Monday, December 10, 2007
Paul Haig - Something Good.mp3
This is one of my top-five songs of all-time, period. In fact, I would call it a triumph of human creativity, a spiritually profound work of art that has the capacity to evoke wonder at the miracle of simplicity and inspire personal change and growth beyond perhaps any other song I have ever heard. This, my friends, is the real deal. And it is just so damned simple. In fact, I think that perhaps the only better example of perfect simplicity in pop music history is Joy Division's Love Will Tear Us Apart. But other than that one incredible feat, Something Good is my personal favorite, amongst all the songs I've ever heard.
Paul Haig was the frontman for the legendary Glaswegian post-punk band Josef K before the band broke up and he began releasing solo records. His second solo album, The Warp of Pure Fun, is one of my two favorite albums of all-time, along with Psychocandy by fellow Scots The Jesus & Mary Chain. Something Good was released in 1989, the lead single for the LP Chain.
This song is magnificent. Life can be so confusing, so complex, but this song reduces it to something simple, moral, and good - something good. From the very first note, the crash of the cymbal, this song is mesmerizing, the bassline hooking you while the guitar expresses so much deep feeling, some sadness, some resignation. The song's lyrics are about a break up. The first verse:
Open the door
And leave behind the memories
This is for sure
Some things just had to be
And if you return
Then the sun will shine again
But I don't expect
That anything will ever be the same
There is a simple sense of acceptance here that I find very compelling. He states that "some things just had to be" and admits that it would be great if the person came back, but that he doesn't expect anything to be the same. It's refreshingly honest and provides a unique twist on typical love lyrics - something Paul Haig has excelled at throughout his entire career.
Then, the golden goose. "Take something bad...and make it into something good. Take all you had...just like the way I knew you would."
I'm going to say it again, just for emphasis: "Take something bad...and make it into something good." Is that not the simplest, most profound and beautiful thing you've ever heard? I mean, think about the way we approach our lives. Can't our thought processes about the directions we are headed be maddeningly complex? The human mind is indeed complicated, and we feel and think so much in response to what we see and experience. And in the case of something like a break up or other profound loss, the internal reactions can be very varied and intense. How wonderful, how refreshing, how beautiful, is it to hear "Take something bad...and make it into something good"? I mean, isn't that really all that we can do? Isn't that its own moral imperative, its own prime directive that if only we could all follow, we would be as happy as possible? Bad things happen. We suffer. We feel loss. It is part of life. But these things can all be made into something good. I know from experience that incredibly painful losses can be transformed into beautiful things, and that no suffering is needless. Sure, people can point to horrors far beyond that which most (including myself, certainly) have experienced, but I believe that they can be transformed too. And if only we could focus on each individual thing that happens, each tiny thing at once, one step at a time, and turn each bad thing into something good, something positive, life will work itself out.
The second verse continues:
And there is no time
And there is nowhere left to go
You give me a sign
A little thing that I should know
I read it in books
And I turned the page again
You got the looks
But nothing else will be the same
This verse is somewhat cryptic, but makes the greatest sense. It seems, to me, to be about accepting the need to move on, accepting that things end. And how better to do this than to live by the philosophy of "Take something bad and make it into something good"? If we really live by this, if we really believe that something bad can be transformed into something good, that an end can become a beginning, that pain can be turned to joy, then what do we have to fear? They have run out of time and places to go; nothing will be the same again. The final two lines are so beautiful too; the looks are the same, the same looks that can still spark the greatest desire, but what's inside has changed. But this is all said with such acceptance, such matter-of-factness. But it's still so human, so tender, so vulnerable - yet it's done with tremendous strength. "I read it in books, and I turned the page again." It's such a perfect reflection of the song's music; it's driving and strong yet so vulnerable and open. The pulsing bassline never ceases as it breathes like bare lungs, beats like a hand-held heart, and shows a resolve of concomitant fragility and impenetrability, for it is the heart that both makes us tender and gives us power; it is what makes us open to receiving others and able to give to ourselves despite them. This is the magic of the bassline, truly the heart of this gorgeous song.
And isn't this song just incredibly human for that reason? Whenever I listen to this, I feel like I am staring into the heart of humanity, both that of others and of myself. Yet this song goes beyond being human, and the heart that is revealed is the light of the soul; it is the soul's voice. Only from within the heart of the soul can love come, and only from within that same heart can come the resolve vocalized in this song, the desire to continue on despite pain. In fact, for me, it is when I ponder the idea of the soul, of the eternal, of that which is more than mere being, that I find the greatest ability to overcome pain and suffering, and to make something good from it. And isn't there a joy, an ecstasy, within the chorus? The synths rising from beneath our feet toward the sky, illuminating us from within, the words self-luminious and alive. It is ascension itself, the transcendence of time and being that leaves it behind yet grounds us firmly within it and its possibilities, revealing that the eternal, the sublime, is within even the simplest of things. Because for all the transcendent spirituality coursing through the song, isn't it profoundly simple? The "something bad" and the "something good" can be as grand as giving your life for that of another or as simple as finding you're out of the kind of ice cream you wanted and discovering a new one instead. And even in such a small act, isn't there a spiritual enrichment, a moral lesson? Learning to use pain, sorrow - the "something bad" - to create something good is the simplest thing I can think of, that which can be done in the blink of an eye, but whose effects can be felt echoing throughout our entire lives and indeed throughout the whole of the universe and the endlessness of our souls.
Paul Haig's "Something Good" is, perhaps more than any that I have ever heard, one that has changed my life for the better and has made me a better human being and a better soul, and I feel incredibly grateful that it has always been and will always be there for me whenever I need a reminder that there is a good to be found in every bad, if only we are willing to see and make it. This song has exapnded my consciousness and understanding of the beauty of the world and also helped me through some tough times, and I hope that you will enjoy it even half as much as I do, because then I will know that it has changed your life too. This is truly a song that makes even the stars themselves more beautiful.
Now that I think about it after having written this, this may just be my favorite song of all-time.