(3) Donna lewis, "i love you always forever" defeats (just) (14) white town, "your woman" 354-338
Read the essays, watch the videos, listen to the songs, feel free to argue below in the comments or tweet at us, and consider. Winner is the aggregate of the poll below and the @marchfadness twitter poll. Polls closed @ 9am Arizona time on March 8th.
beth nguyen on "i love you always forever"
A song that’s titled “I Love You Always Forever” is probably bound to recreate the full and temporary nature of love. It starts out strong, with sweetness, and the burst of pleasure that comes with unabashed synth. Donna Lewis’s voice is baby-soft, trailing off into a wisp: “Feels like I’m standing in a timeless dream of light mists and pale amber rose.” I can’t say I’ve ever had a dream like that but I get it: we are meant to begin with wonder, enough that maybe the words don’t even matter. I’ve misheard some of the lyrics all this time but never bothered to look them up until recently. After “You’ve got the most unbelievable blue eyes I’ve ever seen” I hear something like “You’ve got the office smell to weigh.” Which, as it turns out, is “You’ve got me almost melting away.” (OK that makes more sense but why would anyone want to melt away?)
But never mind that. The overall feeling is clear. Blue skies, blue eyes. Beauty and fervor. And the refrain cannot be mistaken: “I love you, always forever, near or far, closer together. Everywhere, I will be with you. Everything, I will do for you.” (I will love you here, there, everywhere! Oh the places we will go!)
Most love songs are treatises on codependency. Especially if that song has been featured on Beverly Hills, 90210. I was with that show from the start, watching the gang from Michigan, where I lived the entire time 90210 was on the air—from 1990 when I was still in high school, to 2000 after I finished my MFA. 90210 brought in a lot of musicians, including Babyface, Goo Goo Dolls, Luther Vandross, Color Me Badd, Brian McKnight, The Cardigans, Duncan Sheik. In episode 15 of season 7, Donna Lewis performed at the Peach Pit After Dark, where Kelly and Brandon and friends gathered at night. These were the California University years. Those dark lipsticks and reddish-brown eyeshadows; the crushed velvet and mini skirts: I knew them well. Donna Lewis sat a keyboard and the fabric at her wrists gleamed purple. Her hair was 90210-blonde. But I recall a reluctance about her. As an introverted person, I felt I could understand it. Donna Lewis didn’t really want to be at the After Dark or on 90210, lip-synching to her own song. She did the performance but she wasn’t sure how to be a star.
“I Love You, Always Forever” is one of those perfect summer songs. All you need is one hit, one summer, and this is 1996. Those were my university years too. No Google, no texting. Just the possibility of warm rains and secret moments and soft spoken words—song stuff. More than twenty years later, it still works: a little dancing, a little dreaming. Forget the rest of the world.
The song is still a stalwart on what are now oldies stations (oldies!). It’s best caught at the beginning, with that synth momentum; the final third is mostly a long denouement. Because the rush of love is all good until you run out of things to say. “I love you always forever” becomes a command: “Say you’ll love, love me forever, never stop, never whatever.” The love becomes repetition becomes desperation becomes tedium.
But isn’t that how it goes. The way we begin with such hope. Sugar and magic. We inject the wonder, insist on it even if it isn’t really there. We are all stillness and mist and lying on the beach and looking at the stars, enacting the idea of romance we learned from shows like Beverly Hills, 90210. We make our declarations; we are swept up in them. And then it turns. It all goes on too long. The thrill of the I love you becomes mere information. There is no good ending because it doesn’t know how to end. Someone else has to step in and do it: the producer, the editor, the next person. Oh yes, we begin with such joy, such intentions, and then our own demanding words ensure the eventual ruin. But it’s OK. Sometimes you only have enough for one song. It goes skyward. In our minds, it can last always and forever. In real life, there is only so much time we get to have with such love.
Beth Nguyen, who also goes by the name Bich Minh Nguyen, is the author of the memoir Stealing Buddha’s Dinner, which received the PEN/Jerard Award, the novel Short Girls, which received an American Book Award, and the novel Pioneer Girl. She directs the MFA in Writing Program at the University of San Francisco.
alison stine on "your woman"
We lived in a rich city but we were poor: students, which is a stereotype, but is sometimes also true. We stole toilet paper. We lived occasionally on food given to us by others, the kindnesses of train conductors. A teacher gave me a stack of Angela Carter books I still cart around.
I think I may have bought White Town then in England, on sale, a slim EP, perfect for my palm, plain white paper cover, red letters in a font straight out of War Games and an HTML title: >Abort, Retry, Fail?_
I didn’t know which was the band name and which was the title. In the days before Google, I didn’t know who White Town was—and I couldn’t find out. I didn’t know there was Jyoti Prakash Mishra.
I didn’t know you could be a band by yourself.
Born in India, Mishra’s family emigrated to Brittan when he was three. He formed his band in 1989 after watching the Pixies play. He named the project White Town after his own experiences in childhood: being the only boy of color where he lived; he lived in white towns.
Mishra is a survivor of White Town: the only survivor.
One by one, members dropped out, drifted away: distracted by life, other jobs. He lost singers—always searching for the right female voice—when they would take drugs or get a boyfriend. He sang himself. He recorded the song "Your Woman" in a spare bedroom, using old, secondhand equipment, including an 8-track. According to Mishra, you can hear the room’s squeaky floorboards on the record. The title of the EP was inspired by computer problems during production.
Mishra played the guitar. When his drummer left, he replaced him with a drum machine.
I met a street musician in England. During the day he would busk for change. At night he played bar gigs with a band named after him: Bob Hurley and the Hurlers, or something.
I watched my new friend play at a pub. I was degraded by the DJ who came on after, dedicating a song to the American pussy party in the corner… It was 1998. American sexuality was a joke. I tried not to open my mouth so that no one would know where I came from.
We weren’t that close of friends. I didn’t tell him much about me, what I did, what I wanted, which was everything: to make art on my own terms, which would become increasingly difficult as I grew older and was saddled with marriage, abandonment, motherhood, single motherhood—all the weights particular to women.
The video for "Your Woman" is a black and white, Dada-inspired, race between two women (or two aspects of the same woman?): one plain and brunette in slacks and a ratty fur coat, one conventional and busty in heels and heavy lipstick. The women compete for a man. At one point, the brunette in slacks gets pregnant, gives birth, and thereafter, pushes a baby carriage with her.
At the end of the video, the woman in the slacks, floppy hat, and bad haircut pauses. A man is right there, waiting, his arms outstretched, his eyes on her—but she walks past him, steers around him, heading with her wobbly baby carriage toward the direction marked on a big white signpost: INDEPENDENCE.
I’m not sure when it became clear I was not going to make it.
Not in the way I had dreamed. Not in the way I had planned to, tried to. I was not going to have security as an artist. I was never going to have it. Maybe when I lost out on the tenth or twelfth academic job for which I had interviewed to a less qualified young man. Maybe when my novel failed to sell. Maybe when it became certain my husband was not coming back. Maybe when the president of the foundation held my work in his hands, read it, then looked up and said: Why haven’t I heard of you?
When I told this last story later, my poet friend, a woman of color, laughed: Tell him because you’re not a rich white man.
Maybe we don’t all get to make it.
"Your Woman" starts with a jaunty refrain. A trombone. Mishra was watching the British TV show Pennies from Heaven, and there is a throwback, swinging feel to the song, but the lyrics are straightforward and modern: “Cut the crap and tell me that we’re through.” Funny, with a self-conscious pretentiousness: “So much for all your highbrow Marxist ways.” My friend characterized the lyrics as a letter some girl had written to Mishra.
But Mishra’s narrator might be the girl. Or a straight boy singing to a lesbian. Or both. Or neither. Or everything.
I first heard "Your Woman," though, as Mishra singing to me.
Things are not going to work out the way you planned or wanted them too. But they’re going to work.
One afternoon I had been in the apartment in England I shared with four other girls, looking out the window, which overlooked the river. Houseboats drifted by under the bridge: red-painted, small and bright. Many of the boats had cats. I would always imagine myself on the boats, drifting, but could I really fit everything I wanted on a small boat? Could I fit it all on my back? Could I be free?
Something sailed by the window, in the sky in front of me: someone was blowing bubbles. I leaned further over the sill, and met the man in the next apartment, waving a wand in the air.
Mishra described his live performance as “a fat bloke prod[ding] a synth and peer[ing] at a laptop.” But he did perform, in Sweden in 2005, Finland the next year, then Paris, New York…
When he was asked how he felt about being a one-hit wonder, Mishra said: “better than being a no-hit wonder.”
Maybe we don’t all want to make it. Maybe making it needs to mean something different. Making enough, getting by, surviving—isn’t that making it? Making new songs, continuing to even in the face of great difficulty, starting and finishing new projects, whatever the critical or commercial response— isn’t that making it?
A few months ago, I was at the bar in town where some of my friends—artists, writers, and musicians—work. My friend the artist asked me how things were going. I said I was writing a lot, working really hard. I said I was almost paying the bills.
My friend interrupted me. “That’s the dream.”
Was it? Was it the dream?
To do the work. To recognize that it is practice, that every attempt is a try. I thought my street musician friend might make it, but I don’t even remember his name. Still, he played in the open air for an audience of drunks or tourists or no one at all.
White Town released a new song in 2016: “Oh David.” Mishra keeps releasing songs. Even if we aren’t listening to them, long before and long after we were listening, he was and will be making them.
After England, I rented a third of a house in rural Pennsylvania. The attic had a stooped ceiling, windows running along the floor like portholes. There were rooms up there I didn’t know how to fill. I placed an old keyboard in one. Nights, I would light candles on the low sills and just play.
Music was not to be my thing. But maybe it was. Maybe it is. Maybe in the smoggy dawn of new American fascism, we all need to reclaim something we will not be making a profit on, something that will not oil the dying engine of capitalism.
I do write for a job. And I do believe artists should be paid for all work: poetry, paintings, songs. But if the money is not coming, or if it’s slow in coming, if and ever the money comes, the work still comes. The room must still be walked into. There are candles burning down.
Mishra wrote: “The music I’ve made has always been unpopular pop. I’ve never been trendy or part of any scene and that hasn’t changed since having the EMI blip.” That was how he described Your Woman—as a blip, a blip that brought, among other things, great sadness.
Maybe success is a blip. Maybe making it is just that: making “it”—whatever “it” is or will be for you. Maybe Mishra doesn’t belong on here. Because he’s not a one-hit wonder. He’s just a wonder.
Alison Stine is the author of three books of poems: Wait, Ohio Violence, and Lot of my Sister; a novel, Supervision; and The Protectors, an illustrated novella about graffiti artists. She lives in the foothills of Appalachia with her son.