Distant Smile

Sometimes I find I drift away
Behind a distant smile…

Light years ago I think someone spoke
Quizzical glances behind cigarette smoke
She drew the curtains at the end of the day
And then we laughed because the room sailed away

Glances glitter in the summer arcades
Then autumn leaves fall by a winter lane
Piano echoes and the perfume still lingers
But she fell through my fingers like sand
With a distant smile
A distant smile
A distant smile
Somehow I always seem to be adrift in other times with a distant smile

Take off above the sound of the streets
The city’s glittering like diamonds in heat
A secret destination, touch down in the haze
As the cameraman pans away

Hey, look, it’s a long, lost horizon
A private ocean, you can surface at sunrise in
Hearts well vandalled, dodging logic
But nevertheless still permanently surprised
Behind a distant smile
A distant smile
A distant smile
Somehow I always seem to be adrift in other times behind a distant smile



Lyrics © John Foxx.

Thoughts on the text © Martin Smith and translated from birdsong.
Link to the post by all means, but please don’t reproduce the content without permission.


We are back at that cocktail party in the Plaza hotel. New York, 1933. A man, a woman and a city. Cut in with observations from a detached state of mind, views from the hotel room overlooking the busy street below.
Foxx is writing as if he has just woke from a trance or a dream, perhaps after the encounter he describes in Slip Away. Two weeks have past in a few moments. It may even have been a lifetime ago. It’s at least two minutes into the song, building up the scene with a treated piano, echoing the crackling tension described in My Sex.
Structuring the song this way creates the ‘absence’ he is conveying in the lyric.

You know when you’re looking out of a window or you’re not quite present?
You’re with someone but your mind is on something else?

“Were you speaking, or did I say…?”

They exchange a quizzical glance. Across a conversation with a dinner party guest less interesting than themselves and each other. What’s he saying? Are you thinking what I’m thinking? Its a flirtatious situation, a dalliance. They move upstairs to escape the company and be alone together, laughing at how easy it is to end the recording, erase the tape. Stop the film with the flick of a switch.

He goes on to describe what happens during this indeterminate passage of time. This dream. For the second time in as many lines he talks of glances. Moments, fragments of time, a spark of connection. That split second when you are not quite looking at something but suddenly see things more clearly than you would by staring. Rather like the effect created by Da Vinci, patiently layering years of glaze over the mouth of the Mona Lisa with his finger. Creating the shadow of her smile. Blurring the pigments so that she smiles at you most intently when you look into her eyes, not at her lips.

Summer quickly becomes autumn, and thus to winter in a second. He can still hear her voice, but she maybe long gone, leaving only her laughter dancing on the wind.
Once again he uses words and phrases that describe the fragile, shifting nature of people and relationships, their delicate incompleteness. His lover has crumbled to dust in his absence.

He plays with rhythm and poetic techniques, delivering the lines quickly as the song speeds up and the structure fractures. It becomes a cacophonous, disjointed thing – guitar and piano chords chopping in and out with an almost violent persistence. Images flash past the lens as the cameraman pans across the glittering city outside the window. Familiar places, ambitions, half-realised memories and abandoned thought experiments. It becomes intense, frenzied and confusing. Kind of clumsy, and not quite, well, right. The line ‘hearts well vandalled’ suggests that the lovers are not as romantically innocent as the scene might suggest. Instead, the two are now engaged in the animalistic, strangled tango of ROckWrok. ‘Vandalled’ (presumably) is a Foxxian re-purposing of ‘vandalised’ – cut short to fit. Abruptly severed.

Like the song, which brings us sharply back to the notes of the piano at the beginning.
Instead of the gentle introduction though, Foxx is jerked back to consciousness, to the present. It is a pierced, disturbed waking.

“Sorry. What? You were saying…?”
Ah well, maybe, though…
I guess. Is that so?

I see…


One thought on “Distant Smile

  1. Pingback: Frozen Ones | Translated from Birdsong

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