Don’t Stand So Close to Me [September 8]
I recently attended the Brisbane Writers Festival, where i was invited to contribute a story to the ‘Jukebox Confessional’ event about the first pop song that made a strong impression on me. This is the result:
Three bleached blondes. Bare muscled arms, crossed defensively. Eyes to camera. Spiky percussive guitar riff. Spiky percussive ungrammatical lyrics. Short bursts. Unfinished sentences. Two word lines.
Bleached blondes with pouting lips. Teachers’ black capes flying behind them. Drum-sticks waving. Unplugged electric guitar.
‘Loose talk in the classroom.’
Not scenes. Not narratives. Fragments.
‘His car is warm and dry.’
Allusions to literary heroes. To books I’ve actually read.
‘Just like the old man in that book by Nabokov.’
A pop song – a Countdown hit – that mentions Nabokov.
I wanted to part the pixels on my television screen and be IN the video clip of that song. To BE the schoolgirl who was making Sting chew his pen to death as he sat at a desk, pretending to be a teacher.
The Police were my first real band crush.
Oh yes, I’d loved Abba in the ‘70’s. We all did. Abba Arrival was the first album I ever saved up to buy with my own pocket money. Glamorous Swedes with lollipop harmonies and their own helicopter. But it wasn’t a sexual crush. Not for me. Not until The Police.
Not until the bleached blondes sang me a song about isolated people in steamy classrooms longing for – what?
I didn’t know what, back then. Back in 1980 I was 15 but I was an innocent. Oh of course I knew about sex, the mechanics, the procreative purpose. But touching men was something I’d never done, not in the way Sting meant in that song.
It was something I was terrified of, because I was shy, and therefore terrified of lots of things, but mostly of men. Terrified, and longing. Just like the people in those books by Nabokov. Just like the people in the song. Longing for the bleached beached muscled blondes I watched entering the water with their surfboards as I lay on my towel, waiting for my teenage years to end, waiting for my shyness to end. Waiting waiting waiting.
The song’s title could well be the title of a book about shyness: Don’t stand so close to me. I half wish I’d thought of it before I named my memoir ‘Shy’.
Except that it would have been a terrible cliché. A memoir about shyness which features a failing relationship with a famous pop star, named after a song by a bunch of famous pop stars? I don’t think so.
But still. Don’t stand so close to me. That’s how I felt, for most of my teens and twenties and thirties. At the same time as I was wanting that closeness. Wanting to do the kinds of things the teacher and his student in that song never dared to do. Or did they? I always wondered. Did they fuck?
It’s fiction, Sian. You’ll never know because it never happened.
The lyrics of that song seeped into my wannabe writer’s brain.
‘It’s no use. He sees her.’
Lists of things.
‘This girl’s an open page.’
Simple language hiding complex emotions.
And when I developed my last ever crush on a pop star, it was the same recipe that drew me in. The same kind of language. Simple. Complex. Literary allusions. Emotionally-nuanced ear-worms.
I had the same sense, listening to the music of my last ever crush, that the author of these words knew me, knew about my longings, knew that I wasn’t really wanting people not to stand so close to me. That what I really wanted was for them to stand so close that we would never stop touching.
Dangerous lyrics for someone like me. The stuff of school girl fantasies.
‘Inside her there’s longing.’
Two weeks ago I turned fifty. I don’t do crushes any more. They’ve been crushed out of me. And I’m kind of sad, and kind of relieved.
Because there is nothing as exquisite as a crush. And nothing as exquisitely painful, especially for a shy girl.
I don’t do crushes any more. I just do love.