The Human League
A&M Records, October 16, 1981
Track Listing: 1. The Things That Dreams Are Made Of, 2. Open Your Heart, 3. The Sound of the Crowd, 4. Darkness, 5. Do or Die, 6. Get Carter, 7. I Am the Law, 8. Seconds, 9. Love Action (I Believe in Love), 10. Don’t You Want Me
“But this is Phil talking
I want to tell you
What I’ve found to be true”
-from “Love Action (I Believe in Love)”
“You know they’re going to tour the UK this year,” Henry says. “It’s on Facebook.” He’s talking about The Human League. What year is it anyway? The three of us are back from the Music Box, a Saturday afternoon viewing of Stranger by the Lake. Maybe it was the Freddie Mercury-Marlboro Man in the film, but suddenly the evening is turning full-on retro. Only, we aren’t here to merely reminisce. More is on the mind. Lured not into the forestry like in the film we have just seen but drawn instead to the backwoods of our past, we accept the invitation and put on a digital download of The Human League album whose vinyl we wore out so long ago. A challenge has been volleyed: a writing experiment. Throw out the rules, our usual comfort zones, and collaborate on a he said/he said stream. Never one to shy away from a dare, I clink his shotglass in agreement and reply, “You're up.”
“I know rules are a bore"
-from “I Am the Law”
For this to work, please permit free association. When I think back, what comes to mind are those dirty lyrics, which get entwined with the explicit film from earlier today. “Spread your legs to mine … You think you’d change your mind.” That is what we heard. We believed those were the words. Maybe not you and me but someone who, for now, shall remain anonymous—a nameless, faceless tryst from yesteryear. Ready for the next round, unless you are having afterthoughts about keeping this record on “Play.”
“It’s much too late to find
When you think you’ve changed your mind"
-from “Don’t You Want Me”
Things we heard, like at Stratford or Woodfield, conversations in food courts or down aisles at Marshall Field’s. Remember the milkshake spilled on couture? What in the world? The point is that any talk of a tryst to which you allude is old news and from a smaller world—don’t you f-ing go there—and besides, when we were incessantly listening to Philip Oakey et al., I remember it distinctly as a time of expansion outside school halls. We were of age (to do what, I do not know). The music denotes a special season in our lives when confines were on the verge of busting loose. It was one thing to rule the school but next up, the world.
“Get around town
Get around town
Where the people look good
Where the music is loud”
-from “The Sound of the Crowd”
I remember, alright. A different place. A different time. The other side of the lake. A body of water that somehow bends this way and that with separate shores shared by the same lapping waves. And you talk of a smaller world and harkening back. Seems that is getting ahead of ourselves because no one has made it around the banks even once. There is still plenty of walking to do with no signs of stopping.
“It took seconds of your time to take his life
It took seconds”
“They made me want to be a rock star,” he says as I return to the hot seat. He is not referring to The Human League now but Depeche Mode. The backstroke it is. I think he is on to something about the music transforming our scope. “Meanwhile, I was busy discovering my inner woman,” I reply. Yes sir, I am going to “drag” up the ghosts of MTV-beginnings to summon the spirits of my unabashed Stevie Nicks impersonations where I would throw on an afghan to serve as witch-frock while replicating the “Stand Back” video with all the exuberance of a number one fan. Daring to let my hair down (still had it), I was apparently also ready to let my inner freak-lady fly. Did the music we were listening to in that era help in some way to dissolve childhood fear or at least grant confidence or inclination toward taking first steps away from the pack?
“They think they taunt you
But if you can stand the test
You know your worst is better
Than their best”
-from “Open Your Heart”
Touché. Except as much as these tables try to turn 2,000 human leagues under the sea, the pressure is on to rope this bitch in. To take our thoughts out of our minds and transfer them into something that someone on the outside might find relatable. (I always was more of a stickler for rules, and you the fashion icon.) Time to strip yourself of that afghan, drop your trousers, and take a dip like the Marlboro Man at the beach. The shores are within our sights. Maybe I’ll see you there.
“Do or die, do or die
Got to run for your life
Do or die, do or die”
-from “Do or Die”
Simple. Want to tie it back to today’s movie and the past? Fine. We are all drowning. Not pushed under by someone we hardly know but by something that we feel we know better. We are drowning in our dreams.
“Everybody needs love and adventure”
-from “The Things That Dreams Are Made Of”
With the ridiculous speed of life, what else can you do but laugh out of turn? The thing about looking back is that it always ends the same. The rush is almost too hard to believe. It feels fake, as in fairy tale fake. Fake, like one kill too many in Stranger by the Lake. Nearing the end of the film today, I was embarrassing myself by laughing at the wrong time, so in my head I was forcing myself to think of sad things to stop from busting out in the theater in an awkward moment. But sometimes, laughing is the only thing you can do. And so it is when I contemplate how thirty-three (hundred) years ago was just yesterday. How is it even possible?
“Outside was a happy place
Every face had a smile like the golden face
For a second”
So, that is how it ends. The old switcheroo. Wonder who caught it … Wonder who will decipher the risks taken, the music’s purpose as a bridge to remote embankments, the jumbled words and soundalike phrases that bring us to this point, singing along with confidence that accurate readings shall come over time. They have before.
We will always have a medley of truth.
-G and MEG