Saturday, August 22, 2020

Don't wait up....

The Beat (top) and Tweens
Two bands, two songs, two declarations of independence. The Beat's "Don't Wait Up For Me" from their 1979 self-titled debut lights out for territories unknown with thrilling energy, while Tweens' "Don't Wait Up" from their 2014 self-titled debut rides a melancholy mid-tempo groove into the dark night and its city lights.

What's in a tempo? Both songs head out the door with similar intentions, but at different speeds. Paul Collins's "Don't Wait For Me" begins with the singer's heart already racing, the band's stops and half-time passages doing their best to calm things down. But he's gone, and soon he'll disappear. "I tried to save," he says to her over his shoulder, "but you would never listen anyway." True or defensive? The difference is obliterated by the band's assault, as the song's more interested in racing to the horizon than in understanding why the urge to do so is so strong. "You got to make it on your own anyway," he says to her in a final parting shot, giving himself all the excuse he needs to get far, far away. So: don't wait up for me. The problem, to be be faced (maybe) after the eighth notes settle to quarter notes when the sun rises: on the road "there's no place like home" for him. That old problem, to be erased with three minutes of blissful rock and roll before the issue returns. That old problem. The song's rousing bridge, and Larry Whitman's desperate guitar solo, Michael Ruiz's assertive cymbal crashes, and the overall amped-up energy are characteristic of this great album's sound and spirit, producer Bruce Botnick and engineer Rik Pekkonen getting it all down on tape without sacrificing an ounce of energy.

Early in his new memoir I Don't Fit In: My Wild Ride through the Punk & Power Pop Trenches with The Nerves and The Beat, Collins regards his parents' early happy love, and reflects, "I wish I could say I've known that kind of love, but I haven't—at least not yet," adding, "I've been insanely in love, but it's always been with the wrong girl, for the wrong reasons, or both." A bit later, describing an early ambivalent sexual experience, he acknowledges something a little darker:
This paradox of wanting something so bad, getting it, and becoming repulsed has stumped me for a long time. I know it's some kind of character defect. I do not know why or where it comes from.
Honest stuff, an admission that colors not only "Don't Wait For Me" but many of Collins's rousing yet vexed love songs.


Three and a half decades later, the urge to roam resurfaces in Tweens' remarkable "Don't Wait Up," in which guitarist/singer Bridget Battle's vocal, yearning yet defiant, pushes against a Velvets-like arrangement until it nearly bursts. Like the singer in the Beat's song, she too is poised at the threshold and is also young, and the road calls to her no less alluringly than it calls to him. But she's addressing her mama, not a soon-to-be ex; if the stakes aren't higher here, they sure are different. "It's getting so late, and your coffee's dirty, so can't we just leave the porch light on?" she asks her. Are they fighting? At the end of something? The bright daytime "is never the right time" for the singer, the dark night outside her home is calling her, and she want's to know what it feels like to be alive "wired under the city lights." It would all feel Springsteenesque if the beat wasn't so...ruminative. (The demo's even slower.) I love the song's shuffling among minimal chords, tugging the singer between home and what's out there, Peyton Copes's gently smiling bass lines suggesting the friends she might find when she gets there. She doesn't want her mama to wait up for her, because the last thing she needs is to be distracted by duty, diverted from her quest to feel alive, away from the suffocating kitchen, alone and independent. Both singers, each defiant but at different temperatures, exist in the eternal present tense of lighting out—we're not given the morning- or week-after sequel. I bet each of those songs would sound quite different. Come to think of it, maybe the fantastic opening cut on Tweens' album does give a hint as to the singer's fate after she gets to where she's going. This town is eating me alive....

I was afraid that Tweens were a one-and-done band, but earlier this month Battle surfaced on Bandcamp with a cover version of Bob Seger's "Still The Same," a choice I thought surprising as the song began, fearing an overly-ironic take. But Tweens' version is subtle, haunted, and utterly right for these times. Here's hoping there's more coming from her.

The Beat "Don't Wait Up For Me"

Tweens, "Don't Wait Up"

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