Ok, so there’s a ton to get caught up with o’er here at HTWC, but I wanted to get this long-belated note out there before it gets buried down the list along with the many other things sitting around in draft form someplace or other, waiting to be attended to, some of which may not actually wind up seeing light of day,..er, computer screen.
Veronica Falls are like a cherry tree in early spring blossom while all the other trees are empty branches in the midst of an old cemetery on a wonderfully dreary March1 day. This is not just because funereal material runs through their body of work, be it explicit, in the form of such songs like “Found Love In A Graveyard” or a bit more subtly alluded to in lines like, “Everything I fear is haunting me” from “The Fountain”2.
Somehow, they manage to walk the line between bleakness and a hopeful sound– or is it that they indulge in both whole-heartedly, yet in equal measure? I’m not sure, but whatever it is, they do it in vibrant fashion. Nowhere is that more apparent than in the new single from their Slumberland sophomore effort (though decidedly far from sophomoric– or soporific for that matter) “Waiting For Something To Happen”
Filled with the most tender sort of innocent longing in a world where friends nod their tacit understanding3 at two who have shown up separately & then somehow leave holding each other’s hands. You can almost imagine the couple waving goodbye to different groups while *not* looking at the strangely-comfortable-yet-awkward place where their palms meet, as if it weren’t even happening, pretending so hard for this to all be so matter-of-fact. It conjures that truly teenage combination of simultaneous shyness and bravado.
This longing seems rarefied into this expression of innocence: being dropped off at home, music on the car radio, names carved into trees and holding hands. It seems so straightforward and bittersweet, but like all great art there’s far more below the surface than what appears in the initial glance. The song at first seems like a hypothetical answer to the question, “what if the scenario in ‘There is a Light that Never Goes Out’ had a happy ending for all involved?”.
But it’s darker than that.
Somewhere late in the song, where the song turns slightly and everything suddenly seems past curfew, as Roxanne coaxes a reluctant sounding “It’s alright”, you realize, that this isn’t the innocent vision of teens experiencing these innocent longings, there’s something more at play here.
What is that thing? Is is that even though all action is in the future tense, there’s still something backwards-looking about it, as if written from safely beyond the wall of years, like the end of that Tears For Fears4 video? But I think that’s still inference & is not what is so beguiling and alarming about this song, beyond that heartaching jangle, that’s so intimately triumphant and mournful all at the same time. It’s sorta like being in a room with a bunch of friends and hearing a music box play & having to turn away for a moment so no one sees that you’re crying. You’re not sad, but those aren’t exactly tears of joy. Instead it’s something living in that space where the tender pangs of melancholy meet the exuberance of existing, of being really, truly alive. It’s seeing your ex walk hand-in-hand with their new squeeze, and feeling both genuinely happy for them, while also wondering what if things were different. It’s seeing your dead grandparents’ eyes looking back at you in the eyes of your child. It’s the sympathetic laughter received from your friends at the retelling of how you got that scar. It’s the ache inside you that reminds you you’re still alive and that everything you experience is rife with meaning, even if it doesn’t tie away neatly.
“Everything’s alright.” But it’s not. The music has turned, slowed and become mournful, as if trying to make everything ok by saying that it’s ok. “It’s alright” is actually that *last* bloody thing in the world that it is.
Upon closer examination of the lyrics5 it’s not just an innocent tale of teenage longing, the image of which (among other things) had moved me to tears, when seeing them at the Doug Fir6 and thinking about all of the simple joys of holding the hand of your crush, or driving late at night together and listening to music on the car stereo. Those perfect moments made all-the-more magical by their actual accessibility– these unexceptional instances of love made manifest, made plausible by their banality, and made transcendent by their plausibility. But the trick is these things all exist in the future tense in this song. They are being dreamed aloud. They are being hoped for, wished for & actively created in the articulation.
They are, in short, a dream. The most torturous dream: the one you’re not sure if it actually happened or not upon awaking. The inevitable exile from Eden either way: be it memory or reverie, it is still a departure, a removal. The future tense is a magician’s trick– a way of making that which is desired seem inevitable, instead of inherently and infinitely out of reach. Everything is *not* ok, because this evasion from a cynical reality didn’t actually happen. It’s only just wishful thinking.
But then, this is a pop song, and it *did* happen. That unrequited and impossible longing makes it whole, despite its inherent absence.
They never go on that car ride. But the song has the car ride in it, so even though it never happens, it happens. The cake is had and eaten, too, yet neither are enough.
If it is as Orsino suggests, that “music be the food of love,” It is no use but to “play on; Give me excess of it, that surfeiting, the appetite may sicken and so die.”
Of course, it does no such thing. It commands only a listening, a re-listening. A glimpse into a garden that was never actually occupied, not until the hearing of the song.
Can you want something with all your heart that you’ve never actually had?
I think so. Do we ever want anything more than we want that thing we’ve an inkling of but never yet actually experienced?
Well, yes. But we still want it in a different way.
But I could be wrong. Maybe it actually *will* happen, and that turn, where we’re told “it’s alright” is just the expression of frustration at the distance between this desired moment and the current reality. It’s a sigh of impatient frustration, not the acknowledgement of impossibility. It’s being unexpectedly cut off in traffic & losing focus for a moment, when you know you’ll still make it home anyway. It’s saying, “You say it’s gonna happen now; well, when exactly do you mean?” The answer is just as clear, which is to say not at all. All possibilities are open. When thought of in that light, is there anything more hopeful? This longing is actually a refracted optimism. And maybe it’s a return to a well-loved place instead of a venturing-forth into novelty?
I don’t know. I just know I love this song so much.
So, if while driving late at night, you’ll deign to let me listen to the music I like: it will be this. It will be Veronica Falls, high on Alex Chilton, transcending Big Star and those bigger pop hooks.
Love is like this. It is big, overwhelming, taking all the air out of you so you can’t breathe, o’erfilling you, flooding you instantaneously, and then just as suddenly gone. Love is a pop song. Love is *this* pop song. The best you’ve ever felt. The crash. The silence.
1: March really is the perfect month for VF, since, (especially this year in Portland) contrasting weather patterns of intense bright sun with ferocious downpour alternating with such mercurial speed to the point where it seems like it’s happening at the same time. I feel like this more often than not.
2: Which I Initially understood to be saying “Everything I feel is haunting me.” which I found equally ominous and relevant, and yet doesn’t alter the fact that a moment’s reflection on the lyrics to this song will reduce me to tears more quickly than a Scrooge McDuck’s vault-sized room of cut onions. It’s austere and beautiful– completely unlike that image I just painted.
3: Or lack thereof, depending on your line reading. I hear “Your friends, will they understand, when I leave holding your hand?” but I’ve also seen it written “Your friends wouldn’t understand, when I leave holding your hand” from a wiki-style lyrics site, so…
4: You know, the library video? Except without the odd cultural misappropriation pastiched throughout and the enforcement of gender stereotypes. Really? To show that they are together, she brings him a cup of tea to his desk instead of say, seeing them both sitting on a couch holding hands or something that doesn’t place her in a servile position? Because of that (and the current lack of availability of it on youtube) I submit this somewhat surprising & enjoyable cover in lieu.
5: Which I didn’t actually do until I sat down to write this review, since I don’t hear lyrics so well unless I have them written out for me.
6: Yet another review in the queue: Veronica Falls, Brilliant Colors and Golden Grrrls at the Doug Fir 3/23/13