I worked a gig Saturday night that took so much out of me that when my co-worker nicked some chocolate chip cookies out of the staff kitchen for me, I didn't eat them. I was so tired that food didn't taste good anymore. It was just a mouthful of crumbly stuff that really wasn't much fun at all.

When I ran out of things to read on the late train home, I started desperately pawing through my phone for something to think about. Though my playlists are generally albums in proper track order or a collection of a dozen or so loose songs that won't stop circling in my head, I load entire discographies onto the storage card for exactly these kinds of emergencies. Usually there's something weird enough in the directory of bootlegs and B-sides to keep me awake until I get to my stop.

I ended up listening to this on loop. That is Brian Molko on vocals, and probably him on the guitar, too; it's one of the B-sides to an early Placebo single. It sounds almost entirely unlike anything he does with the band. Were it not for a couple of the higher notes, I wouldn't recognize him at all. It doesn't sound much like the Syd Barrett original, either, for that matter. It is a much softer sound than he normally uses. Most people, I think, use the description "smoky" for voices to mean it sounds like a voice whose owner is raspy from being in a smoke-filled room, but as it happens smoky is actually what they look like to me. Particulate effects, more or less, rather than a solid color trail. Normally Molko's voice is one of those that comes in very hot and bright and has a corona, but this style is misty even through the middle.

I'd no idea he could do that. It reminded me of how many things I will never know about other people, and how many things other people will never know about me. The distance is too great, and there is never enough time. We are all just tiny, flickering lights, alone in the endless void. Sometimes I wonder why I spend so much time squinting into the darkness, and if I wouldn't be better off if I could get myself to stop.

There are times when I have mixed feelings about being good at sussing people out. I wind up knowing a lot of personal things about humans I am never even going to have a proper conversation with. Molko I think would not answer questions as bluntly as he does if he were bothered by the idea that people would figure out how he worked, which is good, because so far all of my checkable guesses have turned out to be right. Luxembourg is more or less where he feels he grew up. His mother is the extremely conservative Christian who dragged him to church as a kid. He was bullied entirely out of school at one point and had to transfer. His parents hate his choice of career, regardless of his success. He dresses himself the way he does because that's what looks right when he checks the mirror. A lot of the specific lyrics are euphonious doggerel, but the songs as a whole do generally mean something. Interviews take a lot out of him, and left to his own devices he tends towards quiet and thinky.

Most of the other things I think are speculation and cannot be checked without someone asking him directly, but I think they logically follow from the rest. He fucked off to uni when he was still seventeen, knowing that when he got there he'd have no one and nothing and nowhere to turn if he needed help, because that was still a better prospect than staying where he was. He ended up on the dole for a couple of years because either he cut his family off, or they cut him off. He refers to the band, especially Stefan Olsdal, as his surrogate family because his actual family is probably kind of useless. He's not kidding when he says he was terrified of getting an office job, or that he would have been happy if all his music ever did was pay bills and buy groceries; what he needed above all else was to find somewhere to exist where he could be the guy he is, and that would be okay. Actually being a success was a complete accident.

He has been some extremely dark places, in his life. There are lots of hints, many of which are not really all that hinty. Someone recently asked him 'what would you be, if you weren't a musician?' and the first thing that popped out of his mouth was, "Dead." Other people seem shocked by this, I assume because they've never been there. I don't know if he meant 'literally dead, in the morgue' or just 'dead behind the eyes, all hope having fled', but I thought it sounded like a pretty realistic assessment of his chances, had he not gotten out of where he was. Normally, I consider advice like "don't let anyone tell you who to be" to be something between empty rhetoric and inspiration porn, because the people giving it are thinking in terms of 'being picked on for being kinda geeky' and not 'the entire community is angry at me for existing wrong'. But Molko says it so fiercely that I really think he means it: It is an assertion that even misfits have a right to exist, and an exhortation to survive.

I figure only Taylor Swift sets her diary to music, but if "Breathe Underwater" is not generally autobiographical, I will eat my extravagantly-feathered hat. Probably also, by way of metaphor, "Hæmoglobin".

None of this information does me any good. Mainly it makes me wish I had the opportunity to tell him, in exactly so many words, that he's succeeded in getting stuff out of his head in a format that other people can understand, and that I get it. A lot of artists make me feel this way. I keep reminding myself that this is not likely to ever to happen, and probably wouldn't mean much to him if it did. I'm not even entirely sure I'm thinking of this the right way around. Most people gush over music or books or movies because they feel the author really gets their experience, which has always struck me as odd, because how can the author 'get' someone they've never met? On the other hand, they've published a piece of themselves that I have the opportunity to feed into my head, so I saying that I think I get what they're saying seems entirely logical to me.

Comments