“Smalltown Boy” is my favourite 1984 song. The year before that it was “Relax” by Frankie Goes To Hollywood but they (and that song) deserve a post all of their own…so, Smalltown Boy: the haunting voice and lyrics spoke directly to me.
My English teacher who was very fond of me because of my ability for the language and my love of all things British told me the song was about the pain and struggle for acceptance of a Scottish gay boy. I may have been a precocious child in many ways due to my love of books, but I knew very little about the gay community or even about what being gay actually meant. There were no “gays” in my village or if there were, they were in hiding. Gay rights would have been an alien concept in this rural area. My teacher and I looked up Glasgow together which is where the singer Jimmy Sommerville came (and had escaped) from. It looked desolate to my eyes and very different from my sleepy Burgundian village. And yet…
I guess it was the first time I properly understood the fact pain was a universal concept whatever the reasons behind it. When I heard the words “the love that you need will never be found at home“, I identified completely and felt that the gay boy from Glasgow and I were the same, united in this yearning for something and somewhere else. He suffered in a big city and I among the fields of wheat. We “never cried to them but to our soul.” By the time the song was released, he had already left with “everything he owned in a little black case” and so would I years later, but in 1984 it gave me hope to know he had escaped, to realise you didn’t have to put up with misery, that it would get better, that there was a place somewhere where acceptance was possible. Funny that it turned out London was Jimmy Sommerville’s destination when he ran away, because that’s where I ended up too.
Years after I had left, there was a big scandal in my village because my English teacher who had been so pleased to teach me about Britain was caught in a compromising position with a male student. It turned out he was gay, no wonder he had known so much about the gay community. Of course, I had not suspected anything at all, as I said I was precocious in some ways but still very naive in others. To this day, I cannot listen to Smalltown Boy without being transported right back to that time, it’s a song that I still love and it still means so much to me – it made me feel understood and infused me with hope.
*This is an extract from a personal essay I wrote last year. I am going to an 80’s night on Saturday and the shameless selfie is the outfit I selected this afternoon for the occasion. Sadly, I do not own a smalltown boy t-shirt so I decided to go with ‘Frankie says’ out of my 80’s t-shirt collection – yes, I have one, I still love 80’s music. And always will.*
With or without words, I can always explain everything.
Where there was friendship once, the land now lies neglected, weeds and ruins usurping sweet memories
The woman who could talk the black of a crow suddenly doesn’t think there is anything to add
Others she involves
With an edited report
She omits facts that are crucial
She’s very, very careful
And in this way she redraws
Her fingers dirty with chalk
Her mind febrile
She stoops to – almost – lies
As a last resort
Until she is left
With the picture
That will let
Live with herself
But the truth she hides, ignores
It’s too harsh and too simple
What came to pass was due to the worship of false idols over honesty and the real
Image credit: Abandon on Instagram
I don’t like the taste of coffee, I also think it looks and smells like the bottom of a tar pit. I’m envious of others who have caffeine to help them with the process of emerging from the folds of sleep. Like many, I’m allergic to mornings and it’s the time of day when I’m invariably at my most grumpy.
I can’t stomach the news first thing, or those chirpy early birds eager to get the worm. You know, the sort of people who virtuously tweet meaningless faux deep motivational quotes at 7am followed by #MondayMotivation or #WednesdayWisdom
No, what I need in the mornings is some synth led music, some joyous tune that speaks to my soul on a profound level. That and green tea is my usual routine. I do miss smoking, that first cigarette of the day, that glorious nicotine hit…indeed it’s always in the morning I feel a vague craving for that filthy habit.
And it’s also then I write narcissistic rubbish such as this.
I have a deadline for my Master’s this week, and I’ve chosen to go with Gonzo journalism, a form I love and which really suits me. The only problem is, there is only one Hunter S. Thompson and anybody following in his footsteps just reads like a cheap imitation. But, I’m giving it a go all the same. I can’t be timid, if I’m going to fail, it’s got to be spectacularly – there’s got to be a blaze and freaky flames.