Sunday, December 15, 2013

Morrissey's Best Song

Here's a picture that I took in a London market in Islington (near Camden).  It's here because I don't like blog posts with no pictures and because I liked these stamps.  (I bought three, then left them on a London bus. But that's another story).

Camden is a borough of London.  It has a famous market and a famous canal.  It's interesting, like all London neighborhoods.  Morrissey sings about it in "Come back to Camden," a somewhat obscure number in the Morrissey canon that first appeared on his 2004 album You Are The Quarry.  It was co-written by Boz Boorer.  (I looked Boorer up and he's famous, at least inside the music industry.)

I am a longtime Morrissey and Smiths fan but not an obsessive one.  I heard the song for the first time only about six months ago when it spun up on my Pandora playlist.  I  stopped what I was doing to listen. I  heard it again, made note of the title, and bought it on iTunes.  Then I bought it again when  iTunes told me that my computer wasn't authorized to play the track.  (I wondered if prickly Morrissey was requiring hyper-vigilance by Apple to make sure no one's cheating with his music).

I have since decided that "Come back to Camden" is Morrissey's greatest song. (Hold on, there's a link below to a fan-made video so you can listen after I've shut up). I admire the song for the way Morrissey and Boorer invoke the real Camden, with poetry that stands inside the circle of W.H. Auden - e.g.:

Drinking tea with the taste of the Thames, 
sullenly on a chair on the pavement; 
here you'll find my thoughts and I,
 and here is the very last plea from my heart. 
My heart.  
For evermore. 

Where taxi drivers never stop talking, under slate grey Victorian sky, 
Here you'll find despair and I, and here I am 

every last inch of me is yours...YOURS...For evermore. 

That physical Camden is thus summoned economically and powerfully, as is the damaged survivor of a broken love affair:

Your leg came to rest against mine, then you lounged with knees up 
and apart, and me and my heart - we knew... We just knew...

What makes the song truly great, however, is that "Camden" is also a metaphor: a garden of Eden where love bloomed until the shocking eviction.  The hopeless plea at the end of the song,

Come back to Camden and I'll be good, I'll be good!

is delivered with elemental desperation, as heart rending as the screams of a confused child in a hospital.  It is made more searing by our certain knowledge that there is no getting back to that Garden.

In his autobiography (which I am reading now and which is surprising and not surprising all at once - more on that in another post), Morrissey said: "The magical properties of recorded noise had trapped me from 1965 onwards [note, that Morrissey was six in 1965]. Song made a difference to everything, and permitted expressions that otherwise had no way through."(emphasis added).  When I read that, my thoughts flew to "Come back to Camden:" which conveys this world of meaning in its tidy, listenable four minutes and fourteen seconds, thanks to the singing.

All songs are more than the sum of their parts but this song: words, music, and that voice, carry a payload all out or proportion to the apparently modest package.  I hope you will like it as much as I do.