Thursday, March 09, 2006

Lazy Line Painter Jane, by Belle and Sebastian


The immediacy of this song is the first thing I should mention. It starts quietly and builds slowly. The guitars are what I suppose a music journalist would call “shimmering”. There is a heavy reliance on a hammond organ, and about halfway through, handclaps enter the mix. All of this makes it seem like a song out of its time; this kind of thing doesn’t belong in the mid-1990s. But the moment I heard it, it grabbed my attention for another reason. I vividly remember where I was – in my bedroom, doing my biology homework while listening to the radio, and what it was that really grabbed me. I’ve always loved it when artists do duets between male and female vocalists, and Belle and Sebastian are perfect illustrations of a band who habitually do this. It begins with Stuart Murdoch’s usual type of vocal; quiet, carefully enunciated and in a fairly high vocal register. He’s almost whispering on the low notes. Then the female vocalist comes in, and that’s when I dropped my pencil. Here they’ve used a guest vocalist; Monica Queen and she’s not like the girls in the band. In fact, she sounds like she regularly eats boys like Stuart Murdoch for breakfast.

I bought the EP that the song was on. In the inlay card, along with the lyrics, was a short story about a girl called Jane, the story that had here been turned into a song; it explained a bit more about our heroine. And that was what made me really love this song, and why it still affects me ten years later; I identified so much with Jane that I had one of those unnerving moments when you irrationally wonder whether someone miles away in another country can read your thoughts. Jane is, in one obvious interpretation, your typical sad and introverted indie loner, the type immortalised by Morrissey so many times that it has become clichéd. I understood her predicament though; she lives in a small village, she is “dreaming of anything”, she wants out. There are intimations that she is in some “trouble”, and she seems to have acquired thrush from licking inanimate objects. The chorus tells us “You will have a boy tonight, on the first bus out of town.”

But at the same time she is more than the cliché; she is not just sad, she is positively defiant. Within a few lines, we find her “trying hard not to please anyone, all the time", she is defiant of the “business world” and of her family. By the end of the song, not only is she going to have that boy tonight, but “You hope that they will see”. It seems Jane has some point to prove. But while all this is going on inside her head, she is venting her anger in a manner that the short story tells us is her “Thursday treat”; she is “running miles in some boy’s jumper”. As she runs, she is picturing her eventual triumph over her circumstances and surroundings. The song keeps getting louder and louder, it keeps building right till the very end; we can almost imagine that we are running with her. By the last chorus, both vocalists are singing like their lives depend on it; much like the way Jane is running. It becomes difficult to tell which one is which at times, and I really think that’s because they are both Jane. She only stops when she is exhausted; she waits at a bus stop to go home. The song and the story leave her at the same point: “wondering how you got your name; and what you’re going to do about it”.

It’s the last line that’s the telling one here. She may not be sure where her destination is, but she knows how she’s going to get there. She was a girl of action, young Jane, not just words.

3 comments:

Ernesto said...

Elaine, so good to see you around here. I was thinking of writing about this song last week... and then... you really got me...

Cheers!

Andrea Catalina Cabrera Luna said...

Elaine I loved this: "(Monica) sounds like she regularly eats boys like Stuart Murdoch for breakfast." You are right when you say she's not like the other girls in the band. Generally Stuart manages to have the strongest voice. However, when it comes to writing, the girls are the strong ones. That's why it's dificult not to relate to them. My favorite is Judy, the one who never feels so good except when she's sleeping, the one who realizes the best looking boys are taken, the one who walks the streets from morning til night with a parrot on her shoulders. I think Stuart is a girl in a boy's disguise, even though he has a girlfriend.

Andrea Catalina Cabrera Luna said...

Elaine I loved this: "(Monica) sounds like she regularly eats boys like Stuart Murdoch for breakfast." You are right when you say she's not like the other girls in the band. Generally Stuart manages to have the strongest voice. However, when it comes to writing, the girls are the strong ones. That's why it's dificult not to relate to them. My favorite is Judy, the one who never feels so good except when she's sleeping, the one who realizes the best looking boys are taken, the one who walks the streets from morning til night with a parrot on her shoulders. I think Stuart is a girl in a boy's disguise, even though he has a girlfriend.