In Dreams Begin Responsibilities
#6 - ‘Sometimes when I wake up/ Feel like I never woke up at all...’ - Peter Perrett and the Primacy of the Emotions : Music and Mental Health Part 3).
published: 8 /
In his regular column ‘In Dreams Begin Responsibilities’ Steve Miles reflects on the themes of anxiety and depression in the lyrics of the Only Ones’ Peter Perrett.
A little descending treble phrase, like birdsong, cheeps in the left channel, an arpeggio echoes it in the right, and a sax croons sultrily in the back; they repeat themselves and then the toms roll in like waves. The bass unobtrusively adds little highlights to the melody and a barely audible acoustic guitar strums in the background on the left. They deftly weave a short pattern from the chords, before another soft drum roll draws the introduction to a close. A gently chiming guitar harmonises with the sax on and rings out politely to welcome in the voice.
It’s the voice that grabs you. The voice of a man who’s seemingly just woken up from a very deep sleep; croaky, throaty, still not quite awake. If you had sleepy dust in your vocal chords, this is how they would sound, you imagine.
“I used tuh (pause) have the notion/ I could swim the length of the ocean…”
“To” rhymes with “the”, the accent in tune with the torpor in the drawn-out phrasing, perfectly matching the languor of the music. The singer drags out the words as if willing time to go more slowly, as if, in first waking, he’s reluctant to get out of bed.
“I’ll escape from my chains/ and I’ll reach out for you/ ‘Baby, I’m in love with you / You - oo – hoo – hoo –hoo”,
Are those the chains of a relationship, or the chains of his own mental state? Hard to tell, but the song moves on apace: what started in the past and moved quickly to the conditional future shifts to the here and now.
It’s that crazily elongated “you” signals the change, the emphasis shifting from him to her, the word “you” turned into a whole line of the song, a five-syllable cry of primal longing. The singer can’t even finish the line “I had to contact you” the second time – being with her is all that matters. The imagery of the ocean vanishes, but the sense of being swallowed by the waves remains.
It’s as if the singer has looked up from his guitar and appealed directly to the woman, who’s just walked in. Just at the moment he promises to “escape” from his “chains” he breaks free from the form of the verse and loses his emotional restraint. Gerry Rafferty’s ‘famous ‘Baker Street’s saxophonist takes over, sweeping in like the dissolve of the camera away from the couple’s embrace in old movies.
In two minutes and thirty-seven seconds, we’ve been transported to another world. This is another planet, a place where sounds and voice combine to evoke the spray of the sea and the satin of the bedsheets at the same time; where birdsong mixes with smoky late night bars, and the timbre of cynicism voices the language of innocence.
The song is called ‘The Whole of The Law’ and it’s the unforgettable opening to an outstanding album, The Only Ones’ self-titled debut. On the face of it, this first song, released in May 1978, is the antithesis of the punk wave that the band were riding on. It’s slow, musicianly and inward-looking. The arrangement strays towards the syrupy. The effect is soporific rather than energising, and the lyrics are solipsistic rather than rebellious.
We breathe out, feeling a little dreamy. Have we been uplifted or made melancholy? Plumbed the depths or escaped from our chains? Maybe both at once?
But we rest only for a second or two, for then that iconic reverb-drenched guitar starts scratching at an insistent itch in the left channel and the quite-possibly-perfect ‘Another Girl, Another Planet’ begins…
This is how the Only Ones’ eponymous debut album begins, and with it our journey into the primacy of the emotions.
Regular readers will know that music matters to me. I regard it as close to sacred. Shallow lyrics and formulaic music are blasphemous to me. But, like any religious acolyte, I’m not always wholly consistent in the criteria I apply to judge the world.
‘The Whole of The Law’, described above, isn’t not a lyrical masterpiece, or a match for the musical magnificence that follows it. Nonetheless, I love it - inexplicably, that five syllable “You” is one of my favourite moments on the record.
“Ever since I heard the way you talk / I wanted you” – ‘Language Problem’ (side two).
Liking bands is like liking people. There has to be something that first attracts you. And then a deeper connection to keep the relationship going. By and large, you have to enjoy the singer’s voice. Sometimes it's the production that sways you, sometimes it's the sounds of the guitars or the keyboards, but mostly it's the singer’s voice, and the connection it creates.
You hear the sound, and you’re hooked. Like an attractive person at a party, you want to spend time with them, get to know them better. Then, as you do, one of two things happens: either you fall in love with them more, or you realise that they weren’t quite what you first thought they were. Sometimes that initial infatuation is brief, and sometimes it takes a lot longer to wear off.
“I had so much love inside of me / I don't know where that feeling's gone”– ‘Re-Union’ from the third album, ‘Baby’s Got A Gun’, 1980.
Many a band have I loved at first hearing, before coming in time to find them much less fascinating than I first anticipated (examples: PJ Harvey, Muse).
“Love becomes a habit / If you see it, you gotta grab it” – ‘Oh Lucinda (Love Becomes A Habit) (1980).
There are other bands, who, if they were people, perhaps never really revealed more of themselves as I spent more time with them, but whose initial appeal never wore off. Maybe their lyrics are a bit crass sometimes and their music formulaic, but what they do they do so well that I stay good friends with them nonetheless (examples: The Ramones, Chris Isaak).
“You know they're gonna love you and leave you/ Such a stupid contradiction/ It makes you happy/ But then your whole life’s fiction” – ‘Watch You Drown’ from ‘Remains’ (1984).
Then there are other people who you know are attractive, funny, intelligent, charismatic and so on, but who just don’t do it for you. You are
sure they are good people, but for whatever reason, you just don’t want to spend a lot of time with them. Over the years there have been many bands whose music I have admired, and whose lyrics I have respected, but whose records I have just not really enjoyed (examples: Bob Dylan, The Clash). I always feel a bit guilty for not being better friends with these people, but what can you do?
Linked to this are the people that seem really popular, but whose popularity you just don’t get. Everyone else seems to think they’re cool and funny and smart, but to you they seem boorish, dull or inane. You always think you’re right and everyone else is wrong, but it’s hard to explain why (examples: Oasis, Coldplay)
Then there are people who time changes: they grow away from you, and become different people to who they were when you first met them. You will always love who they were, but you don’t love them now. You will always look back with affection on that initial relationship, but you also know that if you met them now, you wouldn’t become friends (obvious examples: John Lydon, Arctic Monkeys)
“I stand corrected but I'm on my knees” – from ‘Love Comes On Silent Feet’, ‘Humanworld’ LP, 2019.
Finally, there are people you love so much and feel so close to, you defend them even when they do something terrible. People who do things you know you’d despise if anyone else did it, but because your bond is so close to them, you forgive them their sins, no matter how bad (examples: at least a third of Lou Reed’s and Iggy Pop’s output).
Now we can talk all day long about who is right and who is wrong - and I put band names in the categories above precisely to stimulate debate! - but the fact is that we can’t always explain why we like some people more than others, why we like some people not at all, or why we fall madly in love with a few.
“Sometimes I believe what I say / Other times I think I'm joking” – ‘Broken Arrows’, by England’s Glory, from their so-called ‘Legendary Lost Album’ (recorded prior to the Only Ones in 1973 , but not officially released until 1994).
Similarly, there is no discernible basis for my preference for one voice, or one guitar sound, over another. I find it hard to justify or explain my deep love for The Only Ones’ Peter Perrett’s voice by recourse to any objective criteria for rating music, other than perhaps emotional resonance. But love it I do.
‘Another Girl, Another Planet’ is often mistakenly judged to be ‘about’ drugs. Perrett’s life history seems to compel that interpretation, and the line “Space travel’s in my blood/There ain’t nothing I can do about it” seems to back it up.
But it’s not. It’s a song about infatuation, about that inexplicable attraction and longing we have just been discussing. He sees another girl and is transported to another world with her; she offers new possibilities, new experiences. But he doesn’t stay there, he doesn’t stay with her – he sees someone else and off he goes with her. She goes off with someone else. More new sensations. Another girl, another planet.
I’m much too shy to be like Peter Perrett when it comes to women. No matter how much of a Lothario I might have wished to have been, my confidence is far too low to have ever allowed it, and so there are songs of his that speak to me far more intimately than ‘Another Girl’. That said, it’s a hard song to top musically. There’s that never-failing thrust of excitement and anticipation (so perfectly mirroring the themes of the song) in the intro, taking up a remarkable fifty seconds of the total 181 of the song. The bass and drums have an impeccable irresistibility throughout, propelling the song spaceward, right from those two booming thrums of the bass in the opening seconds to the incredible drum roll that precedes the solo.
There’s a liquid organ floating in and out of the mix like hot blood. The double –tracked lead guitars on the intro are close enough not to notice, but different enough to thicken the longing they depict. Not to mention the solo - introduced by that breathtakingly innocent “woo-hoo!” as all Perrett’s world-weariness is replaced by boyish excitement – wherein John Perry perfectly encapsulates the exhilaration and release of the song’s anticipation/consummation in 35 seconds, before it has to stop because, well, it’s exploded,. Mike Kellie, on drums, seemed hardly ever to use cymbals and rarely relies on the ever-present hi-hat that accompanies most rock songs, so when you hear the ride and some well-chosen crashes in the solo and the intro, buried and muddy as they are, they add something special.
If you wanted to musically capture the physical sensations of sexual excitement in three minutes of sound, you’d play this song, which now I write it, makes me feel awkward for having played the song through headphones to all my daughters in the womb. I chose it for that purpose above all others because I knew they were female, but also because I wanted them to feel welcome in the world, to have that excitement for the possibilities of being born, and to have a taste of the brilliance of music before they came out. The song has all that too, so it’s fine! Despite its meaning, there’s no sadness, no hint of regret in the song.
Interestingly, Perrett came back to the same themes again in the mid-1990s when he briefly formed ‘The One’ and released an album and a couple of singles. On the 1998 live release (recorded in 1994, when the band was very new, I believe), entitled ‘Peter Perrett Live With The One’, he tells the audience,
“This is a song about stunted emotional development and the conflict that arises when it’s combined with intellectual maturity’”before launching into ‘Falling’, a close cousin to ‘Another Girl’, similar in meaning and even in form, but without that indefinable something of the older song. It’s another song about infatuation and about lacking the restraint to fight his inner urges.
“I feel like an innocent abroad/ At the mercy of the ravishing hordes…// No way for me to carry on/ I feel like I’m in love with everyone.”
And what's true of music, love and friendship is true of everything. We have a great many tastes which we can't explain. Why bananas rather than apples, bitter not lager, or red not blue?
If we wished, of course, we can construct a logical case. Growing up near Bristol, with a choice between two football teams with an intense historical rivalry, it became second nature to me to choose the colour of my team in preference to the other, and that soon spread from the pitch to all walks of life. I soon became convinced that this was not a prejudice, but a hard fact of life. Isn’t blue the colour of the bad side in politics and red the colour of the good? Isn’t hot better than cold? Isn’t oxygen-rich blood red, and depleted blood blue?
Such reasoning is, of course, entirely spurious. Even though a case can be made, we know it’s just arguing after the fact, constructing an argument to justify a prejudice. Often we can’t even do that – many of our tastes are impossible to even manufacture an ex post facto justification for. Why do some people prefer blue eyes, to brown eyes, or blonde hair to brown? We don't know. There’s no point in ascribing a reason to it. The explanation is bound to be false. It’s just how it is.
It’s just how it is, and the song on the Only Ones’ debut album that would definitely make my all-time-top list would be ‘No Peace For The Wicked’ which fades in half way through side two, and begins with the fantastic opening lines, in the same sleepy, solipsistic drawl,
“Why do I go through these deep emotional traumas? /Why can't I be like I always wanted to be, carefree?/ Why can't I be happy like everybody else?”
The mood of the song is melancholy but melodious, more enervated than irritated, withy Perrett almost amused by his own listless temperamental troubles. A girl, Koulla Kakoulli , sings some of the lines and the chorus like the angel (or the devil) whispering from his shoulder, and the arrangement is akin to The Whole of The Law, but tougher and sharper, more urgent, with a more carefully controlled solo.
Perrett answers his own question in the chorus:
“There's no peace for the wicked/ They say no peace for the wicked/ Loud and clear, no peace for the wicked/ The angels tell me/ No peace for the wicked”
He’s brought it on himself, he tells us, sardonically characterising himself as “wicked”, despite an obvious atheism. ‘Carefree’ is a significant choice of word, as it implies a state of mind or attitude, rather than a state of circumstance. His own personality is, he seems to confess, the major barrier to being happy, rather than the events that have happened to him or the situation he’s in.
Yes, that external world is part of it, of course. He’s “Sitting at home, trying to forget the world outside” and his girlfriend is “on the phone telling me there's no love inside me”. But that middle verse is the centre of the sandwich of the other two verses that focus on himself, his personality and his own disposition. The last verse underlines this.
“I'm in love with extreme mental torture/ I'm in love with the way you hold your head and cry/ I'm in love with all these affairs of the heart”
He admits to not only being the kind of person who causes himself problems, but revels in them.
And yet, he doesn’t say “Oh, I’m so happy that my life is a mess” because this is a double-edged sword, no question. It is his rational brain that is writing the song, playing it and singing it, but it is not his rational brain that is ”in love with extreme mental torture”, or thinks of himself as “wicked”.
“There were forces in my head/ Told me I was better off dead/ But I found you instead2 – ‘Man of Extremes’ from the first solo/family LP, ‘How The West Was Won’, 2017.
People who suffer acutely from anxiety suffer in part from an amplified version of what all of us experience, an automated reaction to the perception of danger. When we are frightened by something, when we think that it presents a threat to us, we flood with adrenaline, our muscles tense, our senses become more acute and the body prepares for what is often called fight or flight. As a matter of evolution this instant response was a critical factor in Homo Sapiens’ success. The ability to perceive and react quickly to danger preceded the development of language, and even thought in the sense that we understand it today. In fact, I've heard from people who know these kinds of things, that the part of our brain that processes these sensations is just about as far away from the parts of our brain that reflects on things rationally as it's possible to be within our skulls.
Every day we have the perception that we are in control of our bodies, our minds and our emotions. But in large part our bodies (or strictly, the slice of our mind that operates without our conscious awareness) control us. Whilst I can concentrate on my breathing and pay attention to it, in the main it happens without me thinking about it at all. My heart beating, my toenails growing, my skin regenerating after a cut - I can’t control these at all. No willpower and no education can empower me to stop sweating if I’m hot or nervous. The closest I can get is to remove some clothing or have a drink to cool down, to move into the shade, or invest in a chemical spray of some sort to control it. But those are responses to the decision to sweat made without my conscious involvement or choice.
"Caught between right and wrong/Tell me is there no escaping/ I just can’t go on/ Living from day to day/ And sometimes when I wake up/Feel like I never woke up at all2 – ‘Inbetweens’ from ‘Even Serpents Shine’, the second album (1979).
I like to think I understand myself well, that I have read widely and thought deeply, and yet it turns out that a large number of vital everyday actions I conduct I have no more governance of than I have of gravity. I have, for example, absolutely no idea at all how I am often able to catch a ball thrown to me at speed at some distance. The incredible alignment of muscles, eyes and timing, not to mention the practical application of the laws of physics involved, seems infinitely far superior to anything, any kind of thinking that I can achieve.
This, and many other instances, suggest that not only is the bulk of my brain autonomous from me, but the part of my brain which I have access to is not the greater part of it, either in terms of workload or quality.
Why does any of this matter? This matters, because, despite how practiced we are at understanding our emotions and recognising them in action, there is a very strong possibility that particularly strong emotions, strong sensation and strong physical experiences dictate the articulated response which the conscious mind subsequently makes. You feel, in short, what your unconscious tells you too, and then when you analyse the cause of that emotion, you try to make sense of how you feel, rather than deciding how you feel. You accept the witness’s statement fully, and attempt to find the perpetrator, rather than examining the evidence for yourself.
So, if somebody hurts you, you develop an extensive and complicated explanation of the feeling; it’s because of their cruelty or their injustice, their dishonesty or their lack of love for you. None of those things may be true, but it will make sense to you, because whichever argument you construct explains the strength of the emotions that you feel. You can’t have no explanation: that’s just not how we work. If we feel sad, we need to know why. If the explanation of the pain you feel is something physical, you might consult a doctor. If the pain is that your house is flooded, you might blame global warming.
“If you do happen to be stronger/ It only means you’re gonna take longer to go under/ That’s the trouble in this world” – ‘Trouble In The World’ (1980).
As an aside, we more and more refuse to accept suffering and accident as forces in our lives in the modern world. It’s a long time since most of us believed that the floods that fill our houses are caused by a god or gods who is angry with us. More and more the floods that fill our houses are not caused in our minds by either natural or supernatural forces, but something that we can get angry at and blame, government failure – lack of flood prevention, or poor building regulations. And I think that’s a really significant change. There’s an enormous existential freedom that comes from seeing your world ruled by a God, or by irresistible natural forces. That’s how it is. You couldn’t have changed it, you aren’t to blame, you don’t need to aspire to do better. All is at it should be…
When you don’t believe in that kind of destiny, well, the pressure is on you, isn’t it? If anything goes wrong, you only have two choices: blame someone else or blame yourself. So, if somebody rejects you, you can explain it in two ways: you might opt be to become angry with those you hold responsible for the hurt and pain that you feel and to wish them harm, either to prevent them from hurting you again or to punish them for that hurt.
“On reflection/ My rejection/ Came as a blessing in disguise/ It opened my eyes” – ‘My Rejection’ (from ‘Remains’)
We all do whatever it takes to get through. Discussing, the issue of whether to play the ‘old’ songs or the ‘new’ at gigs, Perrett, interviewed in 2017, explained that he preferred the new songs to dominate. “I don’t like trading on nostalgia, even though I accept that it can be a very comforting place to be. It’s a safe-haven or a safety-blanket to cling to amongst the terrifying struggle that modern life is.”
So you might develop a narrative to explain that rejection which includes you judging yourself as not worth the acceptance. For many people this pattern of response becomes a effectively a self-fulfilling prophecy. When you're hurt and disappointed, you blame yourself. You begin to anticipate and prepare for failure and rejection. Even before it happens, you expect rejection from others and begin to avoid situations where you may be successful and perhaps even begin to engender and instigate that rejection by behaviours and mannerisms that feel like protection but are actual self-sabotage.
The point I'm trying to make in all of this is that in matters of taste, and matters of emotion, our rational brain is often completely bypassed - and in far more aspects of life than we care to admit. I can drive for an hour over familiar roads, and have no recollection at all of the journey.
A part of my brain, quite untouched by self-awareness, has got me there, while my conscious mind has been absorbed in the audio book, the music or the phone call on the way. And conversely, and rather worryingly, when I am required to focus consciously on the journey, I find it far more demanding than I do when my unconscious takes over, and I'm far more likely to make mistakes.
The first Only Ones album takes you on a journey, as Perrett reflected in a 2019 interview after the release of his most recent album, ‘Humanworld’. He told fearandloathing fanzine that, “I’ve always thought of albums in that way and try to write a set of songs that will be an emotional journey… I try to write songs that will take you through lots of different emotions so that the album will be satisfying when you reach the end and make you want to go through it again.”
So, I am assailed by the world around me via all my senses twenty-four hours a day. The larger part of my body's self-regulation (ie, what keeps me alive) goes on without my conscious involvement, and without rational explanation. Yes, I respond to the feelings of hunger which present themselves to me by going to make a snack, but I have absolutely no input into, or awareness of, how food or drink is turned is converted in my body to energy. Eating feels like a rational choice, but in fact, I'm being told to eat by the secret part of me which appears to have delegated authority to run my body on my behalf, without my interference or knowledge.
And I see a wide range of objects, colours and movements, every second of every day, but only a small number of these are brought to my attention by the delegated authority within me. So I might drive down a street to a town and notice just one billboard or one electric scooter rider from all of the possible buildings, people and traffic I’ve passed. I'd like to think that I have consciously sifted through all that I've seen and heard and selected the items I wish to focus on. But the truth is that, by and large, those items have been presented to me like a doorbell ringing by my unconscious mind for me to notice.
So far so good. But I believe that this is true not only for love, but also for sadness, happiness, anger, jealousy, fear, anxiety, confusion. We think we choose these emotions, but I think they choose us. When we feel them strongly enough, the delegated authority presents them to our consciousness to our consideration to act upon. Some people end up with partners who have been carefully selected from a dating site, and others spend their lives with someone who just happened to work in the same place as them, entirely dependent on a million pieces of luck and fate that you couldn't untangle if you tried.
If it’s so with love, why shouldn’t it be true of anxiety, or lust, or depression?
The difficulty that we have with understanding happiness and unhappiness, I think, is that we are very much in the dark when it comes to understanding the reasons why we are happy, what things make us happy, and why things make us unhappy. Throughout our whole lives we concoct narratives, rational explanations and strategies to achieve happiness and avoid unhappiness, based on improbable causes and unlikely expectations. In my experience, these fail more often than they succeed. In truth, I have certainly been happier more often in my life through no fault of my own, i.e. through by accident, than I have by design. Often, the single biggest way to ensure I’m not happy is to try too hard to be happy.
“Every wasted moment/ Serves its true purpose/ I’ve seen so many people try to have a good time’”as Perrett so sweetly puts it in ‘Don’t Hold Your Breath’ (1984).
Perrett is the poet of this unconscious world. His songs chronicle a man in love with his own emotions, fascinated by the turmoil they create in him, thrilled by the journeys they take him on, but, at the same time, aware that he surfs on them, rather than drives them.
‘It’s the Truth’ begins with just Perrett, an acoustic guitar panning dizzily from side to side, and Koulla Kakoulli singing
“Something's been going wrong / I'm all mixed up/ And I don't know what's going on…” (‘It’s The Truth’)
They sing the lines together but not in sync, and the guitar feels out of kilter. The band comes in and adds order to the music but the words continue to explore the confusion and doubt further – “I don’t remember what I came here to say” – until the resigned conclusion is reached, and the understated solo draws the short song to an end. It’s a final couplet to ponder deeply over:
“And if I don't say a word / You'll know that it's the truth”
‘It’s The Truth’ is only one of many Perrett songs where inaction of some sort is the outcome of the singer’s emotional journey. Making sense of his real-life long addiction to narcotics, Perrett presents a man ultimately overwhelmed by the glory of his own inner world, exhausted by his curiosity and intellect, and worn out by the battle between emotion and intellect, desire and self-determination.
Didn’t he tell us that “Space travel wears me out/ But there ain’t nothing I can do about it” In ‘Another Girl’? His heart exhausts him. The song that follows it, the faux-jazzy, ‘Breaking Down’, has at its heart the final verse’s admission,
“I find it hard to concentrate / Distraction comes from within”
That’s the key: “distraction comes from within”.
Or, as he puts it in ‘Prisoners’ (‘Remains’, 1984)
“The enemy we're fighting / He's inside of you and me”
From when I first heard those lines, I knew this was true for me too, but until recently I thought it was my reason, not my heart, and not my unconscious that did this to me. I have always mistakenly believed that I have chosen my emotions, when probably they have chosen me. I have always believed, for example - and everything in my culture tells me this is the case - that when I fall in love, I've chosen someone to fall in love with because that person is an attractive potential partner who possesses the qualities that I admire or would like to have in my life. If that were truly the case, there would be no breakups, surely? Or certainly not as many as there are. What actually happens, I don't really know. Scientists look into the chemistry of it, psychoanalysts probe explanations of it, and music, more than any other art form, promotes and maintains the myth. But the truth is, I have no idea why I'm more inclined to choose a partner who is a woman than a man, or a blue eyed partner than a brown.
I’ve always believed that if I was sad, there was a reason, a something somewhere in the world that was responsible. Now I’m not so sure. Though I have thought about those reasons so much, and blamed so many things. I’m just not so sure now.
Let’s go back to Perrett’s reaction to those stresses, those highs and lows, all that “emotional trauma” he’s in love with. They exhaust him and he wants to escape from them: the word “escape” was there in the very first song on the first album, and it’s a constant theme. Give in gloriously to desire, retreat from desire, and repeat, ad infinitum.
“I wanna die in the same place I was born / Miles from nowhere / I used to reach for the stars but now I’m reformed” – ‘Miles From Nowhere’ (second album, 1979).
Perrett craves excitement but he also craves release from the turmoil it creates. The beautiful, less well known, ‘Don’t Hold Your Breath’ from the 7” EP that came as part of ‘Remains’, a collection of songs of unclear provenance, released in June 1984. hinges on the lines, sung with aching clarity,
“Every wasted moment serves its full purpose /I've seen so many people try to have a good time”
And although ‘The Big Sleep’, one of the few songs on the ill-fated third album to reach anywhere near its potential, triumphantly celebrates being “woken up” metaphorically by his true love, with the same passion as Perrett celebrated being taken to other planets a couple of years before, Perrett’s single most consistent motif is sleep.
Sleep, rest, inaction, retreat, a place of safety. It was there in the Only Ones’ swaggering, soignee first single, released on their own label in the white heat of 1977, ‘Lovers of Today’, which proclaimed, “If we ever touched it would disturb the calm/ Physical effort often causes mental harm/I don't have the energy/ You could say things get pretty tranquil with me”.
It was there in the fragile, introspective version of ‘Silent Night’ (apparently recorded for Belgian radio, and released inexplicably in January 1983), which contains a middle verse penned by Perrett which sums up his spirit completely, as he veers from the original to crooningly implore,
“Oh, dear Jesus, help me fight/ Give me salvation, show me the truth/ All I ever wanted to do is/ Sleep in heavenly peace/ Sleep in heavenly peace.”
And it’s still there on the ‘chorus’ of his most recent release in the song ‘Believe In Nothing’ where he deadpans before an evocative violin squeals,
“I’m gonna sleep on a bed of nails/ Never to wake up”
And because there is less agency in our desires than we like to believe, we can feel two contradictory things at the same time – longing and regret, lust and shame, hope and despair.
As Perrett says in that same interview, “… I like lyrics that are ambivalent. I think I’ve always found ambivalence in every aspect of my life and my personality… I have difficulty convincing myself that I believe in any one thing because I’ll usually believe in the complete opposite at the same time. It sounds confusing, but I am confused and it is a very confusing world!’”
"Another girl" takes you to "another planet" because, in some ways, the relationship we have with the world is similar to the relationship we have with the ones we love. We reach out, we make sense of what happens inside, and we respond with a guess as to what it all meant. And we repeat.
To conclude, then, let’s hear one last time from Peter, as he heartbreakingly sings the final verse of ‘Don’t Hold Your Breath’:
“You know I tried to learn a lot about you, babe/ You know I tried so many times/ But you just stared at me thinking to yourself/ You know that poor boy, he's got a lot to learn.”
Change the word “babe” to “world” and it’s all there.
Steve Miles writes and sings the songs of European Sun.
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