I had an interesting chat with a friend of mine on Tuesday. He has an elderly uncle whose memory is fading. My friend had taken his uncle out for a trip a few weeks ago. On Monday, his uncle had forgotten about the trip. My friend said “If I organise something nice for my uncle which he then forgets about, there’s no point in doing anything for him.” I disagreed. My friend is entitled to his opinion and we had a good chat about what he’d said. However, my friend doesn’t have a blog and I do, so I get the last word….
A couple of weeks ago, Andy and I went to The Oval to watch the second day of a Test Match. I enjoyed every single moment of it although I can only remember a few specific incidents. Nevertheless, looking back on the past gives me pleasure. I took about ten photos and looking at these photos helps me to relive the feelings I had at the time. My friend with the uncle is a hoarder and finds it difficult to throw things away. I wouldn’t say that he lives entirely in the past but he is a little fearful of relinquishing previous experiences and hanging on to photos, postcards, letters, ornaments and newspaper clippings is his way of getting in touch with previous joyful feelings. I agreed with him that a significant part of a nice activity is the ability to look back on it.
The first line of L.P. Hartley’s “The Go Between” is “The past is a foreign country. They do things differently there”. This is supposed to signify that our memories are unreliable. Mementos, presumably, help our memories more accurately represent the truth.
To my mind, living in the present is more important than living in the past or the future. It used to annoy me when a group of us would meet up for beers after work and we would waste valuable talking time discussing who else was likely to join us. Enjoy the moment! This reminds me when I was the first person to arrive on one occasion and was joined by another teacher who I barely knew. I thought we were having a good chat and when I offered to get her another drink, she declined and said she would have to go shortly. At this point Pete joined us and offered her a drink. She said she would because, and I’m not making this up, “things have got more interesting”. I guess she was finding the present to be dull but anticipated the future would be good.
What I can remember about my time at The Oval is feeling happy when I was there. The seat was brilliant, the cricket was excellent and apart from the company, it was a great day. (Only joking, Andy). I remember when Roo’s MS was first diagnosed and we chatted about how to cope. We agreed that a way forward was to plan nice things so that we could enjoy the present.
Obviously, planning requires us to think about the future. For a few months I was quite apprehensive about going to The Oval for fear of catching COVID but after going to watch Brighton play football, my fears evaporated. During the week preceding the cricket, I was excited and was looking forward to going very much. For me, the pleasure in anticipation is an important aspect of any activity. Sometimes my expectations are not fulfilled and the most pleasurable part of the activity is in anticipation. My friend told me that when he went to see his uncle, to take him out on the trip, his uncle took one look at him and said “What a lovely surprise!” My friend had told his uncle, on several occasions, that he was coming to see him but his uncle had forgotten. There had been no joy of anticipating something nice.
For my friend’s uncle, the only pleasure he is getting now is in the present moment. Remembering the past and anticipating the future are not within his grasp any more. Does this invalidate the pleasure that he had in the moment? I think not. I don’t remember every pot of Ben And Jerry’s Waffle Cone ice cream I’ve ever eaten but I know I enjoyed them all. Some of the best drinking sessions after work have happened on the spur of the moment without any planning, anticipation or expectations. Planning and remembering are not essential ingredients for a pleasurable experience.
“The past. Well now. Let me tell you about the past. The past is filled with silent joys and broken toys. Laughing girls and teasing boys. Was I ever in love? I called it love. I mean, it felt like love. There were moments when… Well, there were moments when.”
This is the dramatic first verse of “Past, Present And Future” by The Shanghai-La’s. The only musical accompaniment is a piano playing Beethoven’s moonlight sonata. The singer is remembering her childhood. “Laughing girls and teasing boys” describe an ordinary, happy existence but what were the “silent joys” and what led to the “broken toys”? Bearing in mind, what is to come in the song, what has happened to result in such a broken woman?
“The present. Go out with you? Why not? Do I like to dance? Of course. Take a walk along the beach tonight? I’d love to. But don’t try to touch me. Don’t try to touch me because that will never happen again”
This verse gives a hint as to what has happened. “Don’t try to touch me”. Is this a song about child abuse? Rape? She has been broken. She understands that her life needs to get back to normal but she can’t bring herself to get physically or emotionally close to a boy. Or a girl.
“Shall we dance”
As the strings swoop into the song, I can imagine a sad, emotionally bruised girl dancing on the sand with a sensitive but confused boy who wants to support her but is finally rejected through no fault of his own. She is dancing with tears running down her cheeks, the moonlight illuminating her sadness as she tries, unsuccessfully, to forget her pain and live in the moment. She is broken and can see no way to rid herself of her ghastly memories.
“The future. Tomorrow? Well, tomorrow is a long way off. Maybe some day I’ll have somebody’s hand. Maybe somewhere, someone will understand. You know, I used to sing a-tisket, a-tasket, a green and yellow basket. I’m all packed up and I’m on my way and I’m going to fall in love. But at the moment, it doesn’t look good. At the moment, it will never happen again. I don’t think it will ever happen again.
The past, present and future all combine in this verse. She used to be happy and sung nursery rhymes (“A-Tisket A-Tasket”) but right now, she needs to get away. As to what is going to happen in the future, she has no idea. She can’t really even think about tomorrow. The future is bleak. She can’t imagine ever recovering from her past.
Blimey! What a song.
I once asked Martin what he thought of “Forrest Gump” and he hurrumphed “Sentimental American Bullshit”. He might say the same about this song. I think I love it because it is sentimental, it’s certainly American and it’s obviously a simplified fantasy which could be called bullshit. To me “Sentimental American Bullshit” is a compliment.
“Remember (Walking In The Sand)” starts with Mary Weiss singing about how her lover went away “across the sea” and subsequently wrote to tell her that their relationship was over. At the end of the verse she screams “Oh No! Oh No No No!” and her sister Betty Weiss along with the twins Marge and Marie Anne Ganser sing “Remember” over and over while Mary Weiss recalls “walking in the sand”, “walking hand in hand”, “the night was so exciting”, “his smile was so inviting”, “then he touched my cheek”, “with his fingertips” at which the memories become overwhelming as she cries out “softly we’d meet with our lips”. As she begs to understand she asks “whatever happened to the boy that I once knew”. The background singers and the piano soar into a dense emotional cloud. As the noise of the seagulls and crashing waves threatens to overwhelm her, the song fades out until all that’s left is “Remember” sung over and over.
Blimey! What a song.
The Shanghai-Las music was written and produced by George “Shadow” Morton who approached an old girlfriend of his called Ellie Greenwich with a view to getting a songwriting job in The Brill Building in New York. She was writing songs like “Then He Kissed Me,” “Da Doo Ron Ron” and “River Deep Mountain High” with Jeff Barry. Shadow Morton was hired but hadn’t actually written any songs at this stage so he drove to a beach on Long Island and wrote “Remember (Walking In The Sand)”. He then hired The Shanghai-Las to record a demo of the song (with Billy Joel playing piano), which impressed Jeff Barry enough to offer George Morton and The Shangri-Las a contract with Red Bird Records. At this stage Mary Weiss was 15, Betty Weiss was 17 and the Ganser twins were 16. The original version of the song was over seven minutes long but it was faded out after 2:16.
“I Can Never Go Home Any More” is even more moving. It starts with a teenage rant about how a girl’s mother is annoying her so much that she is going to run away. The tone softens as the main part of the song starts. It takes the form of an older girl who has run away giving advice to her younger self, begging her not to. The first verse describes a girl falling in love with a boy. The last line is “And that’s called glad”. In the second verse, she recalls how her mother forbade her to see the boy because she was too young. “And that’s called bad”. In the third verse, she describes how she ran away, only to soon forget about the boy. “I remember being tucked in bed and hearing my mama say ‘Hush little baby don’t you cry. Mama won’t go away’” at which point she screams “Mama”. In the final verse, she advises her younger self to tell her mother that she loves her and give her a hug. In the future reality, her mother never recovered from her daughter running away and in the end, “The angels picked her for their friend”. The final line is “I can never go home any more and that’s called sad” at which point the song abruptly stops.
Blimey! Sentimental American Bullshit at its finest.
This album contains the well known hit, “Leader Of The Pack” along with other fine songs. The three songs that I have described here perfectly encapsulate the conflicting feelings that can emerge over periods of time. The past. The present. The future.