Thursday, October 11, 2007

No, it's gone again. I thought I had it then...

Under the shower, half-asleep, the pounding piano of "Laura" came out of the crackling fuzz of the tropical-fish shower-radio.

I tried to name the band to myself, but my memory locked. Since I put aside childish things at the long-overdue age of 33 I don't know what's going on in pop in the same obsessive way that I used to. Even so, this wasn't exactly advanced knowledge, and in fact I could reel off a surprising number of facts about Scissor Sisters, but not their name. The trouble was that knowing the names of bands on the radio had become such low priority. Under my lathered scalp the words "Kaiser Chiefs" came into my mind. So did the words "Throwing Muses". I knew that these names referred to different, you might want to say extremely different, bands from the one I was trying to name (Throwing Muses, in case you don't know, were a US band from the early 80s - I think I bought three of their albums before - there were so many bands like this - I became finally disenchanted with the trick of slightly unusual ideas that never turned into anything more substantial).

Where is your love? ...

I knew that these incorrect names that were impeding the true name from coming to the surface were also clues to it. But what kind of clues were they? Was the association something to do with the sound or look of the words, or was it something to do with their meanings? In hindsight, the clues do make perfect sense: the phonological resemblance of Kaiser to Scissor, the semantic connection between Muses and Sisters. More significant still, all three band names turned out to share the rather uncommon feature of being plural names that it would be uncool to precede by a definite article (unlike, e.g. The Stone Roses or The Pointer Sisters).

Still, I couldn't crack it - it wasn't until the following morning, again under the shower, that the true name came to me, instantly and without effort. But while I was fruitlessly pursuing the clues I was doing something that, unrelated to poetry, was akin to close reading of a poem: I was trying to become aware of every aspect of the words in the clues, unable to dismiss any aspect as certainly irrelevant, with the single exception of their literal referents, which as I already knew referred to the wrong musicians. The point I'm labouring to get at is this: that the poetic use of language is not an invention ab nihilo but is something already instantiated in nature, not in everyday spoken or written language but in the way that our memories are organized by fuzzy association.

But is this argument valid, based as it is on the behaviour of my own memory in particular? Long years of close attention to language through reading poetry may themselves have influenced the character of the associations my memory employs. (Just as I often discover in my dreams something suspiciously literary and un-dreamlike about their well-turned narratives and patent allegorical significances.) A different person, groping for a name that's just out of reach, might find themselves presented with clues of an entirely different kind. Somewhat disturbing to think, the habitual reading of literature may not give us a "deeper" experience of our life but may simply alter our experience of it, and who knows if for the better?


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