I didn’t wanna see the film tonight.

A love letter to the lyrics of My Girl by Madness.

(Cropped) image borrowed from aaronj

This is just for you because you need cheering up.

Madness belong to an era when everyone danced like no one was watching because it would never have occurred to you that anyone would be watching and it wouldn’t have bothered you if they were. No one would be watching anyway because everyone would be too busy dancing. You can’t not dance to Madness. Madness is a tightly wound ball of devil-may-care, cheeky chappy infectious enthusiasm. We all need some in our lives just now.

My girl’s mad at me
I didn’t wanna see the film tonight
I found it hard to say
She thought I’d had enough of her

Madness don’t fuck about. They had you at “My girl’s mad at me”, whether you are a boy or a girl. And just four lines in you are as gripped as you would be by a claustrophobic radio phone-in or a car-crash letter to the problem pages of Vogue magazine.

Why can’t she see
She’s lovely to me?
But I like to stay in
And watch TV
On my own
Every now and then

These lyrics are simple and universal. Two genders separated by a common language, broadcast and received on different wavelengths, with poor tuning and heavy interference. We’ve all been there.

And the pacing and pathos of those last four lines. So prosaic but so profound. Vegging out in front of the TV made heroic and poetic. It’s as if by (deliberately?) not understanding, his girl is being unconstitutional.

My girl’s mad at me
Been on the telephone for an hour
We hardly said a word
I tried and tried but I could not be heard
Why can’t I explain?
Why do I feel this pain?
’Cause everything I say
She doesn’t understand
She doesn’t realise
She takes it all the wrong way

The frustration. The deafening, drawn out silences. The overwhelming desire for the torture to end, in direct conflict with the knowledge that hanging up and failing to achieve reconciliation will result in an even more excruciating replay, and extra time. And penalties. Severe penalties.

And, laid bare, there is the inability of the male of the species to deal with nuance and subtext. My Girl is a perfectly observed study in bemused affection.

It is also an exercise in lyrical dissonance. The verbal melancholy is entirely at odds with the foot-tapping melody, the honky tonk vibe and the infectious ska rhythm. The Schaden of the words. The Freude of the tune. It cheerfully messes with your head.

My girl’s mad at me

Madness don’t bury the lede. They also express the lede in the present tense. The repeated opening line to each verse is immediate, intimate and beseeching. It has the jungle drums urgency of one of those cry for help social media status updates.

My girl’s mad at me
We argued just the other night
I thought we’d got it straight
We talked and talked until it was light
I thought we’d agreed
I thought we’d talked it out
Now when I try to speak
She says that I don’t care
She says I’m unaware
And now she says I’m weak

Prosaic and profound to the bitter end. And it is a bitter end. I like the song all the more for its realistic refusal to resolve.

And I love the stripped back prose. I pasted the lyrics in to the Hemingway app, which casts a brutal algorithmic editorial eye over unclear, obtuse and unduly flowery language.

It’s fair to say that Hemingway, in the guise of a prose bot, loves the lyrics too. His (its) main beef is with the phrase “I could not be heard” due to its use of the passive voice, ignoring the fact that this is a deliberate device to create the rhyme with “hardly said a word” in the previous line.

What does Hemingway know about poetry and song lyrics anyway?

We are living the curse of interesting times. Macro issues beyond our control have reset our base level stress to DEFCON 3. So here, by way of distraction therapy, is a perfectly told micro-issue story of personal strife to cheer you up. Take the medicine.


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