Retrospective: Graffiti

And here we are, at the end of my experiment. The final retrospective hardly qualifies as such, since the song is only two years old. How much distance is needed for a retrospective? Surely at least five, and usually closer to ten. This will be more a perspective, and different in another way too: it’s impossible for me to discuss, think about, or listen to “Graffiti” apart from how I used it in a work of literary fiction.

But first the band, Chvrches. They are well known purveyors of electronic synth-pop, a genre I usually have to be in the mood for. When I am, this Scottish trio is a cut above most. They’ve got chilly atmosphere and unexpected flourishes, and Lauren Mayberry’s voice, while hardly the gift of Irish Dolores O’Riordan, is beguiling in its pleas for a better world. The most recent album, Love is Dead, isn’t as impressive as the previous two; ironically it contains Chvrches’ best song ever.

“Graffiti” (2018) is the lead track on Love is Dead, and right up there with “Gun”, “Lungs”, “Bury It”, “We Sink”, and “Never Ending Circles” — in my view actually better than all these gems. It pulls at the heart as Mayberry sings about kids scrawling their names on bathroom walls, a snapshot of youthful precariousness and dreams to leave a mature mark on the world. Which these kids will never do. For unspecified reasons they won’t see adulthood. It’s a bleak song filled with resignation, and I’ve no idea what drove Mayberry to write such lyrics. But the words and haunting melodies turned out to be just what I needed in “scoring” the novellas I was writing in the late summer and early fall of 2018.

In my Stranger Things fanfiction, Eleven’s son Mike Hopper has a condition that causes his body to age back and forth. It first happens in The New Generation, when he’s 15 ½ years old (in the year 2009); his body starts aging in the reverse direction until he becomes an infant, just as he came from the womb in 1994, now in the year 2025. Then he ages forward again, and by the year 2037, in World’s End, he is 12 years old for the third time. His mother at this point is 66, and barely sane from having watched her son degenerate backwards into a baby (expecting him to become fetal and die) and then back up again, having to raise him perpetually as a child with tormented memories of once being a teenager.

In writing the novellas I realized I wanted a theme song for Mike Hopper, something that captured his tragedy of living 43 years of life (1994-2037) without ever obtaining adulthood. It was handed to me on a silver platter as I was well into the writing of World’s End. I’d been meaning to listen to the new Chvrches album released in May, finally did so, and when I heard the lead track I sat at my desk stunned by the chorus:

I’ve been waiting for my whole life to grow old
And now we never will, never will…

Mayberry kept repeating the refrain, “And now we never will, never will,” as if worried I might miss what she was hitting me over the head with. Not a chance. Before the song ended, I had Mike Hopper’s theme song. It wasn’t just the lyrics, perfect as they are. “Graffiti’s” sound and melodies were exactly what evoked Mike Hopper’s tragedy. The synth-hooks made my heart ache, and I saw Mike Wheeler’s brave son doing what he could, vainly, to save the world and himself.

As if things couldn’t get any weirder, the video for “Graffiti” was released only two days after I finished writing World’s End (on October 9). The video shows a boy and a girl who are close friends — sharing a bike together, headphones together, everything together like dysfunctional loners — and the boy looks uncannily like Finn Wolfhard. More unnerving is how he and girl seem to be engaged in a suicide pact. They do everything as one, rise and tumble slowly in the air, with dreamy expressions that can be interpreted any number of ways. I see suicidal intentions, given the lyrics (about never growing old), though I’m also obviously projecting onto these kids Mike Hopper’s heartbreaking sacrifice in World’s End.

“Graffiti” is an important song for me, and a fitting exit to these music retrospectives. I hope you’ve enjoyed reading and listening, as much I have reflecting on the power of music.

 

Listen here, or better yet watch the video, and sing.

🎶

I’m writing to ask you, did you achieve all you wanted to do?
Before we were dragged up, something was different and nothing was new
How did you see me?
We didn’t know what we wanted to be
When did we move on?
I didn’t feel it, nobody told me

Time to kill
Was always an illusion
Time stood still
And now we never will, never will

We wrote our names along the bathroom walls
Graffitiing our hearts across the stalls
I’ve been waiting for my whole life to grow old
And now we never will, never will
And now we never will, never will
And now we never will, never will

Standing in streetlights, we didn’t know wrong, didn’t know right
Making a mess and running in circles, getting in fights
We were just kids then, we didn’t know how and didn’t know when
Taking our chances, calling it off and starting again

Time to kill
Was always an illusion
Time stood still
And now we never will, never will

We wrote our names along the bathroom walls
Graffitiing our hearts across the stalls
I’ve been waiting for my whole life to grow old
And now we never will, never will
And now we never will, never will
And now we never will, never will
And now we never will, never will

Never will
Never will

We wrote our names along the bathroom walls
Graffitiing our hearts across the stalls
I’ve been waiting for my whole life to grow old
And now we never will, never will
And now we never will, never will
And now we never will, never will
And now we never will, never will
And now we never will, never will

🎶

From the album Love is Dead, 2018.

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