Two songs concerning unresolved feelings about the past, from two people barely old enough (Bugg, 18 when the song was released, and Loveless, 23) to have pasts.
Jake Bugg brings to mind Nick Hornby’s memorable phrase about how in Bruce Springsteen songs there are only two alternatives: “you can either stay and rot, or you can escape and burn.” Hornby offers a third alternative, escape and rot, and Bugg offers yet another: escape but realize no escape is ever a clean break. That’s something that’s bothered me about Bruce’s songs, his narrators are always “pulling out of here to win” as though they will never go back for someone’s sister’s wedding or a Thanksgiving your mother guilts you into attending or an awkward high school reunion you go to because your curiousity gets the best of you. Bugg understands the inevitability of going home again because in a way you never leave:
So I hold two fingers up to yesterday
Light a cigarette and smoke it all away
I got out, I got out, I’m alive but I’m here to stay
In the song he does go back home, smokes some pot with friends, tries to block out his parents (or mother and her boyfriend?) arguing, feels the familiar ambivalence stirred by familiar surroundings. He claims to be above it all–“So I kiss goodbye to every little ounce of pain”–but I’m not convinced and I’m not sure he is either. He was “running so hard” to get out of here his “knees got grazed,” but he sounds resigned to a lifetime of slower trips back. Which might not be so bad, because “there’s a story for every corner of this place,” and the guy is a songwriter after all.
Lydia Loveless is a punk rockin’, honky tonk girl who sounds a lot like a bunch of other punk rockin’, honky tonk girls I’ve loved all along the way, Neko Case of course, and Maria McKee on the early Lone Justice albums, maybe even Carlene Carter back in her bad girl days. Loveless fearlessly inhabits a bad girl persona herself, and doesn’t shy away from the unappealing aspects of it. On “Really Wanna See You” she cocaine-dials a recently-married ex to see if maybe he’d like to give her another go, and on “Wine Lips” she sounds like the drunk girl in the bar chiding that you have to learn to loosen up and to enjoy life if you won’t do what she wants, like drink another shot or kiss her (am I the only one this happens to?)
On “Chris Isaak” she’s remembering an old lover, someone she was first involved with at 17 years old and off and on since. The way she acted back then is a source of wonder to her: “What the hell was I hoping for?/And what the hell was I waiting for?” Her willingness to let the guy back into her life, to try again even though she knows things will follow the same pattern, is a source of self-loathing. Maybe it has less to do with this guy specifically than with a purity of feeling she remembers from being 17 and in love: she sings, “what I wouldn’t give to be able to conjure up energy like that.” Maybe this hunger for a certain kind of intensity will mean all her relationships, even with other men, are doomed to follow that same pattern.
A crunch of guitars (and probably a lot of wine) push this thought from her mind; playing Chris Isaak’s “Forever Blue” album in the dark brings it right back. She sounds like someone who’d do that on purpose because she knows how badly it will make her feel: someone who hasn’t yet got out from under the past, like Bugg says he has. Someone who isn’t sure she wants to.