Buzzcocks: Singles Going Steady 12” (IRS Records, 1979)
I try not to complain too much because I know my problems pale compared to so many others’, but it’s been a rough week for me. I feel like I keep getting beat up on, particularly financially. The heating system went out in the store last week and it cost over $3,000 to fix, my health insurance quintupled in price, my car crapped out on me, and every time I look at my email I seem to find either new bills or notifications that next month’s bills are going up. It’s been rough, but I’ve been trying to keep my head up and press on. This is a time of readjustment for many people, and while it’s difficult, hopefully I come out the other end stronger.
Honestly, I have spent little time listening to music this week, and what time I have spent hasn’t gotten my full attention. Usually I’m voraciously consuming new music, with a big stack of records I’m eager to dive into and explore. This week, though, that stack felt like another burden, another thing on my to do list that won’t receive the attention it needs or deserves. When it came time to write a staff pick for this week (or, more accurately, several hours after the time when I should have completed writing my staff pick), I had to think hard about what music can give me right now.
I decided what I wanted was musical comfort food. Something that felt familiar, stable, and reliable. After a quick scan of my shelf, I landed on the Buzzcocks’ Singles Going Steady. This is one of the most listened-to records in my collection, and hearing it—particularly in its entirety—brings me back to so many places. I remember being on the plane for my first trip abroad in 1999, reading Jon Savage’s book England’s Dreaming and trying to bone up on 70s punk as much as possible before I hit London’s legendary record shops. I have a vivid memory of picking up a CD copy of Singles Going Steady at a flea market in Perth, Australia, because this was a time before cell phones and mp3s and I wanted to listen to it and couldn’t wait until I got home. It was only feasible to carry a few CDs along with you on a big trip like that, so Singles Going Steady kept me company for much of that time.
One downside of being such a restless music consumer is that I rarely learn all the words on a record, even one I really like. However, I know every note of Singles Going Steady backwards and forwards, and there isn’t a moment in the record when I’m not singing, air guitaring, or air drumming along. It is a participatory experience for me, the record taking over my body and my mind. I tend to live in my head, forgetting how important physicality is to living. But moving along to a record you know and love, whether it’s shuffling your feet or waving your arms or blowing air through your diaphragm, helps to take you somewhere else. That makes me think of sleepless nights in my late 20s, during one of the bleakest depressive episodes in my life, trying to shake off the sads with full-body writhing to the Fall’s Grotesque alone in the dark.
That makes me think of a lyric from another favorite, Killing Joke’s song “Eighties:” “I have to push / I have to struggle.” I constantly fall prey to the capitalist fiction that earning one more dollar, making one more sale, fine-tuning my morning routine, or tinkering with my budget is going to make everything OK. But what are we working toward? Are we getting anywhere? I’m thankful for music, and the Buzzcocks in particular, for reminding me that cycles don’t have to be vicious. Sometime you just need to come back to the chorus, or to put on your favorite album and let it take you home.