14 April 2012


Locus Focus: Take Sixty-Eight!

Welcome (Back) to the "Settings in Song" Challenge!

The best challenges are those which make me think, after I announce them and start brainstorming them, that I've probably bitten off more than I could chew. There are fewer memorable places in songs (or at least the songs that I am familiar with) than I had counted on. Music creates a sense of place or time through atmosphere rather than lyrics, and songs that are clearly from a certain area or certain decade betray themselves only through their melodies and arrangements. And we know what they say about "writing about music," don't we?

Please note that although I no longer put up a linky, I still love reading what others have to say about settings. If you have a submission for this challenge or current Locus Focus post about some other setting that has taken your fancy, then leave the link the combox and I will add it to the body of the post. =)

The Flat above a Shop
Common People
by Pulp

"I want to live like common people/ I want to do whatever common people do . . ."
Have you ever been somewhere so wonderful that you thought of it as "a place where anything can happen" or "a place where dreams come true"? Well, this setting is just the opposite: a place where nothing will ever happen and where dreams go to die.

The song is a (rather one-sided) conversation between a working class man from England and a wealthy young woman from Greece. She has just arrived in his country to earn one of those useless, fancy degrees at a poncy university for the arts, but she wants a fuller experience of England than what she has had so far. She wants "to live like common people."

To the young man, it is the most clueless, condescending thing she could say.

"Are you sure you want to live like common people?/ You want to see whatever common people see?" 

As someone who earned her own semi-useless, semi-fancy degree in a foreign country (albeit one richer than my own), I sort of see the other side of her question. Perhaps this young woman is just curious: she was certainly ready enough to travel millions of miles from her home in order she might see what else is in the wide world. Add the possibility that she wasn't expresing herself well in a second language, and her new English friend should probably have not been so quick to take offense.

But social class being what it is in England, of course she hit a nerve. "Living like common people" is not something fun you can do for a summer or for a year, and then laugh about when you're back in your poncy home. "Living like common people" involves being stuck like common people.

"Rent a flat above a shop/ Cut your hair and get a job/ Smoke some fags and play some pool/ Pretend you never went to school/ And still you'll never get right/ Because when you're lying in bed at night/ Watching roaches climb the wall/ If you called your dad he could stop it all."

Places are only fun to visit when they come with clearly marked exits. Just ask everyone who has never been able to leave the Hotel California. (That would be Locus Focus: Take Sixty-Seven.) This is why those tourists looking for "authentic" experiences are so annoying to the locals.

I once read that if you want everyone in an English nightclub to go crazy, just get the DJ to play Common People. There may be no way out of that flat above a shop, but there will always be temporary outlets in music and in dance that can make everything a little easier to bear.

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