Someone Else’s Clothes

Check out some memories I don’t recognise
Another country and another life
Oh oh

I find I’m strolling on a distant shore
To meet someone I’ve never seen before
Oh oh

I’m wearing someone else’s clothes again
Walking in the streets I know again
Back in the old familiar glow again
I’m wearing someone else’s clothes

Painting quiet pictures in my ear
We’re driving fast without a wish to steer
Oh oh

Driving underneath the deep blue sleep
I’m always surfacing in summer sheets
Oh oh

I’m wearing someone else’s clothes again
Walking in the streets I know again
Back in the old familiar glow again
I’m wearing someone else’s clothes

Transfer me into a Saturday crowd
Or merge me back into a factory town
Oh oh

I’m waking up to such a splendid moon
I’m making love with someone andI don’t know who
Oh oh

I’m wearing someone else’s clothes again
Walking in the streets I know again
Back in the old familiar glow again
I’m wearing someone else’s clothes

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.

You know those moments when you just drift off on the tide? Sometimes a little too far, and your thoughts manifest into a kind of daydream? You wake up and realise that you’ve been miles away…
Such are the times when we waltz back through our own timelines, visiting the places we’ve been and re-engaging with people we once knew. Absently reflecting on these experiences, it can be as if they happened to someone else. Another version of ourselves that we hardly recognised. The scenes of a former life are played out on the conscience like film sequences, and we watch from our detached state at the back of a huge white cinema where there are only three seats, set against the farthest wall.

Throughout this song, Foxx plays with identity, time and space. He narrates the sequences in the first person, but speaks from different perspectives and dimensions. His almost-spoken voice comes in from different dimensions as the song progresses. At some point looking back at himself as An Earlier Man, walking though ‘another country’ visiting memories he has long since forgotten, meeting an unidentified someone. There is a sense that it will be a woman, but – in typical fashion – their identity remains an undisclosed mystery, leaving the listener to superimpose their own situation onto the scene.

The act of “wearing someone else’s clothes” not only makes the protagonist unrecognisable to himself, it brings the persona of a third person in to the mix. Each of us, to a different extend, takes on qualities, characteristics and other effects of all the people we have met. They each leave traces. The ashes of a laugh on our sleeve as we brush against them. Dust of roses and the vaguest hint of perfume. In the silence of our thoughts, echoes of others connect us with remembered situations. Foxx has recently discovered a grey suit in an Oxfam shop, purchased it and uses the suit to literally ‘disappear’ in to the Saturday crowds. In the suit, he becomes invisible, undetected by those around him and feels he can move more freely, detached from expectation. The Quiet Man.

And how he rejoices in that freedom! The exuberant, expressive chorus is sung with more passion and vigour than the verses. “Yes, now I’m here, back where I belong. Now you can’t see me at all,  and I can walk and dance and drink and sink with interchangeable enemies and friends. I like it here, it’s warm and familiar. I can slip through any crowd, and me and my shadow, we just dissolve. And I can be someone else – I can be ‘me’!!”

The movie projected before us – for you are now beside me – changes pace erratically. Scenes move across our screens slowly, quietly and we feel ourselves drawn into them, only to bounce of the glass as it were that of a speeding train. At times it is almost uncontrollably fast and we hang on, flicking our eyes, seeking an image we can hang on to and re-establish ourselves. No need to steer, we are on a moving stairway. In a rollercoaster cart. There’s no-one driving…

Some places are familiar – a distant beach somewhere, or a factory town in the industrial north of England. It’s still 1958 there, and the moon still rises silver over the rolling moors, lighting the chimneys and warehouses with a cold, white light and shadows. That’s me look, walking up the hillside. I can see myself waving at someone in the distance. Is that you? Surely, it must be?

Don’t you remember that hat? You picked it up one day from the market in Corporation Street.
I have never really liked it.

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Hiroshima Mon Amour

Somehow we drifted off too far
Communicate like distant stars
Splintered voices down the ‘phone
The sunlit dust, the smell of roses drifts, oh no
Someone waits behind the door
Hiroshima mon amour

Riding inter-city trains
Dressed in European grey
Riding out to Echo Beach
A million memories in the trees and sands, oh no
How can I ever let them go?
Hiroshima mon amour

Meet beneath the autumn lake
Where only echoes penetrate
Walk through polaroids of the past
Features fused like shattered glass
The sun’s so low
Turns our silhouettes to gold
Hiroshima mon amour

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.

A distant hum. Is it human, or machine? Look, there – something is coming, across the lake. Hard to make out exactly what it is and where it comes from. It has little form to speak of, it’s more of a presence. A mood or an atmosphere. There would appear to be some kind of romantic longing at its heart and it moves with a film-noir elegance – but it certainly has nothing to do with the movie. Not that movie, anyway.

Foxx has asserted that the title of this song may be the same as Alain Resnais’ 1959 anti-war film but he chose the phrase because he liked it, especially the juxtaposition of images created by the words. If JG Ballard made it OK to get some erotic sensation from a car-crash scenario, then lets take it further. What about the idea of falling in love with the atomic bomb…?
He considers the dislocation of war, the fracturing of society and relationships.

“Somehow we drifted off to far…”

His reference to the “splintered voices down the phone” connects with the personal story of an uncle returning from WWII and finding that friends and family had moved on. There was suddenly no-one to connect with. It’s an idea (an indeed similar minimalist phrasing) that he revisits a year later on Underpass. But there’s more to it than that, and the lines have many layers of meaning depending on the listener’s point of entry. Hiroshima is a song of love, longing and loss.

As such, it is a masterpiece of poetic Foxxian multi-media songwriting. Three similar verses, delivered in a voice-over narrative style with very little other dialogue. The clarity and strength of the lyric becomes that of the narrator’s memory, enabling him to travel back in time. As it emerges from the mist on the lake, gently brooding, the song takes the form of a science fiction ‘featurette’, a short film, telling the story of a post-nuclear war experiment in time travel. The lyrics describe a colourful, sensual score, but the photomontage itself is most definitely black-and-white. The verses and music dissolve one into another, a film-making technique creating continuity and rhythm.

Image-075

The narrator describes a relationship that spans both time and distance, recalled through vague and specific romanticised memories. The touch and smells of a new experience or situation evoke recollections of the past and bring them right into the present – a distant lover is suddenly there, behind the door. Glimpsed for a moment. There is a taste of both regret and desire in the twilight of longing, a hope and despair.

Non-chronological temporal displacement?

Evidence of time travel, perhaps?

Nothing sorts memories from ordinary moments.
They claim remembrance when they show their scars.

Fear In The Western World

Your picture of yourself is a media myth
Underneath this floor we’re on the edge of a cliff
Someone told me Jesus was the Devil’s lover
While we masturbated on a magazine cover

Dead in the streets
Who’s that girl?
Ireland screams
Africa burns
Suburbia stumbles
The tides are turned
I can feel the fear in the Western world…

Mama’s still on Valium, daddy puts the news on
TV orphans laugh at the confusion
The audience finds itself on the stage
Fifty million people in a state of decay

Dead in the streets
Who’s that girl?
Ireland screams
Africa burns
Suburbia stumbles
The tides are turned
I can feel the fear in the Western world…

I can feel the fear in the Western world
I can feel the fear in the Western world
I can feel the fear in the Western
The Western world

The party goes on behind elevator doors
While the elevator plummets from the 69th floor
All the cars lost in the scrapyards of paradise
The newspaper photographs have all come alive

Dead in the streets
Who’s that girl?
Ireland screams
Africa burns
Suburbia stumbles
The tides are turned
I can feel the fear in the Western world…

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.

 

A rare thing this. John Foxx ‘getting political’? John Foxx writing a chorus? Neither have featured with any degree of frequency in his catalogue over the past 35 years.

It’s also a lyric that is distinctly more ‘connected’ than some of others. More relational than observational. He is examining the way in which fact and fiction are connected, the relationship between our perceptions of truth and our imagination. And in a style that has become a characteristic of all his artistic output, he places himself somewhere in the space between the two so that it becomes impossible, irrelevant and counter-productive trying to establish which he is describing.

And the agent that presents these images, theses perceived truths and fictions, is media. Not ‘the’ media (a term generally relating to the press), but ‘media’ as channels of communication. Any means by which information is transferred from one individual to another. A photograph, a story, a film. Software, songs, news. As Foxx recently described when describing his entire career in one paragraph to students at Edgehill University in Liverpool, media is everything, everywhere:

“[My career has been] about media really, and how completely enveloped in it we are, without realising. Like fish don’t see water, we are in this sea of media and we don’t really know that we are. It holds all our beliefs, or we take all our beliefs and views of the world from it, without actually realising that we don’t experience any of that stuff ourselves. We don’t experience wars directly… we didn’t walk on the moon. It’s always through media. It’s the biggest belief system we have, apart from religions. It’s extremely powerful. And it’s even more powerful because it’s pretty well invisible. People aren’t aware of it. People take facts from media without even questioning them.

He warns us with an uncomfortable reminder that even the image we have of ourselves is not the truth, but in fact a myth generated, circulated and re-enforced by the media that surrounds us and by which we communicate. We ourselves are no more ‘real’ than a story in a newspaper, or a photograph. The way we dress, the things we do, the image we present to others is all manufactured, with intent and subconsciously – crafted to communicate a particular message.

But it’s not necessarily a lie. It’s a “myth”. All cultures have myths. Legends, stories with great symbolic power that have existed and evolved for generations until they have become accepted as a kind of reality.

And that reality can be very immediate, very temporary and very, very small. Take the room you are sitting in now. If I were there beside you, talking perhaps, maybe at a party, we could engender a reality that isolated us from everyone else’s and certainly from what was really happening outside the room.
For all we know (and less we care), the room could be moving, or in danger imminent collapse. It may not be a room at all, but could be so insular that it becomes no bigger than a lift car – the metaphor extends to a point that it is perilously stretched and so thin that our ‘reality’ becomes fragile and unsafe.

People could tell us anything, and we would believe them. Stories that we read in the newspaper will feed our truth and our opinions, but may not necessarily be  a factual representation of the truth. At worse, they could present an altogether different message, persuading us to accept a radically opposite, uncomfortable and dangerous other version of what is ‘true’…

Through the song, Foxx references ‘media’ in tangible product like newspapers, magazines and television. His blasphemy is considered and deliberate in that opening verse. For many, the Bible holds fundamental truths. The ‘gospel truth’, if you will. Foxx sets this against the ‘fantasy’ world presented in a pornographic magazine – no less real and affecting. Or possibly more so, set in the context of how moral values, judgements and behaviour can be shaped by the textual and visual images presented in these diametric sources of reference…

From the television news, Foxx selects stories of the violent civil war in Angola, where South African, Cuban, American and Soviet troops and politicians fought violently for supremacy; and the ongoing political ‘troubles’ in Northern Ireland. All this broadcast into the homes of children sat in front of television sets, either oblivious to or escaping from the instability of their domestic environment. He re-introduces thoughts on the invasive, destabilising influence of television on fundamental values and truths – breeding a generation of TV Orphans that he first wrote of in 1975

In making this observation, Foxx alludes to his fascination with the ideas of philosopher and intellectual Marshall McLuhan. In his best known book “Understanding Media :  The Extensions Of Man”, (1964) Marshall suggests that it is the medium itself that shapes and controls “the scale and form of human association and action”, not necessarily the message it carries.

The message of a newscast about a heinous crime, for example, [such as a Belfast bombing] may be less about the individual news story itself — the content — and more about the change in public attitude towards crime that the newscast engenders by the fact that such crimes are in effect being brought into the home to watch over dinner.

Underlying this song is the fundamental message that media has effects which may be more significant than its content. These effects organise us as individuals and as a society. The effects are perceptual, environmental, political, social, and experiential responses. Media changes our understanding of reality, and distorts our perception of it.

Life cools down when the truth gets hot
If you get too hot in there feel the pressure drop
Even when you’re dead
You’ll be buried in the box…

The Man Who Dies Every Day

Someone stood beside me for a moment in the rain
A silhouette, a cigarette and a gesture of disdain
I felt a dark door open, saw a sudden ghost come through
A spark leap from my fingertip and I knew it must be you

Ain’t you the man who dies every day?
You’re the man who dies every day
You’re the man

We never saw you walk in
We never saw you leave
You flicked the ashes of a laugh
On everybody’s sleeve
You always play that funny pack
of cards without an ace
And every street you ever walked
is mapped out on your face

‘Cause you’re the man who dies every day
You’re the man who dies every day
You’re the man

You always kept a sunset behind your lonely shoulder
You never showed on photographs and you never grew much older
You flicker like a shaky shadow, move in like a thief
You never drop your facade and you never seek relief

‘Cause you’re the man who dies every day
You’re the man who dies every day
You’re the man who dies every day
You’re the man who dies every day
You’re the man

 

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.

Nothing exists until or unless it is observed. An artist is making something exist by observing it. And his hope for other people is that they will also make it exist by observing it. William Burroughs called it ‘creative observation.’ John Foxx calls it ‘songwriting’ :

“I don’t like to be too specific… That’s the wonderful thing about words. They seem to be specific, but they’re not really… I especially like to find words that can easily be specific to different interpretations. Everyone brings their own experience to them, and I find that tremendously exciting.”

As far as examples of finely worked observational songwriting goes, Man Who Dies Every Day is John Foxx at his creative finest. He has honed the lyrics to a perfect cutting edge, balanced on which is a ghost, walking unseen on a crowded street; the eponymous lead figure in a low-budget second feature horror movie. His title would look just perfect on a poster in the great B-Movie tradition of The Thing From Another World, The incredible Shrinking Man, Robot Monster or the legendary H-Man.

third_man_xlg

The verses he has created in which to set this Imaginary Man are structured in a form known as iambic heptameter, which sounds horrifically like some kind of oozing, flesh-eating jelly. It’s a technique popular with poets in the 16th and 17th centuries, using fourteen syllables to a line, a meter that was later favoured by Lord Byron and Edgar Allan Poe.  Rhyming couplets can be presented in two lines, or broken into four – literally known as ballad stanza. Foxx lyrics to this song can be presented in both forms, and the second verse is shown here broken into four lines as an example. See how the eighth metric foot of the first ‘line’ is a pause, allowing him to repeat ‘We never…’ to extend the dramatic effect; and how the title itself comprises seven feet?
Poetic craftsmanship.

The way in which this lyric scans makes it among my favourites in John Foxx entire catalogue. It has clearly been shaped, but with so much care and attention that the effects of the labour are smooth, rhythmic and flowing, rather than trite and forced.

Right from the first line we are taken to the scene from a dream cinema, the opening sequence from a short film. You know I hate to ask, but who is this mysterious figure, cast in shadow? Shrouded in a long coat and grey hat. Smoking a cigarette. Could it be Carol Reed’s Third Man – acclaimed as one of the great masterpieces of film-noir cinematography. This is well-spun poetry, evocative songwriting. Is there just one, perhaps two different men being described in the narrative. Or more? Just who is the Man Who Dies Every Day?

In William Burroughs 1953 novel, he is a junkie, running on junk time. Out of synch. A man who lives only between each fix. When the supply of junk is cut off, the clock runs down and stops. A man who has become all that he is ever going to be and who has reached his point of endless departure.

“When you stop growing, you start dying”

Or is the junk instead some kind of static energy? Is this the half-finished boy from one of John Foxx own stories, a figure ‘assembled’ from bits and pieces of memorabilia, junk, electricity and hope? Fuelled into the vaguest of un-lives by the spark of electroflesh generated from bits of metal found in overgrown laboratories.

Whoever he is, we know him. We all know him well, and he features somewhere in the imagination of each of us. That is what makes him indefinably real. We don’t know where he came from and we did not see exactly when he left. His movements defy any kind of location or chronology. Time itself is not linear, it drifts around us like smoke casting us back and forth through our timelines. Marching across our own screens, our future’s not returning
He cuts a familiar, yet threatening figure and we are uncomfortable in his absence / presence. Perhaps he is not a man at all, but a memory? Consider that for a moment. Call to mind an experience to which you would rather not admit; a relationship you prefer not to acknowledge. A secret, whose mystery is clearly written in the lines mapped out on your face?

There are countless interpretations of who he is and what he represents. To a young Gary Numan for example, himself a by-product of Burroughs creative observation, the Man Who Dies Every Day became a teenager whose ‘junk’ is masturbation –  “I unstick pages and read…”

In being different to each one of us, he becomes a fictional truth.
And when falsehood can look so like the truth, who can assure themselves of certain happiness?

As Victor Frankenstein relates in Mary Shelley’s gothic novel, “The whole series of my life appeared to me as a dream; I sometimes doubted if indeed it were all true, for it never presented itself to my mind with the force of reality.”

While I’m Still Alive

Playing the game
With the chips on my shoulder
Checking in the mirror
As my coffee cup gets colder

Stagger and swagger
Combing my hair
If tomorrow’s not there
Then at least today’s all mine

While I’m still alive
While I’m still alive
While I’m still alive

Strutting my stuff
I’m bragging the damage
From coupling with headlines
I was suckled on salvage

The fighting’s exciting
The age is dramatic
I’m crackling with static
Just jiving to survive

While I’m still alive
While I’m still alive
While I’m still alive

Take a stroll down the side roads
I know you want to
A shock in the dark
Can be good for your heart, oh yeah

While I’m still alive
While I’m still alive
While I’m still alive
While I’m still alive

Scuffling along
On the crest of a wave
Laughing and grafting
Or jerking and working

Striking a match
Where life is a gas
I need the flash
To make it all worthwhile

While I’m still alive
While I’m still alive
While I’m still alive

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.

 

In this song Foxx returns to the Rue Morgue Avenue, strutting his stuff with the Stones and the Wide Boys. Jumpin’ Jack meets Flash Harry down one of the unlit alleyways off Main Street. Dealin’ and stealin’ (or jerking and working?). Duckin’ and divin’, yet barely surviving. The candle is burning brightly, from both ends. The fuse is short and sparking already.

Life is too short to mess around with sentimental attachments, with romance and conversation. He’s the one in the spotlight, the one everyone has their eye on. The man that all the girls want to bed, and the man that all the boys want to be. He moves through the streets and bars with a swaggering arrogance, aloof and brimming with self-importance. The man of the moment, a special offer must-have get-it-while-you-can. Yet vain and superficial, acutely aware that underneath it all is an uncomfortable void and an awareness that as long as he can trade on his looks, the future is just around the corner and the present is very short.

This brings and urgency to the lyrics and their delivery – short lines with direct imagery, uncomplicated by too much poetic creativity and external references. No baggage. Travel light, and move on. 

No gratitude. Bad attitude. The likes of him will always come from trash. He bears the scars of a childhood spent surviving a crossfire hurricane, hand-to-mouth and hand-me-downs – all the ingredients of an explosive cocktail. A suspect device, primed to explode. Just light the match. It’s a gas, gas, gas…

But without the violence, the petty crime and the idolatry there is nothing.

And how we run from that, in our million different ways