by Bryon Turcotte
July 22, 2009, 7:24 pm:
"Pressure...pushing down on me, pressing down on you, no man ask for..."
The song has a familiar beat and sound. It is loved by people from all age groups and walks of life.
It's powerful, hypnotic, and repetitive bass line is known around the world.
As I was about to arrive home after a long day & drive, "Under Pressure", the famous collaboration of David Bowie and the rock band Queen, came out of my speakers with all the force it had when first released in 1981. As I listened, I thought about how powerful and haunting this song has proved to be over the past twenty eight years of airplay. The song's magnetism may be due to it's highly identifiable subject matter:
Pressure, Fear, and the Unknown.
Undoubtably, the world can provide an unwavering weight that is almost impossible to endure on a daily basis if your life is far from perfect and if your shell is more than just fragile.
When Bowie chants,"It's the terror of knowing what this world is about, watching some good friends screaming "let me out", my heart sinks in my chest. You can see despair drip off every word. "Keep coming up with love but it's so slashed and torn" is a desperate prayer from the bottom of a lonely heart, on the brink of shattering. Sometimes I've heard this song in my mind while watching my surroundings like the television news. Viewing a specific song during the ups and downs of one's life can bring you to a alternate state of being. Almost more than what is normal. Almost a desensitized existence. Just experiencing what the world is about can make you learn quickly what pressure can make a person do to themselves and to each other. Pressure to live, grow, conform, and to be a part of is on all of us. We all have choices and different levels we are willing to accept and even crave.
I grew up in a town in the southern portion of Massachusetts that was reasonably small and quiet, during the days of my youth. Franklin was full of history colored with stories of the Revolutionary War, native American battles, and the first public library. Growing up in a hamlet like this was closer to residing in a fishbowl with mirrored glass. Everyone knew everyone. Everyone was related to everyone. Our beliefs were based on old Yankee mentality and New England ideals. It was comfortable and secure. I never felt safer and happier than I did during these times. I can still see the golden sunset fall over the apple orchards and their evening mist as I took nightly rides on my bicycle. I still miss the cool fall air that is only found in New England. It's touch and smell was timeless and never threatening.
As comforting as my cottage life had become, I knew that there was much more to be experienced. I felt the pressure for the first time. It was a pressure from within pushing me out and as I got older I began to realize that the world is a much larger place that we could ever imagine. I wanted and obsessively needed to drown in the pressure of the world. I did not want to feel safe anymore. When I was 13 my mind began to drift. By 15, I was just a visitor in my town with big plans to see the unknown. At 18 I was gone, jumping from couch to couch, car to car, and friend to friend, I took small steps to try to escape the cocoon. I remember seeing MTV for the first time in 1982. I sat in my uncle's living room in Tulsa, Oklahoma glued to the constant stream of videos. The imagery of the "Under Pressure" video was especially haunting. Streaming clips of over crowded train stations, demolished buildings and seas of people mingled with horror film footage and the face of Nosferatu made me think of the world differently. Within five years I would dive into the vast sea of dread, over population and worry. I was to see why this song was so powerful.
I lived throughout the city of Boston from 1991 to 2005. Over those years I would see many things and experience a life that turned my light of comfort off for good. I knew few people at the beginning. My girlfriend, at the time, was the only support I had in a huge stadium of strangers. I lived in one of the most infamous neighborhoods in Boston. Shootings, gangs, and prostitution were mixed in smoothly with the new "yuppie" counterculture as if normal. Police tape and body markings were common and were almost expected. During my first six months of residency, my car was burglarized over 7 times. I would often find used cigarette butts, empty beer cans and clothes in my car mornings before I would leave for work. The homeless from that part of the city were using my car as a Bed and Breakfast. At one point, I felt it would make more sense to just leave the car unlocked. If they wanted to use it as a hostel, I didn't want any unruly guests.
One Saturday afternoon, as I had habitually done for years, I decided to walk a load of dirty clothes to the neighborhood laundromat. While loading my unmentionables, I was approached by one of the many homeless that frequented the shop. He politely asked me for "spare change" but I had to decline barely having a surplus enough to complete a full dry cycle. He thanked me and went on his way from one patron to the next. To kill some time during my load, I walked back to my apartment to watch some MTV. During my 30 minute absence, all hell broke loose. According to the owner, the homeless man asked another man for change who had no time or room for his poverty. Words were exchanged, a hand was pushed away, a knife was unsheathed, and wrestling match began that lasted 20 minutes. At the end, the uninterested man's hand was slashed, the homeless man fled, and the police were in full forced attempting to estimate the damage and calm the small asian owner. I walked through the doors to remove my clean clothes and saw insanity that was painted like a neighborhood block party. By that time I had seen a lot of violence and blood. This was just another Saturday in the South End. Between theft, drug dealers, gun battles, and scenes from West Side Story, my nerves had become numb. Pressure to live, remain calm, survive and relax pushes all the life out of you until you refuse to feel.
One night I remember talking to someone about how my neighbor's apartment door had been kicked down by a squad of Boston detectives, DEA agents, and FBI in search of a notorious Asian drug dealer who had just shot a kid in Dorchester over a bad deal. Unfortunately, the address of the dealer's brother was one block down, so all this dragnet accomplished was to scare the life out of a cat named Miro and the boyfriend of Maria, an italian artist who lived one door down. Instead of shock, the comments and laughter flew as if we were discussing the newest episode of Seinfeld and the wackiness of Kramer. The scenes of millions of people weaving in and out of each other were enough to make anyone feel under the weight of the world. Someone will step out and stand out as they chat with an imaginary friend, shake their head and yell about the corruption of politics and visitors from other planets. Instead of concern, you look away or just don't see them at all. After that last day at work, you may even think you will be the next one with an invisible, alien friend.
In the city an escape from pressure, fear, worry and reality exists for some as they attend a musical, go to a comedy club or watch to a ball game. After the event they may ride in a taxi or train and comment to each other about how bad it is here. They bluntly say, "How can anyone live here?" They step over the homeless sleeping on the platform and change the side of the street when someone with arms full of tattoos and a Ramones T-shirt approaches. Next week they will do it all again and choose to remain on the safe outside. By the end of my 14 years in the city, I felt worn, flattened, unfeeling, spiritless, and compressed. I had grown much older and wasted so much time dodging the bullets of my normal existence I began to worry about where the road was leading. As the days went by, I started feeling hard pressed to move forward before it gets to late in the hour of the final half of my life. Pressure. It came full circle. Once from a quiet town, I was deafened by the serenity and peace. I felt I would need volume, flash and smoke to survive. I thought the lack of movement and shock would kill me. The machine took me in with open arms, kissed me deeply and welcomed me home. It began to chew on me and squeeze the very energy that peace, love and serenity create. Over time, I was spit out and re-chewed more times that I could imagine. I had lost my flavor. I had lost my strength. I was no use to the city. It was time for me to go. As the circle began to close, I found myself under more pressure to regain the silence, the calm, and the peace of my youth.
As the song played on I noticed it's ending more than I ever have in my entire life. Something scary yet profound was right there all the time. A few simple lines that now make perfect sense to an old survivor like me. A few short lines make so much difference in how one thinks or looks at his past. The lyrics read:
Love's such an old fashioned word
And love dares you to care for
The people on the edge of the night
And love dares you to change our way of
Caring about ourselves
This is our last dance
This is our last dance
This is ourselves
As I hear this from now onward, it will remind me of all the things seen and heard. It will remind me how grateful I am not to have forgotten what pressure can do to us and other people. It will take me back to the first time I heard the words and thought of the meaning. It will never be just be a song.
It will be a place in time and the soundtrack to the memories of a time I will never forget. - BT