Tuesday, 5 March 2013

Chicken Skin 3: The Blue Nile: Family Life

This is getting ridiculous; I'm being mind stalked by the musical thought police. Seamus zoned in on me as I penned my paean to 'Kentucky Avenue' and then came Toronto Tim's intrusion as I scribbled about this song:

"The entire song/performance gives me goose bumps & leaves me in a puddle. It was only last night that I realized that those "yeahs, yeah's" might be the most emotionally affecting words/vocals I've ever experienced in a song. Swelling strings... then PB rips your heart out with a series of simple but absolutely staggering "yeah, yeahs"..."

He's right of course, Buchanan taps right into an uncomfortable moment in memory that I'm sure all of us have; no childhood was that happy, we edit and review the tough stuff, ironing out the wrinkles. PB focusses on what might be a reflection on domestic violence or just a moment of wishing that things were better, quieter, as the inevitable disappointments of Christmas are about to unleash themselves.
Christmas could be a difficult time in my house when I was a kid; my mum didn't cope that well with the season's challenges, she argued a lot with my Dad. We kids braced ourselves rather than anticipated joyfully. 'No more shout, no more fight' resonates profoundly...
In 'Family Life' the unhappiness unravels, reveals itself in breathless fragments; 'Jesus, Jesus, you…" it's that 'you', the resignation and precise lack of control is what is breathtaking, those silvery slivers of strings, then 'wipe the tears from her face'. And then you have the 'yeah, yeah, yeahs' from 4 minutes onwards... before that final payoff, and you realize that, yes, he is alone, "Jesus I go to sleep and pray for my kids for my wife, family life".
You'll find a fantastic deconstruction of the song on The Blue in the Air which renders these mutterings as ramblings.
Here is the album version followed by the best live rendition I could find.
Chicken Skin: particularly from 2.48 onwards...

Starlight do you know me?
Please, don't look at me now 
I'm falling apart 
Silver on the window 
Like the bike I once had 
At home in the yard 
Jesus love let me down and I know where you are 
It might lead somewhere 

Gather me in snowfall 
And the cars going by the north and the south 
Flowers on the table 
And the coffee gets cold 
Like the milk in my mouth 
Sailing on no honeymoon 
Just separate chairs in separate rooms 
Jesus, please 
Make us happy sometimes 
No more shout 
No more fight 
Family life 

Tomorrow will be Christmas 
We'll be singing old songs 
And light up the tree 
God and all the mercy 
And say all your prayers 
For little old me 
Jesus, you 
Wipe the tears from her face 
And the sound of his voice 
Family life 

Yeah, yeah 

Jesus, I go to sleep and I pray 
For my kids 
For my wife 
Family life 


  1. I think I had this as one of my Monday moments. It is one of the best and along with Regret the saddest things they have done

  2. 'Monday Moments' was cracking.
    There are only so many good ideas to go around...

  3. I worked from home during the nineties. There was an overwhelming urge to spend the morning watching Richard and Judy in my pants, but with bills to pay and deadlines to meet I managed to stay computer bound on most days. Part of my routine to stay at the computer and prevent the inevitable recreational activities associated with being in an empty house (eating cereal, masturbation) was to fax my '11.33' to Simon Mayo. I wasn't a personal friend of Mr Mayo, this was his Radio 1 morning show, which included an item whereby listeners phoned or faxed 3 records to be played just after the 11.30 news - hence the 11.33 (things weren't just thrown together in those days). I'm not quite sure of the categories for the 11.33, it may have been an 80s song, a 90s song, and a 'current' song. I do remember though, the day my choices were aired. I remember the end of the news being heralded by the stunning synth stutter of New Order's 'Shellshock' (12 inch version - yes I was that pedantic!). This was followed by 'The Sound Of Crying' by Prefab Sprout, and my final 'current' choice - 'Family Life' by The Blue Nile. It was the longest 11.33 that had ever been aired, so Simon says! I don't think I'd ever heard The Blue Nile on the radio before, in fact - at the time, I was quite sure I was the only person they were making music for. I still believe I am the only person to own the vinyl single 'I Love This Life'. Paul Buchanan's dulcet tones certainly created a reaction from the Radio 1 listeners. These ranged from 'thank you for finally playing The Blue Nile on national radio' to 'I've just taken a left turn and I'm heading towards the nearest cliff…' It probably wasn't the usual Radio 1 listeners fare - this wasn't The Fugees or Gina G, and possibly not the best time of day to be confronted by such an emotional piece, but I'd like to think a couple more people found The Blue Nile as a result. I have a C90 of the show somewhere, probably titled 'the day Simon Mayo read out my name'. I never bothered faxing in to the radio again, I'd had my moment of radio fame and - along with a new box of Coco Pops, there were more pressing matters at hand.

  4. Whenever The Blue Nile comes up here I feel a bit like an a lifelong puritan at an AA meeting who's asked to share. I never took the plunge and so have an admiration that has never been fully consummated. This reminds me strongly of Tom Waits and I have always appreciated his voice. Time perhaps, to spend some real time listening to them.
    My choice is Raglan Road by great Irish poet Patrick Kavanagh sung by Luke Kelly with The Dubliners. I lived for a number of years at one end of Raglan Road so that connection is there but it's not needed. Here's a live version with a nice intro - there are many but as long a Luke is singing it it will raise hairs. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gGnelmgfzu4

  5. Raglan Road is often put forth in those 'most beautiful songs ever written' pub conversations, particularly when I'm down Kilburn way...
    I think that I heard Sinead O'Connor murdering it once and wasn't best pleased. This is better; perfect even...

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