David Fleming
It's All Academic   www.davidflemingsite.com   
Day 16: The Psychedelic Furs (All Of This And Nothing)

May 12, 2020

Last summer, I saw the Psychedelic Furs with my friend, Gary, and I knew that for today, his birthday, I would choose from the Furs for the 365 artists in 365 songs series. I listened to a lot of their catalog the last few days, and after tentatively choosing any number of their better known songs, I settled on, well, the catalog.

The catalog song, as I call it, is the song that strings along images, not necessarily related, usually through the verses. The catalog song is the musical equivalent of poetry's Imagism style, of Ezra Pound capturing juxtaposed apparently random images, as he does "In A Station of the Metro." The most famous examples in pop music are REM's "It's The End Of The World As We Know It," and Billy Joel's "We Didn't Start a Fire," although even their catalogs mean something in the context of the chorus (and titles).

In "All Of This And Nothing" by The Psychedelic Furs, the cataloged images are succinct and evocative, but not particularly clear in whole.  The opening verse, which comes in after a minute of a quiet guitar chord sequence morphed with surging saxophone and hi-hat percussion, erupting into a full instrumental assault, immediately puzzles us:

A phone book full of accidents/

A girl to drive your car/

A suit to wear on Mondays/

And a coat, a magazine/

A heavy rain, a holiday/

A painting of the wall/

A knife, a fork, and memories/

A light to see it all.

Once Richard Butler hits the chorus, his "you didn't leave me anything that I can understand" represents the clearest statement of the song so far. Yep, we got no clue, Richard.

The second part of the chorus illuminates a little "light to see it all." Is he listing the "stuff" that he never meant in a plea "to turn you [a departed lover?] round?"  The catalog of stuff for verse two seems slightly more comprehensible, if we are to understand these are the remnants of a broken relationship:

Dominoes, a pack of cards/

A picture of the queen/

A dress to wear on Sundays/

And a handle for the door/

A letter that I sent to you/

A note you left for me/

A wave, a pack of cigarettes/

A pocket full of beads.

However as the song proceeds through the repeated chorus to a final verse of more confusing fragmentary images (what are we to make of "A visit from your doctor/he crawls in through the door?"), we are eventually left to believe that Butler's narrator is sprawled in the midst "of all of this, a roomful of your trash." It's an image (and a song) that should have been used in Danny Boyle's "Trainspotting," as one of that film's wasted drug addicts attempts to make sense of his life. It certainly would have fit with "Lust For Life," "Atomic," and "Nightclubbing."

The song stops immediately with Butler's elongation of the word "trash" then Richard Ashton's gentle chord sequence from the beginning picks up again, punctuated by Tim Butler's prodding bass piercing the song like a lighthouse beacon flashing in the night. In all, we are offered another couple of minutes of sweet cacophony that the synthesizers, saxophone and additional guitar add. One gets the sense that the song will go right back to the first verse and the endless nothingness will pervade. It's bleak, it's beautiful, and it's perfectly psychedelic. Or should I say furfectly psychedelic?

"All Of This And Nothing." The Psychedelic Furs. Talk Talk Talk. Columbia. 1981. Link here.

Day 15: Justin Currie "If I Ever Loved You."

Day 17: Donnie Iris "Ah Leah."

See complete list here.