Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Tuesdays with Memento Mori: Musical Interlude

Let's try something a little different today. I've embedded a song in the post, so you can listen to it right here. This song, "Losing Haringey" by The Clientele, embodies nostalgia and the inexorability of change.

Losing Haringey - The Clientele

Lyrics worth noting:

It seemed unlikely that anything could hold much longer. The only question left to ask was what would happen after everything familiar collapsed, but for now the sun was stretched between me and that moment.


I held my head in my hands, feeling like shit, but a sudden breeze escaped from the terraces and for a moment I lost my thoughts in its unexpected coolness. I looked up and I realised I was sitting in a photograph.

I remembered clearly: this photograph was taken by my mother in 1982, outside our front garden in Hampshire. It was slightly underexposed. I was still sitting on the bench, but the colours and the planes of the road and horizon had become the photo. If I looked hard, I could see the lines of the window ledge in the original photograph were now composed by a tree branch and the silhouetted edge of a grass verge. The sheen of the flash on the window was replicated by bonfire smoke drifting infinitesimally slowly from behind a fence. My sister�s face had been dimly visible behind the window, and yes- there were pale stars far off to the west that traced out the lines of a toddler's eyes and mouth.


Strongest of all was the feeling of 1982-ness: dizzy, illogical, as if none of the intervening disasters and wrong turns had happened yet. I felt guilty, and inconsolably sad. I felt the instinctive tug back - to school, the memory of shopping malls, cooking, driving in my mother�s car. All gone, gone forever.

[Thanks to SongMeanings.net for realizing that proper punctuation and lyrics sites do not have to be mutually exclusive]

This song, unlike the rest of the album 'Strange Geometry' (of which Losing Haringey is the penultimate track), is chanted more than sung; even though 'there is no way to go except back,' the voice advances inevitably at the same pace. His continuing even pitch and pace separates him from the real world, filled with life, which he is describing. It is of course when he heads somewhere he has never been before that he is transmuted into a situation of decades past.

Life floats past the speaker until he falls into a situation in which that is natural. The revelation of this photograph and the days of his youth and happiness at first is 'inconsolably sad.' Immense weariness holds him down as his past traps him.

But at last he walks away; by seeing the past exactly as it was, he is revitalized in his own life.

On last week's subject:

The city of Seleucia/Ctesiphon was the capital of Persia for over 700 years. Alexander's general Seleucus founded it; it outlasted Greek rule, and was the seat of both the Parthians and Sassanids in their long reigns. For a time it was the largest city in the world.

But like most cities in the Fertile Crescent, its river was its lifeblood.

And over the centuries, something so immutable as the River Tigris shifted, and Ctesiphon was left high and dry. And the largest city in the world drained away. The Arabs came, saw, and conquered, and founded a new city along the river's new course: Baghdad.

Only one structure in Ctesiphon survives today. The rest is gone, or buried in sand:

Nothing beside remains.

Memento mori.

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