Namo amitabha Buddhaya, y'all.
This here's a religious establishment. Act respectable.

Thursday, August 9, 2012

Talk Thursday: On the Flipside

Now this'll be a challenge: Trying to explain the significance of "On the Flipside" to a generation that may have never seen a record.  A record?  Well, it's a big black vinyl disc that produces sound, see, and some of them were bigger than CDs and some of them were just about the same size as CDs, and the small ones were called "singles," and--what's a CD?  Oh dear.  Well, back in the Pleistocine, before there were iPods...

In my part of the country, they didn't actually call it the flipside.  They called it the B-side.  The A-side was for the main song, the "real" song, the reason you bought the record.  The B-side was for Some Other Song.  Sometimes it was a dance mix or something of the A-side song.  Sometimes it was something else from the album (see, kids, the big vinyl discs were called "albums") that the band liked and wanted to get out there even if it was never going to be A-side popular.  (Yes, I know you just download songs in like ten seconds these days.  No, don't tell me about it.  When the RIAA comes knocking on the door I don't want to be an accessory after the fact.)

Once in a while, though, you got a rare treat.  A B-side song that was as good as, or better than, the A-side song.  When that happened, it was sort of like the world stood on its head, because what was this B-side song doing on the B-side when it should clearly be on the A-side?  Rumors would swirl around the release of the A-side.  Conspiracy theories would be launched.  Whole plots and counterplots could spin out of a few dark bass notes.  Sometimes I really miss being fourteen, when you could spend most of an afternoon talking essentially about nothing.  As opposed to now, when we talk about the economy and our jobs and which of the Presidential candidates would look best in a Speedo.  

In my lifetime, I have been so fortunate as to come across a B-side that was so good I can't remember what the A-side even was.  Oh, sure, I could probably Google it, and get half a dozen hits from half a dozen people even more obsessed than I am with random bits of obscure trivia, but if I actually found out, some of the magic would be gone.  The record was by Big Country, it was from the early 1990s (CDs were just coming in) and the song was called "Never Take Your Place."  Not only was it the best B-side I ever heard, it was one of the best songs I ever heard.  I can still hear it in the back of my head, and remember most of the lyrics all these crazy years later.

Okay, nobody panic; I'm not going into one of my Stuart-killed-himself-ten-years-ago (eleven this December) and-I'm-still-not-over-it fits of mopeyness.  I decided, recently, that I'm never going to be over it, so there's no point in trying to get over it.  It hurts, but I can live with it most of the time.  Some wounds don't heal.  Maybe this one will scar over eventually, but I'm not holding my breath.  Okay?  Okay.  On with the story:

If you want to hear the track, you can download it for a mere 99 cents right here.  I highly recommend you do exactly that.  It's a dark, dreamy, haunting sort of song that will stay with you for quite a while.  I'm particularly taken with the lyric, "All the gold of Africa will never take your place."  In context of the song, it's striking and sad.  In context of what eventually happened to the singer, it's a bit spooky.  In fact, a lot of BC's lyrics seem to point to Stuart's end; particularly disturbing is one from "Seven Waves" a few years later: "I might just swim out on the waves tonight, and lay right down and drown." Do normal poets write lyrics like this?  I don't know any normal poets.  I don't, for that matter, know any poets, though I just met one two weeks ago.  Once I get to know him better I'll ask him.  (And he'll probably look at me quizzically and start playing his harmonica.  Well, you know.  Poets.)

I wonder if, another 50 years from now, our ancestors will look back at the 1980s and wonder why we judged our entertainment value on whether it was A-side quality or B-side quality.  They'll probably be transmitting songs through the air by then, and playing them on passing clouds or the backs of beetles.  Then they'll get hold of Never Take Your Place and have to revise all their theories, which will ruin half a dozen master's theses and more than a few recording agents.  If there are recordings.  Recordings?  Well, children, long ago music needed an actual solid object to exist...

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