Thursday, July 7

Murder walking 'round the block,
ending up at King's Cross.

Obviously the bombings this morning in London were a horrible tragedy, but I was kind of surprised at how shaken I found myself in reaction to it all. It sounds really dumb to say, "Awww, those Brits, they're so nice and polite and nice everything, they didn't deserve to get bombed like that," because I don't think an aristocratically British level of manners and good breeding should necessarily be a prerequisite for not getting bombed. (If it were, I'd be a grease spot right now.) Be that as it may, though, some of the nicest people I've ever met in my life were in London, and thinking of one of those people getting harmed in an attack like this is no less troubling to me than thinking of one of my friends in New York getting hurt in an attack there.

But I think the thing that really just sort of stunned me about this morning's events was the photo above, which for a little while was the main photo on the front page of Yahoo!'s news coverage. On the big Europe trip my family took a few years ago, we spent four or five days in London, and I got my sister to take my picture in just about the exact spot where you see those firemen standing -- one of my favorite songs is "King's Cross" (by the Pet Shop Boys, naturally), and that's why I wanted to get my picture taken in front of the station. (I also got my sister to take my picture as I walked barefoot across Abbey Road, thinking that I was soooo clever to have thought of that, and then it turned out every flippin' American tourist in London was doing the exact same thing, though that's really neither here nor there.)

"King's Cross" is one of the tracks on Actually, one of the most underrated albums of the 1980s. The lyrics are as follows:

The man at the back of the queue was sent
to feel the smack of firm government
Lingered by the fly poster for a fight
It's the same story every night
I've been hurt and we've been had
You leave home and you don't go back

Someone told me Monday, someone told me Saturday
Wait until tomorrow and there's still no way
Read it in a book or write it in a letter
Wake up in the morning and there's still no guarantee

Only last night I found myself lost
by the station called King's Cross
Dead and wounded on either side
You know it's only a matter of time
I've been good and I've been bad
I've been guilty of hanging around

Someone told me Monday, someone told me Saturday
Wait until tomorrow and there's still no way
Read it in a book or write it in a letter
Wake up in the morning and there's still no guarantee

So I went looking out today
for the one who got away
Murder walking round the block
ending up in King's Cross
Good luck, bad luck waiting in a line
It takes more than the matter of time

Someone told me Monday, someone told me Saturday
Wait until tomorrow and there's still no way
Read it in a book or write it in a letter
Wake up in the morning and there's still no guarantee
There is still no guarantee

As ominous as the "dead and wounded on either side" line sounds today, it was even more eerily prescient back in '87 -- toward the end of that year, an underground fire at King's Cross took the lives of 31 people. In the 2001 re-release of Actually with additional rare tracks and commentary on each of the songs, Neil Tennant expounded on the meaning of the song -- "It's about hopes being dashed" -- and described the King's Cross station as a sort of distinctively '80s symbol of everything that was wrong with Britain:

The first line sets up the song. It's an angry song about Thatcherism. Mrs. Thatcher came in on the promise of firm government and I'm interpreting 'the smack of firm government' literally as hitting someone. That's what firm government tends to mean - you hit the weakest person, the man at the back of the queue. I think there's something almost Biblical about 'only last night I found myself lost . . . ' It's like an epic nightmare. 'The dead and wounded on either side, it's only a matter of time,' is another AIDS reference. At the end -- 'so I went looking out today' -- there's a detective, and he's looking for someone, and this mythical place, King's Cross, is the end of the line, the place from where there is no escape but death. It's the death of all hope. And I'm saying that waiting there isn't enough.

As depressing as it is to think about it, the song is as relevant now as it was then -- the poorest and weakest members of society feeling "the smack of firm government"; promises not being kept; people carrying so much anger around with them that they "linger by the fly poster for a fight," just waiting for someone to hit. And, of course, the feeling that hope is slipping away -- if it hasn't been lost entirely. Events like the one this morning serve as a reminder that, barring some kind of miracle, we probably can't "win" the war on terror any more than we can win the wars on poverty or drugs. We can beef up our defenses, we can seize terrorists' resources, we can foil their plans for this attack or that attack, but the idea that we're ever going to eliminate terrorism or terrorists entirely is wishful thinking.

That doesn't mean we should quit fighting it, of course, any more than it means we should quit the fight against poverty. But with any fight there's a right way and a wrong way, and I'm not convinced we're fighting it the right way. It seems to me that one of the best ways to have a really unsatisfying and needlessly protracted fight is to come into it with exactly the same weapons as your enemy. Al-Qaeda started this war with hate, and we're not going to win it just by upping the hate level (not that the world needs any more hate as it is).

I had this big long post in my head earlier today, trying to make some point about the Arab world and terrorism and the bankruptcy of the "fight them over there so we don't have to fight them over here" strategy, but I just couldn't make it sound right, so I decided to can it. Instead I just want to say I hope y'all will pray for the victims and their families tonight -- and pray that the world will realize that spending all our time lingering by the fly poster for a fight just isn't any way to live.


Anonymous said...

I hope you come to hate these bastards as much as I do. Hate is a great motivator and it will give you clarity and focus.

bill from jc said...

Anon is quoting the senator in the last Star Wars??

DAve said...

OK Bill, I know we disagree on just about everything, but yeah, that was funny. Kudos.

Kevin Church said...

Neil Tennant did a piece for Details Magazine about hate as a positive value.

No, seriously. I've tried to find it, but can't.