Short Essays on Favorite Songs, Inspired by Nick Hornby’s Songbook
To celebrate the release of Nick Hornby’s Songbook, several authors wrote in about their favorite songs.
Reader, Hear Me Yearn:
Revolving Paint Dream’s “In the Afternoon.”
I was fifteen when I bought the Creation Records compilation Wild Summer Wow! Creation Records was an indie British label, later famous for signing Oasis, that could only be found at record stores in the city; my friends and I gladly fled the suburbs to find them. I was thrilled and saved by the sulky pop songs on my turntable. The influence of 1960s music was obvious, but these songs, written by my contemporaries, were brand new, and that mattered to me: they were ours to discover. I also loved knowing that I was one of few people hearing the songs in the States — or anywhere. The songs ranged from the protest lyric of “Melt the Guns” by the X-Men to the somnolent aesthetic of my favorite song, Revolving Paint Dream’s “In the Afternoon.” The songs wondered about one’s engagement with a disappointing world: what kind of involvement? With whom?
My copy of the LP was slightly warped, and I sometimes wondered if I was hearing the songs quite right.
At the same time I was also discovering 80s alternative rock, and that was not good stuff for the young and hypersensitive. My dad was right, it is possible that the Violent Femmes caused my downfall. Their first album lodged inside my consciousness, like a twisted childhood trauma, forever encouraging me to be obsessed and tormented. After that, fueled by bong hits and microdots, I really turned on at college. Listening to the Birthday Party and the Swans, I ended up contracting mono, hepatitis, viral meningitis, and pneumonia.
Coincidence? I’ve always been impressionable, but I digress.
Mostly, I couldn’t stop listening to the psychedelic song “In the Afternoon” by Revolving Paint Dream:
I never asked you your dream.
Sometimes feelings go beyond words,
and now I cling to tender moments,
and I don’t feel real at all
in the afternoon, your love was always lost
Departure and resignation were immanent, it seemed, as I listened to the tragic singer sing without emotion. Knowing I was queer, I felt that it would be years before I would experience even the painful parts of love, which I was convinced would come first. “In the Afternoon” sweetened my fate.
Now, the lyrics also remind me of the film Splendor in the Grass, in which Natalie Wood, humiliated by her sexual desire and recently rejected by Warren Beatty, is forced to recite in English class part of Wordsworth’s “Ode: Intimations of Immortality”:
Though nothing can bring back the hour
of splendour in the grass, of glory in the flower
we will grieve not, rather find
strength in what remains behind
I saw the movie in high school, and cried uncontrollably. I know now that the writer, William Inge, was gay, and now I can’t help but read the gay subtext: loving couple torn apart by small-town conventions and hypocrisy; one goes crazy, is institutionalized, and both eventually go emotionally dead.
In “In the Afternoon,” the guitar jangles; it sounds like bells. The organ, I think, rising and falling, provides a surface for the tired, sighing script of the lyrics.
I never located either of Revolving Paint Dream’s LPs, Mother Watch Me Burn or Off to Heaven. In a way I’m glad because I have just my perfect song, which along with the Smiths first album catapulted me into self-consciousness and made me think of the phrase “make love”; whose lyrics left me in lassitude, yet hopeful there would be sex and romance in my life one day.
I wrote this piece to exemplify the Exploratory Essay for my Freshman English students. Here is an example of writing without a thesis; here is an exploration of the song “In the Afternoon.” I gave up the idea when I realized I could lose my adjunct position for sharing such a queer piece with my students in Tampa, Florida, at a community college.
They would have been a great audience, and I regret not taking the chance.
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