They say the most beautiful song ever written is "Waterloo Sunset". I don’t agree. I believe it’s Split Enz’s "Message To My Girl".
I love the story of Terry and Julie. But when Neil Finn sings that "there’s nothing quite as real as a touch of your sweet hand" he encapsulates the secret desire of this lonely rock and roll fan. We listened to the records because we loved them, but what we wanted even more was someone sitting next to us, with their eyes closed, body touching ours, as the music swirled around in the dark. Rock fans are lonely. They go to the show to feel that they belong. Listening to "Message To My Girl" I feel that I belong.
"Message To My Girl" is one of the few good tracks on "Conflicting Emotions", Split Enz’s last album.
They’d been on Chrysalis. But the band didn’t break through until they signed with A&M, and released "True Colours". It was 1980, when KROQ was still free-form, before it became the "ROQ of the 80s". When if a band from New Zealand with little traction released an infectious record the station would play it, without checking with a consultant or doing callout research first.
I treasure all those days at the Whisky. Not only Elvis Costello and Joe Jackson, but Split Enz. If you’d heard "True Colours" you had to go. Because the album contained not only the classic opening track, "I Got You", but three consecutive songs on the second side that are the essence of rock and roll, because they embody all the alienation, all the loneliness of being a fan.
And they performed "Nobody Takes Me Seriously", "Missing Person" and "Poor Boy" that night. But that was when it was still Tim Finn’s band. Neil was not an equal, but a junior partner. But it turned out that Neil had a knack for commerciality, for composing catchy radio tracks, and he soon came to dominate. Not that Split Enz ever got any bigger. They seemed to peak with the laser-etched "True Colours". But I didn’t think twice before buying their records. I needed them.
And when the band broke up, Neil formed a new group, Crowded House. Which had a monster hit a while after the debut was released, with "Don’t Dream It’s Over". But there’s a song on that album that takes the essence of the Split Enz experience and goes further, "Hole In The River". It’s dark without letting its mood sink the song. It’s for we lonely rockers, with more questions than answers. But then Crowded House’s humor eclipsed its touching realism, and I lost interest, they weren’t going in the right direction, I reverted to listening to my Split Enz records.
And I’m a dyed-in-the-wool fan. I went to see "Coca-Cola Kid" because Tim Finn was in it. But each subsequent Finn record… It had the feel, the essence, but not the magic.
Now the magic is back.
Neil has reformed the band. Crowded House that is. Sans the drummer who took his own life. They were the Live Earth headliner Down Under. Not that anybody but a fan would know in the U.S. Over here, they’re a theatre act at best. But to see the band play to tens of thousands, enraptured, in a way only spectacle rivets people over here, raised my pulse. Yes, there’s was the first video I dialed up on MSN. Watch the audience sing along with the band on "Take The Weather With You". You’ll scratch your head, wondering about this alternative universe, where a band not based on looks, that doesn’t dance, makes it purely on music that’s not Top Forty pop, is a cultural institution.
But if you dial back a few numbers, you’ll find the performance of a new song, "Silent House". Which captures the magic of Neil Finn every bit as much as his twenty five year old material.
Better yet, dial up the band’s MySpace page:
Skip the first three numbers, go straight to the last, the one played the least, "Silent House".
What did we love about Led Zeppelin? THE ETHEREAL QUALITY! Like the music was made in another world, separate from ours, where we not only wanted to visit, but live. Where everybody got along, where you were accepted for who you were.
Who are you? The guy who dons the fancy duds and puts up a front and tries to swim in the morass of the corporation or the person with more questions than answers, who listens to music that gets him through?
I’m betting you’re the latter. I’m betting if we were stranded in a hut far from civilization your airs would fall away, you’d stand there naked, warts and all, desirous of connecting.
We’re all little children. We cover up so as not to be abused. It’s such a big job keeping up appearances. But if we don’t, will we be able to get ahead, will we be able to keep our heads above water?
We doubt it. That’s why we have faith in artists. They’re playing the game for us. The true game of life. Where you sacrifice artifice, are a raw nerve-ending, your true self, subject to degradation as well as adulation.
"Silent House" begins like a lone boat on a lake in the dark. Afloat, but unsure where it is going. And when Neil Finn comes in singing, he sounds like a lost soul, almost dead, yet still alive.
Eventually the drums roll in, there are further textures, the track bobs up and down in the waves. Then comes the power. The explosive guitars.
How did we get here? How can we be this old and still feel so clueless? Are we going to die without achieving our dreams? Are we even going to be able to keep our equilibrium as the losses mount? How are we going to cope?
I don’t know.
But when I hear a record as good as "Silent House", I can get through another day.