Thursday, August 5, 2010

UNASWERED QUESTIONS IN POPULAR SONG


HOW SOON IS NOW?

“How Soon Is Now?” is the 6th track on The Smith’s second studio album “Meat Is Murder” released in February 1985. Originally, “How Soon Is Now?” was not included on the British and European issues of the album. This seems odd in hindsight, but at the time, Jeff Travis and Rough Trade thought that “How Soon Is Now?” wasn’t sufficiently representative of the band’s overall sound.

“How Soon Is Now?” is arguably The Smiths’ most enduring track, the fact that it was covered by Russian pseudo-lesbian pop-sensation, t.A.T.u. in 2003, must have ensured that everyone in the universe has now had the opportunity to enjoy the bombastic anguish that so has come to define The Smiths. The song’s popularity is on one hand peculiar, as it does not conform to the usual pop structure, however “How Soon is Now?’ does provide the drama that has proven irresistible to many pop enthusiasts: I myself am one of those who cannot resist a minor key element in pop; especially in combination with a relentlessly happy beat. To me, and many others, this juxtaposition of happy and sad transcends the normal, everyday-pop-happy and exalts the pedestrian anxious sulk to the divine status of melancholy: the noblest of all emotions.

Apart from all of this, “How Soon is Now?” is a very good question. Often dismissed as childishly obstinate by adults who have lost their capacity for critical thinking and theoretical analysis, “How Soon is Now?” in contrast to “Are We There Yet?” is not a stupid question, and while the latter query should be met with nothing but ridicule, the first should be tackled in earnest; and so we shall.

Newtonians would say that “now” can only exist the moment it was conceived and is therefore redundant before the word can be uttered; that the notion of “now” itself is subjective and the word meaningless. Some more recent studies have shown that humans share an idea of “now” which lasts up to approximately 10 seconds. However, people misuse “now” to a staggering extent in order to lubricate and expedite social as well as professional situations; making use of our shared perception of “now”, yet simultaneously making use of its nebulous semantic nature.

It is apparent that in addition to all his other anxieties, someone less shy (but probably very vulgar) led Morrissey to believe that something would happen “now”. All M wants to know is what the vulgar person meant by that. When all you have to look forward to is nothing in particular, the prospect of anything happening “now” really is exciting. Especially when you have, as Morrissey clearly indicates he has, waited too long already.

But what is it that Morrissey wants? What does he yearn for so? We know that he wants to know what some vulgar type means by “now”, but why is the complex, opaque, conceptual semantics of a term indicating the temporally immediate on his mind at all? What could possibly inspire an individual to delve into a bottomless linguistic pit like this? Could it be a desperate loneliness generated, perpetuated and exacerbated by a crippling shyness?

The short answer is yes.

To be continued…


Mia Tagg ©

1 comment:

  1. What a dauntingly elaborate, insightful and downright clever take on this, a conundrum of modern times: what DID Morrissey mean by the poser, ‘How soon is now?’

    Rather than attempt to add to what is clearly the definitive take on this question, might I suggest some other unanswered questions in popular songs, taken from the Guardian’s 2006 (March) ‘Readers recommend: songs with questions for titles’ poll?

    1 What's He Building? - Tom Waits
    2 How Does It Feel to Feel - The Creation
    3 Who's Gonna Take the Weight? - Gang Starr
    4 Do You Remember the First Time? - Pulp
    5 What Do I Get? - The Buzzcocks
    6 Where Did Our Love Go - Diana Ross and the Supremes
    7 Why - Carly Simon
    8 Who Is He (And What Is He to You)? - Bill Withers
    9 Is That All There Is? - Peggy Lee
    10 Life on Mars? - David Bowie

    Possible answers abound, but perhaps more interesting are the questions themselves...

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