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Title: ‘Tonight the Streets Are Ours’
Where to find it: ‘Lady’s Bridge’ (2007, Mute)
Performed by: Richard Hawley
Words by: Richard Hawley

Many years ago, the Sheffield legend that is Richard Hawley came to the U.S. to do a short tour. He didn’t come anywhere near Washington, I didn’t have any friends who knew of him, let alone who liked him (typical), and I couldn’t stomach driving that long distance alone, even though I loved ‘Coles Corner’. So I had to give the tour a miss.

He’s never returned.

Not going to see him live is one of the things I’ve most regretted in life.

There are few singer/songwriters whose voice and songwriting talent have the ability to slay me, and to be honest, thinking about it, the only two that really do it for me are Hawley and Morrissey. They are slightly different in their lyrical style, but the end result when I listen to either of them is always the same. Essentially, I feel like I’m being cloaked with the gorgeous words, being sung by a man who has the most beautiful voice imaginable. Either of them could sing me to sleep. For the last time.

Yes, ladies and gentlemen, it is Valentine’s Day. I’ve had quite a few bad ones in my time. In elementary school, the class list that my 2nd grade teacher handed out cut off the bottom of the Y in my first name so my name looked like ‘Marv’, which led to my ‘friends’ calling me “Marvin” until I graduated to junior high. My first year at university, I nearly fell over when a delivery man, holding a giant teddy bear, didn’t see me coming in his direction in the hallway. “Death by teddy bear” would have been an interesting newspaper headline… The one 2 years ago was spent in the company of a similarly lovelorn girlfriend and we watched Slow Club perform at DC9. But in general, most of my Valentine’s Days have been spent in hiding, wallowing in the kind of self-loathing Morrissey would be proud of.

But something’s changed. I am no longer sad or afraid to be alone on this Valentine’s Day. Over the last 5 months, I have slowly turned into a different person. Things have happened in my life and have helped make me see clearer. I don’t know how long this feeling will last, but I feel so much lighter and happier. Most importantly, I feel like I’m taking back my life and living it the way I want, living by the morals and standards that are important to me. Earlier this month, a friend of mine suffered a great loss, and she said she was so surprised that I was so giving of my concern and love, even though we did not know each other very well and she lived so far away.

It was when I was consoling her that I realized that I had been giving so much of myself to everyone else so much, I’d forgotten to take care of the most important person: me. It doesn’t mean that I intend to suddenly become selfish and self-centred. No, I wasn’t brought up that way; my parents taught me to be just and kind to all. It just means that I am now more cognisant of my own feelings and can better recognise those who love me and those who don’t. I am and will always be a hopeless romantic. I know my own love burns bright and transparent. For those who cannot recognise my sincerity, then I am better off without them.

Richard Hawley is quite good about writing the sad love song, and the most obvious choice for today would have been ‘Valentine’. But I don’t feel sad today. I feel like crying, not sad tears but happy ones. As such, I picked one of his most optimistic songs, which has a theme that reminds me of some bits and pieces for a short story I wrote long ago. One of them went like this: “But there’s so much more of this world I wanted to show you.” That’s the feeling I get from this song.

“The lights in our hearts tell no lies.” One of the truest, most beautiful lines of popular music ever written. If only I could lay my head on Richard Hawley’s shoulder and thank him for writing it.

First, the words:

Verse 1
Do you know why you’ve got feelings in your heart
Don’t let fear of feeling fool you
What you see sets you apart
And there’s nothing here to bind you,
It’s no way for life to start

Chorus
But do you know that
Tonight – the streets are ours
Tonight – the streets are ours
And these lights in our hearts they tell no lies

Verse 2
Those people, they got nothing in their souls
And they make our TVs blind us
From our vision and our goals
Oh the trigger of time it tricks you
So you have no way to grow

Chorus
But do you know that
Tonight – the streets are ours
Tonight – the streets are ours
These lights in our hearts, they tell no lies

Bridge
And no one else can haunt me
The way that you can haunt me
I need to know you want me
I couldn’t be without you
And the light that shines around you
No, nothing ever mattered more than not doubting
But tonight the streets are ours

Verse 3 (shortened version)
Do you know how to kill loneliness at last
Oh there’s so much there to heal dear
And make tears things of the past

Chorus (outro version)
But do you know that
Tonight – the streets are ours
Tonight – the streets are ours
These lights in our street are ours
Tonight – the streets are ours
And these lights in our hearts they tell no lies

Now, the analysis:

Compared to most of the songs I post here on Music in Notes, I think this one is pretty obvious. Therein lies the brilliance of Hawley: the words are so simple, yet they say so much.

In verse 1, we’ve got “Do you know why you’ve got feelings in your heart / don’t let fear of feeling fool you”: the woman he’s singing to is feeling confused about these sudden, new feelings she has in her heart. But just because they’re new and different, it doesn’t mean she should be scared. On the contrary, the subtext is that he’s saying it is time to embrace those feelings. “And there’s nothing here to bind you / it’s no way for life to start”: I love this, because it’s like he’s inviting her into a new world, a new life. There was nothing holding her to the life she had before these feelings took hold in her heart, and now the world – which includes him and his love – is hers for the taking.

Hawley gently nudges her into this beautifully lit world in the chorus: “But do you know that / tonight – the streets are ours”. Stick a fork in me, I’m done. I’m dying here. “And these lights in our hearts they tell no lies”: I like to think of this light in the hearts of man represents not only our souls, the part of us that keeps us alive and wanting to live, but also the burning passion we have for another person when we fall in love. In this line, what he’s saying is that this light that the both of them have, it’s not meant to be hidden. The lights burn bright – and true – for all the world to see. The guitars are amazing on the chorus; it honestly feels like the stars are so bright, they have no choice but to glitter down on you.

Verse 2 is more of a commentary on the lack of passion and real feeling in most people’s lives, “Those people, they got nothing in their souls / and they make our TVs blind us / from our vision and our goals”, and they have sad little lives because thanks to this lack of feeling, they will never feel the way the two of them do, they will never feel that love. This brings up my feelings of Morrissey’s ‘I Like You’, in which the Moz emotes, “Magistrates who spend their lives / hiding their mistakes / they look at you and I / and envy makes them cry”, and more recently the Crookes‘Sofie’, “and in time, we’ll see that we’re not like them, but just like you and me”, indicating what they have is very special indeed.

If you thought the chorus was amazing, then you’re in for a treat when you get to the bridge. “And no one else can haunt me / the way that you can haunt me”: when you’re in love with someone and you are not with them, it’s like he/she is hanging around like a ghost because you cannot and will not stop thinking about him/her. “I need to know you want me”: self-explanatory. It could have come out cliched but somehow it doesn’t. Probably the worst position a person in unrequited love could be in is waiting for that other person, ideally, to return the feelings and show he/she is in love with you. “I couldn’t be without you / And the light that shines around you”: probably the second most beautiful line in this song. The woman that he loves, she is radiant, glowing with beauty and virtue, and he’s telling the whole world right here that he cannot live without her. Is there no end to this man’s talent?

I think verse 3 was made ambiguous on purpose. “Do you know how to kill loneliness at last / oh there’s so much there to heal dear / and make tears things of the past”. It’s unclear whose loneliness and tears he’s speaking of: his, hers, or both of theirs. Either way, if they get together (and I sincerely hope they did, because if not, sorry, this woman needs to get her head examined), they are together and can heal each other. Because that is the measure of true love. Being there for the one you love, in good times and bad times.

Lastly, the song, performed live on Live at Jools Holland in 2007. I’m inching closer to death as I watch this.

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