#3 DROWNING IN THE SILENCE
It goes without saying (to anyone who has heard this song already) that this is one of the two hardest songs on the album for me to write about. Too personal. I even wondered on several occasions during the making of THE STORY OF IT ALL whether I should include this track or not. But in the end I decided that it was songs like this that justified the title of the album. It’s not the story of it all if you leave out the difficult parts.
I’m happy to say that later in life my parents achieved a state of equilibrium. Was it ever true love? Sadly, I don’t think so. Like many people they settled into a life of needing each other and feeling comfortable with each other. And that’s something I guess. Though I have always wanted more, personally.
When I was a kid it was different. I witnessed or, late in bed at night, heard the arguments. I was confused about how these two people so likable, friendly and quiet in company could become screaming enemies in the privacy of their home. I began to think that maybe life required this duplicity, that nobody spoke the truth in public, that maybe love was a sham. Of course growing up as I did in the 50s and 60s the gap between parents and children seemed wider than at any time before or since. One of the things my father constantly accused my mother of was being “Victorian.” And in many ways she was. She was shaped more by her parents and their lives than she was by what was happening in the here and now…or then. I never really knew the depth of their problems or the causes and back then I’m not sure I wanted to. I wanted out of there, I knew that. There had to be a better way, I knew that. And I didn’t want marriage if this was what it was, I knew that.
It’s safe to say those three things pretty much shaped the rest of my life. But back to the song.
“War taught him that life could not wait another day.”
The timing in this song is not honest. Call it creative license. I don’t think my father had met my mom before he went away to war. They met when he was a factory worker after he returned. But I remember my dad saying that war made everyone feel like they had to get on with life as quickly as they could once it ended. Everyone was in a hurry to make a normal life. Those were his words. He’d been dating my mother but they lived quite some distance away from each other. My dad couldn’t always afford the bus fare to his parents’ house after seeing my mom home to hers. So he’d walk. Same thing if he missed the last bus even when he had the cash. One time on his long trek home in the pouring rain he passed a church which had a quote on a billboard outside. It read, “By Grace Are Ye Saved.” My mother’s name was Grace. That was that. He asked her to marry him the next time he saw her and she said yes.
“They fooled themselves for a little while, fooled the others too, you can hide a lot behind a smile even dreams that don’t come true.”
I have no idea how long the honeymoon period lasted. I think there was conflict very early on. It certainly got worse when I came along. Details are unnecessary and unkind so I won’t go into them. But there is a poem in my book THE MOMENTARY TRUCE called THE GUN that was an earlier attempt to shed some light on this same topic.
Almost from the moment I was aware of my surroundings in an intellectual way I was aware of the charade, the remarkable changes that would happen when the “perfect’ family was done socializing and went back to being three people at home. I spent a lot of my youth totally baffled.
“They had a child in ’52 – that was all there’d be – maybe they should have called it quits but they stayed because of me.”
On top of the confusion came guilt. My dad once told me, during a brief period when he left home, that he had only stayed because of me. I remember telling him in no uncertain terms that that was a mistake and to not blame me. Strong words looking back, but I meant them. I was just amazed I had the courage to say them.
But for many years prior to this I was just the unwitting audience.
“I’d lie awake and listen to the anger fill the air – but next morning all was fine I was not supposed to care.”
Just before this verse in the song is a musical break. I told Jacy, my producer and guitarist, that it should sound like an argument between the guitar and the drums. He and Ben Durfee nailed it. The backing vocals – courtesy of Deborah Domanski – float over this as a hopeless effort of trying to go on as if nothing has happened. (Some people have commented that the backing vocals in this song remind them of the way Leonard Cohen uses female voices – which is flattering – but they were actually meant to summon up the ghost of the 1950s pop music that filled that early period in my life and which became associated with all the fakery. At one point I even considered adding finger clicks the way some of the slightly jazzier pop tunes of the day used to do. Come to think of it, that may be exactly the reason Leonard uses female backing singers too!)
With any kind of creative writing the struggle is almost always to make the personal seem universal. Why else would anyone be interested in what you have to say, unless there’s a little bit of their lives in yours? In the case of this song, that attempt is blatant. It’s one of the few songs I’ve ever written that has a kind of moral at the end of it…an undisguised attempt to say why I just told you this story.
“Not everyone can find true love – oh I wish they could – it’s too easy in this life to do harm by doing good.”
This is not just a wish for others. It’s my way of coming to terms with all of it. I do not believe my parents ever experienced the kind of love I’ve been lucky enough to know in my life. More than once. They loved me, their son, for sure. Just not each other. They did some harm. But I truly believe it was unintentionally and that it truly was harm done while trying to do good. And whatever harm they did, it was short-lived. I was able to leave home relatively early and build a life on my terms, not theirs. I made my share of mistakes, was not always kind to people who loved me and whose love I could not return. But one thing I can say for sure, as a person who has always written down his life in the form of stories, poems and songs: If I’m smiling it’s because I’m happy, there’s nothing hiding behind that smile. Because if I’m not happy I’ll tell you.
In my world it’s the only way. (A way I learned from my parents because they could never do it.)
The Nottingham I grew up in. I see a Vauxhall Cresta in the background. Dolcis shoe store was the first place you looked back then…and Mac Fisheries was the place for amazing cod and haddock and other bounties of the North Sea before it was overfished and the trawler fleets out of Grimsby and other places disappeared.