusual phrasing.

There are plenty of other times when rock lyrics and expressions come tripping off my tongue almost involuntarily, and this can cause problems in a work environment. Sometimes the lines are sufficiently subtle for people not to notice: “Sometimes, not all the time,” I like to intone, aping a line from Dylan’s ‘Clothes Line Saga’. Sometimes the lines are sufficiently ‘off the wall’ for people to pass over or pretend they haven’t heard, for fear of taking the conversation in unwanted directions: “To live outside the law you must be honest”, another Dylan line, is one such example. (“What the fuck’s this guy on?” you can almost hear people thinking.) Other times I need to backtrack rapidly to avoid error or embarrassment. For example, the question ‘How many?’ invariably has me quipping “Just the one; one is all you need” (a thinly veiled reference to the “cock push ups” of the first Tenacious D album) regardless of the number of items actually required. One does learn lessons too. If, for example, a female colleague quite rightly points out that something is blatently sexist, don’t, under any circumstances, tell her that there’s nothing wrong with being sexy.

Of course, most of the time I do manage to suppress my rock lyric tendencies and rock-inspired “thought-dreams” and keep them to myself. They are all there though … even the bits I thought I’d left behind … deeply entrenched and irrefutably part of me.

Long live rock ‘n’ roll!

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7 Comments

  1. “There are plenty of other times when rock lyrics and expressions come tripping off my tongue almost involuntarily, and this can cause problems in a work environment”

    I have the same problem LOL!

    Reply
  2. Another insightful blog! Good lyrics nest themselves in our minds, ready to pop out on cue. My all-time favourites are: “I am just a poor boy, though my story’s seldom told. I have squandered my resistance for a pocketful of mumbles, such are promises – all lies and jest. Still, a man hears what he wants to hear and disregards the rest.” Just for the sheer beauty and impossibility of fiting lines like those into a song. And the whole of “It’s All Right Ma, I’m Only Bleeding” which is as relevant today as when it was written. By the way, ask a woman why it is women don’t laugh at sexist jokes. When she looks at you with deep suspicion and says “Why?” reply “Because they don’t understand them.” You’ll find she will share your laughter.

    Reply
  3. Phil Morris

     /  April 24, 2012

    My mate Chris and I used to liven up meetings (for us, at least) by having to get song titles or lyrics into our contributions. We would sometimes pick five titles in advance by an artist we liked and scored points for using them. Bonus points would be awarded for a particularly unusual application. I always found Phil Collins titles quite easy, but Chris never did manage to slip in Bowie’s V2 Schneider.

    I *almost* managed to get in Collins’s And So To F… but lost my bottle at the last moment. We were discussing the formatting of a new induction Powerpoint presentation at the time and it morphed into Fade To Grey. Of course, as this is a Visage track, I scored no points.

    Reply
    • Ha, ha! Only disappointed I wasn’t around to join in Phil. (Some friends and I used to do something similar with song titles in school essays and exams!)

      Reply
  4. I know exactly the “Whitehall” cry of Fish that you are talking about…. Nice post.

    Reply
    • Thanks Mr. ERTAS!
      Just enjoyed browsing your own blog and will follow.
      If you’ve room for a new one in your top 50 rock books, let me know!
      Cheers!
      Michael

      Reply

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