Still Life – Suede
…this still life is all I ever do
there by the window, quietly killed for you
this glass house, my insect life
crawling the walls under electric light
I’ll go into the night, into the night…
In 1994 Jenny and I were living in West Hollywood, just south of Beverley Boulevard, along from the Beverly Center. We’d eat breakfast in Jans. Lie around in the sunny cactus-filled backyard, studying script pages for endless auditions. Learning lines. All the American actors were off the page. 5% extra to push you over the line. But. Didn’t go over the line. Stayed unemployed all year. Analysed and over-analysed why work wasn’t landing. And, eventually, wrote a raging angry nihilistic screenplay.
The 2nd Suede LP was called Dog Man Star. We listened to it’s gloomy sexual gothic splendour endlessly that year and the next. The guitar by Bernard Butler was exquisite, the songs were inspired by all elements of Bowie and others : Bush, Floyd, Scott Walker, and actually delivered, the voice of Brett Anderson really carries the whole album as a glorious doomed romantic slice of dark glamour, finer than anything by Oasis, the Manic Street Preachers or Blur from the same period.
Suede’s debut LP from 1993 was very good indeed, again evoking the spirit of Bowie, in particular the decadent drug-wasted sexual nihilism of Diamond Dogs. There were a handful of huge expressive singles : Animal Nitrate, The Drowners, Metal Mickey. But for Jenny and I, receiving cultural information from London, carefully labelled ‘The London Suede’ in case there was any confusion (actually a lawsuit), the 2nd LP was even better. By then Bernard Butler had left the band but his music and guitar playing remained. Standouts were the superb single The Wild Ones and central towering track The Asphalt World – nine and a half proggy minutes long, full of drama and atmosphere, beautifully produced (by Ed Buller, after much tension with Butler) – and the final track Still Life just blew us away with its orchestrated splendour. But more than any of this, Still Life became the unofficial soundtrack to my screenplay for “New Year’s Day”.
New Year’s Day is loosely based on a conversation I had with Simon Korner in New Mexico in 1976 while we were hitch-hiking across North America. We speculated on defying fate and history and writing the future – writing down a ten-year plan for us both with a detailed itinerary of what each year would hold – where we would go, which languages we would learn,which instruments would be played, which books read. We felt that there may have to be some kind of impartial judges, for it would become a competition quite quickly – who’d done it, who hadn’t. I added a suicide pact to this cocktail, one last year to complete the list of tasks before jumping off the cliff on New Year’s Day. The dynamic of the two lead boys was taken from my personal life, one boy from a single-parent family with missing father and younger needy siblings, mentally fragile mother; one boy from a middle class 2-parent family which was more distant. So the second boy was really out of my imagination and didn’t originate either with Simon or Conrad Ryle in reality. The character of Stephen in the screenplay, and as played brilliantly by Bobby Barry in the film is insouciant, nihilistic and isolated, intelligent, lonely and destructive. He is trapped in a kind of still life after the film’s opening ten minutes, and this song for me painted his interior monologue, and the deathly stillness at the heart of the story perfectly. If you make a suicide pact with your best friend, the film explores what it is that keeps you going, what it is that makes you stop. It’s a kind of frozen moment in time – a still life.
Of course that meant that it would never be on the film’s eventual soundtrack, along with my other signature tunes – the opening of The St Matthew Passion by Bach, Erbarme Dich from the same piece, Focus ll, Roxy Music. But the disappointments of NYD are for another day. For today I salute the dark bitter heart of the screenplay and its furious teenage manifesto, its refusal to grow up and be sensible, its rage at the joke of death, and life. I’ve read since that the song is a bored housewife scenario, while the video (below) has an old man contemplating mortality but it’s my song and I can make it whatever I want. It’s Bobby Barry in New Year’s Day with his pet insect vivarium, plotting silently and sadly. Andrew Lee-Potts who played Jake (ie me) would have a different song.
We eventually saw Suede at The Royal Albert Hall, probably in 1995. They were brilliant.
And in an acoustic set in 2013, the song stands up as a complete classic :