Tuesday, 22 September 2015

No Apologies For The Infinite Radness 1.1.3 - "The Chalet Lines" (Belle & Sebastian)

Trigger warning for sexual assault.

"He raped me in the chalet lines"

This is sad song against which all sad songs are measured, something so depressing it needed five seconds of near-silence at the start of the track and a throwaway piece of fluff following on from it just so it didn't bleed across the rest of the album. The rape that forms the foundation of the song's story is mentioned in the very first line, before the first piano key is touched. The piano remains firmly in the background throughout, a sparse, simple refrain marking time as the story spills out of the desperate, exhausted narrator.  It will take two full verses for another instrument to arrive, a mournful cello wandering through and below the story.

"I had just said no for the final time."

Stuart Murdoch is no stranger to the slow and sorrowful, but this heartbreaking of a woman sexually assaulted at a holiday camp demonstrates just how far removed his - and everyone else's - songs about the problems with fitting in and finding love really are in the grand scheme of things. It's just a taste - the song clocks in at under 160 seconds - of what true injustice and misery is, but it so winds its story so tightly across its thirty-three lines there's a sense you couldn't survive any more.

"Although it's last month it's like yesterday"

What I love most about this song is its focus on the aftermath of the rape rather than the act itself.  The obvious rejoinder to those fools (sadly now including Alan Moore) who argue it's ridiculous for artists to shy away from depicting rape whilst so happily showing killing is that murder, by definition, doesn't require any thought regarding how it will effect the victim. There is no equivalent term for "rape survivor", for obvious reasons. Which means writing about a rape for shock value and/or with no idea how to sensitively tackle what follows is much, much worse than just liberally salting your script with bullets.

There is none of that here. Just a heartbreaking series of incidental details.

"I'm feeling sick, fuck this
I've felt this way for a week"

It's those tiny, horrible details that stick in the heart. The way she still remembers how wonderful the night was before suddenly it wasn't. How she's not sure if the nausea she's feeling is a delayed reaction to what she's experienced, or something much worse.  How she longs to murder her attacker whilst simultaneously seeing no benefit in reporting him to the police.

"She caught the bus"

Then, right as the song approaches its end, we begin to distance ourselves from this poor woman as the song shifts from first to third person. I remember being taught something similar to this in drama lessons - if you spend too long locked inside your character you have to spend a little time recognising them as a distinct person to you.  You can't just stop being them, you have to be you whilst looking at them. It's also here a reminder that whilst we've felt some small slice of this girl's misery, we are not her. Most of us get to breathe in these final lines and remember how lucky we are that we can't truly understand this woman's pain.

Most of us.

"Her face was just a smear on the pane"

And look, you can argue that a man's perspective of a woman being sexually assaulted isn't what we need (we might want to idly wonder why neither of the group's two female vocalists sang the song, but that's none of our business).  But what having Murdoch (with a little help from Stevie Jackson) sing this does though is further throw into relief just how lightweight and self-involved the standard woe-is-me pattern of male singer-songwriters really is.  It highlights not just how totally we bury this kind of story, but the tonnes of solipsistic self-pitying bullshit we use to do it. It reminds us that this is something far too rare concerning itself with something far too common.

It reminds us that this is what art is supposed to be for.

Plus bonus video:

No comments: