Records memory – Sarah & I – 87/95.
Shyness is like poverty, you can go out with the most beautiful girl in the village one day, finally earn some money and gloat when you see the old school cocks sink, but you never really get rid of it. You always carry with you this smell, however slight, of loss, of lack of confidence, this impression of being less than others, an outsider who systematically gives way to the heir or the alpha male and apologises for that. You don’t even live in this flamboyant margin, haloed by rebellion and outbursts. In your margin, there is no room for loudmouths and exploits. Your margin is in the shade, in this misty, sticky twilight, this permanent in-between. Not beautiful enough to please, not ugly enough to hide. Not bright enough to impress, not stupid enough to ignore. Not rich enough to show off, not poor enough to complain. So you skim the walls, you like the nooks and crannies, the wastelands, the chiaroscuro, the shades of grey and the nuances. And people like you. The ones whose girls make their best friends but never their best lovers. Those girls to whom you repeat: « If you need someone to tell you everything is going to be all right, I can do that, I can do that… », hoping that one day they’ll look at you the way they look at the other. So you contemplate the world falling apart without doing anything but scribbling a few words in a notebook. You watch the others live and swallow whatever the capitalist ogre presents them. Sometimes you even become cynical, the fault of this fucking lucidity. Yet deep inside you, tenderness and the desire for life are waiting for their moment. At the beginning of the 1980s, you hoped. You thought that the victory of the PS (Party of Spleen) would open new perspectives. You were part of a large community; a new musical wind was blowing across the Channel but the socialist ideal had already been blown away. But the hangover was not long in coming: betrayal of ideals and promises. As the decade progressed, the productions became more and more bloated, self-satisfied, parodying, facile and commercial. Even the Smiths had dropped out of the business. And if Morrissey’s first solo steps reassured us (finally a fellow traveler of our sleepless nights who wouldn’t give up on us immediately), if the RPR (Rassemblement des Preneurs de Râteaux) and the UDF (Union des Délicats et des Fragiles) had won a battle, they would probably soon betray us in their turn. We should not have dreamt, we were numerous but not bellicose, furious but not particularly brave; we could never have raised an army. We would therefore still have to manage on our own, with the means at hand. And our own limitations.
In the latter part of the decade, even I was letting myself go. I had managed to seduce the most beautiful girl in the village. But what did I do with this victory over myself? Nothing, I was dousing this already fading relationship with alcohol and bad faith. With gratuitous malice and cowardice. I saw the future coming, this pressure of working life, this summons to finally pay my dues to society. I didn’t want to become an adult at all. At all. So, I did anything. Fortunately, I still had music. And while much of my youthful crushes were wallowing in packed stadiums and sickening lyricism, preparing for the arrival of hordes of filthy guitars, ripped jeans and greasy hair, some resisters had decided to take action and carry on the torch. November ’87, Bristol, Clare Wadd and Matt Haynes released the first 7″ from the newly formed Sarah Records, the irresistible Pristine Christine by the Sea Urchins. It was the start of a counter-revolution led by people who seemed to be like us. The Orchids, The Poppyheads, Another Sunny Day, The Field Mice, St Christopher, and so many others, so many discreet heroes who sometimes fell at the front, so many voices, which even today trigger intense inner trances in me. Crystalline or noisy guitars, voices that are either high-pitched or confident, melancholic sirens, implacable melodies, a certain idea of pop, nestled in the heart of intimacy, the blurred and the uncertain as a flag, the intention as an ambition, the sidestep as a weapon of massive reinvention.
A counter-revolution that didn’t always say its name, silent, humble, DIY, artisanal. What a joy to see that one could create something great, strong, touching with a real economy of means. Two colors, a sheet of paper folded in half, a plastic sleeve, a poster. A counter-revolution and eternal anthems. For us who were so unprepared for the big world, what hope. Aesthetics, art, emotions, I had that in my pocket too.
Last night The Orchids saved my life.
Sensitive still puts me in a trance in 2022. Like few songs. I don’t know how many times I’ve listened to this song. How many times I’ve listened to it over and over aand over and over and over again, sometimes listening to nothing but it for days, playing air guitar in my small student’s room on the sixth floor of this Haussmannian building, with a cigarette in my mouth and a double gin tonic in my hand. The first time I heard it, Ithought immediately of these words of Reverdy: « The heart is never so well balanced as on a steel edge ». But so much. This constant, uncertain balancing on a thread that you don’t know how it still holds. These guitars that stretch out and want to fight. These guitars, which on a drunken night persuade me that everything is possible, but the next day turn out to be poisoned arrows stuck in my heart, which once again pisses blood. In chorus. And this text which confirms me in my pallid singularity, this text which tells me that I risk being crucified by those who are not, sensitive. But it also puts in black and white that my difference is ultimately a choice. A choice that has a price, these incessant wounds, but that also allows me to appreciate this beauty that these others are busy devastating.
During these few years I moved forward with a patched-up heart, but lighter, more alive. At nightfall, I could finally take communion with other sensitive people, other faithful people, hidden like the first Christians, chanting clumsily « Who needs tomorrow, when all I need, all I needed was you ». We formed a kind of freemasonry, the Lodge of Ordinary People obedience. We had our words, our rites, our codes, our drinks, our unmarked clothes. We were transparent but we recognised each other. You had to be an insider to know that SARAH 057 was the fabulous Missing The Moon 12″ or that SARAH 004 was not a record but a fanzine. We were trading posters under the table. We were looking to complete that Bristol picture of puzzle pieces hidden in the 7″ of SARAH 021 to SARAH 030. This didn’t necessarily help our sentimental affairs, which often remained virtual. We still had these latent urges to kill and this anger that the handicapped of feelings that we were could not express. But it put salve on our scars. And it showed us that another way was possible, that resisting was not only fighting but also living, writing, playing, creating. That was already a lot. Eternal gratitude and eternal flame. Thanks to Clare, Matt and all the bands that carried us through those years. Looking back, I think it was great to be 20 years old in 1987.
August 1995, I’ve been in London for a few months and I’m about to return to Paris. So it’s the end of an era. Since my arrival in the British capital, I have been leading a double musical life. During the day I carry around my Sarah compilations and I try in vain to make new disciples. Dragging them to gigs. My fellow sojourners have moved on, to a different faith. Younger, more confident, more extroverted, they are the ones who convert me by taking me to the hottest dancefloors in town every night. My heart beats to the rhythm of new beats, my body discovers new sensations. The pleasure is strong, sometimes intense, sometimes disturbing even, but it is not enough. Neither is the drug.
The day has dawned on London.
Today no after party, no raid, it’s time to go home. For good.
In the train that takes me home, I look vaguely outside through my reflection, I find it hard to recognise myself in the scenery that passes by, photos from the last few weeks are mixed up on the bulletproof window, Amélie’s laughing face, Delphine on Club UK’s dancefloor, Victoire replaying Wonderful World for the umpteenth time, Bristol beach at dawn, Camden, Old Brompton Road, the Ministry toilets, Müller’s yoghurt, our basement garden.
At my feet a Sainsbury’s bag.
And in my headphones the Field Mice, When Morning Comes to Town: « I’m happy to go out like this, if happy is the word »…
© Matthieu Dufour
When morning comes to town
I’ll be moving on
When evening comes back ’round
I’ll be somewhere alone
Somewhere far away
Well, what about you?
All things have to end
They have to and they do
And they do