David Fleming
It's All Academic   www.davidflemingsite.com   
Day 242: Del Amitri (Second Staircase)

April 13, 2023

Today I find my topic in another comeback, Del Amitri's 2021 Fatal Mistakes. As opposed to Citizens of Boomtown (see Day 231), Fatal Mistakes is a fantastic return for the group barely known in the U.S. through 1995's "Roll To Me." My begrudging respect for the Del's primary lead and songwriter, Justin Currie, has been blogged before (see Day 15), my guilt for loving lyrics frequently disturbing, often because of a misogynistic bent. I have often wondered if their main songwriter's tendency toward such lyrics prevented the Dels from being as appreciated as they should have been.

At their best, Del Amitri songs are pure pop, both musically and lyrically, romantic in intent and delivery. The disturbing elements often bubble up through Currie's blunt honesty. "Don't tell her that you need her," Currie sings on "Behind The Fool," "don't tell her that you care." In "Driving With The Brakes On," a song that might be about a couple's reckoning post-abortion, the recurring line is "it's hard to say you love someone/and it's hard to say you don't." "Roll To Me" probably found success, at least in the U.S., because the message avoids such disclaimer: when things are tough, girl, just "roll to me." However, such uncomplicated views of love and relationships are rare for Currie.

For Fatal Mistakes, not only do many of the disturbing undercurrents remain, they seem even more overt, almost as if to justify the title of Fatal Mistakes. Currie characterized the group of tracks upon release as "a collection of bizarre tales, poisoning, pleading, and bitter acceptance."  Sometimes, while a lyric seems traditional boy-girl romance, the messaging is probably toward the band themselves: "So fill up your glasses/here's to another thirty years of wounding each other/like we just can't get enough" ("All Hail Blind Love"). Other times his poison pen is aimed at society: "We're a nation of caners/excusers, explainers/we're wasting away/every night and day/assuring ourselves we're blameless/of everything heading their way" ("Nation of Caners").  However, that doesn't mean Currie will forego the deepest part of a human's psyche. He charges head on into his own psyche in several songs, but most dramatically in "Second Staircase."

Set to a slightly ominous musical background, "Second Staircase" uses a hidden staircase metaphor for exploring the complications of love, in the song's case between the woman he's been "crazy since he saw her" and the woman represented by the whole house "built up from the ground." This second staircase leads to his "secret ticket" to this other love, but for the good of his marriage (presumably) he knows he's "blocked the second staircase behind some junk we never use." It's a very simple conceit, brilliant in its simplicity, but one has to ask, "Dude, why are you even referencing this secret love in song?" Perhaps, this is just the fertile imagination of an artist, projecting a completely fictional narrative. I suppose my hesitancy to accept that hypothesis comes from the fact that the lyrics are fallowed land plowed 30 years earlier with "Be My Downfall." In that song, reeking of groupie temptation for the married rock-and-roller, Currie sings, "and as I look at you/and fall under your spell/well, I know I should be thinking of her/lying there all by herself." I have no idea if there are actual "players" for any of these narrative's roles, wife, second wife, third wife, etc.; I just know that Currie is too damn good at making me believe there are.

I've been thinking about "Second Staircase" a lot as I try to counsel my son through the vagaries of love and relationships.  A key moment in my early relationship with my wife was when I knew I had to block a second staircase (and in my case, which led not so much to a ticket, but to an anchor) behind some junk (my past infatuations) that we, literally, could never use. I may have completely bricked up the second staircase, but it is always there. I think that's natural to the human condition. I can move the bookcase and see the framing for the staircase, but now there is just brick and mortar where once there was an opening to a dark, little-used place in my life.

Given that Lincoln has ended up liking so much of the music I like, I continue to wonder why he doesn't gravitate toward the Dels, given these kinds of insights into the difficulties of love. I suppose if I asked him to think deeply about it, he would probably reject the kind of duality that Currie projects in songs like "Be My Downfall" or "Second Staircase." Love is love in his world, and any kind of temptation away from that simply falls on deaf ears. Perhaps I am destined to live in a two-story home while he will be destined to a ranch-style home (as if anyone his generation ever believes they can buy a house anymore) with no staircases to use, let alone hide. As I am learning as I get older, that will serve him well when everything starts to break down.

Del Amitri. "Second Staircase." Fatal Mistakes. Cooking Vinyl, 2021. Link here.

Day 241: Donna Summer "Love To Love You Baby"

Day 243: Stan Ridgway "Drive, She Said"

See complete list here.