You know I dreamed about you…for 29 years…before I saw you
Well I am 29 years old and yesterday I dreamt that James Walsh and the guys from Starsailor were coming to play at my house because they thought it was Record Store Day, and I had told them it was a good idea. When in reality I didn’t want them to play at my house, and I didn’t have any clean socks. It is fair to say Matt Berninger’s dreams are a bit more interesting than my M.O.R nightmares.
Anyhow, just a quick note to say today marks the return of one of our most well received features, wherein I think about a song I had not thought about in a while, but is really bloody good and then proceed to ramble on about it until you all get so bored you listen to it, and the music hype machine keeps on running.
As I stated above, I am now 29. I have just turned 29 and in fact, I had spent most of my 20’s planning to plot a route of songs through that decade. That is why, when absent mindedly pulling a vinyl from the shelf, and selecting Boxer (if anyone has got a spare few hours and wants to buy me a pint I will happily explain my theory of it being the nearest thing to a perfect album ever put into existence), I realised a distance had grown between us, as the beautiful (and very bright) neon yellow vinyl spun through the grooves and the opening bars to Slow Show commenced.
Don’t get me wrong here folks, I still love The National; just the other day I whiled away a wonderful evening discussing whether Trouble Will Find Me lived up to their previous work. However on the day, the very day of my 29th birthday I had forgotten to sit quietly, even reflectively and listen to Slow Show. For a second I felt guilty, like I had let them down, like they had written this lyric purely for me and I had forgotten to respect the sacred bond between a man and his favourite band. I got over that pretty quickly, but I did endeavour to rectify my mistake, I probably listened to Slow Show 10 times that evening: I regret nothing!
So, what’s so special about Slow Show? Just a miserable middle-aged man reflecting on his youth right? Well take the opening 20 seconds, an electric guitar swells, bristling with electric ambiance and a sense of tension. An acoustic guitar chops in with that rhythm, and it is so simple, yet so sophisticated, like a well made cocktail or a Michelin stared meal the devil is in the detail.
This is before you even get to the first lyric, when Matt opens his mouth, his opening gambit “Standing at the punch table, swallowing punch / can’t pay attention to the sound of anyone” he sums up the feeling of being at a party, when you want to be anywhere but there so beautifully, with his trademark sense of dry wit. The second verse finds him “want to start over, want to be winning, way out of sync from the beginning”
Then come the drums, if you could bottle any bit of production and share it out to the world, The National’s drum sound on Boxer would be mine. High in the mix, seemingly hit with such force; simultaneously dead and full of life. Making this album nearly killed them but for that drum sound, it is worth every ounce of blood, sweat and tears. Here it lifts the troubled musings, takes this troubled man out of his context and into a place where he wants to be.
“I wanna hurry home to you, put on a slow dumb show for you and crack you up”
Temporary relief, a temporary fantasy before reality bites back in the next verse “Looking for somewhere to stand and stay, I leaned on the wall and the wall leaned away”. The crushing loneliness of the anti-social man at a party, someone who is completely out of touch with the world in which he finds himself, trying to draw up a tiny bit of courage to approach the one person who can make it all ok, “can I get a minute of not being nervous and not thinking of my dick” he wants to do everything right, win this girls heart but he can’t escape his own internal malaise, “I better get my shit together, better gather my shit in”. There is a sense of a restless mind, his brain getting so carried away with itself, he can’t even think straight, “You could drive a car through my head in five minutes”, a beautiful metaphor for the many roads and connections his over-active mind is making.
Then, as the tension reaches unbearable levels, the beautiful relief of the chorus comes back. The drums play, there is respite, a break in the clouds that are choking his mind, leaving him unable to speak, a brief escape to the fantasy world.
“I wanna hurry home to you put on a slow, dumb show for you and crack you up”
Within the chorus is the sense that even in his fantasy world, perhaps he couldn’t quite make everything ok, “so you can put a blue ribbon on my brain. God I’m very, very frightened, I’ll overdo it”, even in the day dream there is a tension, ultimately it is inescapable. The crippling sense of not being good enough permeates even the fantasy.
Finally, there is the outro. A meandering beautiful piano riff, counteracted by stabbed bass chords, those drums, all hyper-active, dead pounding and at surprisingly rapid pace, off kilter with everything else. The lyric, reprised from a track entitled 29 Years, that appeared on their debut album, is one the most simplistic and beautiful things you will ever here. A single line, that carrys such weight, an implication that you can spend 29 years of your life, waiting for one beautiful moment, and still not know how to act when you’re there
“You know I dreamed about you, for 29 years, before I saw you”
It could sound so loving, so beautiful and poignant, but mainly here it just sounds terribly, terribly sad. When people question The National, as many do, I would point them to this track. Yes, it is a crotchety middle aged man, singing songs about wanting to be cool and fit in and be liked, but no-one does it better. No band captures mundane lives being given grandiose meanings better. Slow Show is perfection because it is so harrowingly believable, so beautiful and so sad, so moving, so honest and ultimately, so incredibly believable.
A perfect song, if such a thing could ever really exist.