I went for a drive at lunchtime yesterday to the nearest shopping centre, the car radio on as I drove the short distance from work. On the radio Wherever I Lay My Hat starting playing, the Paul Young version (as opposed to Marvin Gaye), which is not only a great song (a rare case of the cover being better than the original), but a song that resonates with me for other reasons.
Listening I was cast back to the early to mid-eighties. I was young then. I had energy and spunk and a shitload of ambition. I was ambitious about everything, and hungry to the point of being ravenous. It’s a time of your life when everything seems bigger, louder, more colourful. Breaking free from school and the home of your parents and life suddenly seems wonderfully vivid. It did to me anyway.
Women were a big part of that. I’d experienced the usual adolescent urges, and was busting to get loose once I turned officially legal and independent. I don’t think that was uncommon, and probably isn’t still. At that age you’re full of juice. What may be uncommon is that I still feel much the same now as I did then in many ways.
Somewhere in that decade while living this life the song began to mean something to me. I listened and felt much like the eponymous character, his melancholy denials proclaiming my own restless and unreliable lust. Once more I think that’s likely a familiar conceit. Who doesn’t see themselves in the lyrics of a song sometimes, or in a character on the big screen? At the time it was no more than that.
At some point, I fell in love for the first time, and it was a kind of revelation for me. Up to then though I was uninterested in anything serious, or so I convinced myself (at heart I was, and remain, a romantic). I had a cynical and flippant disregard for the very idea of love, and all the fripperies that attach to it. Get outta here! I was too busy having fun.
Then you fall in love and everything changes. Some things change forever, but other things just as long as you feel it. That love passed, and it left me devastated for a while – that romantic self was badly bruised. Then it hardens. It’s done. You remember it, but you’ve moved on. And though you have an eye out for it now you don’t cool your heels just waiting for it to come your way again. You’re hungry still after all. And now you have a harder edge to you. You’re more mindful and aware, less inclined to be impressed by the surface realities and the novelties of being a big boy now. Without knowing it, without thinking, I fell into some of the same habits – ways of being? – as before, though with an entirely new motivation.
When I fancied myself like the character in the song I almost certainly wasn’t, but in the years after I became more so. I hear lines in this song and memories are recalled, memory memes more than specific memories, laid upon each other over a stretch of years. “…you keep telling me, I’m your man,” one line goes, the singer frustrated by his companion’s deluded hope, the misguided light in her eyes. I’ve been told that too, and variations of it, seen that look in their eyes, and mostly – not always – felt no, I’m not, and I can’t be. Can’t be because I was not made for that mould, not that person, not the ideal they saw in me. Mostly I thought that with a kind of weary sadness, as if it was something I would change if I could.
I’m sure there are women out there who today might read this and recognise the truth of it, too late. When I was a kid, not yet 10, there was another song I cottoned onto, Lee Marvin in his gravelly voice singing Wandrin’ Star (a song I love to this day). It appealed to me and I would sing it as a kid and now looking back I see a theme emerge, this desire, for whatever reason, for independence, and more than that, to explore, to travel, in mind as much as body, to experience – and the corollary of that, to not be stuck anywhere, the resistance towards status quo, the distrust of belonging to anything or anyone, the need to stand as an individual.
There’s some rich psychological stuff in there. Go for it, Freud.
I know it though. I’m not oblivious and haven’t been for many years. I’m knowing and self-aware and very often self-observing. For what it’s worth the romantic in me exists still, and I would love to be swept off my feet and tumble into something that was beyond my control.
The song ended, then another song came on from some time back then – Red Hot Chilli Peppers, Under The Bridge, another great song. More memories, of driving to work, of a girl, and another song related that spoke to me, Soul To Squeeze.
More memes. Life palimpsest.