Hello, Good Evening, and Remain Indoors! Sometimes, when an artist I like releases a new music video, I find something interesting enough to talk about here. And this is a particularly unusual case.
The song is “Watermelon Sugar” by Harry Styles, and the description Harry put on it is “This video is dedicated to touching.” And I’m going to go out on a limb and say this isn’t a song about the Brautigan book. According to Styles in a recent Tiny Desk Concert, he saw the book on a desk, and was inspired by the title, but that’s all we know. This probably wouldn’t be enough to sustain a “must write a column about this” mood in normal times. It’s a decent song, nowhere near the revelation that “Sign of the Times” was (or even seeing Harry playing an old Gibson archtop on SNL, thereby throwing the image I had of him for a loop,) but not bad.
However, as I’m sure we all know, these are not normal times. The majority of the world is under lockdown because there’s a deadly pandemic going around. When we’re allowed to go out, we’re supposed to stay about six feet (or two meters) away. Hell, every column I’ve written for over a month (save the Nazi Titanic article I wrote before I started the tradition that got delayed because it was really bloody long) includes the lyrics “Keep your distance/Make some space.” As I watch this, Dad’s watching the news, and I can see the woman on the screen explaining how cases are still growing. And apparently, Harry Styles and company decided this would be a good time to create a music video “dedicated to touching.”
To be fair, the video was shot on Malibu Beach on January 30, back when, if the public had any idea about this plague, we just assumed that it had been successfully been contained in China. Then, as Nicholas Angel eloquently put it:
And, yes, I did finally figure out the clip was just hiding in plain sight. At the time, it only made sense for Harry Styles to have a massively sensual watermelon orgy in Malibu, California. But seeing it now, I’m torn between thinking it’s just escapism, with music looking back to the Seventies, and the video looking back to a time when the worst that could happen with this scenario was getting the sand out of all those fleshy pink bits (and the watermelon) or that it’s a sort of “let them eat cake” thing, showing off the sort of things that you’re not safe to do this summer. Like I said earlier, this was filmed before what I’m going to call the Nicholas Angel point (after that clip in the video I spent days looking for), although the part of my brain that doesn’t allow good to exist is nagging me to say it’s the latter, I’m going to say it’s really escapism.
I was going to talk about Love in the Time of Cholera, a novel whose title you’ve no doubt heard parodied over and over for the past few months, but the affairs weren’t quite what I remembered, so I’ll go with another example, one more Britain-centric, although one I’m hesitant to devote a whole “One Anglophile’s Take On” due to some heavy themes I’m not sure Jonathan’d find too cricket for the site (and if he says yes, well, it’ll have to wait, because my thousandth column is coming up and I’ve got something special planned), Breaking the Waves. The central thrust of the plot involves a woman whose husband was rendered quadriplegic in an accident on an oil rig. He tells her to take a lover, and he later clarifies why: he can’t satisfy her anymore, so she’ll have to satisfy him, having affairs so he can enjoy that vicariously. Are his motivations selfish? Are they altruistic? Is it a bit of column A and a bit of column B? One thing is certain, as someone who’s stuck at home for the most part, I’m in a metaphorically similar situation, and I don’t have much choice in the matter if I don’t want to get infected.
Stuck in my Skokie home, I’ve had little to do but binge, and through all this, I’ve been to places as disparate as the courts of Elizabeth I and the Prince Regent, Wiemar Berlin, the furthest reaches of the Roman Empire, Prince Edward Island, a U-boat in the North Atlantic, an ancient New York hospital operating in conditions not too dissimilar our own, the corridors of Downton Abbey that Julian Fellowes would probably be killed if he showed the world, the longtime Village of the Year, the sort of Boston slums that Jane Jacobs waxed rhapsodic about, a Gotham City that’s functionally identical to 1981 New York, Hollywood at the close of the 1960s, a bathhouse for spirits, dozens of Number Nines, long-forgotten parts of Disneyland, a myriad of alternate universes, and a squalid council flat in London, (And this isn’t even getting into the podcasts, or the books about places like the Crimea, Dealey Plaza, and the Old, Weird, America, with more to follow!) all while barely leaving for much more than to get food, like the lawyer in the Chekhov story who said:
For fifteen years I have diligently studied earthly life. True, I saw neither the earth nor the people, but in your books I drank fragrant wine, sang songs, hunted deer and wild boar in the forests, loved women . . . And beautiful women, like clouds ethereal, created by the magic of your poets’ genius, visited me by night and whispered me wonderful tales, which made my head drunken. In your books I climbed the summits of Elbruz and Mont Blanc and saw from thence how the sun rose in the morning, and in the evening overflowed the sky, the ocean and the mountain ridges with a purple gold. I saw from thence how above me lightnings glimmered cleaving the clouds; I saw green forests, fields, rivers, lakes, cities; I heard syrens singing, and the playing of the pipes of Pan; I touched the wings of beautiful devils who came flying to me to speak of God . . . In your books I cast myself into bottomless abysses, worked miracles, burned cities to the ground, preached new religions, conquered whole countries . . .
While the lawyer eventually spurns it all, I think if that’s all I can reasonably do, imagining a world where Harry Styles can safely enjoy the tactile stimulation of a seventeen-way and the taste of watermelon sugar isn’t that tall an order.
So now I leave you with Matt Lucas dueting with Olaf himself, Josh Gad: