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Title: ‘Brassneck’
Where to find it: ‘Bizarro’ (1989, RCA)
Performed by: The Wedding Present
Words by: David Gedge

The Wedding Present’s principal songwriter David Gedge helped his band make a living off the lovelorn and the process of breaking up, and probably none more so than ‘Brassneck’ conveys this frustration so perfectly. The song should kind of be self-explanatory, but I think he’s got a really interesting plot in here, which I will explore. Clearly, the man he was when he wrote the song in the late ’90s was very conflicted about how he felt about a lover and what she meant to him. And why he’s having trouble letting go.

First, the words: (updated 24/10/2013 with the lyrics as kindly provided by David himself; the version I interpreted has been moved to the bottom of this post, under the video)

No, I sent you that letter to ask you if the end was worth the means
Was there really no in-between?
And I still don’t feel better
I just wondered if it could be like before and I think you just made me sure
But then that’s typically you
And I might have been a bit rude but I wrote it in a bad mood
I’m not being funny with you
But it’s hard to be engaging when the things you love keep changing

Brassneck
Brassneck
I just decided I don’t trust you anymore
I just decided I don’t trust you anymore

The first time you came over do you remember saying then you’d stay for good?
No, I didn’t think you would
Well, we couldn’t have been closer
But it was different then
And that’s all in the past… there, I’ve said it now at last
You grew up quicker than me
I kept so many old things; I never quite stopped hoping
I think I know what it means
It means I’ve got to grow up, it means you want to throw up

Brassneck
Brassneck
I just decided I don’t trust you anymore
I just decided I don’t trust you anymore

I just know you weren’t listening were you?
Oh, please go, whenever you prefer to
I said it means a lot, when you use an old phrase
But then so what?
We can’t have it both ways
And I know you’re not bothered are you?
Even so, I’m not going to argue
He won’t object, keep writing to me
Just don’t forget you ever knew me

Now, the analysis:

From what I see online, “brass neck” is a term used regionally in Yorkshire (where the Wedding Present originated, in Leeds) to describe someone with nerve, balls, call it what you will. This person can be rude and cheeky, usually in an alarming, public way. In this song, Gedge is calling out this woman with the term, using it in the title and the chorus, the latter of which he’s saying, “how dare you!” She’s done something to lose his trust (“I just decided I don’t trust you anymore”) but only during the choruses is he emphatic about being wronged, of feeling like things are not what they used to be.

The verses tell an entirely different story. In verse 1, he is acknowledging he’s written a letter to her, asking if the breakup, presumably initiated by her, was really the right course of action (“No, I sent you that letter to ask you if the end was worth the means / Was there really no in-between?”) before admitting he feels no better having gone to her for an explanation (“And I still don’t feel better”) before practically begging for things to go back to the way they were (“just wondered if it could be like before”). It’s heartbreaking. And that’s just the first four lines.

The second half of verse 1 is where he shows his anger, recognising that the letter he wrote to her was filled with vitriol (“I might have been a bit rude / But I wrote it in a bad mood”) but justifies his anger (“I’m not being funny with you but it’s hard to be engaging / When the things you love keep changing”). They say love is blind. But when you’ve been wronged in love, a similar phenomenon occurs. When you’ve been hurt, when your heart’s been broken, you’re blinded by your anger. You’re seething. Nothing is the same anymore. Imagery that I think is criminally underused in song is a mirror: you have this idea of what your lover looks like through your own eyes. You see them in image form all the time in front of you, even if they’re not physically there. But when a relationship ends, it’s usually because you learned something about them that completely changed the way you looked at them, not necessarily in the physical form but maybe how you viewed them through their virtues, spirituality, values. That mirror with that perfect image is now broken. Gedge had trouble writing that letter to his lover because who he was writing to was no longer the woman he had fallen in love with.

Verse 2 acknowledges the closeness the two of them felt and he’s throwing it out there. I feel like they started out as best friends when they were younger, but things changed after they became intimate: “Well we couldn’t have been closer, but it was different then and that’s all in the past / There, I’ve said it now at last.” He goes on to say that he was holding on to the hope that she would come round, that things would go back to what he remembered, having “kept so many old things / I never stopped quite hoping”.

The first half of Verse 3 is Gedge trying to downplay his lover’s influence in his life, that maybe she wasn’t really keen on what he had to say and it’s better that she’s out of his life now (“I just know you weren’t listening, were you? / Oh, please go whenever you prefer to”). He also accepts, “We can’t have it both ways.” My guess on this line is he’s saying that he doesn’t want to be her friend and lover, it’s either one or the other.

This verse also features the first mention of the other man. And also how their former love was ‘consummated’ through letters to each other: “He won’t object, keep writing to me”. It’s a little brass neck-y, actually, to say such a thing, that surely your new lover won’t mind if you and I keep having our own meeting of the minds on paper? Cheeky, Gedge. Very cheeky. The last line really gets me: “Just don’t forget you ever knew me.” He’s terrified that with her moving on, she’ll forget him and what they had together. Even when we’re in the worst throes directly following a breakup and you seemingly hate the other person causing you so much emotional pain, I think even if it’s only for fleeting moments at the beginning of the breakup fallout, we all worry that the person who meant so much to us during that period of our life will throw us away, throw away those memories because how can we as human beings exist if we don’t exist in the mind and heart of that person we once loved?

I also want to note that the transcription of the lyrics above come from the below performance at SXSW 2012, where Gedge makes an interesting change in words the second time the chorus comes around. Suddenly he’s saying, “I just decided I don’t love you anymore,” which kind of sounds out of character, given what’s about to come in verse 3. I’m not sure why he changed it; the original from the ‘Bizarro’ album sounds like, “you just decided I don’t need me anymore”, which makes more sense. Hmm. Maybe in his later years, Gedge decided it was better for them to part? Food for thought. I love it when songs age and the songwriter makes changes to the words: they are, after all his (or hers) to do so with. My hats off to you, Mister Gedge. You’ve written a brilliant song.

Lastly, the song, the Wedding Present performing the song live at SXSW 2012, as filmed by Seattle indie rock station KEXP at Mellow Johnny’s Bike Shop.

Original version of the lyrics I used for this interpretation, before David Gedge sent me the actual lyrics that I have cut and pasted into this post above.

Verse 1
No, I sent you that letter to ask you if the end was worth the means
Was there really no in-between?
And I still don’t feel better, just wondered if it could be like before
And I think you just made me sure

But then that’s typically you and I might have been a bit rude
But I wrote it in a bad mood
I’m not being funny with you but it’s hard to be engaging
When the things you love keep changing

Chorus
Brassneck
Brassneck
I just decided I don’t trust you anymore
I just decided I don’t trust you anymore

Verse 2
First time you came over, do you remember saying then you’d stay for good?
No, I didn’t think you would
Well we couldn’t have been closer, but it was different then and that’s all in the past
There, I’ve said it now at last

You grew up quicker than me, I kept so many old things
I never stopped quite hoping
I think I know what it means, it means I’ve got to grow up
It means you want to throw-up

Chorus
Brassneck
Brassneck
I just decided I don’t trust you anymore
I just decided I don’t love you anymore

Verse 3
I just know you weren’t listening, were you?
Oh, please go whenever you prefer to
I said it means a lot when you use an old phrase
But then so what? We can’t have it both ways

I know, you’re not bothered, are you?
Even so, I’m not going to argue
He won’t object, keep writing to me
Just don’t forget you ever knew me

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