Friday, 5 November 2010
SUPERSONIC, EDWIN MORGAN, ADORNO
"The beauty of art is a brief gasp between one cliche and another" - Ezra Pound
Like Champagne Supernova, Supersonic is often viewed as an apotheosis of Gallagherian nonsense. This is certainly fair with regard to the verses:
I'm feeling supersonic
Give me gin and tonic
You can have it all but how much do you want it?
You make me laugh
Give me your autograph
Can I ride with you in your B.M.W. ?
You can sail with me in my yellow submarine
I know a girl called Elsa
She's into Alka Seltzer
She sniffs it through a cane on a supersonic train
She makes me laugh
I got her autograph
She done it with a doctor on a helicopter
She's sniffin in her tissue
Selling the Big Issue
But we need to look beyond this, which is just arbitrary filler, melody-serving word music of the kind that is ubiquitous in pop. This is a song that underlines the necessity of selective discrimination within the confines of a work of art. Reading Edwin Morgan’s Glasgow Sonnets in a poetry reading group the other day, I was struck by the perversity of the fact that we are often willing to dismiss entire works (sometimes entire oeuvres) because of one or two isolated instances of banality. The trouble is of course that this impulse usually ends up stifling inarticulate, uneducated, or marginal voices who make occasional verbal gaffes and incline towards sentimentalism. Think of the hysterical positivist mantra of Anglo-American analytic philosophy: “define your terms”. In an iniquitous world, it is nearly always the privileged and the powerful who will be best at logical definition, who will be most fluent in the “terms”. We are missing out if we rule out the gauche and the irrational, if we heap praise only on the fastidiously unified, the classically wrought.
Dig a little deeper into Supersonic, and we find some really quite beautiful lyrics:
My friend said he’d take you home
He sits in a corner all alone
He lives under a waterfall
Nobody can see him, nobody can ever hear him call
The Smiths’ How Soon is Now seems to be an obvious influence here (“and you go and you stand on your own, and you leave on your own, and you go home ...”). In fact, a lot of early Oasis borrows from Hatful of Hollow-period Smiths. (And we should remember that early Morrissey is an entirely different beast from the later Bengali in Platforms-era Vaudevillian egoist – see Tom Ewing on this). Witness Fade Away and its devastating chorus (“while we’re living, the dreams we have as children fade away”); see also Live Forever (“maybe I just want to breathe”) and Half the World Away (“I would like to leave this spirit / you find me a hole and I’ll live in it”). This is the grey, melancholic disillusionment of a disenfranchised individual watching life slide out of view, fighting to be heard before it is too late. It is what makes both early Oasis and early Smiths so powerful and poignant.
Supersonic was apparently written and recorded in a single evening, and it is all the better for it. The opening statement (“I need to be myself”) is trite but apposite: this is truly an Adornian autonomous artwork, a brief, resounding gasp before reification has had a chance to kick in. From the coruscating guitar bursts, to the ridiculously simple drumbeat, to the ethereal backing vocals, this is the sound of a band of desperate, inarticulate people clutching at straws and hitting on a means of magical expression before they know what to do with it. Like Champagne Supernova, it is one of the most simultaneously sad and affirmative pieces of music I have ever heard. Only a fool would let the bombast, the nonsense, and the clichés get in the way of this.