Years ago, I used to have a thing for writing lyrics. They weren’t terribly good lyrics, stymied as I was by my reluctance to accept that I wasn’t the new Morissey, but it was a craft I approached with enthusiasm. At one stage, one of my university friends even offered to set some of them to music though nothing came of it. This was probably for the best given that he was an ozric tentacles fan, but it was an early disappointment, nonetheless. One summer, granted access to my dad’s guitar, I even managed to come up with chords and tunes for three of my own songs though my career as a sing-songwriter was curtailed by the fact I couldn’t actually sing. In the end, I lost interest in lyric writing altogether. I don’t particularly remember how it happened; it might have been that, as I passed into my twenties, Morrissey ceased to be an aspirational role model (1), it might have been that I stopped feeling things so acutely I needed I rhyming dictionary to make sense of my emotions. Either way, there came a time when the words stopped pouring out and I don’t think anyone was the worse for it. As myriad failed music careers attest, the world doesn’t need another Morrissey.
Years later, I discovered Steely Dan and I could have kicked myself for not seeking them out before. Like Morrissey, Donald Fagan wrote his words from the vantage point of the outsider, but he avoided Steven Patrick’s tendency towards moping and self parody and he had a nice sardonic edge to leaven the bile. The tunes were more interesting, too. I realised, fairly instantaneously, that I’d given my adolescence over to the wrong false idol.
More recently, I’ve discovered Jake Thackray. Or, rather, I say discovered. In fact, I’d been sort of, maybe, thinking about checking him out ever since I read a Mojo article likening him to an English Jacques Brel. I’ve never been one to shy away from hyperbole but listening to this youtube clip was a revelation. This was a witty, deeply honest song, which celebrated the English language; it’s impossible to imagine another songwriter combining north country colloquialisms like ‘tetchy’ and ‘crabby’ with words like ‘acquiesce’ but he manages it. I’d never heard anything like this before. As far as I know, it was my first taste of Thackray but I realised immediately this, rather than Morrissey, was the man I’d been trying to ape when I jotted down those lyrics on an A4 notepad. Of course, I didn’t have an iota of his talent but perhaps, if I’d realised what I was aiming for, I might have tried that bit harder. I don’t think for a minute that my life would have turned out any differently, but perhaps I wouldn’t have become so abandoned a hobby which had given me a lot of pleasure beforehand.
In the end, that wasn’t to be. I stopped any form of writing for years from my early twenties and since I resumed, I’ve been concentrating on stories, including a novel drawn from my personal experience as a recovering Morrissey fan. On hearing Jake, I decided to have a bash at writing a lyric again and this is the result. I know it’s unambiguously amateurish, that the scansions are awry and that it wears it’s influences too heavily on its sleeve (2) but the enthusiasm’s back if nothing else.
You’re standing on the corner, and you’re starting to freeze,
A victim to the vicissitudes and the vagaries
Of the economic laws of supply and demand,
No one’s paying you to lie back and think of England,
So you let yourself drift off and start dreaming of Spain,
While you watch the cars driving paston Waterhouse Lane,
But it’s ever so cold and it’s starting to rain
So you take it to the madam, but you won’t find any sympathy there,
She doesn’t care,
And you’ll only get her blessing for a fortnight in the summer sun,
If you put a call through first to the East Riding Chapter of the Working Girls’ Union
When you’re working on the streets, it’s a bind to stay warm,
It’d be easier, you think, if you had some sort of uniform,
But sensible clothing tends to deter the fellers
That haven’t been put off by the umbrellas,
And three quarter length macintoshes,
Are inimical to backstreet noshes,
And it’s a seedy John that likes galoshes,
And the madam doesn’t care a fig about the clothes that you wear,
Just don’t go there,
The issue, like the ladders in your tights will only run and run,
Until you put a call through first to the East Riding Chapter of the Working Girls’ Union
On the whole, you suppose, there are worse ways of making a living,
Though you find the street light a might unforgiving,
Don’t you know, that orange glow, is a blow for solicitation,
When it highlights every crack in your cheap orange foundation
When the decent stuff’s been sold to the early adopters,
But if they’d turn it down just a hundred dioptres,
At least you wouldn’t then be seen by the passing helicopters,
If you take it to the madam, but you won’t find any sympathy there,
Life isn’t fair,
And more sympathetic lighting will only come,
When you put a call through first to the East Riding Chapter of the Working Girls’ Union
It’s not the nights themselves you mind, but you find they get awful lonely,
The girls are nice enough but there’s no solidarity,
By the time you all down tools, you’ll be lucky if the pubs aren’t all shut,
And you haven’t much to spend once the madam’s taken her cut,
You’re left with barely enough to buy boots for your thighs,
You’re not so green by now you can’t see where the land lies
And you can’t count on getting a rise,
But if you take it to the madam, you won’t find any sympathy there,
You don’t have a prayer,
Of taking home more than a risible sum,
Unless you put a call through to the East Riding Chapter of the Working Girls’ Union
(1) almost exactly. His career nadir,(3) Maladjusted, came out the same month as my 20th birthday.
(2) is this even a phrase? If so, why? Who wears influences on their sleeves?
(3) actually, it’s not that bad. It’s patchy, but the good bits are up there with his best stuff.