“I’d like to be very honest with you, yes? So let’s have a candid discussion.” And here you jump because the Engineer is now just behind your eyeballs, as if psycho-acoustically leaning forward to better share a secret. “There’s something strange about Formal Absences, and I wonder, perhaps, if you can’t hear it because you’re still so close to the work?” And then a long pause while he finds neutral language and rehearses its delivery. “The songs, well, they often seem at odds with the collection’s production–sometimes only slightly, but also in larger ways, yes?”
And you jump once more, but this time because the observation shakes you. As a producer back there in London, maybe the Engineer had been the real deal. Or perhaps he’s just approaching the tracks with fresh ears and 10 years’ distance. Nevertheless, the collection’s feel has always niggled at you: base level, it was what you intended, but not quite what you meant. Which, in retrospect, might have been the reason The Formal Absences of Precious Things had crash-landed in the stores and burned up in reviews. Heartbreaking and, yes, unlistenable.
“At odds? In what way? Specifically, I mean.” Not said defensively because for the moment the complex politics of the re-release have been put aside; it’s a kind of time-out–or something like one–where The Engineer is no longer channeling the dry caution of the company.
“Well, it’s like a double exposure in photography, yes? Two things at once–one on top of the other? Most of the time, the songs are saying this, while the production is implying that. And it can be quite disconcerting–I mean, well here you go, have a listen . . .”
You’d always anticipated there’d be time to prepare for that flip into the earlier version of yourself. But in the end, it turns out to be like the dentist, where the lip is jiggled as a distraction before the needle goes in: first the diversion of the Engineer’s concerns, and then the sudden jab of playback that is, despite the metallic taste in your mouth, the opposite of Novocain. You haven’t listened to Formal Absences in the last ten years, not even to prepare for remastering. There’s been no need because somewhere deep inside the songs have never stopped playing. Indefensible stuff, really–well, just look at them, Darling.
Punched into the corner monitors of the speaker array, the carefully constructed stereo image of “Post-Modern Pop Song” materializes. The phantom bassist, 45 degrees left of center, pumps out the minor-key reggae riff. And then, from an illusory stage right, the entrance of someone you no longer are and yet somehow remain:
When you went, you took the light;
now there’s only darkness inside of me
Though I crumble out of sight,
you would never know it to look at me . . . .
Beatrice: that dead-of-winter when she’s gone, equidistant from fall and spring; a place where the old colors have been forgotten rather than faded and the new ones are nowhere in sight; those words that permanently stain your heart with the gray-scale of that afternoon; the dirty snow, the dun-colored clouds and the early nights of too-short days that are also somehow endless. Only darkness is left inside . . . .
Grasping the sides of the swivel chair, thumbs digging into the seat cushion . . . .
Beatrice: months, maybe years, gone away from living; hiding yourself in the everyday, turned inward and inside-out, self-medicating and self-loathing; yearning to no avail, serving the self-imposed sentence by writing sentences; journals that might someday make sense of this–messages to a future self from a place that has no future; forever drowning and then writing yourself back to the surface. Crumbling out of sight . . . .
Face expressionless, eyes unseeing: night terrors, but you’re awake . . . .
Beatrice: an autumnal afternoon, a half-remembered eternity later, with steadier hands and transfixed by the day after a residency in darkness; your life once more thrown into relief next to a golden sun beam illuminating dust motes as you’re finally able to write what you’ve been unable to say to anyone. When you went, you took the light . . . .
Swept away in a current of time that’s not the one flowing around the Engineer . . . .
Beatrice: now suddenly unseen spring; behind studio walls conjuring up the undead and giving voice to the unspeakable; the pantomime propriety of taping confessions after long-passed judgments, all in the name of art-as-commerce; unarticulated loss now strictly metered and click-tracked, so that which changed everything forever could be expressed as a momentary, disposable pop song; the attempt to balance on the taut lines of craft above the abyss of your own creation. You would never know it to look at me . . . .
The instantly reconstituted past closing over your head; the sinking into it, the surface shimmer of the studio growing dimmer and more distant as you descend through a deepening twilight.
This is how she reenters your life.