Stop and smell the smokeI don't think Nick Hornby's Songbook was meant to get people to like the songs that were the topics of his essays, nor was it, I feel, intended exclusively for people who are fans of the artists that he wrote about in the book. That was the point I had been trying to get across to my officemate whose copy I'd first read, who said that she didn't finish the book because she didn't know any of the songs in it. I had since bought my own copy, and for Christmas last year, gave another copy to another friend at the office who was into loads of music as well, with hope that, since she downloaded as much music as she did, she would enjoy the collection of essays as much as I did.
"Smoke" is one of the cleverest, wisest songs about the slow death of a relationship that I know. Lots of people have assailed the thorny romantic topic of starting all over again (for example, off the top of my head, "Starting All Over Again," by Mel & Tim), and the conclusion they usually come to is that it's going to be tough, but both practicable and desirable; the heartbreaking thing about Folds's song is that it manages to simultaneously convey both the narrator's desperation and the impossibility of a happy outcome. He doesn't know about the latter, though--only Folds the songwriter, who has the benefit of music and a vantage point, can see that the relationship is doomed.
In "Smoke," the central conceit is that the relationship is a book, and so its unhappy recent history, the narrator wants to believe, can be destroyed by burning it page by page, until "all the things we've written in it never really happened." "Here's an evening dark with shame," he sings. "Throw it on the fire!" the backing vocalists tells him. "Here's the time I took the blame. (Throw it on the fire!) Here's the time we didn't speak, it seemed, for years and years..."
Wiping the slate clean is the fantasy of anyone who has ever got into a mess with a partner, and the metaphor is witty enough and rich enough to seduce us into thinking just for a moment that in this case it might be possible, but the music here, a mournful waltz, tells a different story. It doesn't sound as if the narrator's lover is terribly convinced, either. "You keep saying the past's not dead," he tells her, "Well, stop and smell the smoke." But the smoke, of course, contains precisely the opposite meaning: it's everywhere, choking them. "You keep saying... we're smoke," he concludes sadly, and we can tell that he's beginning to believe it finally; the smell of smoke, it turns out, does not symbolize hope but its opposite.
"Smoke", I think, lyrically perfect, clever and sad and neat, in a way that my friend would not credit; it's also one of the very few songs that is thoughtful about the process of love, rather than the object or the subject. And it was a constant companion during the end (the long drawn-out end) of my marriage, and it made sense then, and it still makes sense now. You can't ask much more of a song than that.
it's like that whole month when Corrine Bailey Rae's "Trouble Sleeping" was the only thing I had any desire to listen to.
Hey that's my favourite Corrine song too :) And like you, I can only bear to listen to certain songs in certain points of my life.
P.S. Iba na ang URL ko :P
i've never been a fan of ben folds or ben folds five. and it makes me wonder why i'm not and why i shouldn't be, hearing that their songs have the same feel with the songs that i like.
i should burn my book...
basta ako, ang favorite ben folds (five) song ko, eto:
Oh my god, i've come to love that song.
here's my favorite nick hornby quote, which i think is also apt with this entry. :)
“It seems to me that if you place music (and books, probably, and films, and plays, and anything that makes you feel) at the centre of your being, then you can’t afford to sort out your love life, start to think of it as the finished product. You’ve got to pick at it, keep it alive and in turmoil, you’ve got to pick at it and unravel it until it all comes apart and you’re compelled to start all over again. Maybe we all live life at too high a pitch, those of us who absorb emotional things all day, and as a consequence we can never feel merely content: we have to be unhappy, or ecstatically, head-over-heels happy, and those states are difficult to achieve within a stable, solid relationship.”
---Nick Hornby, High Fidelity
hey angela, favorite ko rin ung quote na yan. naisulat ko na rin yan dito sa blog na to. gusto ko rin ung quote about soul, and rob's inner inventory...
pare, can you please upload the songs again, or pasend na lang sa email. Expired na kasi yung mga yousendit links eh. Thanks. :)
ah. saw the link to the Ben Folds Five album on Multiply from your latest post. No need to send the links pre. :)
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The story so farSeptember 2004