Little Things


I don’t generally advocate weeping in public places, but if one were to insist on shedding tears in public, I can think of no better place to do it than on a long train ride in the dead of winter. Listening to music, head against the grimy window, looking out as endless bleak landscapes roll by. It’s really the ideal setting. And actually, if you think about it, it’s kind of a miracle that everyone on trains isn’t sitting there sobbing, that entire train cars aren’t loaded up with people bawling their damned fool eyes out.

The heartbreakingly faithful Johnny Johnson, who in the late 1980s led The Siddeleys into total obscurity, says this:

“It was as if we were swimming against a tide that changed direction whenever we tried to swim for another shore. There was no way through, no matter how true our compass points were. Buffeted by impossible waves, we began to tire. The walls inverted and suddenly I was on the outside again, a refugee from the Tower of Babel as the people who shared our language faded away like ghosts.

What an irritating paradox. A real outsider will always remain outside, doomed by their very nature. After all, once they’re on the inside, how can you ever be sure that they meant it, that they were what they appeared to be from the other side of the wall?”

Shane McGowan adds:

“The most important thing to remember about drunks is that drunks are far more intelligent than non-drunks. They spend a lot of time talking in pubs, unlike workaholics who concentrate on their careers and ambitions, who never develop their higher spiritual values, who never explore the insides of their head like a drunk does.”

This world is decidedly hard on those who bypass the banquet in order that they might more slowly savor instead life’s divine little crumbs. One begins to wonder if maintaining an interior life is worth the trouble.

This is The Nightmares performing “Little Things,” live at CBGBs. I wrote this song on a two-string guitar and an out-of-tune piano in Jon Frankel’s mother’s living room in Larchmont, one stoned and sunny afternoon when everybody was out of the house for some reason. (Though the breakdown is all Nightmares, of course.) And I also ought to point out that the chorus of this song contains the most audacious appropriation I ever made — melody, lyrics and vocal inflection lifted whole from a couplet in a song (a flat-out masterpiece, at that) by the indomitable Pointers Sisters.

Little Things

The Nightmares

I want you to take a vow
Oh, won’t you do that for me?
It’s very simple, this is how
Just cross your heart complacently

I guess I don’t understand
I’ll do what I came here for and go
It’s gotten so out of hand
But there’s one thing you should know
Each time I open up my heart
It seems to just get torn apart
That’s why I want to remember those little things

I want you to follow me
It’s not too far, just down the street
There’s something there you ought to see
Some people I think you should meet

I guess I don’t understand
I’ll get what I came here for and go
It’s gotten so out of hand
But there’s one thing you should know
Each time I open up my heart
It seems to just get torn apart
That’s why I want to remember those little things

All I want to remember
All I want to remember, baby
All I want to remember are those little things

4 Replies to “Little Things”

  1. Do you take McGowan’s comment about drunks entirely at face value? Or does it itself reflect one of the more insidious varieties of the self-deception and rationalization characteristic of the drunk?

    Nice falsetto, by the way. Never heard you do that before.

  2. Well, look — I think there’s a lot of grey area between “face value” and “insidious self-deception.”

    And I know this post was fairly vague and allusive, even by my “standards,” but I hope that among the many things I was trying to say, the point still got across that developing an interior life is not only considered a luxury in our society, but is actively discouraged. Which is a fairly alarming development, seeing as how that was once thought to be the basis of civilization.

    And what I didn’t have the heart to write is what people actually are doing on trains — watching DVDs, talking on cell phones, reading Us Weekly and stuffing their faces with junk food. It’s like we dare not stop consuming, we can’t slow down — we’re afraid to be alone with our thoughts for even a second.

    Whatever happened to enjoying the journey? Letting one’s mind wander, looking at the scenery, marking the passage of miles and time and unfamiliar terrain? When did we become like restless children, in need of constant distraction, as if life were one long drive to grandma’s in the back of a station wagon?

    So while it’s obviously insane to take Shane’s blather literally, his larger point is entirely valid, frighteningly so. But a person only needs to see a recent picture of Shane for an extreme example of why there are two sides to this.

    Interior lives need to be balanced out with exterior lives — our manifestations in the real world. And though I wasn’t writing about that side of things yesterday, it’s equally important. It’s the yin-yang balance between the two. We all have to get through a day; we all have to live in this world.

    Which is to say, don’t worry — this isn’t the opening volley in some diabolical lobbying effort to pressure the train industry into instituting “Crying Cars.”

  3. But this makes me think of The Tin Drum. After the war little Oskar performs in nightclubs, and the whole point of the performance is to make the entire audience cry.

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