I was late to the party with Sofia Coppola's Marie Antoinette, having only seen it recently on Netflix. But what a party! And what an unexpectedly poignant effect she achieved by linking the gaiety and naivety and anxiety and immoderation and sheer bloody fatedness of the ancien regime to the experience of any teenager who has had to grow up – and especially a teenager who did so in the late 70s/early 80s.
The astonishing sequence in the movie that begins with Bow Wow Wow's I Want Candy ends with a Kevin Shields remix of their Fools Rush In that is so fragile and intimate we feel that we have somehow tuned in and are hearing her sing it in her own head. But here's the thing: I think I can hear us doing the tuning-in too; and I think I've heard that before.
It's late October 1981. I'm sitting at the counter in our little kitchen in Hurst Park, listening, with Mum, to the charts on her old tube radio. I presume I'm taking a break from my soul destroying A-Level homework. Or maybe it's half-term. Mum is preparing the evening meal before she goes to pick Dad up from the station. The dog is mooching around at our feet. And, hard though it is to believe now, we're listening to Laurie Anderson's O Superman.
I'm looking at the names of faraway and fantastic places on the tuner. I'm checking the (more or less kaput) glimmer of the magic eye, tentatively poking my finger into its little votive niche... and what I'm getting, now, right now, is the same kind of indefinable ethereal resonance that's there in Sofia Coppola's movie. It's there in the Laurie Anderson piece, of course, of course, but also in the opening of its neighbour in the charts this week, Altered Images' Happy Birthday. It's there, especially, in a brand new entry to the charts, OMD's Joan of Arc, and it's even there in that deeply odd cover of It's My Party that's hanging on at No.1.
Not a message, not a signal, but a carrier wave, maybe. The promise of picking up something from the other side.
Hello, this is your mother, says Laurie Anderson. Are you coming home? And then, for God's sake, there's Andy McCluskey singing: say the right words and I'll be coming through...
So what is this random little time-slip telling us? That a bit of 80s reverb in a movie is enough to spark an almost supernatural Proustian rush in a basket case like me? Possibly. But also, I think, that there's always a way out of the echo chamber. That in supposedly familiar stories and even memories might still be hidden stranger truths, deeper layers and bigger meanings. That you have to be brave and ever so delicately retune your sensibilities. That even without moving on to fresh pastures, there are new revelations to be found out there, in the past, in the ether. That it's the job of creatives, through fiction, through non-fiction, through music and magic, though a whirling jumble of the lot, to reach for them, like Sofia Coppola did.
And our job too, to sing their praises for even attempting it.
Edited version of an original photograph by: mattbuck (category), CC BY-SA 2.0 <https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0>, via Wikimedia Commons
I've been writing for as long as I can remember (I think my first letter was a P). I got a degree writing about other people's writing and ever since then I've earned a living writing commercially, one way or another. But I never stopped writing and refining my own stuff. I just didn't do anything with it, until now.