One of my closest, and oldest, friends comes to visit this weekend. We met by chance amid the chaotic Lost Weekend in 2000, and have remained firm friends ever since – and she was even my Best Person at my Wedding two years ago. We’ve had many great times, had nights of sketchy memories, seen great bands, done silly and impulsive things, but most importantly have often been there for each other when things haven’t been so great.
In addition to that, amid the various parties this summer (there’s a lot of milestone birthdays in particular), I’m throwing a big party of my own, and will hopefully see many of my friends there to celebrate it with.
This week, thus, is about the bond of friendship, and how it is treated in song, and like all great friendships, it isn’t always all good.
I would also like to thank the various friends on my Facebook, including a great many now-regular contributors, who suggested songs this week. But with 140 suggestions, 116 unique songs – including five I’d already used previously – there was as ever no way I could include them all (one week, though, if I give myself enough time, I just might!).
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The Things We Make
This band, for me, remain one of the touchstones of my musical interests over the past two decades. Chris Olley’s bitter, snarling words twist around the bent-out-of-shape, caustic rock that takes in other elements all the while it is destroying others, and amid that controlled sonic violence, beauty and wisdom appear. Their still-startling debut has many moments like that, but on it one song reads like a personal manifesto, and a summation of my closest friendships. Where we take risks together, we push each other to greater heights, have fun, and never regret even the stupidest, drunkest nights that have ruinously bad hangovers the next day. They just make for better stories later.
(Of note, is the imminent The Things I Make, a book by Chris Olley about his songs, the lyrics and how they came to be).
Lean On Me I Won’t Fall Over
The ever-revisionist music industry hasn’t been especially kind to the turn-of-the-nineties British Indie scene, as Andrew Collins noted when Carter finally called it a day a few years ago (I was at that final show, and it was genuinely amazing), but look a bit more and there is a surprising depth to Carter USM’s songs.
Many of their songs have an extraordinary empathy, and perhaps few more so than the lead single to their fourth album. A plea to a friend to stop destroying themselves, most of the lyrics, particularly the latter half, take the form of a list of potential options to get better or make a positive difference in one way or another (a sign of the desperation, from this usually most cynical of bands: “and if nothing else works, have you tried the church?“). I’ve had to metaphorically talk friends down from the ledge in the past. I can understand that kind of desperation to help, even if, ultimately, it doesn’t.
I bet you weren’t expecting this to actually be included. But that opening lyric (“If you wanna be my lover / you gotta get with my friends“), as pointed out by my wife and others, is such a critical hook in the song, and indeed in practice. My wife and I got together without really knowing each other first (it wasn’t far off actual “love at first sight”, if you will), and the opinions of our respective friends was critical to our budding relationship actually getting somewhere. Over thirteen years on since we met, twelve years since we moved in together, five years (almost to the day) that we got engaged, and over two since we married, I’d say that our friends’ approval meant for something.
Time’s Been Reckless
I’m Not Your Man
One of things about being friends – particularly when you’ve been friends for a long time – is that sometimes, a bit of brutal honesty is needed, but then on othv er occasions that honesty can be seen as rather unwelcome. Here, Marika Hackman (on one of the many highlights from her exceptional album from last year) looks at the balancing act between the two, in a song that probably looks at that honesty from within friendships as well as in loving relationships. The lyrics are like a seesaw between the two extremes, as the urge to tell the truth is sometimes balanced out by sugaring the pill (“I would be kind if you prefer” or “We’re too honest / We’re too modest” are perhaps the key lines). I know how she feels – I’ve bitten my tongue on a great many times, and I must confess that on those occasions where I should have been direct, I might well have shied away from it to avoid confrontation (something I really don’t enjoy). Those latter occasions come from bitter experience – being burnt by saying the wrong thing, that’s for sure.
Friends Like These
Who Watches Over Me?
Amid the bleakness and emotional wreckage of most Mesh songs, there are moments of brightness, and this, one of their greatest singles, is certainly one of them. But even then, the darkness is not fair away, as the song has one eye on the past and mistakes made, but the main thrust is about the friends that they do have, despite the failings – a neat reminder that even our dearest, closest friends have flaws, even if we choose to turn a blind eye to them in our effort to get along. But then, we ourselves are flawed too.
I Need Better Friends
I turn 40 next month, and this song rather gave me pause, particularly when I read David Lowery’s own notes about the song. This isn’t as caustic as the title suggests, instead it is taking stock as you reach middle-age, wondering about whether you should have made better choices in the past. In my case – and way back when I was considerably younger, before I moved to Sheffield and met my now wife – that would include some questionable choices of housemates, some questionable tolerances of people we’ve now had confirmed were absolute shits, and probably a few other things besides. But in the main? The friends I have now are the ones I wanted to keep around, and I’d like to keep it that way.
We Used To Be Friends
Welcome To The Monkey House
Not everyone stays friends forever, mind. As I’ve moved from city to city, and the old bonds begin to break down, I’ve gradually lost touch with some friends, some of which I used to be really close to. But, it happens – not everyone treads the same path forever, not everyone keeps the same interests, and those reasons we were once close friends maybe are no longer there. Even so, there will still be the odd twinge of sadness when I might think “oh, so-and-so would have loved that”, and they aren’t there for me to tell them about it, and share the joy.
Don’t Let Us Get Sick
Life’ll Kill Ya
Warren Zevon had quite the career, a fair amount of it comparatively under the radar until his death about fifteen years ago. Clearly, though, as he got into his mid-fifties around the millenium, what was to come was on his mind (and indeed he died of mesothelioma just a couple of years after this). This song is couched in unusual imagery, though, as he hopes for effective immortality for his friends (“Don’t let us get sick / Don’t let us get old“) as a way of avoiding thinking about his own problems. Being that selfless is hard.
There was, of course, a toast to “absent friends” at our Wedding (a toast made with Serbian šljivovica, a nod both to my wife’s heritage and her late Grandfather, who passed away just months from a day he’d hoped to see) – and while we did our best to avoid many of the clichés of the Wedding Day, that toast never felt like one, partly because of the emotional force involved in it. The pain of the friends I’ve lost over the years – and in this sense, I’ve lost a surprising number – never really goes away. The memories fade somewhat, but there is always something shining in the back of my mind whenever I think of them, and like in this song, there is always a moment or two of absurdity that makes you chuckle, something to cut through the pain that remains.
The Ballad of Me and My Friends
Sleep Is for the Week
There is something uncanny, sometimes, about how many of Frank Turner’s songs have a habit of relating directly to my life – and I’ve mentioned a few of the others before. But, god, this one could be my group of friends in North London – ok, so not so centred around Nambucca, but quite possibly a venue or two a few minutes away. We’re a group of friends that have been, at least in part, brought together by shared musical/lifestyle interests, and while there have been fallouts and drama occasionally, the reality is that when things have gone wrong to varying degrees, we are always, without fail, there for each other as a wider group. But we also have a ton of fun (and many memorable parties). As Frank Turner puts it here: “…And we’re definitely going to hell / But we’ll have all the best stories to tell“. Amen to that.