All this and, of course, The Long Blondes spilt.
I found out, along with the rest of the internet, at the start of the week. I’ve been thinking about the band a fair bit in the last few weeks anyway, and reading posts like Kieron’s didn’t help but make me mull it over some more.*
See, The Long Blondes aren’t quite one of those bands for me. There was no life-changing catalyst moment or ZANG, theirs was a much more insidious path to my playlist. 2006 was a year that saw the tail-end of a drawn out and complicated almost-relationship, by the summer of that year the power and self respect I had thrown away on it crawled back up my spine, possibly around the same time I heard ‘Wolf Like Me’ on my record player before going to a club. The Long Blondes had been a band I’d been peripherally aware of for a while, a bunch of well-dressed scenesters whose music had, frankly, passed me by. Well, sort of: every week at FROG or Panic! or White Heat I’d be dancing to something with a vicious little kick to it before asking the dj who it was and being told “Long Blondes mate”. The music held me to the dancefloor, made everything a little sharper though the vodka haze. And, like so many songs that year, it made me want to kiss girls.
I don’t buy the album until the year turns though, tired of seeing it on so many best-of lists but having no real opinion of the band besides the pattern recognition of Dancing + Devilish Female Vocal = Good Times. It all just slipped into place: dark, sexually predatory, altogether broken, knife-like-lives knitting a stained quilt that’ll barely cover you and the anonymous other you left the club with last night.
And within seconds I got into the business of a Serious Long Term Relationship. One interpretation of this leap could be that in listening to the debut I saw some version of a life I was dallying with and got scared. It’s an inaccurate interpretation: after all, I broke someone’s heart to be with Alice and into an evolution of a lot of things in my life. I was soon to finish my degree, had already started reading for pleasure again, and was thinking about words a lot. Suddenly Someone To Drive You Home became an artifact, retroactively summing up 2006 and what I wanted to leave to settle for a while.
By the time I saw them at The Astoria for some NME show the way I listened to music, all music, was different. I had a pencil and paper, and was outside of myself a little bit. I could look around at the room full of people, all pretty similar to me, and see that removed from basement clubs and bedroom stereos there was a different kind of aura to The Long Blondes. They were a tight live act, letting Kate take all of the attention and revel in being the abusive sexual object. She could have hated the crowd, but she flirted instead. Flirted and belted out songs with more power than I’ve seen anyone do in The Astoria, she made the place tremble where it usually just swallows up the music. Between me, near the sound booth, and the crash bar were a lot of people a few years younger than me. Some were calm, sucking the sight and sound up, some were giddy and bouncing more than they had any right, all of them could well have been attending one of their first gigs. Imagine how cool that would have been? I saw doves supported by The Delgados, which christened me forever and always as a bass-friendly man who likes bands with words, interesting studio techniques, beards and jumpers. If The Long Blondes had been that first gig I could have been one of those vintage shop kids with amazing hair and a brilliant taste in classic cinema. I was envious to say the least.
Time Passes. I go to clubs less and less, and when I do they’re playing Justice. Vodka and I have a fight, whiskey wins. Other music happens.
When “Couples” came out I was undeniably disappointed. I nabbed a promo copy from Music and Video Exchange a couple of months early, quite excited to see what might be dredged up by that sumptuous voice and clever lyricism. I get sophomore slump. I get ‘Too Clever By Half’. I get bored.
Except, there is something that sticks in my head. It’s a thing made up of memories that sometimes didn’t stay buried, little impulses and surges that bubbled through from the lizard brain. That thing is ‘Nostalgia’. ‘Nostalgia’ is this fey nightmare, all of the things the Kate Jackson character that Cox wrote and Kate sang was never supposed to become but had to admit to being. ‘Nostalgia’ suddenly made her human, suddenly revealed that sad, sickly b-side to the noir stylings of life’s a-side. ‘Nostalgia’ broke my heart, and quickly became one of my most listened to songs this year.
The Long Blondes couldn’t just be glossy sexual pop for me anymore. Insights into dark nights worked both ways, suddenly, because they couldn’t just write about a fictional version of lust in the liminal classes, they wrote hope as well. Sequenced as it was on “Couples” before ‘I’m Going To Hell’ they, as a band, undermined the power of ‘Nostalgia’ by running straight from regret to pride in self-destruction, and that didn’t work for me. ‘Nostalgia’ was almost Kate’s apology, an act far too significant to throw away.†
I put off seeing them at the start of the summer, figuring I’d get to see them over the winter, and then Cox had a stroke and they faded away.
When Alice broke up with me a few weeks back one of my first actions was juicing up the iPod and playing the songs that had NO RELATIONSHIP CONNECTIONS, stuff I had cultural ownership of (Beirut, for instance, are ours, and therefore I cannot listen to them yet), which boiled down to anything pre-2007. The Long Blondes came out. Suddenly that nostalgia exploded, in the strangest of ways: Someone To Drive You Home became laced with odes to nights I actively rejected, but felt like I might be tangled up into again, repulsed and attracted to the entropic waltz it seemed built of; ‘Nostalgia’ itself bitterly recalls the act of deciding to see where the relationship could go, and realising I wasn’t moving into the future with anyone for a while was sobering; It hit me, not for the first time, nor the last, that these songs were really very good; I knew The Long Blondes had to break up. For my sake, they did.
I wish Dorian a speedy recovery. Kate’s already announced that she’s working on solo stuff, which I’ll keep an ear for. Meanwhile I’ve got “Singles”, a compilation of pre-Rough Trade stuff, coming in the post.
Me: “Mark, did you ever really listen to The Long Blondes?”
Marky Mark: “Yeah, but I always preferred Sons & Daughters.”
I’d like some new music now please.
Matt, using his extra hour unwisely, 2008
* I bumped into Kieron a short while after he posted that, where he admitted “Comics have broken me. I mean, I just compared Kate Jackson to The Punisher.”
† It’s worth noting that Los Campesinos! do the exact same thing on We Are Beautiful, We Are Doomed by following the schizophrenic confession of ‘Heart Swells/Pacific Daylight Time’ with the more-Los Camp!-than-Los-Camp! ‘All Your Kayfabe Friends’. That pissed me off for a couple of listens, before I realised what a wonderful “Fuck You!” moment it becomes. Also, there’s not much of a lyrical undermining that takes place, and given how much I like words that’s pretty significant. Also, Los Campesinos! reaching towards a calmer introspection feels a lot more like them stepping up and evolving than The Long Blondes doing it.