So we were talking to my at-college son on the phone last Sunday and he was expressing some love for “No Time for Heroes” by the Libertines and I said, hey, Mom heard that on the radio back in 2002 and tracked it down on import at Newbury Comics and I put it on my best of for that year!
He was not impressed because he has no appreciation of a time when finding cool new music involved something more than randomly clicking links on a screen but it did inspire us after the call to throw on that old 2002 Best Of cassette (I need to convert those from cassette!). “No Time for Heroes” remains great despite the Libertines/Pete Doherty’s checkered future but it was this song, which I hadn’t heard in a while, that really jumped out at me.
According to the Badly Drawn Boy himself, real name Damon Gough, it’s about the whirlwind life of a pop star and how ambition can keep you from finding true love. I will occasionally in these circuits (writers used to say “in these pages”) remark on how lovely it is someone noticed something everyday and found a way to get it into a song. This is not one of those times, because the whirlwind life of a pop star is frankly one of the less-lovely things for a pop star to notice, and low on my list of what I want to listen to someone go on about.
Still, I love the song, and I’m not sure why. It’s catchy in a shambling sort of way; the held notes when he sings “You” and “I,” and then has to speed up to get the rest of the line in, are wonderful. Turning Madonna down in a dream as an expression of fidelity is charming, even if in the context of the song the fidelity he’s expressing is to someone he never made enough time to have a relationship with. Also fun is the pop music inversion of the song not being about an unattainable girl but instead a too-attainable one (that might be a pop star thing).
But ultimately it’s this verse that gets me:
Remember doing nothing
On the night, Sinatra died
And the night, Jeff Buckley died
And the night, Kurt Cobain died
And the night, John Lennon died
I remember I stayed up
To watch the news with everyone
Which is an absolutely lovely thing to notice, because I remember most of those nights too, and the feeling of wanting to do something memorable, appropriately commemorative, to mark the losses and coming up with nothing except play a song or two and listen to TV announcers discuss the details. Let’s add just over the past few years Lou Reed, and Bowie, and Prince, and Tom Petty, and that was a lot of lives, and more to come as the classic rock generation faces the abyss.
You don’t know these people, of course, and unless you count maudlin Facebook posts (I don’t) there isn’t a lot you can do with your grief. “Songs,” Damon sings in the next verse, “are never quite the answer, just a soundtrack to a life.” Which is true enough, although there are many songs that sure felt like the answer at the time.
What I guess I’m saying is that if you’re a fan these rock star deaths can have a long tail: you are mourning the person who died, but also the person you were when you first heard the songs, and perhaps past personal losses that also made you feel this way. This isn’t a bad thing.
Damon was the hot thing from Britain for a bit, and this song actually went Top 10 in England, but I don’t think it did much here in the US. There have been good songs from him since but most of the time he seems like he either loses interest in his material or heaps on too much attention and smothers it. In the last category is “Nothing’s Gonna Change Your Mind” from 2006, overblown but fabulous. Not sure what he’s up to lately but I hope he’s over the cap by now.