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Title: ‘Glow’
Where to find it: ‘We Could Be Scenery’ EP (2011, Beatnik Geek)
Performed by: Van Susans
Words by: Olly Andrews and Eddie Dullaway

First, the words:

Verse 1
She makes me feel like I’m glowing like starlight
My insides can set fire and burn from the outside
And I wouldn’t stop her for all she did to me
She leaves me burnt and me still craving her

How could you do this to me?
I have been nothing but good to you
Maybe I should play the bad ass
Maybe I should have played you too?

But I could never bring myself to do that
And I don’t even know where I’d start
And you said all the things I wanted to hear
After tearing me apart

Chorus
And all the times that we had, and all the pictures that I took
I’ll take a flame to it all, without another look
You left me burnt, but I have learnt from you
You left me burnt, but I have learnt from you

Verse 2
Sometime I wish I were a little taller
So you would love me a little bit more
Maybe then this would all be over
And I wouldn’t be walking out that door

And everything we had
Yeah, everything we ever had
You took a flame to all of our plans
And I don’t expect you to understand

Chorus
All the times that we had, and all the pictures that I took
I’ll take a flame to it all, without another look
You left me burnt, but I have learnt from you
You left me burnt, but I have learnt from you

Instrumental bridge, then lyric bridge, then followed by shorter instrumental bridge
She made me feel like I’m glowing like starlight
Now all she can do is to watch me burn

Chorus
All the times that we had, and all the pictures that I took
I’ll take a flame to it all, without another look
You left me burnt, but I have learnt from you
You left me burnt, but I have learnt from you

Extended outro
‘cause she made me feel
Like starlight, like starlight
And ‘cause she made me feel
Like starlight, like starlight

Now, the analysis:

Van Susans came to my attention in late 2010, during a particularly dark period in my life. Their manager David sent me an advance copy of their debut EP ‘We Could Be Scenery’ and like everything else I receive, I queued it up with a jaundiced eye and a cynical brow. From just five songs, I could tell this band of six just “had” it. Initially, it was single ‘Bones’ that caught my ear first, with its lyrics of a young man’s bombast and invincibility , later inevitably felled by what I thought then was heartbreak. Now I think about it more as possibly being about life’s trials and tribulations and it might not be a love song at all. Funny how that the longer you sit with a song very special to you, as time goes on it can reveal more than originally meets the eye, like a flower bud that blooms and unfurls its petals to you, each second looks different than it did in the previous…

But today’s piece is about the final track on the EP, ‘Glow’. One of the lasting pieces of imagery I have from history in my schooldays was when we were being taught about colonial India and the caste system. It’s rather interesting to me that India, having been a British colony, independently developed a detrimental class system from its masters. It’s been impressed on me by quite a few of my friends, mostly from the Midlands and the North, that there is a massive class divide in the UK. (In America, while class and wealth is of course an issue, I personally find that the race divide is much wider in comparison.) Going back to colonial India, having self-immolation as a method of nonviolence by an Indian protesting his British masters described to a young me by a teacher was an image that became burned, no pun intended, into my mind forever.

The other thing I recall about self-immolation was of the old (and possibly still continuing?) Indian tradition of wives, regardless of class, throwing themselves on the funeral pyre of their dead husbands. Because according to Indian culture, one of the many patriarchal societies in Asia, a wife’s life was worth nothing if her husband was dead. So fire and death have always been connected in my mind. It’s gotten so bad that I often have nightmares of being burnt, being on fire or even my whole bedroom up in flames, and I am jolted awake. One time I even leapt from my bed, hitting the sill of my window with my back and falling on my bass. I woke up in tears, seeing that my guitar stand had broken my fall and it itself was broken, though luckily my bass sustained no injuries. Freud and Jung would probably have a field day with my dreams…

‘Glow’ utilises the imagery of fire not one, not four different ways! The first way, and the most obvious, is the literal use taking a flame “to it all”, to destroy what had come before. The song’s protagonist uses “I’ll take a flame to it all” in the chorus, but also alludes to his lover “And everything we had / Yeah, everything we ever had / You took a flame to all of our plans / And I don’t expect you to understand”. Part of the previous first half of the verse “Maybe then this would all be over / And I wouldn’t be walking out that door” indicates conflict, so it’s not readily apparent who is at fault. Interesting dichotomy. But all will be revealed in all due time…

This first way is very powerful to me. When I heard the song, I equated it to my desire then to physically destroy every last piece of evidence of a man who had previously been so important in my life. I had spent so much time and effort writing about him and photographing him that I thought the only way to get him out of my mind was this physical destruction, that it was a means to an end. In my mind, I relished standing in my back garden with a match and lighting “all the pictures that I took” in “all the times that we had” together, watching them turn into ash in the air. Last Christmas I went through a drawer full of items related to him and threw everything out except what legitimately could be considered pieces to my work portfolio as a music journalist and editor; I’m glad I hadn’t burned everything to bits because regardless of how I felt about him personally, the work I’d done, all the hours I’d spent to help promote him was a reflection not on how badly he treated me but instead of the great pride I’d taken in doing what I did best: write.

The second way is in the second half of the chorus: “You left me burnt, but I have learnt from you”. It’s almost like our protagonist is thanking his lover: yes, you hurt me, but I’ve learned from the experience. It’s not all bad. It was hard for me to see this through my tears but I have come to appreciate this line for what it truly means: we all go through heartbreak but like Kelly Clarkson said famously, “what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger”.

Hopefully this doesn’t confuse too much, but I’m going to go back to the start of the song for the third way Olly Andrews and Eddie Dullaway use fire imagery in ‘Glow’ and examine it line by line. Don’t worry, I’ll come back to the end of the song in a minute when describing the fourth way, and you’ll see how neatly the end of song will bring you full circle. The first line of the first verse: “She makes me feel like I’m glowing like starlight”. What is this? It seems obvious to me. It’s when you’ve fallen in love with someone and he/she has put you on a pedestal, that’s you’re perfect and wonderful. Then the next line: “My insides can set fire and burn from the outside”. I’m on the fence about this line. On one hand, in line two, while he’s in love, he’s feeling so wonderful about himself that nothing can touch him. Someone could set him on fire and he wouldn’t notice. On the other hand, there is simultaneous burning from the inside AND the outside. I read this as his insides are burning because he’s in love, he’s full of desire and hope from his lover. But he also appears to be burning from the outside because of what his lover is doing to him: “And I wouldn’t stop her for all she did to me / She leaves me burnt and me still craving her”. She’s done something to him – hurt him somehow – and he’s left burnt, but like a junkie, he wants to have her back in his life again. As badly as the ones that we love can hurt us, if we’re still in love with that person, it doesn’t matter. We want that person come round again for us.

The next group of lines truly hit home for me: “How could you do this to me? / I have been nothing but good to you / Maybe I should play the bad ass / Maybe I should have played you too?” Okay, now we know what’s wrong. He was in love, he treated her like a princess, yet she played him. He’s asking himself, wow, maybe if I’d played you too, I wouldn’t be feeling so rotten right now. But he admits he’s too good of a person to do the same thing to her: “But I could never bring myself to do that / And I don’t even know where I’d start”. Adding further insult to injury, “And you said all the things I wanted to hear / After tearing me apart”. THIS. This happened to me. If you think heartbreak can’t get any worse, try having a carrot being dangled in front of our face by the very person you used to love, to have that person suddenly be nice to you after he/she has broken your heart, giving you entirely false hope that one day all will be well and you’ll be back together. I don’t know why people think it’s ok to act this way. If you’ve broken up with someone, if you’ve hurt someone, walk away. The person you hurt does not need to see you anymore. Don’t open up the old wounds and give them the impression that one day in the future you MIGHT have a future with that person. It’s cruel.

The fourth way, as I promised, finishes the song with the repeated “‘cause she made me feel / Like starlight, like starlight”. Oh my god. The way Olly Andrews sings this is nothing short of a miracle. As in the first line of the song, our protagonist recalls feeling the burning feeling of love in his whole body, as if he is a star emanating starlight. On a simpler level, he’s explaining how he felt like a star in her presence. But at the end of the song, the sentiment has changed. As much as you’d like to believe and pretend putting up a brave front, if you have a broken heart, even as much as you hate that other person for hurting you, there is always going to be a little piece of you that wants things to go back to the way they were.

You want that feeling of being in love again, of being the apple of someone’s eye, to feel that burning deep within, whether it be pride or just the self-esteem that yes, someone is in love with me and thinks I’m great. The delivery here is plaintive, as if Andrews’ whole heart and soul is crying out to the universe, his voice extending as if reaching to the heavens. I can’t even begin to tell you how many times I queued this track up in my car and how many red lights I ran because I was blinded by my own tears while singing along to the end of this song, thinking that the more times I sang the song and the louder I sang, the words and my voice would reach the man I loved and he would realise he’d made a mistake.

If you were wondering what happened to that guy who hurt me, he’s gone. Out of my life. He’s never going to ever be part of my life again. I saw him a couple of weeks ago and he was a complete jerk to me. Sometimes I wish he’d been a jerk to me the first time we met, so I would have seen his true colours straight away and I never would have spent years of my life in such a state of hopeless disarray. But life is never that simple and like they say, love is blind. And I’m okay now. I can listen to ‘Glow’ now with a smile and say to myself, yes, I’ve learned from my mistakes and I’ve learned from the way he treated me, I know what not to put up with. And now I can go forward and love someone else with no regrets.

Lastly, the song, two versions of the song, one performed live on a local to Bromley radio station in February 2011, and the other the original from the EP.

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