"Only You" is having a moment lately and I'm not just talking about its use on Once Upon a Time, which I think was lovely, if imperfect. I mean, no television incident of that song will ever top my beloved, be-bathrobed Walter Bishop in a ruined world. I can tell you right now that if I live to see an apocalypse, all I will want is Alison Moyet and Vince Clarke.
Let all of the television people use it, though, and plant it in the heads of the people, that they may love it too. This is a song that owns a square centimeter of my heart all to itself, and I will cheer every time it's covered or used because (a) royalties for people I admire (b) GRAND SONG.
I can't quite believe this one, but Kylie Minogue has covered it, too... with James Corden. My Whovian Companion Meter went a little weird on that one--and they've sweetened the song a bit, somehow, to make it suitable for an upcoming Christmas album. This isn't a Christmas album song to me, but! I said I would cheer for all covers so cheer I must.
I will cheer much more excitedly over this one, though--not a cover, but Alison Moyet herself, who looks incredible OMG WHAT THE HELL POSS HYPERBARIC CHAMBER DEAL WITH DEVIL, singing this beauty at a recent Burberry show, to the accompaniment of a host of stringed instruments, in front of the famous and the one percent. No one is too good to sing along with this song, no one.
After a day off from the project yesterday, I am back with Day 3’s post “Talk about a memory triggered by a particular song.” I wrote this post in 2004, during my time on a short-lived blogging site called scribblejournal, and I’m reusing it because I want to spend more time reading others than writing here today. It is a little purple at times, but other than that, I am sentimentally attached to it, which is quite an accomplishment for eight-year-old writing. It was in response to this prompt: something you finished too late. I almost never write about this topic, and never have in this depth under my real name. And maybe it was not finished too late at all.
Those were days when I traded and hoarded mix tapes that were made for me. By now they’ve all gone thin and snapped, except a few. An older brother of an older friend had made a tape for me that fall, complete with artwork on the liner and with all the solemnity that comes from a thirty-year-old man making a tape for a girl who’s nineteen and professes to love Pink Floyd. The tape was laden with the obscure songs I hadn’t heard on my midnight drives home on DVE, when I’d stay out later than I even wanted just so that I could come home with the Floyd Fix.
At the time I thought I’d go to culinary school or commit suicide. The previous twelve months I had destroyed almost everything I touched. Things were coming for me in just a few months, but I didn’t know it then, and I spent my days selling 4x8 sheets of plywood and wet red bricks that smell like something you don’t talk about to your little brother. I preferred my silence and my Tanqueray Sterling for those days, and you were still a little boy with a crush on Danielle Fishel.
The car was a little slip of a thing, made for a girl; it didn’t drive fast enough to make my mother nervous about me taking you around in it. The night I bought it, my first brand-new car, I drove you around in it, through our hometown, playing music and talking to you as though you were someone my own age. Almost ten years younger than me, you weren’t yet old enough to be the asshole you would pretend to be later, and you were one of the few things in my life that I didn’t treat with detached coolness. Your eyes were better than any other eyes in our house; they looked like a green and gold glass vase that had been shattered on topsoil after a thunderstorm. I couldn’t look at you without seeing a wonder who called all his friends by their first and last names, as though I couldn’t keep track of them, as if knowing that someday you’d have too many for anyone to tally. I learned how children learned to pronounce things by watching you; I learned the way people learned to think. I learned how new words got stuck in your head and I learned the lyrics to “Just Me and My Dad.” I wanted to give you something, to be that sister.
Along the road to Victory Hill through the township, I pointed out where my friends lived and I played you the mix tape. Amid all those obscure never-on-DVE songs he’d thrown in “On the Turning Away.” It was quiet in the car, and the silence behind that voice brought us to silence ourselves. “It’s sad,” you said. “It gets less sad,” I said. Could you have understood those lyrics back then, so small I put the seat belt on you myself, never ever thinking that a seat belt would have saved your life six years later? A fucking seat belt. Fabric. It would have kept you here, maybe having momentary twinges when you heard Pink Floyd, remembering your sister driving you around. After that one, I played “Wish You Were Here.” You couldn’t pick up the words to that one. Years later our brother would play it for me on his guitar, slowly and precisely, and it would echo in his tiny apartment. It was a too-on-the-nose moment, looking back, but when your heart pours out from you there is no such thing as too-on-the-nose.
I never finished with you. You never finished anything, except winning seasons and probation terms. Even your destruction isn’t finished; I know its waves can be detected from New Mexico and Georgia and the damn Crab Nebula. We took you once to the hill by the cemetery, and the three of us talked like friends instead of siblings, but I never got to tell you anything important, not ever. I waited for you to get older, thinking what we would become when you got your teens out of your way, when you wanted to hear someone else. Instead I would never see those greengoldbrown eyes again; I search for their liquid light in photographs of you, but it is never there. I didn’t know that you weren’t getting any older than you were that day on the hill, that we would bring you to the cemetery soon after carried on the shoulders of your teammates, and that the only thing I’d finish, because the grieving doesn’t stop, would be the story about the day we cruised through the Valley and we played Pink Floyd.
The filthy angel and his ownership of the stage, the way he modulated his voice, saving his falsetto for when we could not do without it, the way I cheered for him when he let it fly. Four rows of people separated me from his eyes and his voice and his strut. Twice I saw him in tears himself, which made my own feel at home. It was impossible to believe that anything was too big for him.
The magician in the red hat who hid behind a giant gargoyle but came out from time to time, bearing a guitar—and once a pair of scissors to cut the lost boy out of his lace-up leather vest. I have another picture of him looking at “the singer” and beaming with incredible pride and fondness.
We used to sing to Erasure in a red Ford Probe, on our way to dance and on our way back home. If I could talk to the girls we were back then, I would tell them that, in the moments when he’s not singing, Andy Bell dances around the stage with primal, audacious vigor, his arms wide and embracing all of us, his eyes open and defiant. That he is like a spool set free and spinning, that he is orderly entropy and black light and living joy. That he dances like we danced.
I wish I could tell you what it felt like to be me twenty years ago this month, to be packing a month full of last-times and a van full of clothes. To be heading to the other side of the state, to my beloved Philadelphia, where The Ocean Blue were closer and The Troc would feed me everything I needed and where I would make terrible mistakes and live through everything anyway.
These days I love through everything while I live through it.
I was making that first futile stab at priming the Balrog-wall when Strangeways played this song and I stopped and remembered how excited I was back then, how I wore out The Ocean Blue on my tape deck in my car and how we sang this at top volume even though we were not in love. Or maybe we were, with ourselves and our teenage singing streaming through the windows of a fast-driving car. And I painted it into my wall and covered it later and it will always be there, just like love; you cannot scrape that away no matter which knife you use.
Wishing you love, the real kind, the kind that is going to get you through everything, that always protects, that is as strong as it has to be to do its job.