Monday, January 2, 2012

Build A Better Dream, Then: Cilla Black: "Surround Yourself With Sorrow"

As we go into 1969, I should note that while I don’t remember this year at all in any general sense, this is when – if I do know a song – I seem to have a profound relationship to it, as deep as any smell or taste; I was two at the time and so I was raw, more than easily impressionable and my whole reaction to the mere mention of 1969 is one of apprehension and stupefaction, as if something wholly unthinkable just happened and there I was, trying to understand what I had just seen*.

That this is the case – my complex and wordless reaction to the music of 1969 – is solid, but that is based on US hit songs; and this blog exists to chronicle the hits of the UK chart, as you dear readers know. Looking at the events in the news here for this time, there exists an unsettling thing in the background for most people who are aware of it – a thing that seems far away but is in fact close**, a historical circumstance that looms…and then becomes public in this year, something the general public would prefer to consider momentary, like student protests at the LSE or some form of political cold that will, with the correct remedies, disappear.

I mention them because as of this time – mid-March – The Troubles are well underway. Now, I don’t know how much of an impact they had on the charts directly, but I can certainly understand how a song that is cheery but admits to blankness and misery might have a resonance it would not have ordinarily. The “buttercup” (hm, that word again) here has had a fight and looks out to a wet, neon-flashing world and there’s Cilla telling her to buck up, presumably because this is – OOH! – how a modern young woman would behave. There is more than a trace of ye olde morale-building war spirit here, as if being miserable after a fight just won’t do; there is more misery in the world than you can comprehend, so why add to it? Falling apart over one man, one fight, is almost palpably not good enough. Cilla (interpreting the work of Bill Martin & Phil Coulter – one Scotsman, one Irishman) understands the sorrow the woman in question feels, but hey, she also says, even in the tone of her voice, her smile – the world is a big place and just looking out the window re-hashing things isn’t going to improve anybody’s situation. (Or so George Martin's brassy, punchy production seems to say; he did this rather than work with The Beatles, who were in the slow process of falling apart, and were nearly impossible to produce at the time.)

Love is gone; the pressure is on to either continue in some way or fall apart completely. Perhaps the promise of The Summer of Love has expired, but to give up now and be self-pitying is just not appropriate; not when this apocalyptic year holds a new promise, a re-making of the world that is necessarily going to cause a lot of heartbreaks all over the place. Something bigger is taking place, "tomorrow" may as well be right now and that pressure, while unrelenting, needs something more than just crying (the water in this song falls, surreally, inside and outside the woman's head - she is but a little boat that has briefly capsized but can right itself with enough - OOH! - willpower and determination). Maybe the neon lights that Petula Clark once sang about can cheer her up too?

Next up: why struggle with thoughts when they are all you have?

*At the time I was growing up in Los Angeles, there was a certain growing tension and paranoia in the air; this is written about very well by Andrew Hultkrans in his book about Love’s Forever Changes in the 33 1/3 series on classic albums. I will get to the eruption that ends this later on.

**Strictly speaking of course Northern Ireland was the place of conflict, but tensions between Catholics and Protestants existed in parts of mainland UK as well; as I understand it, the worst area was West Central Scotland, Glasgow in particular.

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