tremble clef

Tuesday, February 14, 2006

Holly Johnson, "The Great Love Story" (1991)

"Who knows when the great love story ends?/It's been told since time began."

Probably without intending it, the chorus of "The Great Love Story" expresses a curious paradox about love. The great love story, presumably, is great because it's been told since time began. It is a tale for all ages; perhaps it even transcends time. And yet: if this story has been continually told and retold, doesn't it lose the uniqueness that would make it great? Or is it great precisely because it is by no means unique, but, rather, pedestrian?

We recognize love because it conforms to certain narratives. Every gesture of love that we perform links us to other lovers, and derives its meaning from this link. But, by the same token, love is by necessity a cliché. Every declaration of love has in fact already been declared, every kiss already planted. We wouldn't be able to conceive and make sense of them, as love, otherwise. All we can do is transmit the narratives, as if we're stuck in a plot right out of The Ring.

Moulin Rouge details a love that, "come what may," is a great love. Therefore -- not "despite" -- its lovers can only speak of love to each other using borrowed, second hand declarations: a line from "Your Song" here, a couplet from "One Day I'll Fly Away" there. But, in a necessary illusion, they also have to act like these claims are original, as if no one has ever said them before.

"Who knows when the great love story ends?" Holly's plaintive electropop song, from his badly slept-on second solo album Dreams That Money Can't Buy, almost ends: "take it all now while you can." The lyric concludes, a synth washes over it. But then the recurring keyboard passage, playing each note of the chorus, starts up again. One last grasp, inviting us to imagine what never-endingness sounds like, telling it again.

3 Comments:

  • To a large extent, I agree. But doesn't this make it very difficult, if not impossible, to distinguish the clichés of bad love stories from those of good love stories? I wonder whether the good clichés have to do with how they make the link -- the style, the pizzazz. The costumes in _Moulin Rouge_, the restaurant scene in _When Harry Met Sally_, the campiness of _Jeffrey_, and the dance-riff-in-minor-key-with-a-melody-that-seems-quite-Wagner-actually in "The great love story"...

    By Anonymous esque, at 8:39 PM  

  • I didn't even know he had a second album. When I was in college I played "Love Train" (stoke it up!)incessantly. What a voice.

    By Blogger xolondon, at 9:26 PM  

  • 1. But doesn't this make it very difficult, if not impossible, to distinguish the clichés of bad love stories from those of good love stories?

    Exactly, I think. (Unless I'm just cranky today.) I can never tell, as evidenced in the way my heartstrings always get tugged at by the cheapest of love ballads.

    2. Holly actually has had three albums. The third is Soulstream, which is mostly useless, but the second is Quite Good. It's out of print, but if you ever see it... It lacks a big monster single like "Love Train" (which really has a fantastic beginning, doesn't it, those drums going DOAN-DOAN-DOAN-DOAN-DOAN!), but overall the album is at least as good as Blast!.

    By Blogger Brittle, at 12:19 AM  

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