The waiting game: waiting for the man, waiting for the rain, waiting for the car to come, the fans to stop screaming and stop rushing the limo, waiting for the drug dealer to turn up with the shit, waiting for the sun to come up….or go down….’Waiting in vain for your love’ like Bob Marley, ‘waiting only for boot heels to be wanderin” like Dylan, or ‘hanging on the telephone’ waiting like Blondie for the boy, the girl or the invite that never comes; in the end we are all just ‘waiting around to die’ like Townes Van Zandt sang, much to the masochistic glee of Susanna Clarke. “This is my favorite song” she tells Seymour, before she lays on some heartfelt, heart-worn vocals. Seymour sits with his friends, tears pouring down his face: he felt the pain, the empathic click, the shared torture of ‘killing the pain’ of waiting waiting waiting. Killing the pain of waiting by hanging out with brother codeine. Jail cells that result from the bad things boys get into while waiting around to die, two year time outs and the futility of violence run through the song like a bad seam of dirty blood-diamonds.
There is sure a lot of waiting in this life. Mr. Seymour Washington, a blacksmith born before the turn of the century, and friend of Townes and Susanna had some sage advice for the young Townes on how to behave whilst waiting, so the dying doesn’t come too fast and too brutal into view, namely you don’t have to drink all the whiskey, and moderation in all things. The value of human empathy in this waiting game of life cannot be undervalued. Seymour’s tears for himself and for Townes and the future he saw for him, Susanne and her hand on Mr. Washington’s hands, comforting him, Townes and his careless disregard for his own life and what destroying it with booze and ‘rambling’ did to those who loved him are all intensely human and humane.
There is going to be some waiting, it is what we do in this long interim and how we interact with others that matters. It might seem like a waste of time to look to rock and roll to offer comfort or exhortations towards compassion, but let’s face it, rock and roll and popular music has been the main way many of us have tolerated all the waiting for him or her to call, for death to come around, for cars to arrive, people to get on planes, for trips to start or end. The endless hours we spend so carelessly until we realize we used them all up waiting instead of living.
No one wants to be ‘waiting in vain for love’ , for winter to ‘be here’ and instead to ‘be waiting there’, as Marley sang. Somehow the wistful lilt of the reggae in counterpoint to the longing and the waiting with no resolution forms a perfect bubble of perfect painful tearful wanting and waiting. Anyone who has ever cried over unrequited love has listened to Bob Markey and lay back upon the bed, the sun streaming in through the window and realized that that loss and heartbreak is just a part of life as the waiting is. Waiting for love is futile and unavoidable. Until cupid’s arrows are removed by time, fate, chance or desperate men, all that is left is the endless waiting for satisfaction….and most of the time, you can’t ‘get no satisfaction either, no matter how hard you try, or how hard that rhythm guitar rocks. Even Mick Jagger is told ‘baby, better come back maybe next week’ by some ‘girl’ he is looking to get close to. Waiting for that positive reaction, that to and fro, that honest connection is not just something for us mere mortals – even the Stones have to wait sometime.
Lou Reed knew a lot about waiting. There are some truths in this world, but the one that remains absolute, is that with a serious drug habit, the ‘first thing that you learn is that you always gotta wait.’ Waiting for the Man is not just a perfect little nugget of noise avant guard rock, it is social commentary, a snapshot of the New York junkie in the heyday of the 20th century, going about their daily business in the brownstones and streets of East Harlem, on the cross-section of the infamous Lexington and 125th street. ‘Tomorrow is just some other time’ Lou wails, and that is true enough. Waiting to get sick. Waiting for the drugs to stop working their magic, or waiting for the satisfaction of the security of the bag in the pocket, the needle in the vein, and the plume of blood in the barrel. Life as a series of incidents of extreme action with long boring periods of waiting and wishing away precious finite time. The junkie’s life is waiting and relief amplified to the nth degree, and even in relief there is the evil and terrifying surety of knowing that ‘every junkie is like a setting sun’ as Unkle Neil observed, and what comes up must come down, that what gets well is gonna get sick, and that tomorrow when it comes will bring suffering, struggle and more waiting for the man who is never on time. Dealers are infamously always late, whether by design, inability to tell the time, a sadistic sense of humor of just because they are as much wasters of the most precious commodity of all as the rest of us, I do not know. Perhaps I should do a poll, asking why the purveyors of relief can never be where they are meant to be when they are meant to be there. Maybe it is evil genius and some kinda evolution used to evade the cops dastardly attentions.
Bowie and Lou’s version of Waiting for the Man is one of the most horrific bastardizations of a great song that has ever disgraced the airwaves. Lou looks like he can’t wait for it to end, while Bowie’s beeps and electronica cocaine fuelled boops take the song into disco glam terror-tory. The man is waiting and so is Lou. Only Bowie is standing there glorying in his perfect moment: one man’s waiting is another man’s blissful perfect moment of resolution and action.
Bowie had his own version of waiting, even if he was playing alien in his Ziggy Stardust glory daze. Bowie, the personification of the omnisexual, fueled on pharmaceuticals and experimentation did not wait to make his moment. Bowie was not waiting, but the Starman in the skies ended up waiting and waiting for humanity to be ready to commune with the starman energy…he didn’t want to ‘blow our minds’ after all. It was all too late for the Starman, I suspect, Bowie had already blown enough hearts, minds and other more bodily attributes by the time he birthed the glorious Ziggy Stardust.
As much as I wish the Starmen had come down, drawn to us by Bowie’s clear evolved genius, the reality is far sadder and more not even down to earth, but instead, under it. Pink Floyd were waiting for the worms, as they sat ‘in perfect isolation’ behind their wall. There has been enough talk of walls in recent years, yet the Wall sounds as fresh now as it did when it was first released in 1979. The bigots and blackshirts that Waters/Floyd (lets face it The Wall was a Roger Waters album, featuring some Pink Floyd band members) tried to drag out into the cleansing light, exposed as the villiains of The Wall, in what might have been the most misunderstood song of all time. While we are waiting for the worms, eating away at goodness, at freedom, at safety, at diversity, at society, at least we have some company that also see the dangers and try and get people to look at them, rather than shying away from the reality that we are all just one wall away from a dictatorship and fascist disaster. A Heart Shaped Box, away if you will. Nirvana, the slacker grunge Kings had a new complaint, they were ‘forever in debt to (your) priceless advice. The chorus of ‘hey! Wait!’ hooks in the listener. Who has not ever felt like shouting out to the world to hold on a second, hang on a minute, wait up and cool yer horses, nothing is ok, and nothing can be. There is always something new to be irritated by and indebted to in the waiting game. Ask the Kinks. They sure were ‘tired of waiting’, as long as the waiting depends on another human being to play ball, it is a fickle game. The best we can hope for is the other person shows up on time and doesn’t want to wait either.
I would much rather wait for the sun with Morrison, on ‘freedom’s shore’, in a time capsule bubble of that perfect young existence where the dawn is to be relished, and ‘waiting for you to tell me what went wrong’ is another lesson, not the last missed opportunity for happiness. The eternal spring of being 21, where waiting is just another game to play, just another sun drenched happy moment of blissfulness. Living each day, choosing the tackle the waiting as a moment of peace and respite before the sun comes up and action is required, is a skill I have tried to master, but never got down pat, yet in this moment, writing to you, sitting here in my room, waiting for the fucking internet to come back on line, getting frustrated and irritated at the wait, the grind, the when will it come back, the sheer dullness of the wait, I can almost smell the roses. I can pick up the guitar with no guilt and strum a little song. I can lay and enjoy the Californian winter sun. I can think, and breathe and enjoy the bliss of existence, no matter how frail, and how fucked up, and how soaked in loss and disappointments it is at this point in time.
Joni was waiting for the Car on the Hill, her lover, (allegedly Jackson Browne) to show, when he was (allegedly) with another woman. The longing, the sadness, and the pain of the disrespect towards her bleeds through her words and music. Waiting is a long climb, uphill all the way. There is no peace for the female waiter, just the anxiousness of knowing she has been done dirty, yet again. “He said he would be over three hours ago” she sings, yet there is no anger in her voice, just resignation. Yet another wait in vain, yet this waiting is so much sadder than it is sweet.
After all it is all just time. Pink Floyd and their clocks (and don’t dare suggest they might have passed the time getting high! How dare anyone suggest they were a ‘drug band’, Rog only did LSD twice doncha know! (coughs…Bullshit) are here to play us out of the waiting game. Trust the boys to set nerves on edge with their cacophony of clock sounds, the desperate fast heart beat of the tick tock in the background, reminding us that one day our hearts will tick without the tock…The spaceman empty reverb echoing around the ‘moments that make up a dull day, launching us into the ‘quiet desperation’ which might be the English way, but I sure as shit don’t fancy ‘frittering the hours’ away without raising my voice. It is a good job that Floyd do it for us. There is ‘time to kill’ when we are young…the song quickly moves beyond The Doors ‘Waiting for the Sun’ perfect moment of being young, and quickly accelerates into the desperation of ‘ten years have got behind you, no one told you when to run….you missed the starting gun’. A warning if ever there was one. Unfortunately all that pressure to make hay while the sun shines, make life what you can before the meter runs out and so does all the energy and possibility and hope and life, is not conducive to actually doing anything worth shit.
The oppressive knowledge that “the sun is the same in a relative way, but you are older, shorter of breath and one day closer to death’, is brutally not shied away from by the Floyd boys, no matter if they do soothe the existential nightmare they are facing on and kissing full on the lips. We all think we have ‘something more to say’. I like to think I haven’t run out of interesting things to write about, but in the end the fear gets hold of us, that ‘tolling of the iron bell’. I won’t be dragged to my knees quiet yet. I am not into capitulation, no matter how hard the waiting game might be. How hard is it to look back on all those wasted moments pining over girls or boys that just were not that ‘into me’, all that wasted time not enjoying the wait, the moments in between the frenetic action and reaction. Time. The enemy of us all. Waiting waiting waiting, and then….one day, the wait is no more. There is no more time to kill, to fritter, to spend like water to run through our fingers in the burning of the sun, in the darkness of the stillness of the night.
Enjoy the wait. Treasure the time. Embrace the boredom and the lack of action and those moments which seem to mean nothing at all, until they mean everything.
I’ll be waiting for ya on the dark side of the room….