Time won’t give me time
And time makes lovers feel
Like they’ve got something real
But you and me we know
We got nothing
Time (Clock of My Heart), Culture Club
I think this photo was taken in 1979.
When he was brand new and bright, bright pink my Pink Panther was taller than me. I was extremely pleased with this present which was for my sixth birthday. I can remember my mother getting it from ToyWorld in Coastlands. It was my sixth birthday: the first one after my father died.
Until very recently I’ve not thought much about the time immediately after my father’s death. Thinking about it now I realise two things: that I have no memory of anyone really talking to me about what had happened or comforting me, and that it must have been a nightmare for my mother. Like a Greek tragedy these two things go together: the person most directly impacted by my father’s death – my mother – was also supposed to be my prime comforter, which is really a tall order. Who can manage such a difficult emotional double act?
What use was a T-shirt and a Pink Panther?
I felt I lost you from the start
Time (Clock of My Heart), Culture Club
Michael Jackson didn’t have the number one single of 1983 in Aotearoa. Nor number two. It’s strange to realise; a moment when what actually happened seems to contradict popular memory. I’m not having a dig at Michael. I loved Thriller. I can remember seeing the video for Beat It and being floored. The scene where they go into the dance off was insane. It was certainly the best video of 1983.
Let’s Dance by Bowie was number two.
You are supposed – if you are serious Bowie fan – not to like this period in his work, but it would be silly not to for the lyrics alone:
Put on your red shoes and dance the blues
To the song they’re playin’ on the radio
While color lights up your face
Sway through the crowd to an empty space
How to write sad songs in secret. Use the word “while”. It means for a time and not forever. “Empty space” means intimacy in a crowded room. Lost in each other. All of that is temporary.
The saddest songs of all though were by Boy George.
My birthday in 1983 was at Greta Point. At that time Greta Point was a flash place to drive to and have a buffet. It was made out of glass and steel tubes painted white. If I had been more on trend at ten I would have worn a pink pastel T-shirt and a Miami Vice white jacket, but I was ten. I sang the songs of Culture Club and didn’t know they were love songs from Boy George to Jon Moss:
You come and go
A lot of pop autobiographies are bad, but Boy George’s isn’t. It is sad. It is really a story about being in love with a man who didn’t, or couldn’t, give Boy George the love he wanted back.
Somebody else’s life
cannot be mine
But when you love someone
And they don’t love you in return.
The whole album is a torch song.
Pull my puppet strings
I have the strangest void for you
And I keep on loving you
It’s the only thing to do
Boy George may have had the persona of an acerbic, gay man when dabbling in pop culture, but his songs are soft and romantic and sad on Colour By Numbers. What he gave me information about, in their absence from my life, was ways a man could be. I never thought anything in particular about Boy George’s sexuality partly because I was ten, but mainly because I didn’t notice it. The person he sang about in his songs was usually a “you” and not a he or a she and I’ve always liked “you” as an open pronoun in a song. Love, after all, flows between all of us, and songs don’t need to be specific.* What I saw in 1983 was a beautiful looking man singing songs about love. It made me think that this was an ok thing to do. Which it is. But, it is still quite unusual 30 or more years later.
My guy pretty like a girl
And he got fight stories to tell
I see both sides like Chanel
See on both sides like Chanel
Chanel, Frank Ocean
Who did I love in 1983?
I can’t answer that easily. My mother and my grandmother. I don’t remember ever thinking it at the time or saying it, but it would have been true. My friend. Yes. Although I wouldn’t have thought of it that way, but when he was late, or had to cancel a play date I had a huge overreaction inside me that I knew was not normal. Anger and grief at loneliness prolonged probably. And I’ve always been jealous of attention. When I like someone I want to hide with them.
I’ve always loved songs about love that talk about running away. Let’s Dance does that.
If you say run
I’ll run with you
And if you say hide
Because my love for you
Would break my heart in two
If you should fall into my arms
And tremble like a flower
Which makes me swoon. The only other song that beats that is Born to Run:
Together we could break this trap
We’ll run till we drop, baby we’ll never go back
Will you walk with me out on the wire?
`Cause baby I’m just a scared and lonely rider
But I gotta know how it feels
I want to know if love is wild
Babe I want to know if love is real
Will you walk with me out on the wire? Fuck yes. Tell me when. I’ll be there, baby. I will be there.
I think I substituted songs, and movies, and stories for love. I think my love for my Pink Panther was a love substitute. I think I learned about love from songs and movies and stories, but that I was susceptible to the broken-hearted, or running-away kind of love rather than the Uptown Girl love. It makes sense that I would think love had something to do with absence or pain. It makes sense but only occurs to me 40 years later. Mind you it took awhile for people a lot smarter than me to figure out that the world isn’t flat.
It’s round right? I don’t know. I’ve never seen it, but I will take your word for it.
I felt I lost you from the start.
* Or, is that the same as being “colourblind” to race which is racist. Not seeing sexuality must be the same and be sexuality-ist. Boy George was probably writing “you” because he had to, not because he wanted to. Also, love doesn’t just flow between people. It’s often forced, blocked, stopped.