Monday, 29 June 2009

ICONS OF OUR TIME: THE LION OF WALMINGTON-ON-SEA


The rest of the internet can discuss Michael Jackson if it wants to. If its all the same with the rest of you, I’d rather talk about a true icon of the Sixties and Seventies – Dad’s Army’s Captain Mainwaring.

Swisstone may be laying it on a little to call him “a pompous, incompetent buffoon with the courage of a lion”, but with that combination he’s essentially right. Contrast Mainwaring against another rank-wielding character from a great British sitcom, General Melchett from Blackadder Goes Forth. Melchett is perhaps best summed up in the final episode where he rails against the fact he’s unable to join his men in battle but must instead sit down to a sumptuous dinner. (“Curse this bottle of Chateau Dom Perignon!”)

Conversely, I must have seen the majority of the eighty-odd episodes of Dad’s Army and I can’t think of a time when Mainwaring orders a man to do something he wouldn’t do himself. In fact, when push comes to shove the portly twit will pull rank precisely to volunteer himself. (Swisstone and his commenters cite a couple of these.)

...which creates a juxtaposition which enriches the character. We’re abundantly aware that he donned his Captain’s pips for salutes, to gain a status he feels has been deprived him in his civilian life. Yet, from time to time we’re reminded that his opposition to fascism is also quite genuine, that he’d willingly fight for a world in which ‘fair play’ endures.

...which in turn enriches the comedy. (It’s hard to imagine that writers Perry and Croft did much without the comedy in mind.) Mainwaring’s bids for status-in-uniform of course work about as well as when he was in civvies, the series’ formula virtually revolves around robbing him of dignity. (Plotlines, it must be said, were rather rationed in Dad’s Army.) It remains funny, despite all the repetition, partly because actor Arthur Lowe conveys pompous umbrage as effectively as Oliver Hardy. Lowe could have bridled for England. (Which, come to think of it, he pretty much did.)

Yet allowing the character positive features, granting him some dignity to lose, gains such moments a resonance. As JB Priestley put it: “Good clowns never try to be funny, but are hopeful creatures, lost in a hostile world.” Krusty the Clown was more succinct: “First rule of comedy, kid. The sap’s gotta have dignity!”

Let’s sum up our tubby icon with a culinary metaphor he would doubtless have appreciated. Most characters in sitcoms are like sweeties, bought from the shop when you have some loose change. You taste on your tongue their saccharine rush, then they’re dissolved. Mainwaring’s more like a cake ordered from a master baker, someone who knows that throwing in a few tangy tastes will enrich the sweetness. Both are confections, but one is there to savour.

Coming Soon! My explanation of how the Village Hall stands for the Means of Production...

Monday, 22 June 2009

THE CLASSIC SUPERMAN CARTOONS

(Part Two: The Paramount Years 1942/3)



“Faster than a streak of lightning! More powerful than the pounding surf! Mightier than a roaring hurricane!”

Keen and attentive readers might notice something about the breathless narration above, which opened the Superman cartoons from September 1942 onwards. The cartoons were no longer produced by the Fleischer Brothers but by Paramount, trading under the name Famous Studios. Yet that change alone would create the opportunity to amend the opening, but not the motive. No longer contrasted against machines (“a speeding bullet”) but the natural world (“a roaring hurricane”) it of course comes as no surprise that Superman is now more earthly and political. It was time for him to take on human foes. By the time this round of cartoons were made, Pearl Harbour had happened (in December ’41) and Superman became enlisted in the war effort.

Jim Steranko has suggested an Elvis-in-reverse scenario, that this enlistment was the act which made Superman into a legend: “[He] never really had anything to flex his muscles over until the war... He had come to save the world and was put to work breaking up fist fights.” Yet, contra to Steranko, Frank Miller once argued it didn’t matter what changes the publishers brought to Superman - for the right character would always live on in the popular mind. We clearly remember “speeding bullet” more than we do “raging hurricane”, it lodges in our brains like it belongs there. In fact the DVD collection I possess of these cartoons even cites that variant loudly on its case, crying it as the definitive version. But why should that be, why should the speeding bullet be the thing which gets lodged in our heads? Why should the Famous Studios formulation be so un-famous? The episodes certainly feature some fairly shrill anti-Japanese (and in one case anti-African) racism, which might lead to their being less well-remembered today, though that alone would scarcely account for it.

Previously, Supes stood for a grand concept. As we saw in Part One, if he symbolised a heroised worker that wasn’t exactly the same thing as being a worker. Superman has to represent the worker, but always with enough of a distinction to allow him to make that representation to other groups. Consequently, there was the simultaneous sense of something quite unique about him. To reduce his concerns to the earthly and political, even over an issue as big as the fate of the earth, diminishes him, turns him from a tableau into a propaganda poster. Superheros-at-war stories tend to resemble those opening scenes where they round up some bank robbers, musing all the while what a quiet night it seems. The reader sits through these merely human conflicts, expecting something more exceptional to come along in a minute.


There’s also something of a lapse in logic, if he’s so all-powerful why doesn’t he just fly over and duff up Hirohito himself? (In fact in his second ever comics appearance he does pretty much that, albeit in a bid to keep America out of the war! He then even repeats the image on the cover of Superman 17.) Or he could at least fly into battle to bring down ‘Jap’ planes... Yet, were he to do something like this, it would risk trivialising the problem. Imagine him scuppering Auschwitz and rescuing the Jews... It might also undermine efforts to present the troops heroically, his super-strength elevating him above them rather than representing them.

Paramount dodge this question by selecting carefully what kind of war stories they’re telling. These aren’t battlefield capers but espionage tales. This is made clear in the opening episode – telling titled ’Japoteurs’. It doesn’t make much sense when you stop to think about it. Why does Superman have to wait for the cover of night? Why does he even have to be over there as Clerk Kent in the first place, now he can finally fly why can’t he just nip over every night? But these problems only come up when you do stop to think about it. There is a dramatic association between the super-secret-identity and the undercover spy, which allows our brains to file them alongside each other. So, by coding the stories this way, they introduce narrative conventions which make it much easier for them to plug a super-being into a war scenario.



However, an alert reader might have already spotted a small flaw in this schema. If the new Paramount Superman is a war character, what does that have to do with changing the opening? Having already been faster than a speeding bullet, why not now speedier than a Japanese fighter plane? Or able to hold his breath longer than a Nazi U-boat?

In fact, the changed opening is not primarily to do with the war stories at all; for a good half of the episodes are quite different in nature. The comparison point would no longer be John Henry, the man as strong as any machine, but his predecessors - the ‘big man’ folk tales of the American frontier, such as the lumberjack Paul Bunyan.

Unlike Henry, Bunyan’s stories almost always pit him against nature - for he’s a man big enough to match the American frontier for size. A minority of stories in the Fleischer era would match this description, such as ’The Arctic Giant’ (effectively a Godzilla story), ’Terror on the Midway’ (a King Kong-a-like) or the self-explanatory ’Volcano!’ Yet, while the credit sequence may seem to set us up for something similar, that’s not quite what appears here.

Just as he had with the Fleischers, Superman still represents modernity. This is now manifested by his battling menaces from the ancient world. What was war with nature for Paul Bunyan becomes war with the primitive, as Superman is set against Mummies (‘The Mummy Strikes’), or lost kingdoms of bird people (‘The Underground World’). This gets tied in with the war stories, with their focus on the ‘regressive’ nature of the Japanese, epitomised by foregrounding their ‘old-world’ architecture to tell us we’re no longer in modernist, democratic New York. With the one story to prominently feature Nazis (’Jungle Drums’), presenting Germany as old-time is less credible so they are shown to be in hock with an African tribe. They become the hurricane and lightning of the credit sequence. (The irony here of course being that fascism was always keen to portray itself as modernistic and technocratic!)



While these episodes are more resonant than the espionage tales it’s the one episode which can’t be filed alongside any of the others, ’Showdown’, which becomes the only rival to the Fleischer era.

There’s plenty of superhero stories which follow the same premise, a villain disguises himself as the hero who then has to go on the run. Except here being thought guilty seems to present few problems for Superman, his challenge is just the intellectual one of figuring out who’s behind it. Instead the emphasis is on how the bad guy exposes the limits of the concept of clothes-maketh-man - he lacks Superman’s heroic physique and even smokes! (We discover he’s not even the scheme’s deviser, just a dumb henchman.)

The episode includes the iconic moment where the imposter pulls a gun, but the bullets just empty on the big S emblazoned on that heroic chest. This image may well not start with the cartoons (for all I know), but it epitomises what the cartoons really do. This may be partly down to the medium - it simply works better with animations’ continual flow than divided into panels, the at-first cocky crook toting the gun, then expending all his bullets with growing fear and finally throwing it uselessly away.

But above all, even in the later Paramount years, these cartoons simply had style! There’s a thin line between classic and cliché, and sometimes pulling off a standard trope with sufficient style is enough to make the difference. It’s like hearing a pub band wheeze their way through a blues standard, then hearing the Muddy Waters original – formally they’re the same song, but as listening experiences they’re a world apart. These cartoons feel right, almost reassuring, in that they give us the Superman we expect to see. But they tell us something we already know so well that it’s as if it’s the first time we ever heard it. Through this combination these cartoons earn their classic status.

Postscript:Now public domain, these cartoons can consequently be picked up cheaply on DVD or (in our recessionated times) are even downloadable from here.

Or check out this sampler...

Friday, 12 June 2009

THE CLASSIC SUPERMAN CARTOONS

(Part One: The Fleischer Years 1941/2)


“Up in the sky, look!” “It's a bird!” “It's a plane!” “It's Superman!”
“Faster than a speeding bullet! More powerful than a locomotive! Able to leap tall buildings in a single bound!”
“This looks like a job... for Superman!”


We fans must be the world’s biggest primarologists. When it comes to getting to the source of things, Doctor Livingstone has got nothing on us. To us, the best view is always from the ground floor. My Spider-Man stops dead the day Ditko left; even the Romita issues are a dream, a hoax, an imaginary story. And don’t ever try telling me about the Slits’ first album. I’ll counter immediately with their earlier Peel sessions and an air of smug superiority.

So when it comes to secondary media, we are tolerant at best. I went to see all three Sam Raimi Spider-Man movies, and even found good things to say about them. But try telling me they rival those classic Ditko comics and them’s fighting words. Silver can be shiny, silver can be precious, but it can’t ever be gold.

But our obsession with origination doesn’t always strike gold. Take those three quotes above, now so integral to our appreciation of Superman. Not one of these came from the original comic strips, all originated with the later cinema cartoons. And I for one find this significant, for I claim Superman found his finest classic-era depiction in the Forties Fleischer cartoons.

(Note to pedants: Some claim these phrases come from the radio series. This may simply be because that started a year earlier, in 1940. But this site not only insists they came from the cartoons but names their author, Jay Morton, and states they were only later incorporated into the radio shows. The picture is perhaps fuzzy because the two overlapped a lot in practise, even using a lot of the same voice actors. But little matter, for our point here is that these totemic phrases didn’t start with the comics.)

The real early comic-book Superman, far from being a pure Platonic thing who then slowly faded, was only semi-recognisable as the figure we now think of. Likened to “some occult, avenging demon”, called by one character “the Devil himself”, there is something Loki-like, manipulative and mischevous about him. In virtually every early story he dons a disguise - the better to put some dupe through the mill. True, the dupes are always villains (a corrupt arms dealer, a decadent mine owner) who he teaches the error of their ways. But he does seem to take an almost sadistic glee in his work. He threatens one that he’ll “tear out your cruel heart with my bare hands!” (Kent Worcester wrote a good piece on the ideology of early Superman back in Comics Forum 6, to which I replied in the following issue’s lettercol. Unfortunately, this doesn’t seem to have made it on-line anywhere and may be difficult to purchase.)

But perhaps the main drawback to these early strips is their perfunctory quality, which often verges on crudity. This is true of Siegel’s scripts but particularly of Shuster’s art, which can lack drama or dynamism. The Superman we know is here merely nascent, a rough sketch still awaiting life to be blown into him.

Perhaps the key to these cartoons can again be found in that classic credit sequence. The second episode, ’The Mechanical Monsters’, describes the big S as “empowered with X-ray vision”, and we get one demonstration of this power. But in all subsequent episodes it is gone, leaving him (at least as listed) with but one power – “possessing remarkable physical strength.”

This shift is telling, for here Supes is pretty much defined by his physical strength. The opening monologue pits him favourably against machinery or its makings – speeding bullets, locomotives, tall buildings. From the first episode his foes tend to be mad scientists, pitting rays, robots or some other technocratic force against him. In weeks when mad scientists are in short supply, he goes up against gadget-assisted gangs (as in ’Billion Dollar Limited’). Sometimes we just get a fusion of the two, ’The Bulleteers’ for example are something like a mad scientist cloned into a gang.

Throughout this Superman never outsmarts his enemies, he merely draws on his reserves of strength and resolution. As Jim Steranko has put it, “Superman could punch his way out of anything; he didn’t have to think!” Yet it’s important to note that the man of steel is not stainless – it’s vital that to use his strength Superman has to strain.The scene where he first falls, only to pick himself up again, is virtually compulsory. My favourite image of this is in the very first episode, where he is hit by the mad scientist’s Electrothanesia Ray (yes really!). First struck down, he gets up again and advances against the ray by (I kid not) punching it repeatedly in the jaw.


(The Fleischers having made their name with the comic surrealism of Popeye and Betty Boop, this jaw-sporting ray is but one instance of a bizarre cartoon logic. A skyscraper topples so curvaceously it must surely be made of rubber, and has never heard of foundations. The Mad Scientist has a pet bird, so anthropomorphic it even copies his movements. Yet even during such absurd, if charming, moments, the Brothers always attempted to use Rotoscoping to give the Superman figure a sense of realism. The more-than man needs to keep his roots in the human.)

In fact the extent of Superman’s strength flies all over the place according to script necessities, one minute carrying a whole train aloft, the next getting tangled up tackling two guys. But the idea his strength has limits is important. (Kryptonite was not introduced to the radio show until ’43, after the cartoons. But perhaps it was never needed here, for Achilles was not yet so all-powerful as to need his heel.)

A good contrast might be the most recent film, Superman Returns, where he doesn’t overcome badness so much as transcend it – never raising a fist throughout the film’s running time. A crucial distinction is in the way he flies. In the Fleischer cartoons he’s still super-leaping. Even in the later cartoons (which we’ll come onto), he flies Newtonially – by thrusting himself off the ground. In the film he simply floats, with serene disdain for earthly forces. But in gaining this Zen crown, he loses his blue collar.

Typically, the scientist lives away from the city, in a remote and spacious tower. According to a note he sends, his main motivation seems to be revenge against “those who laughed at me”. This is perhaps at its clearest in ’The Magnetic Telescope’, where this time a telescope stands for Frankenstein’s castle and the Police the torch-bearing villagers who smash up his lab for “tampering with nature.” (While at the same time too polite to point out if you have a telescope you don’t actually need to draw the celestial objects nearer in, as it will magnify their appearance.)

So it follows that the world’s first superhero had antecedents. For example, there’s John Henry (the “steel drivin’ man”) from the blues and folk songs where a railroad worker who races his muscle against his boss’ new-fangled steam hammer. (Though dying of exhaustion at the moment of victory.) The songs may well date back to the 1870s, but became standards and a musical version starring Paul Robeson was staged in 1940.

Then, perhaps slightly more obliquely, there’s Houdini. Rogan Taylor comments upon the appeal of Houdini’s escapology for poor audiences: “The vision of this working class man bursting out of the best chains the capitalists could produce would not have been lost on the proletariat that watched him... The audiences identified with him totally and shared every minute of his ordeal. When Houdini got free, everybody got free. They had witnessed not so much a variety turn as a celebration of the human spirit triumphing over every obstacle.” While of course watching a mere cartoon is not so visceral an experience, contemporary audiences may have felt something similar when they saw (for example) Superman freeing himself from a frazzling tangle of electrical wires.

However, it may be that the later cartoon audience were able to wring an extra frisson from the sight. For theirs was the era of Fordist mass production, described by Wikipedia as “the moving, or continuous, assembly line, in which each assembler performed a single, repetitive task.” While the replacement of car workers by robots was still some way off, workers may have felt that it had already become them who were ancillary to the machines.

So Superman, with his endless reserves of strength, bounds in to reverse that. Even in this age of machines, he’s here to remind us that the worker is still the most powerful thing – the man of steel more resolute than the steel. It’s perhaps notable that the very indicator of Fordism, the motor car, appears on the cover of Action Comics 1 as the mere plaything of a man. Superman is an idealisation of the notion that Forties America is still borne on the shoulders of the blue-collar worker. It’s notable his scientist adversaries are literally white-collar, while Superman’s red-white-and-blue predominates with blue. Moreover, ’The Mechanical Monsters’ are the obverse of the worker, plundering wealth rather than creating it.


And yet isn’t there something inherently science fictional about our extraterrestrial star? If the mad scientist lives apart from other men, Superman is only among them due to a cosmic accident. Isn’t making him a heroised worker dragging him down to the Earthbound? The show’s opening, the very thing which calls us to notice his all-important strength, also reminds us he’s an “amazing stranger from the planet Krypton.” Of course, as has often been noted, his alien status fits a nation founded on immigration. Yet there is surely more to it...


A key to this lies in another image, as striking as the death-ray-thumping, yet in many ways the opposite of it. In the afore-mentioned ’Magnetic Telescope’ it is not the Scientist’s recklessness that endangers the city so much as the conflict between him and the Police. When they smash up his lab, he becomes unable to dispel the meteorite his telescope is already drawing towards us. Superman solves this partly by picking up two cables and using his body to conduct the current. Here the worker unites with the machine, completes it. Unlike John Henry the two are not intrinsically at odds, but the technocrats might need reminding from time to time that they need both.

The idea that there is something retrogressive about these cartoons would in any case only survive in a study of plot summaries – for in their look and feel they almost crackle with modernist urgency. Everything is sleek and gleamingly futuristic (in the most retro valve-addled way imaginable). Sets are the spacious side of gargantuan, when they’re not actually cavernous. Shadows and silhouettes abound while colour schemes are limited and controlled, never gaudy like so many comics of the era. (Supes’ red cape is often made to dominate the frame.) This look is most likely the killer app which makes the cartoons so classic, for it is not just aesthetically appealing but supremely fitting. Forties art was typically about simplification and idealisation – and what better subject for that than the idealised worker himself - Superman? A man with a jaw so square it was surely sculpted.

(Scott Bukatman takes this further to suggest that Superman represents “a kind of Corbusierian ideal...Through his benign, controlled authority, Superman renders the city open, modernist and democratic; he furthers a sense that Le Corbusier described in 1925, namely, that 'Everything is known to us'.”)

They are also remarkably fast-paced, particularly considered against the sedentary standards of their era. Stories fairly roar by! Newspapers (at least modern, photo-led newspapers) are often used as a totem of modernity, not just recording events but racing to record the modern pace of life. You’ll lose count of the number of times a shot of a newspaper photo dissolves into the real object, or vice versa. In this the cartoons are almost reminiscent of the way newspapers were used in a film released the same year - Citizen Kane. (Disclaimer: Before anyone starts, this is not to suggest that there are multiple points of comparison between these cartoons and Citizen Kane.)

In this way Superman has a double identity which allows him to fulfill his double role in these cartoons. He is the ultimate worker, defined by his labours just as is a plumber or a mechanic, yet the very fact that he is ‘super’ simultaneously means he is more than a worker. His alien-ness becomes associated with his status as a symbol, and makes him a credible force to bring worker and technocrat together.

Coming Soon! Where the Superman cartoons went after the Fleischers left...

Postscript: These cartoons are now public domain and can consequently be picked up cheaply on DVD or (in our current recessionated times) are even downloadable from here.

Or check out this sampler...

Tuesday, 2 June 2009

OI! YOU!: PUNK & THE SLAG-OFF SONG




“I’m in love with myself, there’s nothing else but me.”
“Sex cracked its eyes at me and I’m feeling something – and it’s living inside me.”


We’ll be getting to (and identifying) those opening quotes later, Meantime I’ve been thinking recently about the slag-off song, about how much of a punk style it is and finally reached the point where I’ve come to think of it as the very definition of punk. (Or certainly closer to the bone than post-Situationism, Bakhuninism, the Medieval Free Spirit movement or any of that Greil Marcus bollocks.)

The point of the slag-off song is that it’s not against politicians or parents or anything so vague as “the system” but ups the snot quota by slagging your own friends... or better still your very best friend. It appears little in hippy songs which tend to the unifying, either me-and-you love songs or us vs. them rallying calls. Think of Morrison’s “They’ve got the guns but we’ve got the numbers.” The slag-off never knocks “them” over there but “you” right here, but that alone isn’t enough to identify it. The normal first clue is to hear how the “you” is pronounced, which is often conveniently made the first word anyway. If it’s pulled into a drawn-out sneer of a word (“Ye-e-e-ew!”) it’s probably a slag-off you’re in for.

The godfather to the slag-off song was probably Bob Dylan. I remember as a nipper being actually shocked to hear him start a song with the snotty line “Y-e-e-w’ve got a lot of nerve to say you are my friend”, and then dismantle the fakery of a friendship from there. Nevertheless, it was with punk that the slag-off came into its own.

As a youth I heard Attila the Stockbroker claim punk exemplified Jean-Paul Sartre’s philosophy of existentialism. It stuck in my head precisely because I didn’t get it at the time. Punk, I thought with crude linearity, surely that’s about anarchy. But, as the opening quotes from the Jesus and Mary Chain show, Attila was right. Mark E Smith sang there were only twelve real people in the world (“the rest are paste”), but he must have been in a generous mood that day. To punk’s distorting lens the only real people are you and me, and frankly I’m having my doubts about you. To punk’s accounting, two’s a crowd. To punk’s ideologising you’re always best off by yourself, free to stand in front of the bedroom mirror perfecting your own self-image. (The other face to the slag-off song is the self-song, epitomized by the Pistols’ ‘I Wanna Be Me’, whose tautology-masked-as-profundity sums up this narcissism. Punk took much from Glam, including an almost fanatical devotion to personal self-transformation.)

When other people come in they get between you and that mirror, they try to reshape you and remake you and that’s where the problems start. Cops, teachers and parents are at least open about it. Friends and fellows, they’ll just try the same thing covertly. As the Psychedelic Furs put it, “they just wanna suck you in to being one of them.” From this comes many outwardly odd punk stances, such as glorifying sex but denigrating any form of intimacy.

Psychologically, this is perfectly adolescent of course. In trying to escape your parents’ influence you charge out their front door and then turn everyone else you see around you back into them. Anything to mask the one thing you could never accept, the person around you who’s most like your parents is you. (Or an even simpler explanation would be that the painfully self-aware adolescent is grateful for any excuse to escape the demanding company of others, particularly the –shock! – opposite sex, and such a hardcore-sounding excuse works all the better.)

It’s as easy to dismiss ideologically too. You can quote Jon Savage and paint it as proto-Thatcherite in its denial of any form of collectivity and society. You could even see its emphasis on the self as a constructed identity, where you make yourself as much as you find yourself, as something postmodern.

All of that may well be true, and its juvenilia is quite appealing in an amusing sort of way. After all, so much of punk’s so great because it’s so bad. But is that the whole story? All such movements are by nature contradictory and, beneath the rhetoric of self, even year-of-’77 Brit-punk exhibited plenty signs of collectivity. Bands would forever lend each other equipment, play endless benefits, walk off tours in solidarity with each other at exactly the same time as they’d snidely slag off each other to the NME.

But that alone would be to suggest slag-off songs were some decoy to punk, whereas actually some of my favourite punk songs are slag-offs. There’s a golden rule to punk, more than almost any other musical genre. Some punk was good, while much of it was so bad it was great. Yet the really memorable punk managed to be both bad-good and good-good simultaneously, and it often chose the slag-off song to accomplish this. Mostly it did this by exploiting the ambiguity inside that apparently direct sneering “ye-e-e-ew!” Who was the “you”? Was it a them, an otherwise anonymous subject denounced in public then left to clammily recognize themself in private?

Or was the “you” us – the audience? Didn’t those gormlessly clapping hands, the ones that fed the band deserve a biting? Alternative culture turns too quickly to complacency and a perverse desire to upturn its self-righteous applecart is often just what the doctor ordered. When, for example, the Furs sneered at parties of people “who put on wigs and stuff so they can be themselves”, they were sneering at their and their peers’ attempt to find themselves inside a manufactured image – and rightly so.

Or was the “you” really me, the singer? Was using the “you” a device for the singer to do their laundry, to criticise themselves in public with no-one knowing? I’m thinking particularly of Lydon’s perpetual post-Pistols assaults on the “bourgeoisie anarchist”, but maybe the genuine outward-directed slag-off is but the tip to a whole iceberg of self-criticism.

Other songs stoked up the mystery by making the “you” a deliberately ambiguous figure – maybe a little bit of me, you and them all stuck together with spittle. To quote again from the Furs, I always liked the line about Caroline who “lives in a place in the side of our lives where nothing is ever put straight”. (Maybe the deflected third-person slag is a sub-genre in itself, the semi-slag or something.) Caroline lives in some kind of shadow realm, populated by our fears. Peering in, we can learn from her mistakes. But she lives inside the same three minutes, she can’t change her tune. No matter how many times you play her song she ain’t gonna smarten up. Maybe that’s the place all songs should visit.