Saturday, January 19, 2013

Tinseltown in the Rain

The Blue Nile "Tinseltown in the Rain" (1984)

"A Walk Across the Rooftops" was released in New Zealand in 1984. I remember the ad in Rip It Up (a then free and fantastic monthly music magazine). It was a quarter page black and white with a picture of the cover, and a few choice lines from reviews found in NME and the like. The video for 'Stay' was shown on 'Radio with Pictures' (a late Sunday night alternative music show). My older brother Jeremy eventually bought the album; a sale price cassette from Radar Records in Cashel St in Christchurch. 

Jeremy played the album a lot. I would hear it from his room drifting into the bathroom and kitchen. 'Tinseltown in the Rain' was more upbeat and strident. I loved the bassline.

To my 12 year old understanding, this album was classy. It seemed so adult and tasteful. The kind of music that might be played at a posh dinner party, where there might be candles. But even then, I think I got the melancholy aspect. There would be a slightly tragic element to the dinner party, like three couples, and one single, recently separated.

I started working at Echo Records in New Regent St with Chris, who was to become my best friend. We had a shared admiration for David Sylvian. It wasn't long until we both worked out we both liked this album too. We would listen to it on late shopping Friday nights. 

By 1989, I was working full time at the same shop. At the end of the year, the first news came through that The Blue Nile were releasing a new album. 'Hats' arrived, and we all went mad for the Blue Nile again. Every morning, I would open the shop and put on 'Hats.' I absolutely loved it. It was lush where 'Rooftops' was sparse. It was hopeful where 'Rooftops' was lost. "A Walk Across the Rooftops' got lost somehow. It would take a few years and a bit more life experience, but I found it again.

During one significantly depressing romance, this song became a lifeline of sorts. 

Do I love you ? Yes I love you 
But it's easy come, and it's easy go 
All this talking is only bravado yeah 

It was bravado. It wasn't love at all. It wasn't easy come or easy go. It was horrible. The song kept my spirits up, when the whole thing was soul destroying, and I knew it. I left The Blue Nile alone for a few years once again, innocent victims of a bad time.

I reacquainted myself with The Blue Nile when I moved in with my wife-to-be Sarah. Now "Tinseltown' sounded like the most wonderful thing in the world:

Do I love you ? Yes I love you 
Will we always be happy go lucky ?

We were starting out in our relationship, and these words spoke of the innocence and hope we had, yet still managed to express that in a way that was not naieve We weren't lovestruck teenagers, we were in our late 20's, and had both had relationships go pearshaped. 'Tinseltown' spoke of new love in a way that was mature and experienced, but also in a way that expressed the complete newness of joining two lives together, hoping it will last.

Years later, we had moved to Australia. I had sold my LP collection before we left, which included my Blue Nile records. (I always thought they sounded better on vinyl.) I found a copy of 'A Walk Across the Rooftops' on CD at JB-HiFi. I hadn't heard the album in years, and was excited to hear it again. It was like visiting an old friend. It was comforting, but it made me homesick. It reminded me of  my brother Jeremy's little room at the back of our house, it reminded me of New Regent St, it reminded me of getting drunk with Chris, it reminded me of many friends who shared this album: Astrid, Jeremy Taylor, Catherine. Over the years we had all listened to this album, carrying on how great it was. The album was a touchstone for many friendships.

In 2012, I returned to Christchurch fr my 40th birthdaywith Sarah and our 9 year old daughter Ivy.Christchurch was not what it used to be. The earthquake of 2011(which I wrote about here) had changed everything about the town. The Blue Nile was in the air. The biography Nileism had just been released, and Paul Buchanan's solo album 'Mid Air' was also just out.

I visited Chris, and of course we listened to 'Rooftops.' It was a deeply moving experience. We have been mates for over twenty years, and this album has been there the whole time. But 'Tinseltown' took on a whole new meaning. The song was now about the city. It hit me how much I missed my home, and the pain that it would never be the way it was before I left.

Is there a place in this city 
A place to always feel this way

 The places that used to feel like that no longer existed. The place where I met Sarah was gone. It was painful knowing I would also be leaving. I would be leaving my family and friends. The song took on greater significance than it had previously had. It was no longer about personal relationships, it was about a network of people and their home.

Tinseltown in the rain 
Oh men and women 
Here we are, caught up in this big rhythm 

It sounds a bit corny, but the big rhythm expressed the edginess of the town that was suffering constant aftershocks. Everyones life rhythms were so different to what I was used to. Travel, shopping, renting, and environment was all at such a different rhythm. And it rained a whole heap when we were there. It was cold, and the city was broken.

Tall buildings reach up in vain 
Tinseltown is in the rain 

Tall buildings were destroyed and empty. They were redundant and terrifying. The one tall building whose reach was never in vain was the Cathedral. It's spire destroyed, it no longer reached at all. 

Returning back to Australia, I could not listen to 'Tinseltown.'The idea of it upset me too much. I thought of my friends and family and their rumbled lives. It was too painful to revisit. I missed my home and the song carried so  many memories, and now was a concrete reminder of the pain Christchurch was experiencing.

One day in the car, the music was on random. I had not taken 'Rooftops'off my music player. 'Tinseltown' came on. The opening bass note made my heart sink a little bit. I wasn't ready to revisit those emotions. 

One day this love will all blow over 
Time for leaving the parade

I let the song play. I was back in 80's Richmond, Echo Records, 90's High St, 00's North Avon Rd. I was back in July 2012 sitting with Chris in his room having a cup of tea. I was back on the edges of cathedral Square, trying to see the Cathedral. 

The strings started playing in double time as Paul Buchanan repeated "Tinseltown is in the Rain," I was a bit croaky as I sung along with him. It was raining. I wished I was back home, but that wasn't the overriding feeling. It was more thankful. I was grateful that there was a song that I could go to if I wanted to 'be' with my brother, my friends, my home. I was thankful that the song had been with me over all those years and was part of my life during so many significant events. 

I kept playing the song over the next few weeks. One time when Sarah, Ivy and I were all in the car, Ivy asked "What is Tinseltown?" I was so happy. My 9 year old daughter was now part of the story.

Thank you The Blue Nile for writing such a wonderful song. 


Cieran said...

This is a beautiful account of a beautiful song.

Unknown said...

Life itself embedded in a song. I feel the same.Nice writing, thanks for sharing

vic said...