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Thursday, February 17, 2005 

The Floating World: Aye Today

Songs sung out of key
Reminds me that I'm free

So something's happened. No, back up, that's not quite honest. You've done something (or not done something), and you fucked up. Leave aside for a minute the infinitely complicated causal matrices that may or may not pertain to the real world worked up by various philosophies, which are not dodges of responsibility but rather more subtle ways to conceive of existence; we are in the real, immediate world, and you fucked up.

That's bad enough. But there's another person involved (family, if you must know, but I'm not being any more specific than that) and people always make things unpredictable, to be kind. You know you've fucked up, you've spent quite a bit of time thinking about it, talking about it, worrying about it. For various reasons. Some personal (this particular fuck up is one you've never done before, and so of course there is the hurt pride of no longer being able to say you haven't done it), some of course not (how is the other person going to take it?). It's already a heady mix, regret and shame and guilt and sadness all stirred in.

And then the other party has to poke at it.

[Oh, go on, write me a long letter telling me that I can't read others' minds, that what I get out of what someone tells me or writes me may not have been put there intentionally by the other person, that what I get so worked up over may not be there at all. I'll ignore you - whether intended or not, it is there, because that's what I read from it. Like I said, this is family; I may be misinterpreting things, but I don't fucking think so. And even if I am, too bad; the damage has been done.]

So in addition to the aforementioned bad feelings, you've now got anger, hurt, and all their little cousins coming to stay. And it did sort of come out of the blue - the kind of occurance that takes your still-new day and slams a sledgehammer into the base of its spine. You've been reading too much Merleau-Ponty (stay with me now; it's a theoretical situation, remember); you can't help but think how in a very real way your world is entirely different five minutes before this happened, how particular areas of your life usually defined as safe, even friendly (email, phone mail) have now taken on an aura of danger; you cringe every time the phone rings.

Because, of course, you responded. Instantly, and then again five minutes later. You are what you could call "highly strung", have been accused only half-jokingly of being a "drama queen", and in any case have always been volatile in some ways; you used to have anger issues, now managed, and even without that you've done your share of things you've regretted. By your own standards you did quite well this time; the word "fuck" may have been used a few times, but you think you avoided any actual insults, and mainly avoided things you'll regret later.

But that, of course, doesn't make your feelings any less complex; all day long doubt and anger and regret and shame and guilt and resentment and sadness and dread and general low grade angst slalom 'round your subconscious and poke out into your conscious thought ever few minutes. And overlaying all is a bone-deep sense of weariness and almost fatalism. You've had conflict before in your life, both family and otherwise and it always ends the same way, with resolution, and you wish you could just skip to that step. Especially with family. But other people are involved, and other people always make thing interesting. You are stubborn, and so is the other party, and you do think that your anger and your hurt are not entirely baseless.

Oh, sure, the anger is partly a relief, it lets you be the wounded party, lets you avoid thinking about your error (which, just by the by, you do feel genuinely horrible about and have tried to apologize for), and generally is just wonderful for being something other than the guilt and regret to think about. And truth be told, what you're most hurt/angered by is the implicit charge that not only did you fuck up, but you didn't notice fucking up, that you don't care you fucked up. Anyone can fuck up, but that kind of implication is saying things about your character that you do not think are true.

Feeling so strong that I can't carry on

But mostly, as we said, you just feel tired. You regretted the error the minute you discovered it, and it's not as if you regret it more now that this has happened - you couldn't! But you're stubborn, and being in the wrong about one thing has never made you able to take this sort of accusation.

So, let's do the toting up, we've got:
hurt pride
hurt feelings
relief (around the edges)

And I mean, we could go on, but I think that gives you the idea. Do you have the song for this? The song that would reflect how you feel, how you hope to feel, what you hope will happen? Do you have the song that would bolster you, convince you you're in the right? Do you have the song that would break you down, convince you you were wrong?

I don't. And to tell you the truth, I'm not interested in any of those songs.

But let's go back to you. You have a committment the night this happens, a meeting to attend, and while you don't really want to go you're not going to skip out on your responsibilities just because you're having a shitty day. So you go. And unexpectedly, it's wonderful; not everyone shows up so the rest of you sit around and joke for a long while, and the meeting is quick and smooth and procedure is obeyed in spirit if not in decorum and letter, and as you're walking out of the building you realise that you actually haven't thought about it for an hour, and there's a song playing in your head. No, there's one part of a song playing in your head.

There's nothing wrong with the verses of "Aye Today" by the Delgados, not really, but in comparison to the real glory of the song they sound like spindly uber-indie. It's better when the chorus hits,

I've always stated of things overrated
A curse or a blessing rate high

Alun and Emma singing along like it's the cheeriest thing in the world. And it is, as the flute and strings and guitars and drums and bass and keyboards come together in one big mass. This line is from a negative NME review, but it describes The Great Eastern very well if you ignore the pejoratives:

"Every graceful shoot here is instantly fenced off by woodwind, then locked in a great cat's cradle of fussy arrangements."

But the real glory of the song takes place at 3:07, as they sing

Why all the grief for a life full of peace?
If you will ask me I'll say aye today

And then they leave the song to fend for itself for almost two minutes. The church bells are tolling, and then the flute takes lead and it goes up and up and up and it sounds like the flautist is struggling to keep at the front of the sound like they're not quite able to take full breaths as they play but it goes up and it leads the song out of the room as it fades away. It is absolutely the most uplifting music I can think of, and I didn't summon it as I stepped out of the UC to wait for the bus in the frigid winter air, it was just there. It was just there and that has to count for something, and Alun never quite clears up what he's waiting to be ask, but he says "aye" anyway, and it's the biggest yes possible, it's a yes to everything, and that grim knowing that things will be alright eventually is transformed into the feeling that things are already alright, that things will get sorted out.

And how they will, and how fast, I still don't know, but I do feel better. I don't feel good, not quite, but the acid in my stomach has receded, and head doesn't hurt quite so much and I don't wince when I check my email. And if I didn't already have enough reasons to love the Delgados fiercely, I have another one now.

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About me

Ian Mathers is a freelance writer whose work has appeared in Stylus, the Village Voice, Resident Advisor, PopMatters, and elsewhere. He does stuff and it magically appears here.

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