For Whom The Bell Tolls
So this is probably going to be my last newsletter of the year, for the simple reason that I write these on a Sunday and the next Sunday is Xmas Day, which means Saturday is Xmas Eve, Friday is my last chance to get shopping done and anything before then is a workday. So unless I feel a burning desire to spam your inboxes, it's not happening. Next newsletter after this one will be as I tend my hangover on New Year's Day 2023, nursing myself back to health with a list of musical favorites of the past year.
I don't think I'm going to be posting a link to that one on Twitter, for various obvious reasons - the most obvious right now being that the Genius Brilliant Wonder Success Mind Who Cannot Fail has... in wisdom that must surely be classed as beyond infinite... banned links.
So far, just links to minor sites you wouldn't have heard of with names like Facebook, Instagram and (whisper it) M*st*d*n - but I'm pretty sure sites like this parish's own Ghost will fall under the laser gaze of The Infallible Business Christ soon enough, along with whatever else pierces the micron-thin skin of The Man With The Most Flavorsome Boots In The World. Wait, wait! Breaking news - in the last twenty minutes, literally as I'm putting this together, The Man Who Absolutely Knows How Things Work And What He's Doing has taken yet more unsolicited business advice from one of his own far right reply guys and is now only going after accounts that exist only to promote other websites! Like... mine, now. Oh.
So the saga of Twitter and this newsletter is probably done. At last count, I've enticed just over five hundred of you over here from there, and hopeully you're enjoying my presence in your inbox - I do have plans to expand this a little in 2023 and do more with it, but I need to think about how that'll work in practice.
So in the meantime, let's talk news - what's out next week? Zip, zilch, nada, sweet fanny adams. But the week after...
WHAT'S OUT IN TWO WEEKS?
VENOM #14, that's what!
It's part of the DARK WEB crossover, in which Spider-Man goes on the Silk Road to buy edibles NO WAIT SORRY actually it's about clones with justified moans MADDIE PRYOR and BEN REILLY teaming up to put the hurt on Spidey. the X-Men and the whole of New York City. Readers who picked up VENOM #13 will know how Eddie Brock ended up in Limbo, Maddie's current neck of the woods - but how does he end up reverting to the creature trying to gnash Spidey's face off on the cover? And what brings him to the X-Men's NYC HQ? Find out the Wednesday after next - with art by BRYAN HITCH and ANDREW CURRIE!
But that's a mere appetiser compared to that week's big feast...
WE ONLY FIND THEM WHEN THEY'RE DEAD #15!
WOFTWTD has taken a few twists and turns since its original conception - the "autopsy ships" that were the original selling point ended up taking a backseat to an ever-growing world of changing politics, driven by obsessive quests for knowledge, every twist and turn expertly brought to life by artist, designer and co-creator SIMONE DI MEO. I think this is the ending the book needed and deserved - we leave behind us a vast universe with almost two hundred years of history that each of us can dive back into to tell more stories if we choose - Simone knows he has full permission from me to tell more stories here if he should ever feel the need, and let's face it, there's room.
But I hope you like this issue. And I hope you like what I do next. I've got a few ideas.
FAB FIVE: SAD PHONE CALL SONGS
Since we keep doing "top fives" in this space, let's make it an official semi-regular thing. Only now it's "fab five" because even I can't pretend these are the top of their class, though I'll keep doing my best to place them in a rough and mercurial ascending order of quality - or at least the order at time of posting.
The "sad phone call" micro-genre of pop song has three rules. RULE ONE: There is a phone call. RULE TWO: It involves a relationship. RULE THREE: The caller is sad. How many songs fit in this category? So many songs, dear reader. Here are five.
DAVE LOGGINS brings us a pretty basic form of the genre in "PLEASE COME TO BOSTON" - and in this relationship it's the dude who's left, LIKE A HIPPY, to find himself. Loggins spends various phone calls attempting to attract his love to various locales, each of which sound pretty and picturesque but also fleeting - long holidays and gap years rather than real lives. Even LA, where he seems to really want to build a life, feels paper-thin, as reedy as his voice in the verses next to the growly chorus, which he sets things off with a rrrramblin' rollin' R, and ends with the knockout punch of "I'm the number-one fan of the man from Tennessee" - emphasis on "man", of course, because the Dude In Question won't truly be an Honest Man again until he returns to his roots and her bed. LA is his last gasp, where he stakes it all, promising a forever in a beachside house that I'm not sure how this rootless hepcat could afford without robbing a major financial institution. But it's also when we know he's broken - the proximity to the faded stars may be thrilling, but we can hear in his voice that he doesn't grok the city and he can't make a life there work any more than he could anywhere else. The dream is dead. This man will die in Tennessee.
LAPTOP does the classic phone-tone opening with "BACK TOGETHER", and let me tell you, this is a hard band to find on YouTube. This is another dude who has left, but unlike Loggins' sweet drifter, we are absolutely not meant to feel sympathy. Laptop have a great line in songs by sleazy douches unable to fathom their own lack of success - "Gimme The Night" is their standout in that field - but lyrically, a whole lot of work is put into this particular piece of work, from the "yeah, I've been fine / well actually NOT REALLY" that starts the whole unloading process, to the threat to murder the new boyfriend followed by a wheedling "hey come on I'm kidding! / BUT DOES HE MAKE YOU HAPPY?" This is a type of guy who's all too common.
What we'll see more than once on this list is the counterpoint between the transcript of the call and the inner thoughts behind it. Here, one bleeds into the other - "I could not find anything better / so I'm crawling back" might be the way this conversation ends, a despairing confession after everything else is chipped away, or it might just be a private admission for the listener. But as usual with the Laptop Dude, the deepest truth is the growled "It might be time... TO GET IT ON!"
RAH Band bring us a different kind of phone entirely in "CLOUDS ACROSS THE MOON", but the conversation is as old as time. In fact, if we were to cut out the groovy space costumes and sets in the video and the spoken bits with the "intergalactic operator", we'd be left with quite a standard tale of long-distance heartbreak - even the "crazy war" the singer mentions might be a laser battle between alien civilizations or just plain old marital strife. But setting it in space - a glam/disco/camp ultra-tin-foil version of space where the least exciting entity is the alleged heartthrob Flight-Captain P.R. Johnson, who's a silent, expressionless, almost Kryten-like figure even in the presence of a seeming "other woman" in a cone-boobed Space Dress - is what makes the song, and it's notable that the most heartbreaking bit of all this isn't the desperate apologies of the singer for overstepping invisible bounds, but the final twist, where the "deep-space communication" is cut off and it's revealed that for whatever reason (expense? orbital trajectory?) the singer can only make a short call once a year, which puts the long distance nature of the relationship and the singer's anxiety in a different light.
This is the twelve-inch version, so the revelation is undercut slightly by a snazzy instrumental and a repeat of the chorus. It also doesn't help that the sexiest person in the video is the Intergalactic Operator.
JIMMY WEBB is almost disqualified from the list on a technicality with "CRYING IN MY SLEEP" - is this strictly a phone call? He knocks the receiver off the phone while doing the titular crying and speaks briefly to the operator - but after the operator sets him up with a mandated "Can I help you?", the absolute presence of mind that comes back with a husky "No thanks baby, tonight there ain't no help for me..." propels this nearly to the top of the list, a truly classic "please feel sorry and also horny for me" manoeuvre as only a Guitar Dude Of The 70s could pull it off.
The whole song is built around this moment - a portrait of a man stumbling through the wreckage in the aftermath of... what? A breakup? A bereavement? Uniquely on this list, the ex is missing rather than off-camera - they're being sung at, not to, in a way that feels very obvious in the totality of their absence in what is otherwise a very structured and realised life - the yard, the dogs, the bar, a book seemingly written by the ex that the narrator has apparently read through before but can't again. The phone accident is built up to convincingly as a rising tide of anguish, the end beat of a day of attempts to carry on, each one endured, suffered through until it's time for the end of another day and another bad dream, another night of tears that nobody can help. While I love this song a lot - and "tonight there ain't no help for me" is still a very fun bit on first hearing - picking the song apart like this has made me uneasy. I don't think this was a breakup at all.
HAROLD MELVIN & THE BLUE NOTES with "I MISS YOU" is a masterclass in this field. It does SO MUCH - and all of it well.
To begin with, we have a classic in a whole other genre common to Motown - the "broken man" song. Someone has gone and the singer isn't just broken, but utterly shattered. All pride is out the window, all pretense is finished, the dude is barely hanging on and wants you - both the listener and the ex - to know the entire deal. (To digress, "Baby I Need Your Loving" by the Four Tops is the king of these, with the line "If you see me smiling, you know / things have gotten worse.") The backing singers keep up a steady cadence, a soft, gentle, repeating rhythm, building four ordered walls for the singer to burst through, rampage around, sonically rending his garments and tearing his hair, the rhyme scheme slowly reducing down to blurted explosions of emotional truth - "without you, baby, there ain't no future!" "I don't know what to do with myself, what to do with my time!"
And then something wonderful happens. The singer drops away, to the background of the mix, to be replaced in the foreground by a speaker. The pride is still there. The pretense is still running. The phone call is only now being made.
The speaker is calm and collected - in fact, the first we hear of him is a contemptuous "Hmmh!", as if shushing the anguished thoughts of the singer, before he begins his speech. A little hesitant, here and there - he's calling late, he's feeling her out - but he's come armed. He knows she was asking about him. "I'm all alone and I miss you baby!" yells the singer, but for the speaker it's just a slight pause, before the admission, the confession - he wanted to call, but he was too proud. And saying those words, he's almost drowned out - the singer taking back control, yelling out what he needs her to hear, begging and pleading, the literal undercurrent to the words.
The singer does not subside - if anything, he seems more feverish, more desperate - but the speaker takes back control of the song, projecting confidence, making his pitch. He's got a gig - "plain J-O-B, baby", "all the overtime I can get" - and the way he says it makes it clear that it's an offering. Is it enough? He hesitates. "I don't know, I guess it might be too late, but -"
"BUT WITHOUT YOU I'D DIE!" screams the singer, completing his own background thought and launching into another chorus, another rampage around the beat, a stream of consciousness ending in "What am I gonna do? WHAT CAN I SAY?"
At which point the speaker says he's won the lottery.
I'm only now coming to the realisation that he might be blurting out a lie, but the way it's delivered is more subtle, that literally winning the jackpot might not be enough to salvage things. "Don't want you to think I'm trying to buy back your love or your friendship", he says, before turning the conversation to their son - the first we're hearing of him, a third-act twist. What light does this put him not calling before in? The longing in his voice is as clear as the singer's now, who at this point is howling "I KNOW YOU FOUND SOMEBODY NEW!" as the speaker's conversation finds new depths of hesitation and awkwardness. "Does he still like to go down by the... supermarket?" It sounds like a guess, like he has no idea, and the speaker collapses. "If I could just see you... can't really say what you mean or what you want over the phone..." A repudiation of the entire song structure, an admission of defeat, a surrender. "I swear I done changed... I swear I done changed..." the speaker repeats helplessly, as everything swells around him and fades, taking him with it. This was his shot - maybe the best, the only shot he had.
Now it's over.
IS THAT IT?
That probably is it until 2023 - though I've been having a lot of thoughts about the game Hitman 3, which I've played more than any other game this year, and how it relates to The Witness, which I 100%ed in the summer. Is there a game that came out this year which I formed a special bond with? Does it fit in that thesis? Will I end up posting through a hangover about it? Find out in two weeks!
Until then - we've made it through another Sunday, so this is still where to find me. Love and strength to you all. Playing us out with another phone call - "8675-309/Jenny" by Tommy Tutone.